On February 11th the parish of Blessed John Henry Newman was officially recognised as a dues paying member of Leeds Citizens. This is a non-religious organisation whose aims and ethos correspond closely with Catholic Social Teaching.
Leeds Citizens is a diverse and independent alliance of civil society organisations who are acting together for the common good: diverse, because its members include faith communities - Christian, Sikh, Jewish and Muslim as well as educational establishments, trade unions, charities and residents groups; independent, because it is a totally self funded organisation – its finances coming from the founding partners and the member organisations. By bringing together all these groups, Leeds Citizens is strengthening civil society and increasing the participation of ordinary people in public life.
It is part of a larger organisation, Citizens UK, which has been working in England for about 20 years and which has been responsible for starting the Living Wage Campaign in London as well as taking up issues like affordable housing, CitySafe zones where young people may seek shelter if feeling under threat, homelessness in Nottingham and the closure of Yarlswood Detention Centre.
Before any action is taken, time is given to listen to the issues faced by people in their localities and so, under the guidance of Tom Chigbo, the Leeds Citizens Community Organiser, a Listening Campaign was launched to identify some of the main concerns facing the people of Leeds. Through one to one conversations, group meetings and community activities, the aim is to bring about social justice in the city.
How did we become involved in Leeds Citizens?
We are fortunate to have in our parish Deacon Sean Quigley who, in June 2013, was asked to become involved on behalf of the Diocese, in the Citizens organisation in Leeds. Through a very generous anonymous donation, the Catholic Diocese of Leeds was able to become a founding partner in the organisation and Deacon Sean became a member of the steering committee.
In November 2014, a group of people from across the parish was invited to attend a Leeds Citizens Listening Campaign Gathering at Notre Dame Sixth Form College. There we heard testimonies from students at David Young Community Academy and from members of Roscoe Methodist Church who had already begun a ‘Listening Campaign’ in their own locality. We were able to learn more about starting a listening campaign and by sharing stories with other organisations we were able to begin to try to identify common themes and concerns.
At the end of January 2015, Deacon Sean invited Tom Chigbo to the parish to give our Citizens group some further training in the methods we could use to conduct a listening campaign in our parish. We were able to practise ‘Rounds’ – where the same question is asked to each member of the group - a tool which can easily be used in already existing groups. We also learned how to conduct effective ‘One to One’ conversations. These, we were told, are face to face, personal and should be about topics of common interest. We also heard about the neighbourhood walk which had taken place in the Harehills area, where a team of people from the local churches visited all the shops in the locality around asking the shopkeepers what made them feel ‘mad, glad or sad’ about the area.
The Leeds Citizens Delegates Assembly was held on February 11th at the Leeds Makkah Mosque in Hyde Park and was attended by 150 people including five delegates from our parish. A total of 21 institutions from across the city – including our parish – received certificates to mark their membership of Leeds Citizens. After listening to presentations about the main areas of concern which had emerged from workshops held earlier in the year, delegates voted for the three issues to be prioritised for action. These are: Poverty and Debt; Health and Social Care and Transport. The next step will be training and planning meetings so that at least one public action relating to each of the three areas can take place in spring 2015, followed by negotiation and the setting of targets in preparation for the Leeds Citizens Founding Assembly to be held on July 7th 2015.
Leeds Citizens is an exciting development and we are delighted that our parish is a member – watch out for more information and opportunities for YOU to become involved in tackling major injustices facing people in our city today.
For further information visit www.citizensuk.org