Special Adviser, John Fenner, reports on Shoreditch Citizens
What an exhilarating evening! On 13 June 2012, Shoreditch Citizens, funded by the Mayor’s Fund for London in partnership with Barclays, held an Assembly at St Luke’s in Old Street to mark its birthday. Attended by some 170 local residents, the event celebrated the achievements of the group during the past 12 months. Established as a grass roots organisation it has already taken major steps to improve conditions for many.
We were welcomed by a musical performance from three members of the Alevi Cultural Centre in Hackney. Soul searching plaintive melodies filled the auditorium, reflecting the open spaces of Turkey from where this religious, spiritual movement sprang. Three hours later the proceedings were closed by a vibrant gospel choir, the two offerings emphasising the diverse range of beliefs represented in the audience.
Shoreditch Citizens looked back on -
Hackney Homes have spent £1m on curing black mould and damp in four estate blocks in Hackney. Hackney Homes have now committed to invest a further £1m (approx) to cover additional similar works. On the evening the Hackney Homes team were celebrated for their commitment to address this issue.
The campaign to persuade employers to pay the “Living Wage” – £8.30 per hour (2011) – as against the “Minimum Wage” – £6.70 per hour – has put more than £100m extra in the pockets of working people, lifting 10,000 families out of poverty. In the three Shoreditch boroughs the impact has already been felt. 2,500 workers for Islington Council; 25 staff at Bethnal Green Academy; 300 City and Islington staff are now paid Living Wages following help, support and encouragement from Shoreditch/London Citizens. Slaughter and May received an award for their continuing support of the London Living Wage. Shoreditch is also home to the first accredited Living Wage pub, the Joiners Arms.
Education Training and Work Experience
Young leaders from Shoreditch citizens have won an agreement from a consortium including Islington Council and City Islington College, and other schools and colleges in Islington for a bursary scheme to support students without adequate means to continue their studies following the withdrawal of the EMA Grant.
Further, as part of this programme, 120 young people have been helped to secured jobs in the Living Wage Olympic jobs.
Young leaders from secondary schools, including Central Foundation Boys’ School in Islington, Bridge Academy in Hackney and Bethnal Green Academy (BGA) in Tower Hamlets and supported by City Year (another Mayor’s Fund project) have been spearheading a campaign to make the streets safe. In Bethnal Green, a campaign led by young people has resulted in street crime around Bethnal Green Academy being reduced by 84%. Along the Hackney Rd, Local shopkeepers now offer safe haven to young people being chased by gangs or otherwise facing fear out in the open. At the assembly senior officers from each borough committed to help these young leaders turn their areas into City Safe Zones by October 2012.
During the event citizens spoke movingly of their hardship and the opportunities created by this new body. Of particular note were the comments from two young women, who, despite excellent qualifications, could not find jobs, and pleaded for more effort to introduce work to the unemployed.
I was struck by the clarity of all the presentations and the articulate expression, not merely of past achievements, but of future needs. Certificates were given to many outside organisations that had been particularly encouraging, including the Mayor’s Fund. Chris Robinson received that Award on behalf of the Fund.
All of this represents an outstanding progress. Experiencing the confidence and vigour of the Assembly, as well as the efficiency of the proceedings, I have no doubt that Shoreditch Citizens are only just beginning the journey to transform conditions and lives.