Citizens UK – in Somerset
Working for Justice through Community Action
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
CITIZENS SOMERSET – what does this year hold?
We’re looking forward to a busy year of Community Organising through our Circuit’s membership of Citizens Somerset.
An important year for democracy
As an Alliance we are continuing with our four campaign areas but, in addition, as we look to make plans for the next 18 months, we are mindful of the political landscape ahead and the opportunities for us to seek support for our priorities from those standing for public office.
What does this mean? Citizens is strictly non-party political but that does not mean we can’t ask relevant questions of all candidates who are looking to be elected.
The first opportunity comes in May with elections to the new Taunton Town Council. And then a General Election is coming with the most likely date being May 2024 which will also see the next elections for the Police and Crime Commissioner. We will probably plan to hold an Accountability Assembly in the Spring of 2024 where we can question candidates and seek commitments, just as we did last year in the run-up to elections for the new Somerset Council.
We have built a good working relationship with the new Council Leadership and with the PCC and we are steadily making progress implementing the commitments they have made.
Homelessness: The proposal to set up modular housing units in Taunton has been agreed; the council have allocated land to the project; and a model agreed for the vital community support for residents. We are waiting for funding to be agreed but there is plenty to do in the meantime, particularly to mobilise volunteer support from our members so that we are ready when the moment comes. We are also working with the new Somerset-wide Council to establish similar projects elsewhere in the county.
Wellington to Taunton Cycle Route: The Council have honoured their commitment to this project by commissioning a full feasibility study which is expected to report in the summer. This will mean that the original target for construction work will slip but the action team is in close contact with council leaders to agree the planning milestones and set a new target date.
Real Living Wage: The Council are working to implement their promise to become a Real Living Wage Employer and we hope to publicise this with them at Vesting Day for the new Council in April. The longer-term work continues to get all the Council’s contractors to adopt the same promise to their staff and also to focus on Carers for whom payment of the Real Living Wage is a key factor in addressing the national crisis in Social Care.
Community Safety: This year will see a big push to work on this area of concern, with particular emphasis on how young people are affected inside and outside their school environments. We need to focus on specific issues and identify practical solutions which we can put to local decision makers, in the Council and with the Police and Crime Commissioner. We will start with major listening exercises with students, parents and teachers, particularly working with schools which have recently joined Citizens Somerset.
The strength of Community Organising comes through the churches, schools and other bodies which sign up to join Citizens Somerset - and all of their members. So we are always looking for new Members and are delighted that in the past few months two Taunton Primary Schools have joined and, most recently, a state Secondary School has announced its intention to join.
What can our Circuit do?
Our Circuit can be proud of its involvement with Citizens Somerset. We have strong representation on the Leadership Team, we have people who are on different Action Teams and we attend large Assemblies in good numbers. All this is in line with the Circuit’s Mission to tackle instances of Social Injustice wherever we can.
But we would always welcome more people getting involved. If you relate to any of the campaign areas, let us know and we can put you in touch with the Leaders of that Group. Your involvement can be as large or as small as you feel comfortable with.
And please put Monday 20th February at 6.00pm at Temple in your diary. We will be holding our Annual General Meeting but don’t let the name put you off! The business part of what we have to do will be kept to a minimum and most of the meeting will be about our programme and how people can help, making a real difference across our community.
As we will be the hosts we are hoping for a good attendance from across the Circuit. Please do come!
John Haines (Co-Chair, Citizens Somerset), Rev Deborah Kirk