Citizens UK

Citizens UK – in Somerset

Citizens UK is an organisation committed to working with local people, to hear their concerns about their community and take action to put them right. It describes itself as the “Home of Community Organising in the United Kingdom” and has been behind many successful campaigns, including being the driving force behind the introduction of the Real Living Wage (which the Methodist Church and many other employers have now adopted). It is concerned with real world issues of how society works but it is strictly non-party political.

Citizens UK has a number of branches – called Chapters – in London, Wales and many major cities across the country. And now the movement has come to the South West with the establishment of a local chapter “Citizens Somerset” which was formally launched at a Founding Assembly in Taunton in March 2019. It is the first to be set up in a mainly rural area.

The Methodist Circuit of Taunton Deane and South Sedgemoor has formally joined Citizens Somerset as a Founding Member Organisation, joining the Diocese of Bath & Wells, the United Reformed Church in Taunton and the Quakers, together with non-faith organisations like local schools and colleges and a number of committed individuals. The Circuit has taken the view that the goals of Citizens UK are very much in line with the Mission of the Methodist Church, to tackle issues of social justice and unfairness in our society and assist anybody who is affected by them.

It is early days for Citizens Somerset but the Circuit is looking forward to working with others to address issues which concern our membership. For a link to the Citizens Somerset website and to keep up to date with campaigns on the areas chosen as initial priorities, please click on the link below

https://www.citizensuk.org/somerset

The latest Citizens get-together brought six Methodists together with people from other organizations at the Quaker Meeting House where our new Organizer, Sandra Lawson, led us through news and discussions.

Our last Action - to support the Living Wage for Carers - was a visit to London where we shared in the Big Tea Party on Parliament Green and met about 35 MPs [unfortunately Rebecca Pow was not able to attend], followed by a rally at Westminster Central Hall. At the Hall, we were entertained by primary school children who had written their own songs of protest - and very good they were!

Our next Action on this front may involve jugglers - so if anyone has any skills in this area please let us know! Also, do you know any carers who would like to be involved?

We are hoping to arrange the promised meeting with Ms Pow soon.

"What can you do"? "Do you or someone you know give or receive care? Do you work in the care sector or are you a Carer? Are you on a salary that is below the Real Living Wage (£10.20 p.h)?

Would you be interested in coming along to a Coffee Morning to chat with members of Citizens Somerset to join our campaign for the Real Living Wage to be paid to ALL Carers and across the board to everyone who is struggling especially now with such large increases in the cost of living? Please come to Rowbarton Church hall, (corner of Kingston Road and Greenway road) on Thursday 25th August at 10.30am for cake and plenty of conversation and to meet members of Citizens Somerset and others that share the same issues and want to make a change.
Elaine Banks/Trish Dobson

The Circuit was proud to have hosted Citizens Somerset’s Accountability Assembly at Temple on the evening of Monday 25th April with almost 170 people present.

Citizens are strictly non-partisan but periodically people from our member organisations arrange to meet with local politicians at an Assembly to review our programme and make requests for action.

As Martin Wall from West Somerset Quakers (who was one of the co-chairs at the event) explained, “We don’t support or endorse any politician or political party. We do believe in playing our part to restore trust, integrity and accountability to our democracy. We believe this is so important during such divisive times. We want to work with whoever is in power and tonight is the start of crucial relationships being formed between decision makers and ordinary people like you and me”.

What happened at the Assembly

We welcomed the Somerset Leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties together with representatives of the Green and Labour parties, all standing as candidates to run the new Council.

Together with other invited guests and people from our member organisations, they heard presentations from the four campaigns Citizens Somerset is currently working on and they were asked whether, if elected to the new Council, they would commit to various specific policies and plans.

Citizens has been working with the Somerset West and Taunton Council and other partners to improve service for homeless people. The candidates were asked, and all agreed, that if elected to the new authority, “they would work with us to realise our contribution to ending rough sleeping by 2027, by continuing to support the creation of small clusters of one person modular units on meanwhile land, with wrap round voluntary mentoring/support, for each individual housed?”

Payment of the Real Living wage for low paid staff has long been a campaign by Citizens across the country; Citizens Somerset has been campaigning on the issue in relation to care workers and acknowledges the moves made on this in the last year by the existing council. Now Citizens Somerset would like to see the new Council promote this policy across all employment sectors and the candidates all committed “to the Somerset Council working towards becoming accredited as a Real Living Wage employer, and become a Living Wage Champion, chairing a county wide approach to encourage other employers to pay the Real Living Wage”.

Recently a mass action took place to promote the idea of creating a safe cycle path between Wellington and Taunton, with large groups of cyclists riding the route under escort to highlight the present dangers on the busy A38. At the Assembly the politicians gave a commitment “to see construction of this route starting before 2025, and to support the concept of cycling, walking etc more generally by appointing a Champion for Active Travel for the new Somerset Council”.

Students from one the school members of Citizens Somerset have been leading on issues relating to safety on our streets, undertaking listening exercises with the local community and developing plans for improvements. An early focus has been to make local parks in Taunton safer and more attractive places for young and old alike. At the Assembly a mother from Taunton gave moving testimony on how her young children are regularly exposed to drug paraphernalia and anti-social behaviour as they walk through a local park on their way to school. The four election candidates all agreed to ”working with Citizens Somerset on the plan to enable children and young people to flourish and to keep them safe in our community, and to start this work by working with us to ensure our parks in Taunton are safe, drug free and accessible spaces”.

What does it mean now?

These are very real achievements which will bring tangible benefits to many thousands of people across the county. As well as the detailed agreements made, all the main parties contesting the elections committed to meeting Citizens Somerset on a regular basis and so now, following the election, we are well placed to develop our relationship with the Leaders of the new Council.

Thank you so much for the great support from across the Circuit with about 25 people from our various churches. We heard personal and powerful, presentations from Rachel Adams (Temple) and Trish Dobson (Rowbarton). We are very grateful to Temple members for helping to manage the event, and to all those who provided refreshments.

We hope that those who came to the Assembly found it worthwhile and that others may be encouraged to get involved or just find out a bit more, by emailing somerset@citizensuk.org

As well as continuing to support campaigns we are very keen to expand our membership, not just in the area around Taunton but across the rest of the County as well. We are encouraged that already since the Assembly one of our local primary schools has committed to becoming a member and we would welcome other interest, whether from schools, other faith organisations or any other bodies which make up Civic Society.

As individuals we will all have contacts with other potential members, including churches in other Circuits but with other organisations as well, and we can all encourage people we know elsewhere to find out more.

Please let John Haines or Deborah Kirk know of anybody who might be interested.

John Haines (Co-Chair, Citizens Somerset), Rev Deborah Kirk