minute read

Mapping Existing Work:

who is doing what and where at the minute?

Image Credit: Together with Refugees

This is not an exhaustive list of all the local power building work that is happening across the UK, but we hope that it provides a flavour of the different things that are happening in different places across the UK on a range of social justice and human rights issues.  

Community Organising

Citizens UK

Citizens UK is “a people power alliance of diverse local communities working together for the common good.”  It has been operating in the UK for 30 years and both develops local leaders and strengthens local organisations to support them to bring about change. 

It has 17 local chapters all across England and Wales and there are over 450 civil society organisations that make up Citizen’s UK membership. 

It has 4 programmes: PACT (Parents and Communities Together), Sponsor Refugees, Living Wage Foundation and Together We Can.  

Citizens UK believes that leaders are grown not born and they support leadership development by running 5 key training interventions:

  • Learning Thursdays – a weekly online webinar
  • Local Taster Training – short courses introducing people to organising
  • 3-day Community Leadership Training – delivered regionally and online
  • National Community Leadership Training – a six-day immersion
  • Organising in School - online course aimed at teachers

Nijjor Manush
(Funded by the Civic Power Fund)

Nijjor Manush is an independent campaigning group that helps to educate, empower and organise Bengalis and Bangladeshis in the UK by celebrating their culture and achievements.

The CPF is funding Nijjor Manush’s Bangla Fora training course. Bangla Fora is a colloquial term used in Bengali children’s education programs that were popularised in the ’70s and ’80s in an effort to connect Bengali children to their community and culture.

The course curriculum will develop participants’ skills as community organisers and activists, while grounding them in the historical context of wider Bangladeshi activism in the UK. The course will mix deep dives into the history of the Bangladeshi diaspora and its activism, with training in anti-racism techniques, digital campaigning and community outreach. 

In its first year the course aims to train 100 members of the UK’s Bangladeshi community and support them in further training with established community organising and political organisations. CPF funding has allowed Nijjor Manush to focus its recruitment on a significant number of participants from the Bangladeshi community in North Manchester and Wales.

The group have been supporting local activity in Brick Lane around stopping the development of the old Truman Brewery site which local people believe will have a negative impact on the current community as it’s seen as part of the gentrification of the local area. They have been organising through their Instagram account.

The South Yemeni Women’s Forum

The South Yemeni Women's Forum is a national body that aims to organise women from South Yemen‘s diasporic communities in the UK to be politically active and advocate for those in South Yemen to be able to realise their human rights and for the right to self-determination.  They have groups in Sheffield, Liverpool, London and Sandwell who organise locally.  

They advocate on issues around Yemen and develop the capacity and leadership of the women in the local groups.  Whilst the women involved may have organised around Islamophobia before joining the group, it is likely that they won’t have engaged on the organising around Yemen.  Traditionally, organising on Yemen has been dominated by men, and this group has been established to build the agency of women to organise on Yemeni rights, and looks at the human rights issues faced by the Yemeni people from a woman's perspective i.e. faced by the Yemeni people (be that health, nutrition, the economy or child marriage) from a woman’s perspective.  

The groups host events and training in their local areas as well as working together. They want to engage political parties to this issue and on this cause, and to be a conduit for a voice for the Yemini people within the UK political space.

Movement Building

New Economy Organisers Network (NEON)

Focused on building strength in movements for social and economic justice, NEON does 3 things: 1) Runs a movement building hub that delivers training on movement building and organising; 2) Runs a communications hub focused on developing messaging frameworks, a spokesperson network and a press officers’ network to service the movements that it works with; and 3) Incubates new organisations and supports organisations with a range of operational issues through an organisation builder’s hub.  Here we are going to focus in on its movement building work. 

The organisation works across supporting movements in five key issue areas: Climate, Immigration/Hostile Environment, Health, Housing and the New Economy, the latter of which is in development. All of NEON’s work is rooted in a deep commitment to anti-oppression. Marginalised people and communities are centred throughout its programmes.       

New in 2021, its Transformational Organising programme, piloted in housing justice, looks to take existing organisers and develop, enhance and deepen their organising practice.  Across 2022 there will be a more geographically targeted approach to this work, beginning in Glasgow due to current demand and the long tradition of community-based organising practice that exists within the city.  It is also considering work in Sheffield or Tyneside.  

Its flagship programme is Movement Builders, a training programme focused on giving people the tools with which to build effective movements.  It has been running now for several years. There was some geographical targeting pre- pandemic where there was a focus in London, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and Birmingham. More recently they have been focused on training within its five key issue areas, with a strong focus on the migration sector and supporting people with lived experience.  Coming up there will be a focus on justice issues around race and trans inclusion.

Act, Build, Change

Act, Build, Change is a learning community for change makers. Their goal is to make community organising accessible to everyone, and build a network of leaders committed to justice. They teach people how to build power and relationships; the fundamentals of community organising. They show how to do this sustainably, through collective care support and they use online, video and workshop approaches.

Local Storytelling Exchange – Funded by ECF

The local storytelling exchange is a pilot project looking to shine a spotlight on and raise up local activity that is already happening on climate action in three key locations in England – Cornwall, the West Midlands and on Teesside.  Cornwall was chosen as a location because of its importance to the debate about Climate Change due to poverty levels, the levels of interest about sustainable farming and agriculture, just transition and that there are a number of swing seats across the county.  Teesside and the West Midlands have been chosen because they have high profile Mayors that are seen to be influential both locally and within the governing party, as well as both being areas that were traditionally connected to the transport industry and other heavy industries. 

The work is embedded within the local community and supports local organising and activity by providing a platform through social and local media to tell the positive stories of those communities and generate a greater knowledge of this existing work, making it more impactful.  There is a strong sense that whilst it’s only a few months in, the early indicators are that it is working and there is a pipeline of stories coming through.  Its messengers are people embedded within the community and this is part of its impact – it’s not the expected progressive activists but instead a diverse range of people embedded in the local community concerned about the future of our planet and taking action.

Local to National Power Building

Power Postcodes

Power Postcodes is an approach developed by the Aid Alliance to both grow and show support for UK Aid in communities across small-town England.  It creates a connection between local people in key constituencies and MPs that are influential, primarily the Cabinet and junior ministers and ‘rising stars’. They are currently developing the model in key constituencies across the Red Wall.  

The model supports local activity in a range of targeted constituencies.  In typology terms it is probably closer to deep mobilising than strict community organising, though part of the approach is about building leadership capacity and activism in these key communities, and not just on international development issues.  The activists developed by Power Postcodes often take action on a range of issues around justice for refugees and climate justice, for example. It looks and feels very local and the aim is to listen to people in these communities in order to engage them.  For the person taking action, their first (often only) action is to send an individual hand-written postcard as part of the “postcard petition” to MPs.

Credit: Power Postcodes

Organising under hyper-local ‘pop up’ brands makes it harder for politicians to dismiss the voice of activists as people who somehow aren’t typical of the seat. Using handwritten postcards also gives an authenticity to the campaigning that prevents rejection by MPs of clicktivism. And by focusing efforts on people with the postcode of a powerful MP, the campaigning makes the most of limited resources and empowers citizens. By connecting these constituency efforts with the latest backbench rebellion efforts in Westminster, the activism can be even more effective. And by planning ahead and organising in the constituencies of future Cabinet Ministers (‘rising stars’), the organising efforts are more effectively future-proofed.

Hope for the Future

Grown out of Yorkshire, Hope for the Future  was originally established to mobilise church-goers to engage with climate change and make their views known to Parliamentary candidates in the general election, but soon both their geographic and demographic reach grew and they are now focused on a wider audience via offices in Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester.  

As part of their work, Hope for the Future have developed some key criteria for thinking about how to target their resources to make climate change a salient issue: 

  • The marginality of the seat of the MP - MPs in more marginal seats are likely to want to be seen as supportive of their constituents in order to improve their chances of re-election.  This may give constituents a better chance of persuading the MP to promote climate action
  • MPs in the 2017 and 2019 intake - MPs who first won their seats in the 2017 or 2019 election are likely to have made Parliamentary contributions on fewer topics than their more experienced colleagues. This may mean that they have made few ‘on the record’ comments about climate change and therefore may be more willing to be persuaded of the importance of climate action. These MPs are also at the start of their Parliamentary careers, meaning that for many of them, their influence will grow over the coming years
  • MPs that are Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS) - PPSs are non-paid MPs who support the work of specific government departments. PPS positions are often seen as a stepping stone to more senior government roles, so PPSs may become influential politicians in future
  • MPs that chair a select committee - Select committee chairmanships are prestigious roles, so for a fairly new MP to hold this position may indicate a bright or influential future.

Refugee Week

Now in existence for over 20 years, Refugee Week, produced and co-ordinated by Counterpoints Arts brings together 30 national and hundreds of local organisations to celebrate the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees.

The importance of place is key to the work carried out during Refugee Week.  Whilst a national event, centrally one location is chosen to be the focal point in any given year, and that place will be a key focus for the work for two years, one in the lead up to Refugee Week, and the other focused on leaving behind local capacity and a network for a longer-term legacy. 

A recent example of Refugee Week’s place-based approach was in Margate, where a local partnership was developed with the Turner Contemporary Gallery.  This brought together a wide range of local organisations to provide a platform for exploring migration and the local area through art, education, and culture.  The political influencing approach taken is much more indirect, whilst local politicians are invited to engage and be involved, they themselves are not a direct target of the work.  What Refugee Week does very well is leverage institutional power.  When they arrive in a locality, they make connections to a wide range of different local organisations and institutions to engage them with the activities.  This means that they are working with local institutions that people in the location already trust, and they are able to create a local network that supports migration and refugee causes in the local area long after they are gone.  This is a vital part of the legacy work and is why they take the time to be in a location 12 months after their flagship event has happened. 

The overall aim of Refugee Week is to bring about a social and cultural debate in specific locations, and to celebrate the transformational impact that refugees have.  

Great Big Green Week

Launched in September 2021, Great Big Green Week (GBGW) was the largest event for climate and nature ever seen in the UK.  Over 5000 events celebrated how communities are taking action to tackle climate change and protect green spaces, and encouraged others to get involved too.

GBGW had a series of objectives:

  • Raise the UK’s ambition at COP26
  • Demonstrate broad, mainstream public appetite for action, reach new audiences with issues and solutions and facilitate easy ways for more people to take meaningful action 
  • Shape the national and international narrative ahead of COP
  • Create energy via a national media/comms moment
  • Create a focal point for local groups to work together

GBGW was successful across all of its public engagement, audience diversification, media and community objectives. Where, according to its own evaluation, it was less successful was on raising the UK government's ambition at COP.  They had good pockets of engagement with a range of MPs and MLAs during the week in different locations, however a key learning from the future is about how to make that local engagement ladder up to a national level impact. There was also strong engagement at a local council level that can be maximised in future, especially where there are actions that local authorities can take on climate justice issues.

NGO Community Activism/Organising

Save the Children’s Community Champions Network

Save the Children has looked to embed an organising approach into its Campaign Champion network of volunteers over the last 2 years. In the past, these volunteer campaigners would have been given very specific actions to take on an issue in their community – often focused on meeting with a local MP or delivering a specific task/event, but since moving to adopt more of an organising approach, the network has been focused to look much more at how it can build power in its community with other networks/groups to wield it together or contribute to shaping the direction of their campaigning approach.

Credit: Save the Children

Amnesty International UK

Recognising that their long tested, traditional mobilisation approach will only go so far and engages only a specific pool of supporters, over the last couple of years Amnesty have been developing a more local power, activist led approach.  They reviewed and redeveloped their campaigning Theory of Change to reflect the challenges the organisation faces today.  As part of this, they developed an Activist Led Campaigning Framework to enable and facilitate bottom-up campaigning to complement their top-down mobilisation approach. 

Recognising the need to increase diversity of those campaigning on human rights issues, and to appeal to a broader demographic, they are now supporting people to develop their own approaches and to take more localised action on themes like conditions in local prisons under Covid, which ties to their wider national theme about mass incarceration. This approach has allowed activists to focus on the human rights issues that they care most about and which feels most relevant to the place where they live.