Agnes tells us about her recent experience of being part of a community campaign in Walthamstow CLP.
In September I attended a Movement for Change session in Walthamstow, it was my first Labour Party meeting for several years and I was a little apprehensive about how it would go and whether I would be somehow talked into leaving with 5,000 leaflets to deliver. What actually happened was a very professional training session, where a diverse group of participants, members old and new could express themselves and rediscover their own motivations for being part of the Party. The organiser Kathryn brought together a group who had many shared aspirations and ideals yet came from different backgrounds, some more political than others, all of whom cared deeply about Walthamstow and wanted to do something to help the area improve.
The session gave us a chance to think about what community organising might look like in Walthamstow and how this would differ from the Party’s traditional structure of organisation. We understood that we could all play a key role in developing the Party’s links within the area and that our friends, neighbours and other local contacts could all benefit each other and the wider community by talking to each other more and taking joint action. The only frustration at the end of that first meeting was that there was no one clear issue to start building around. We wanted to go out into the community but there were so many local issues to talk about, where would we start?
The answer came very quickly via a meeting in Parliament for local residents who had taken part in the positive local response to the August riots which had sadly spread to Walthamstow. The Riots, Communities and Victims Panel had been set up to investigate why the August riots took place and what could be done in the future to prevent such scenes occurring again. Responding to the Inquiry was an obvious first step for our group to work on together, as it would be a way of us going out into the community to build relationships beyond the local Party.
Our group met again to decide how to go about responding. We had a short deadline to complete our task in order to influence the Panel’s interim report so we had to act quickly. We decided that each member of the group would talk with as many local people as possible. We were keen to talk to anyone with a view on the riots, there was a feeling that ordinary people had a lot to say about this event and we wanted to capture that. We also wanted to talk to people in positions of authority and those in contact with young people and faith groups. Our network of members meant that we were quickly able to reach out to local people, set up meetings and gather testimonials. One of the most positive aspects of this project was how responsive people were to being asked their views. The riots had really upset and angered people locally and they wanted their views to be represented. We also gathered video testimonials in the town square on a busy Saturday afternoon.
Then came the mammoth task of collating all the responses and drafting our response. Luckily we had a small but dedicated team who were prepared to wade through all the evidence and bring it together into a coherent document. There were many different views collected and we tried to represent the diversity we encountered. A number of themes did emerge, in particular a feeling that there was not enough support or activities for young people in Walthamstow, that this group needed positive intervention and that local investment was needed. However there was also a very positive feeling about the area, that it is a great place to live, that the people are good and that we will move on and improve as an area.
We submitted our response and recently have seen the Panel’s interim report being published. The Panel also plan to visit Walthamstow to talk to local people themselves.
The whole process was an excellent first project for us as a Movement for Change group. It made us work together, talk to people who do not normally work together with the local Party, and also come up with a concrete outcome which was satisfying. We received good local feedback from the wider local Party and council and some members of the group also had the opportunity to present our findings to David Miliband MP when he visited Walthamstow in November. The project gives us a sound base to build on and I hope that it is only the beginning of our new way of working.