Category Archives: News

Citizens climate assembly hears stark testimony and messages of hope from MK leaders

On the evening of Thursday 2nd September at MK Gallery, civil society organised an event called “Together in the Climate Crisis”, bringing together civil society, local government and business leaders. It was held in honour of a visit from the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft.  The Bishop is a member of the House of Lords Climate and Environment Committee, and the focus of the event was building a joint-up approach to the Climate Crisis in Milton Keynes.

Moving testimony about the impact of climate change was provided by 19 year old Lauren Jeffrey from the Lakes Estate Renewal Forum.  She told the room about her initial response when hearing about the climate crisis at the age of 16:

“I feared for my life, and the lives of the people I loved. I started questioning all of my future plans.  In my head, they were all pointless.  I was in despair…But I decided that I wanted to be part of the solution, and that’s why I’m here.  Hopefully, this evening will be a good opportunity for us to come together around a shared goal of making Milton Keynes a climate role model for the rest of the UK.”

The room also heard from Alex Chapman, from Christ the Cornerstone Church and the New Economics Foundation, who spoke about his work for a think tank studying at first hand the impacts of climate change on coastal communities around the world, and the increasing number of climate refugees.  He spoke about his visit to sugar cane farmers in the Soc Trang province of Vietnam in 2013:

“My team’s job was to interview farmers about their crops and how much produce they had grown.  The tonnage of crop that year, from a village of hundreds of farmers, was zero. The creep of salt water into the soil had killed the sugar cane. Many in the village were packing up, and they were leaving. This is the story for tens of millions of farmers around the globe.”

It was also a night for discussing solutions.

Rob Paton from MK Quaker Meeting explained the idea of Carbon Fee & Dividend and how it is being adopted in Canada.  He explained the model, saying:

“Carbon fees are levied on fossil fuels at source but used only to fund a climate dividend that is shared out equally among adult citizens.  In this way what would be highly regressive as a tax, becomes a redistributive transfer. The less well-off come out ahead. This stimulates demand for the emerging technologies and investment in them – which brings down their price, further easing the great carbon de-tox.”

There were also talks from local business leaders.  Satheesh Krishnamurthy from the OU reported on some of the innovative solutions coming out of laboratories and universities.  Jo Lewington, Head of sustainability at Network Rail, described the huge programme of work both to reduce carbon emissions and to make the transport system more resilient.  And Clive Faine from Abbeygate Developments described how his industry had woken up to the seriousness of the situation and the steps it was now taking to put things right.

Jenny Wilson-Marklew, the cabinet member for Climate and Sustainability at MK Council, also attended. She offered a very moving speech, and said:

“In 2017 we committed to carbon neutral by 2030 and we are very committed to it, but we are not doing enough.”

Milton Keynes Council recently voted unanimously, across all parties, in support of the radical new approach to carbon reduction – Carbon Fee & Dividend.  The motion was presented by Jenny Wilson-Marklew, with speeches in support from Rob Paton, Rick Mutwarasibo and Catherine Butt, all from Citizens:MK.

Citizens:MK is an alliance of civil society institutions across Milton Keynes, focused on working together for social justice and the common good.  Their ask of the Bishop was for him to learn more about Carbon Fee and Dividend, and then meet with Citizens campaigners in the near future to discuss whether and how he might help promote it nationally. He agreed, and gave a powerful speech, saying:

“We are doing scrutiny enquiries on COP15 and COP26 in the short term before looking at the long term enquiry on climate change and biodiversity.  The world has already lost, climate change is happening.  Every fraction of a degree of temperature change is worth fighting against.  The responsibility must be shared across all generations.”

Green City makes all-party call for bolder climate action before big UN conference.

Milton Keynes Council has voted unanimously for a motion supporting higher fossil fuel prices linked to compensating payments to all adults. The Council will ask the government urgently to appraise how the idea of a carbon fee & dividend – already being implemented in Canada – could work in the UK.

Under this arrangement, fuel levies are paid back to citizens at a flat rate – so the wealthiest who use fossil fuels the most pay the most, while the less well off receive back more than the amount they pay in increased fuel prices.

Council Leader Peter Marland (Labour) commented: “ Milton Keynes was one of the very first councils to declare a climate emergency. That was like setting off the fire alarm. This is a way for the country to tackle the source of the blaze.”

Deputy Leader Robin Bradburn (Lib Dem) stated: “ Milton Keynes has shown that, done the right way, realistic carbon pricing can gain cross-party approval.”

Councillor Alex Walker, Leader of the Conservative group said: “ This idea is compatible with current government thinking and definitely needs to be progressed.”

The motion was requested by the Climate Campaign team of Citizens:MK

Rev Catherine Butt, of St. Frideswide’s Church said: “Carbon fee and dividend offers a way for us all to pay realistically for the carbon we use, and for us to share equally the income generated. We have a wonderful opportunity to pursue a policy that preserves our precious environment and also positively addresses poverty and inequality. In the year of COP 26, it would be fantastic to see the UK commit to this approach.”

Rick Mutwarasibo, of Christ the Cornerstone Church and one of the team said: . “Young people like me will bear the brunt of the impending disasters. You may think transitioning to renewable energy sources and retrofitting premises for carbon neutrality is expensive. But those costs are small compared to the costs of fire, flood, food shortages and rising sea levels. Climate Fee & Dividend will drive decarbonisation.”

Rob Paton, of MK Quaker Meeting said “It’s vital to secure the buy-in of those citizens who are struggling to keep their families fed and housed and who might otherwise become another generation of fuel tax protestors. Direct payments can secure their support in tackling the climate emergency.”

Mayor presents laptops to Fishermead school and community centre

At a celebration breakfast organised by Citizens:mk and hosted by Fishermead Trinity Community Centre, MK Mayor Mohammed Khan presented community leaders with 35 laptops. 

The devices were donated by Circular Computers, through Veritas Digital Services Ltd.’s Laptops4learning scheme www.laptops4learning.co.uk which tackles digital inequality by the repair and reuse of surplus technology. 

30 devices will be used by pupils of Jubilee Wood Primary School and 5 will be used to start an internet café at Trinity Centre.

This initiative follows a listening campaign involving 61 residents.  41% had trouble accessing the internet and 59% said they would use the internet cafe.

A survey of school pupils showed 114 pupils can’t access devices at home for school work.  “What we have received through this initiative will make a huge difference to them,” said head teacher Matt O’Brien. “It’s good to work alongside others who take pride in the community and want to make it as good as possible for our children.”

28 children from Willows First School, led by head teacher Jo Orbell, sang ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ to great applause.

Local resident Ophelia Cole, Chair of Trinity Centre Management Committee, who has been trained by Citizens:mk, said: I strongly believe in working with institutions who contribute towards developing residents and changing the negative press about Fishermead. I hope this centre will one day become the hub where all residents meet to support and encourage each other, where those who are strong give a helping hand to those who are struggling.”

Mayor with representatives of Veritas Digital (Sue Gowling second from right) and Fishermead community leaders (Ophelia Cole (fifth from right)

The event was also attended by Debbie Gockelen, Assistant Principal of MK Academy secondary school, who said: “Our work with the community through Citizens:mk has encouraged active citizenship and empowered our students to make a difference in their communities. It’s good to be here and see other schools getting together to support digital inclusion.”

Sue Gowling, Founder of Veritas Digital Services, said: “We set up Laptops4learning back at the start of the pandemic to get sustainable, affordable tech and donations out to those in need.  We are delighted to be able to help the Fishermead community and look forward to extending our work with Citizens:MK and Citizens UK”.

Rev Ian Herbert, a Trinity Centre trustee, said: “We need to reach out to residents who are digitally excluded.  Working together with schools, faith and other community groups, we can.”

This initiative is part of a project funded by MK Community Foundation to build an alliance of Fishermead community groups to take action together, in partnership with Campbell Park Parish Council, to improve their community. If you would like your community group to be involved, contact Community Organiser Tom Bulman, tel 07962 838685.

(Pictured above: Cllr Mohammed Khan, Mayor of Milton Keynes, presenting 5 laptops and a partnership certificate to Heinz Elbers, Trinity Centre trustee.)

Cyclists rally to Mayor and Council Leader

More than 30 cyclists rallied in Station Square and rode through Central Milton Keynes with Milton Keynes Mayor Mohammed Khan and Council Leader Peter Marland. This was to celebrate the success of June Bike Month, in which CitizensMK members cycled 10,808 miles and MK school students and staff cycled 4,365 miles

Following free Dr Bike services from Cycle Saviours, and tasty hot snacks from Namji, certificates were awarded to institutions and prizes to individuals (sponsored by Trek Bikes and John Lewis) cycling most during June (see gallery below).

Ian Revell, CEO of MK Community Foundation, called on cyclists to meet again every Thursday 5pm at Station Square to celebrate cycling in MK and help MK become a cycle city. All welcome to join.

(Special thanks to MK Council officer Ellie Williamson and Hazeley School student Sasha Snell for helping to organise this event.)

Join CMK Cycle Round, Thursdays 5pm

Meet others for a friendly and fun cycle ride from Station Square to Campbell Park Viewpoint and back. The on-road ride leaves Station Square at 5pm every Thursday (see photo gallery below). Dr Bike service, offering free advice and basic repairs supplied by Cycle Saviours, available on Station Square from 4pm. This is part of the Cycling CitizensMK project in partnership with MK Council and Love To Ride. Santander Cycles can be hired from Station Square – first 30 mins free.

Sometimes there are special guests – see MK Mayor Khan and Council Leader Marland in action with CitizensMK Members and schools at June Bike Month competition awards.

Cllr Alex Walker, Leader of MK Conservative Group, joined CMK Cycle Round on 17.6.21 and said: “We all need to start taking this more seriously and I congratulate Citizens MK for this campaign to kickstart a renewed effort to boost cycling in the city.”

Bike month – Members and Schools cycle-off!

As part of a project with MK Council, Citizens:mk members and schools are competing to cycle most times and most miles in June Bike Month. See the leader boards:

Prizes will be awarded by MK Mayor Khan in Station Square at 5pm on Thursday 1st July.

Can you contribute a ride or two of your own to help your organisation’s cycle group? It’s easy. Just register here and then join your group.

If you have any questions, contact info@citizensmk.org.uk, tel 07962 838685.

(Pictured above: Ms Jo-Anne Hoarty, Headteacher of St. Paul’s Catholic School.)

Citizens win pledges from PCC candidates and party leaders

212 citizens from 30 civil society institutions attended the Thames Valley Citizens Accountability Assembly on 29th April.

29 leaders from 15 institutions presented five campaigns with specific asks of Police & Crime Commissioner candidates, and leaders of the main political parties in Milton Keynes Council, ahead of elections on 6th May.

These powerholders made pledges for:

  • Acton on misogyny
  • Digital inclusion
  • Action on climate change
  • Deaths registration services
  • Police and young people.

See asks and pledges, with links to video recording, and summary of pledges by candidate.

Southwood Primary school pupils talked about their environment (see Stacey and Eliza videos) and the Rt Rev Bishop Olivia of Reading spoke powerfully about how the Diocese of Oxford, main sponsor of Thames Valley Citizens, is taking action on climate change (min 52-54).

The assembly ended with a Ramadan blessing from Imam Ahmed Hilal.

“The content of the evening was brilliant, really engaging,” said Linda Kirk of MK Anglican Deanery. “The testimonies were convincing and the children’s were amazing…I felt proud to be part of it.”

“This was my first Citizens Assembly and it was incredibly inspiring and powerful,” said Emma Humphreys of The Oxford Academy. “I am just starting my journey with Citizens UK and this was a fantastic opportunity to see it in action.”

Following the election, leaders of Thames Valley Citizens will hold powerholders to account for their pledges.

Delegates Assembly agrees campaign Goals

On 23rd March, Thames Valley Citizens held its annual Delegates Assembly online. This followed deeper research by campaign teams formed at Leaders Forum on 10th November. 45 leaders from developing citizens alliances in Oxford and Reading, and 12 Citizens MK member institutions, gave consent for five campaign action teams to present to the Police & Crime Commissioner and Leader of MK Council on 29th April.

CampaignTarget Ask Action Team
Action on Climate Change Police & Crime Commissioner; Leader of MK Council Police to be carbon-neutral by 2030, Council to discuss carbon fee and dividendCornerstone (Rick), MK Green Alliance (Rob, Kirsty, Michael), St. Pauls (Craig), MK Quakers (?), Southwood (?)
Young People & PolicePolice & Crime Commissioner Police to set up youth panel, school police day, pilot police lunches in four primary schools (£10k)MK Academy (Molly), St. Pauls (Annie), Southwood (Kate)
Burial & Death Registration Leader of MK Council Council to provide deaths registration 7dpw and burial facilities in accordance with religious beliefs by Aug 2021MK Deanery (Linda), TGTR (Linda M), MKMA (Hamid & Salim), Reading (Shaheen & Mustafa), Council of Faiths (Arif), OU (Satheesh)
Misogyny as Hate CrimePolice & Crime Commissioner PCC to include intersectional recording of hate crime in quarterly report.Cornerstone (Maggie), MK Academy (Rue & Raphael), OU (Janice & Jane), Q:alliance (Tracie Farrell), TGTR (Alifa & Kurshida), St. Pauls (Elysia)
Digital Inclusion Leader of MK Council Explore cost/benefit and funding of free wifi in Fishermead and Lakes EstateCornerstone (Stuart), MK Deanery (Tim), Reading (Judith), BRC (Scott Pilekas)

24 leaders participated in presentations, some for the first time.

Pledges were made for turnout of 143 at Accountability Assembly 29th April (details below).

In a short evaluation immediately after the Assembly, 20 leaders scored the event 8.5 out of 10. Points lost as process of Institutions reporting their commitments to action teams and assembly turnout could have been clearer.

Recording of the Delegates Assembly (passcode: ^*@nQr04).

Register here to attend Accountability Assembly 29th April.

Turnout pledges for Accountability Assembly (turnout tips):

Oxford developing citizens alliance
Reading developing citizens alliance30
Church of Christ the Cornerstone10
MK Academy10
MK Council of Faiths5
MK Deanery10
MK Green Alliance3
MK Muslim Association20
MK Quaker Meeting10
Open University10
Southwood Primary School10
St. Frideswide’s Church10
St. Paul’s Catholic School10
Truby’s Garden Tea Room5
143

Orchard Top of Cycling CitizensMK league table

Orchard Academy primary school has taken top spot in a new league table of CitizensMK members and partner organisations. At 21st March, three weeks into MK Council’s Ride It Out promotion month, Orchard has four of its staff in the top 7 riders who have cycled most miles.

One is Michelle Carter (pictured above), who for several years has been involved in promoting cycling among young children. As well as teaching full time, and having four children of her own at home, Michelle set up her own company, Biker Tots, to teach children from as young as two to cycle.

Jonathan Wilson, Deputy Headteacher at Orchard Academy (pictured below), is also in the top 7 riders of Cycling CitizensMK.

“I just love getting outdoors,” he said. “One good thing about lockdown has been seeing more families out on their bikes.

“At Orchard we want to get back to training our pupils to cycle as soon as possible. There’s so much to enjoy about being indoors rather than just computer gaming at home.”

Vicar Gill busy on a bike

Rev Gill Barrow-Jones, of St. George’s and Holy Trinity Churches in Wolverton, has been getting around on her bicycle. 22 trips in the last 18 days, as part of MK Council’s Ride It Out promotion in March (see her stats)!

“I cycle for lots of reasons,” she says. “Sometimes cycle It’s because I am late on the school run and it gets me there quickly! Other times because it’s a great way to get around in my parish. Whilst cycling I can see loads of people and stop to chat quite easily and hear what is going on in Wolverton.

“I did 8 miles last weekend delivering Mothering Sunday posies. Loved it!

“I like to cycle because it keeps me fit (especially with the gym and swimming pool closed). It’s good to get out and get active.

“I also cycle because it is good for the environment. God asks us to care for the world and turning on the car engine creates a lot of CO2. Getting on a bike is good for everyone.

“I especially like to cycle with my kids. It is such good fun and gets them off electronic devices for a while too!

“I’d love more people to cycle. The Redways in Milton Keynes make it super easy. Go get your bike out!”

Click here to see MK Mayor Cllr Geary on why he cycles.

Click here to find out about Ride It Out in March.

Click here join our Cycling CitizensMK club.

Muslim leaders want better bereavement services

18 Muslim leaders from 8 mosques heard testimony from three people who have recently experienced trauma through lack of death registration services at the weekend. Now they are researching the Council’s interest and planning action.

According to Islamic law (shariah), the body should be buried as soon as possible from the time of death, which means that funeral planning and preparations begin immediately (including administrative & religious obligations). Burial is usually within 24 hours of death to protect the living from any sanitary issues and to honour the dead. Not burying the dead in the prescribed time carries a religious dilemma about whether the person was righteous. The Prophet of Islam clearly commands Muslims to hasten the burial:

“Hasten (the burial), if he is righteous, you are hastening him to good. If not, then it is evil you are removing from your necks.” [Bukhari]

At the moment the MK Muslim community is struggling to fulfil this religious commandment for weekends as there are no provisions or policy from the MK Council for out of hours registrations or burials.

To join the action team, contact Salim Msallam.

MK leaders get on their bikes to ‘Ride It Out’

It is not often that a Bishop, Headteacher, Lawyer, Mayor and Police Chief, all decide to cycle on the same day.  But the days are getting longer, an end to Covid restrictions is in sight, and MK leaders are choosing to Ride It Out.

On Monday 1st March, 20 leaders of faith, education and business organisations, rode their bikes to promote a month of Ride It Out cycling in a partnership between MK Council and Citizens:mk.

See gallery of riders.

“I may be more of a walker than a cyclist,” said Cllr Peter Marland, Leader of MK Council, “but it is vital we move to more sustainable modes of transport and I look forward to getting out more on my bike in March.”

“It’s a no brainer,” said Rt Rev Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham.  “I listen to children a lot during my visits to schools, and I know how important it is to them to see us doing what we can to reduce climate change.”

“This past year has been difficult for our pupils,” said Jo-Anne Hoarty, Headteacher of St. Paul’s Catholic School.  “Encouraging them to enjoy doing things outdoors is important for their wellbeing.”

“We know how important it is to be physically and mentally fit,” said Rukhsana Malik of MK Muslim Association (pictured).  “Cycling is a relatively cheap, exhilarating and easy way to get healthy while going places.”

“For years my political opponents have been telling me to ‘get on yer bike!’,” said MK Mayor Andrew Geary.  “Well now I’m pleased to be doing it to support this great initiative by Citizens:MK. Cycling is great fun and it’s good for us too!  Why not give it a try even if you haven’t done it for a while?” 

In Ride It Out there will be four themed weeks, each with a different reason to ride and enjoy all the benefits that biking can bring. From the physical and mental benefits through to the fun and adventurous, Ride it Out will help people to get healthier and happier whilst helping the planet too.

You can join Ride It Out by registering at www.lovetoride.net/uk and share your cycling photos and experiences on Twitter: @citizensMK @mkcouncil @lovetoride_ @GetSmarterMK #RideItOutTogether.

Get ready for a long summer of cycling! 

Leaders – get on your bike for ‘Ride It Out’ on Monday 1st March

Please help us show others that cycling is healthy and fun – a good thing for us all to do as we come to the end of Covid lockdown.

Ride a bike on Monday 1st March to help launch MK Council’s Ride It Out challenge, take a photo and say what was good about it for you:

  • either on Twitter @citizensMK @mkcouncil @lovetoride_ @GetSmarterMK #RideItOutTogether
  • or in an email to tom.bulman@citizensuk.org for our website.

This is not about pretending you’re a regular or committed cyclist (if you aren’t one), just that you think it’s a good thing to do at least sometimes.

See leaders participating.

See gallery of riders participating so far.

CAN CITIZENS:MK MEMBERS CYCLE MORE THAN ANY OTHER MK ORGANISATION?

To encourage members of your organisation to participate in Ride It Out in the month of March, please do the following:

That way we can see and celebrate their cycling as individuals, as members of your workplace, and as members and partners of Citizens:mk.

If you have any questions, please contact:

For information about all MK Council’s cycle activities, go to www.getcyclingmk.org.

White Ribbon call to action

Citizens:mk and Thames Valley Citizens leaders are asked to sign up to the White Ribbon Promise.

The action will complement the new MK Domestic Abuse Prevention Strategy, which only aims to work with school students or perpetrators. It has piloted a trial with female students at one school – but did not speak to the male students.

We believe that “Most men are not violent to women and role modelling positive examples of masculinity to other men is a valuable thing for society as a whole, making for a happier work/life balance, improved personal relationships, more productivity in the workplace and better customer/client interaction. “

MAKE THE PROMISE

White Ribbon encourage all men to wear a White Ribbon, and make the Promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. This is a serious declaration and requires thought and consideration before it is made.

They specifically ask men to make the Promise, however anyone over the age of 14 can take it.

You can order a White Ribbon lapel badge to wear, or just download the logo and send us that in your email. But this is not a tick box exercise, it is a promise to take action every day (see below for webinars that you could sign up for or promote).

White Ribbon Ambassadors are men, from all walks of life, who are working with White Ribbon to change the cultures that lead to violence against women.

Men are promising to be a positive male role model in their community, including within workplaces, leisure activities, online, and among friends.

Woman are promising to encourage men and boys, organisations, networks and communities to say ‘NO’ to violence against women.

Sign up and promote these two webinars by leaders in ending violence.

26 November – Exploring ways to prevent gendered violence and challenge masculine norms in a time of crisis. Sandy Ruxton and Dr Stephen Burrell will share the outcomes of their recently published Promundo report, Masculinities and COVID-19: Making the Connections, and offer practical ways that this understanding can be used to engage, and work with, young men.

8th December – Engaging men in preventing violence against women with Dr Michael Flood Dr Michael Flood will share his research and practical knowledge to address what men can do to prevent and reduce violence against women. Dr Flood is an Australian sociologist and an associate professor at the Queensland University of Technology School of Justice.

FURTHER INFORMATION

New lockdown regulations coming into force will mean that calls to domestic violence helplines will inevitably increase.  In June this year calls to the National helpline saw a 77% increase and in Milton Keynes one in five residents reported experiencing domestic violence.

November 25 is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and also marks White Ribbon Day.

White Ribbon UK is part of the global movement to end male violence against women by engaging with men and boys to individually and collectively take action and challenge behaviour. White Ribbon Ambassadors are men working to change the cultures that lead to male violence and White Ribbon Champions are women who encourage men to get involved.


We are asking you to inform yourselves about the White Ribbon campaign and to encourage members in your organisation to join up as ambassadors or champions.

We want to see at least two people in each of our supporter organisations signing up to Wear a White Ribbon and Make the Promise so that we can work towards Citizens:mk becoming a White Ribbon accredited organisation and invite other organisations around Milton Keynes to follow.

Sign up asap to receive a White Ribbon Badge in time for White Ribbon Day.

You can find out more about the kind of harassment and difficulty that women experience in their day-to-day lives by looking at the website of Laura Bates and the Everyday Sexism Project www.everydaysexism.com

Please let us know by November 24 how many of your members have signed up to the White Ribbon Promise, and we will share this with our followers in Milton Keynes.

Thanking you in anticipation,

Chloe Harding, MK Academy

Maggie Greaves, Church of Christ the Cornerstone

Jane Whild, The Open University

Leaders Forum prioritises social problems to research

Following listening campaigns involving more than a hundred conversations (see submissions from institutions), 27 leaders from nine member institutions shared the headline results and prioritised four social problems for further research with deeper listening: Climate Change, Racism, Misogyny and Digital Exclusion. Others may emerge.

Small teams will organise more 121s over the winter months towards creating SMART campaign goals for Delegates Assembly on 9th February 2021, which member institutions pledged a turnout of 76 people to attend.

Kurshida Mirza receives British Empire Medal

Citizens:mk is delighted to learn that former Co-Chair Kurshida Mirza has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for her interfaith contribution to Milton Keynes through Trubys Garden Tea Room and the Great Get Together Iftar. 

Married with two children and living in Milton Keynes since 1990, Kurshida has a research, policy and strategy background working within local and central government.  She held many portfolios in Government including leading on housing for vulnerable and older people, community engagement, tackling worklessness and homelessness. 

As well as being former Co-Chair of Citizens:mk, Kurshida is Chair for MK Community Foundation and founder of Trubys Garden Tea Room – MK’s interfaith cafe and the Midlands Chair for Housing Learning and Information Network (a learning and improvement network connecting housing, health and care).  Kurshida is also the founder of the Great Get Together Iftar MK  which brings people from all faiths and the wider community to join Muslims during Ramadan to break the fast.  The Great Get Together Iftar and Trubys Interfaith Cafe are both growing from strength to strength with a huge following in MK as a conduit for positive dialogue between Muslims and the wider community.

Kurshida said: “I am truly humbled by this recognition.  All thanks is to Allah and the success of both Trubys Garden Tea Room and the Great Get Together Iftar are because of all our volunteers and partners who work tirelessly throughout the year.”

Weaving Trust – listening for issues in BAME access to health services

20 leaders from 12 MK institutions participated in an online Weaving Trust event focused on the equality of access to MK health services experienced by people from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.

The event provided an opportunity to hear testimonies and share experiences – through a carousel of short one-to-one discussions – with various MK health providers. It was hoped this would lead to new opportunities for understanding, collaboration and perhaps action to improve the way things are. 

After an introduction from Chair Kurhshida Mirza, testimonies were heard from:

  • Jabeer Butt, CEO, Race Equality Foundation – national perspective on evidence of health inequalities (read testimony)
  • Dr Aysha Ziauddin – a GP living in MK and working in Northampton – sharing her thoughts on the issues for BAME communities (hear testimony)
  • Mrs Humaira Hasan – a local MK resident – why equal access to health is important to her as a citizen (hear testimony)

Then there were six rounds of 7-minute one-to-one conversations.

At the end of the event, a small team agreed to meet in two weeks to prioritise issues, taking note of comments written in Zoom Chat, and work to set a direction for action to bring about change (read written comments).

Humaira Hasan of Truby’s Garden Tea Room wrote: “It was nice to be able to speak to others whom I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to interact with. Also nice to have a platform where I can speak freely!”

AGM launches Listening Campaign 2020

17 leaders from 9 member institutions attended the Annual General Meeting on Tuesday 15th September 2020.

Reflections on 2019-20 and what’s needed for more powerful 2020-21

Budget 2020-21

Leadership Group appointed for 2020-21. Welcome Choe, Emma and Harvind from MK Academy. Farewell and thanks to Sheila Bacon.

Leaders asked to attend Unconscious Bias training on Tuesday 29th Sept, 6-7pm, on Zoom

Listening campaign launched: agreed all leaders to have 5 one-to-one conversations in next 8 weeks, ready for Leaders Forum 10th November:

  1. Choose 5 people who interest you and/or are angry about a social injustice
  2. Ask each person these 4 questions (printable version here)
  3. Find other ‘leaders’ who can organise their own 5 one-to-one conversations
  4. Gather information from all your institution’s one-to-one conversations using this summary form. In the score box, please average scores (0-5) from the individual listening forms.

Reflection on organising leaders – ‘snowflake’ model of leadership

Leaders invited to attend Training to Organise Listening Campaign on Saturday 3rd Oct, 9.30am-12pm, on Zoom.

In post-event evaluation, participants gave the action a score of 8 out of 10.

Pledges received for Listening Campaign 2020 (some added afterwards):

NAME OF INSTITUTIONPLEDGED NO. 121sPLEDGED BY
Church of Christ the Cornerstone30 (33)Fidele Mutwarisibo
Congolese Community  
Jubilee Wood Primary School  
MK Academy15Harvind Gill
MK Council of Faiths  
MK Deanery25Tim Norwood
MK Green Alliance 5 Kirsty Forshaw
MK Muslim Association  
MK Quaker Meeting  
Open University20Jane Whild
Orchard Academy  
Q:alliance  
Southwood Primary School  
St. Augustine’s RC Church  
St. Frideswide’s Church30Catherine Butt
St. Paul’s Catholic School  
Stantonbury Ecumenical Partnership  
Truby’s Garden Tea Room  
  

Early in the session, participants observed a 121 between the Co-Chairs and made the following comments:

  • I liked the image of the cheese and celery sandwich over which Jane’s feminism was inspired by her Nanna Gertie!
  • I think it makes a difference whether you know the person well or whether it is your first meeting.  Fidele said that you need to find a hook .
  • inspired by the input Nanna Gertie on Jane
  • The mention of her nanna was powerful because it stared up memories and gave them a shared story…
  • talking properly with someone I wouldn’t normally meet.
  • I really liked the honesty and hearing how someone had influenced Jane’s life.  I think we all have one or more people like that.  It’s good to remember them.
  • We liked the idea of connecting with people’s anger, and using that to light fires in people.  Also digging deeper with asking the question of where that anger comes from.
  • Interesting to hear the campaigns that others are a part of, as well as hearing their stories and the work they’ve done, as well as having a more personal touch.
  • I agree with Sheila s point about prior knowledge of the person.
  • Great way of learning more about what motivates people (especially through our personal stories) and that connects us to them in future.
  • Interesting chat on the difference between leading a campaign and being co-chair! We still need the anger though!
  • It was great that the questions encouraged personal stories as this helps people build connections between people even if they hadn’t know each other prior (also loved Jane’s story

Police Area Commander listens to BAME voices

MK Police Area Commander Superintendent Marc Tarbit and Inspector James Ravenall met three Citizens:mk leaders representing BAME communities for one-to-one discussions about experiences of policing in MK.

Originally planned as a larger Weaving Trust event involving leaders from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities across Citizens:mk member institutions, substantially reduced by new Covid-19 restrictions, the event was intended to build relationships and identify BAME issues in relation to the Police as the start of a wider listening process.

Following the event, students Chloe Harding and Harvind Gill from MK Academy school will lead a listening campaign with other sixth form students, and Phil Shamamba of MK Congolese Community will lead a campaign within the wider African Diaspora.

“It was good to get the perspectives of high-ranking police officers,” said Chloe. “I think some of the tensions between young people and the police could be reduced if there were more BAME officers.”

Superintendent Tarbit said: “It’s good for us to hear voices we don’t normally hear. We look forward to talking further when the student survey is done.”

World Refugee Day Assembly celebrates unveiling of new pillar

38 people from a wide range of Citizens:mk member and non-member institutions attended a special online assembly to celebrate the unveiling of a World Refugee Day pillar at MK Rose (pictured above). The pillar reads: People from around the world have helped build this city – Milton Keynes welcomes refugees. See video of unveiling.

The assembly heard testimonies from Syrian refugees and the leaders of the Refugees Welcome MK charity (RWMK) which formed five years ago, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, to support their settlement in MK.

Other powerful testimonies from refugees were read aloud (hear testimonies).

Cllr Peter Marland was thanked as the Leader of MK Council for its courageous decision to welcome people from Syria as part of the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). (Earlier in the day he received thank you baklava prepared by one of the Syrian refugee families, pictured above). Also celebrated was the work of the British Red Cross, both the staff and the volunteers who worked tirelessly to resettle refugees and support those who vulnerable or disadvantaged. Cllr Marland pledged to facilitate 4-monthly meetings at Civic Offices of a new multi-agency forum to address issues that refugees face in accessing health services and digital poverty.

Marc Eisenstadt, Treasurer of RWMK,, explained action that had already been taken to address digital poverty: a Working Group on Digital Poverty in MK has been set up to address three key areas : laptop provision, internet broadband or mobile pay-as-you-go gadgets for connecting the laptops, and training to make best use of the technology.

In post-assembly evaluation with leaders who organised and attended the assembly, the event scored 9.5 out of 10.

RWMK plans to close down its operation as a facilitator of VPRS. Citizens:mk will continue to campaign on Refugee Welcome issues.

600 tune in to inaugural Thames Valley Assembly

Thames Valley Citizens is the newest chapter of Citizens UK, growing out of the pioneering work of Citizens:mk in Milton Keynes over the last ten years, bolstered by Sponsoring Committees for new alliances in Oxford and Reading (first meetings later this month), and member organisations across the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. 

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the inaugural Thames Valley Citizens Assembly had been planned for late April, to coincide with the Police and Crime Commissioner election. What happened instead was a more reflective gathering which recognised and listened to those working on the frontline against Covid (council leaders, the CEO of a hospital, the Police Commissioner, volunteer co-ordinators, education providers, PPE-makers etc), held mini house-meetings in breakouts to envision a more just Thames Valley post-Covid, sought a seat at the table with with power-holders, and demanded action on 5 current issues: improving death registration services, Living Wage for Careworkers, tackling climate change, action on misogyny and improving death registration services (4 of these issues had been voted on at a Delegates’ Assembly that had been held pre-Lockdown on Zoom).

You can watch the Assembly in full on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dioceseofoxford/videos/573507640256567/

Turnout was 95 on Zoom (almost double the target) plus 600 views on Facebook live, with a balance of participants across MK, Oxford and Reading – and a smattering from the wider Thames Valley area. 

The Police and Crime Commissioner committed to quarterly meetings with Thames Valley Citizens, with a firm commitment on action to improve relationships between young people and the police, and an open door to explore Living Wage accreditation, action to reduce carbon emissions, and recording misogyny as a hate crime, in his remaining year of office. 

The leaders of Milton Keynes Council and Reading Council also attended, and became the first in the country to back our Living Wage for Careworkers Campaign – they are already accredited Living Wage employers and will publicly join our call on the UK Government to invest £1.4billion so that social care employees are paid the Real Living Wage. 

The Assembly welcomed the Diocese of Oxford, which is funding the development of Thames Valley Citizens with a £150,000 commitment over 5 years. All 4 bishops participated, with the Bishop of Oxford leading the opening reflection.  Here’s how the Diocese wrote it up.

Read Assembly Evaluation.

Thames Valley Citizens will now grow through the creation of Temporary Sponsoring Committees in Oxford and reading. If you would like to know more, contact:

Police & Crime Commissioner receives ‘Thank You Police’ cake on the morning of the Assembly, as part of Thames Valley Citizens’ thanks for the efforts of public service leaders during the Covid-19 crisis

Weaving Trust Online for Refugees

Six members of British Red Cross hosted six visitors from five Citizens:mk member institutions in the second online Weaving Trust event, using Zoom as a platform. This is the second of a series of events organised by Citizens:mk in a new strategic partnership with MK Community Foundation to support its Vital Signs research.

Weaving Trust is a carousel of short one-to-one conversations between people who wouldn’t otherwise meet. The focus question for this event was: “What are the current issues facing refugees and asylum-seekers in relation to poverty and disadvantage?”

Written comments from participants at the end of the session were as follows:

  • Home schooling is a challenge due to lack of the right technology, such as laptops, computers, etc, and because of language
  • It is a real issue if you don’t have the right technology and good internet.
  • Home schooling, mental health and relationship breakdown, are the main issues.
  • Dependency- ESOL not the suitable method for teaching-access to mental health support-digital poverty- hidden discrimination- a need to liaise more with council, politicians (local MPs), decision makers etc.,
  • Digital poverty – exacerbating social isolation and mental health illness. Reduction in mental health services – especially for those with language barriers and those who do not have access to public funds and can therefore not access specialists services.
  • Access to mental health support especially for parents with mental health needs as well as children with complex needs.  Access to financial support to buy basic food essentials and health prescriptions.  Issues with inability to claim Universal Credit.  Issues around domestic violence and the need to leave the accommodation they are in.  Issues around Home Schooling: Parents levels of literacy and digital poverty.
  • For health services, access to interpreter services is patchy; GP receptionists are saying they are not allowed to call an interpreter to help with arranging appointments.  Letters from the NHS which give instructions for scans or tests, or letters reporting the outcomes are not understood.  It was suggested that patient records should have a flag on them which alerts the GP or Hospital to contact patients in order to communicate these and bring in an interpreter OR have standard instructions templates in a variety of languages which are provided centrally and adapted locally.
  • Access to a translator at the GPs – not all GPs knowing what they are allowed. Not understanding how the healthcare system works.
  • Closing of hotels so refugees being made homeless. Option of moving in with a family no longer available
  • Accessing mental health, stigma attached (culture), language barriers
  • Issues around stigma are huge.   Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants may have fear – fear of the unknown, not knowing who to trust, who to ask.  Fear of being judged. Mental Health issues carry stigma, and with many people refugees and asylum seekers live with MH issues and less access to support and interventions.  Lack of compassion and understanding in the general public is huge.  Negativity and judgement is rife. 
  • Weaving Trust events do help increase understanding when we talk!    Thank you for this opportunity.

In post-session evaluation, participants scored the event 8 out of 10.

Weaving Trust for Mental Health and Wellbeing

Eight members of St. Frideswide’s Church hosted eight visitors from five Citizens:mk member institutions in the first ever online Weaving Trust event, using Zoom as a platform. This is the first of a series of events organised by Citizens:mk in a new strategic partnership with MK Community Foundation to support its Vital Signs research.

Weaving Trust is a carousel of short one-to-one conversations between people who wouldn’t otherwise meet. The focus question for this event was: “Where do we see strength in our community and how can it be used to support mental health and wellbeing?”

Following the conversations, participants shared various reactions and suggestions (below).

Rev Catherine Butt, Vicar of St. Frideswide’s Church, said: “It went to prove that listening and learning can happen virtually in this way, despite the obvious compromises. At St Frideswide’s we are looking forward to working with our partner institutions as we emerge from these strange days, with hope for a fairer and more just society.”

Comments from participants at the end of the session were as follows:

  • What has struck me is that mental health issues can affect anyone at anytime to varying degrees – no one is immune
  • A minor stress for one person is unbearable for another
  • My own context would be very stressful for many people, whereas it’s not for me
  • We need to be aware of/sensitive to the mental stress of children
  • Community can be about social support too, for example, spot those who are lonely and bring them in.  How we do that in lockdown may be more of a challenge for communities.
  • Community can help by making people feel as if they belong.  People can feel very lonely and isolated in a whole slew of different contexts, but they have to feel they matter to someone, and feel valued, otherwise as humans we feel cut off even if we are in a crowd.
  • Aspects that came up in some of my chats:  the benefit of green spaces and nature, the sharing of cross generational experience for the support of young and old; smaller communities with hubs at the centre for meeting and activities.
  • This session has been great and I think communities need to be very aware of children and young people and their mental health going forward
  • Acknowledging we cannot make it right but are there in support of others, we all have skills and experience and can use these to encourage and share in getting alongside others
  • It’s been great to talk to five different people coming at the topic from such different perspectives.  Strengths in our community/ies that came up in our chats included green spaces in Mk, such as canals, lakes, parks; churches and faith groups a resource for community groups offering somewhere to meet, and volunteers to help community groups to build relationships, and talking to one another.  During lockdown, MH is being talked about more because of the detrimental effect staying indoors not seeing loved ones, and the worry about work, money, ill health, etc.  But it is good it is being talked about because we need to bring it out in the open, and break stigma.  People are reaching out to one another during lockdown at a new level, which is building relationships and this is good for our wellbeing, and so is having a bit more time for quality times with family, parents and children, spouses, etc, and to do less and be more.
  • Stability is important in uncertain times – how do we provide/help that when projects/funding comes and goes?
  • It would be good if the new found community spirit could be continued past the lockdown phase.  Checking in with a neighbour or group Whatsapps for example.
  • I wish we could come with other terms, something that carries less of the stigma and less of the medical baggage…wellbeing is a good start.
  • I was thinking about how we connect to the people who have any degree of mental health but are either coping or not coping behind closed doors.  We don’t know about them and they may no know that there are agencies to help them or feel unable to ask for help.  The only way seems to be building relationships within small communities.
  • We need to understand that whilst people’s physical needs can be met, anxiety and mental wellbeing is as important and being able to signpost people to help as well as talking is important.  There are a number of different community initiatives that can help.  Arts organisations, MIND, amongst others are all still working.
  • One key phrase that stood out was mutual aid.
  • How can community support those who are in acute need?  There is plenty of advice coming out from agencies and local services e.g. Arthur Ellis on MKFM on Sunday.
  • It’s a concern that people living with MH issues that belong to groups are not able to attend during lockdown.
  • There has certainly been a shift in the community around me towards talking when there is an opportunity – we can encourage this by responding even just by smiling/body language.

In post-session evaluation, participants scored the event 8 out of 10.

Co-Chairs meet Ben Everitt MP

On 13 March, Citizens:mk Co-Chairs Hala Afify and Jane Whild (pictured) met Ben Everitt, new MP for Milton Keynes North, his Communications Officer, Liam Andrews, and Alex Walker, Leader of MK Conservative Group. They thanked Alex for honouring the pledge he made at the Parliamentary Candidates’ Assembly in December, for Citizens:mk leaders to meet within 3 months of the recent General Election.  Also in attendance was Community Organiser Tom Bulman.

During the first meeting rounds, everyone introduced themselves and their interests.

Following that, Tom, Jane and Hala presented our agreed CMK campaign priorities and aims for the Police and Crime Commissioner Assembly.  At the meeting end, all participants agreed it was good to meet in person and that we had established a good foundation for future communication. As a next step, Tom will arrange for Ben to meet the Red Cross and Syrian refugees, who have been supported by our chapter.

In their reflections on the meeting,  Hala said “it was good to meet my MP and to find him attentive and willing to engage. I spoke about the Fair Work campaign that I have been leading for a year and half, and I was able to tell the story of my involvement with Citizens:mk after my dismissal by email.”

Jane commented “it was good to meet Ben and hear about his local priorities as well as the Domestic Violence bill that will be coming before Parliament in the future. Misogyny is a root cause of domestic violence, hence my leading campaign which aims to tackle it. ” 

Since the meeting, we learned that the Local Council and PCC elections have been postponed by a year, which means we’ll have to change our plans for 29th April Assembly!  The Leadership Team will consider taking our campaigns to the incumbent PCC.

Finally, we welcome David Chapman, from The Church of Christ the Cornerstone, to the Treasurer role, which he has taken over from Linda McComie.  On behalf of all our members, we thank Linda for doing such a marvellous job as Treasurer over recent years.   

David was not present at the meeting with Ben, but having previously participated in the unsuccessful attempts to meet with Ben’s predecessor, Mark Lancaster, David said that he was very encouraged to hear of the positive start to building a relationship with Ben.

Delegates Assembly agrees agenda for Police & Crime Commissioner

This year’s Delegates Assembly, including delegations from Oxford and Reading for the first time, voted on campaign goals for the Police & Crime Commissioners Assembly on 29th April (see PCC Campaign_2019-20 plan).

Hosted by St. Frideswide’s Church in Water Eaton, south Milton Keynes, the assembly was co-chaired by Rob Paton of MK Quakers and Hala Afify of Truby’s Garden Tea Room, and attended by 43 people from 11 Citizens:mk member institutions.

It was agreed to support the following four campaign goals and focus resources on the two which got the most votes (in brackets):

  1. Action on Climate Change, led by Kirsty Forshaw of MK Green Alliance: Commit to declaring a climate emergency across the Thames Valley Police Force, meeting quarterly with us to prepare and present your action plan at next year’s Citizens Accountability Assembly for going carbon neutral by 2030 (48).
  2. Police & Schools Together, led by Tony Berwick of Jubilee Wood Primary School: A Thames Valley Police contact and backup team attached to every school so that Headteachers can confidently expect communication throughout the school year and a shared understanding of local issues (40).
  3. Real Living Wage, led by Rukhsana Malik of MK Muslim Association: Apply Real Living Wage to every employee and contractor in Thames Valley Police (21).
  4. Misogyny As Hate Crime, led by Jane Whild of The Open University: Classify misogyny as a recordable hate crime within a year and publish quarterly sex disaggregated data for all hate crimes within 6 months (21).

In group evaluation immediately after the assembly, delegates in MK scored the event 8 out of 10; in Oxford, 7.5 out of 10.

Comments received:

  • The venue was very good (much better than the Guildhall at Christ the Cornerstone, where MK’s Delegates Assemblies have been held previously).
  • The campaign leaders had prepared well, with clear presentations and clear goals.
  • Business was successfully completed to the satisfaction of most delegates.
  • Turnout below usual ‘5 delegates per institution’ target and several MK institutions only had one delegate.
  • Effective participation of Reading and Oxford.
  • Technology not perfect. Difficult to read what was on the screen at times (text too small). Some hiccoughs in the communication with Oxford and Reading. Hard for speakers not being able to control their powerpoints.
  • The voting was a bit confused. Would have been better if we’d known how the votes would be used before deciding on our scores.
  • A delegate from one of the Catholic Churches had said she was uneasy about speaking on behalf of her organisation because she was there on her own and said she would vote mainly for the Green campaign, because the Pope had spoken out strongly on environmental issues. Someone then shouted out ‘and what has the Pope to say about misogyny”, to which there was some laughter – not in the spirit of how Citizens works.
  • Partisan cheering and clapping by campaign teams also not in the spirt of how Citizens works.

Turnout pledged for the PCC Assembly was 185 as below:

Oxford 20
Reading 20
Milton Keynes 145
Church of Christ the Cornerstone 15
Jubilee Wood Primary School 12
MK Deanery 40
MK Green Alliance 15
MK Muslim Association 5
MK Quaker Meeting 15
Open University 8
St. Augustine’s RC Church 5
St. Frideswide’s Church 15
St. Paul’s Catholic School 10
Truby’s Garden Tea Room 5

Dialogue Wins As Parliamentary Candidates Pledge Action

On 2nd December, 181 people from 19 diverse community organisations gathered at Church of Christ the Cornerstone to hear MK’s parliamentary candidates introduce themselves and respond to the campaign interests of Citizens:mk alliance.

The event aimed to promote respectful dialogue for more informed voting at the General Election on 12th December. All candidates were invited and co-chairs Kurshida Mirza of Truby’s Garden Tea Room and Neil Hutchinson of MK Academy (pictured above) expressed disappointment that the Conservative Party candidates for MK North and South, held by Conservative MPs since 2010, were unable to attend this Citizens:mk assembly because they were busy elsewhere.

A rap video was played, Planet Water by pupils from Orchard Academy primary school (see lyrics), and some attendees put on Greta Thunberg masks (pictured above) to show solidarity with the children and young people in MK and around the world who are campaigning for action on climate change.

After short welcome speeches from Rev George Mwaura and MK Mayor Sam Crooks (pictured below), the presentations from Citizens:mk’s campaign leaders (pictured below) got underway:

After everyone was asked to have a short one-to-one conversation with someone they didn’t know (pictured below) the six attending parliamentary candidates made their five-minute presentations, each strictly timed by Boyzie Morse of MK Quaker Meeting.

The candidates were asked to respond to the following questions:

  1. why are you standing for election? (one minute)
  2. response to one question selected by Citizens:mk Leadership Group from questions emailed in advance by registered attendees:  If elected, how would you make sure your priority is to Milton Keynes before your party, and how would you ensure the views of local residents aren’t ignored?  (one minute)
  3. response to Citizens:mk Asks below (two minutes).

The asks – If elected, will you…

  1. Attend and contribute to our Annual Assembly
  2. Convene meetings we arrange with local business and other leaders, in support of a local Campaign (one per year)
  3. Call for and support in Parliament measures conducive to our local  campaigns
  4. Meet with our Leadership Team twice a year for one hour, either in MK or Westminster.

These were the candidates and their responses:

  • Alan Francis, The Green Party (MK South) – see video
  • Stephen Fulton, Independent (MK South) – see video
  • Hannah O’Neill, Labour Party (MK South) – see video
  • Aisha Mir, Liberal Democrats (MK North) – see video
  • Charlynne Pullen, Labour Party (MK North) – see video
  • Catherine Rose, The Green Party (MK North) – see video

In the absence of the Conservative candidates, the Leader of the Conservative group on MK Council was given the opportunity to read statements from them (pictured below). He pledged to organise a meeting between any Conservative MP(s) elected and members of Citizens:mk Leadership Group within three months of the election.

Saleyha Ahsan, Liberal Democrat candidate for MK South, sent her apologies for absence due to ill health.

In a group Evaluation immediately after, the event was scored 8 out of 10, with points being dropped for lower than target turnout and insufficient audibility of all speakers. As Headteacher Neil Hutchinson later pointed out, “this would be a very high grade in GCSE or A level!”

Photos by Liam Hyatt. Filming by Chris Valentine.

Police & Crime Commissioner answers questions

On 26th November, Dr. Fidele Mutwarisibo, leader of Citizens:mk’s First Against Hate campaign, and Julie Upton, High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, welcomed Citizens:mk and other community leaders to a light lunch with Anthony Stansfeld, Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Thames Valley, at Church of Christ the Cornerstone.

The purpose of the lunch was to find out more about the role and responsibilities of the PCC, and what it’s really like to do the job, from someone who’s done it for nearly 8 years and will be succeeded by a newly elected PCC in May.   Citizens:mk leaders want to be better informed, understand the issues and share their own views to inform and influence the PCC agenda.

This was part of Citizens:mk’s research towards negotiation with candidates for the post at a special assembly for Thames Valley Citizens in Milton Keynes on 29th April (click here for information and to book a place).

It follows the table-top workshop being hosted by MK Police Commander Tim Metcalfe on 17th October (see news story).

“it was a very valuable thing to create space for dialogue helping the Citizens:mk Alliance to work with a broad range of service providers,” said Citizens:mk Co-Chair Kurshida Mirza.

To find out more about how you can contribute to the agenda for PCC candidates at the 29th April Assembly, see this campaign briefing document and/or contact Community Organiser Tom Bulman, tel 07962 838685.

Two More schools pledge to become Refugee Welcome Schools

22 people from 11 institutions attended a Syrian lunch for Refugee Welcome Schools & Launch of Community Sponsorship.

After a delicious lunch prepared by the ladies of Syrian Kitchen, guests were welcomed by Ayser Al Jawad of Middle Eastern Cultural Group and Mayor Sam Crooks.

Syrian refugee Bassem Al Haj and his daughter Tasnim gave powerful testimonies of their experiences settling, as a parent and a teenager respectively, since arriving in Milton Keynes four years ago after four years in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

Following presentation of a new ‘Ideas For Action’ resource pack by Jess Maddocks of Citizens UK and Steve Sondhi of NASUWT Birmingham (Refugees Welcome Partner), senior leaders Gill Molloy of Denbigh School and Debbie Gockelen of Milton Keynes Academy pledged their schools’ commitment to attaining Refugee Welcome Schools accreditation. This will take the total number of accredited schools in Milton Keynes to 10, including The Radcliffe School, most recently accredited.

Following presentations from Bekele Woyecha of Citizens UK, and Rev Gill Barrow-Jones of St. George’s & Holy Trinity Church (pictured), Azim and Shelina Maghji pledged commitment to helping their organisation, Building Bridges, to lead MK’s second Sponsor Refugee project.

Refill Poster Competition Winners Announced

Mayor Sam Crooks announced the winners of the Refill Poster Competition at a special event hosted by Central Milton Keynes Library. click here to see winners 

The bit.do/refillposter webpage also provides you with access to the event slides and a PDF documenting the final group reflections about ideas for where we can take the campaign next. These suggestions will be discussed further with the children and other members of Citizens:MK for us to decide together what we prioritise for worthwhile and winnable action over the coming months.

“PLANET WATER” SONG

Here are the rap song lyrics which Orchard Academy pupils have produced and agreed to lead on singing at the Citizens:MK Parliamentary Assembly on 2nd December.

REQUEST FOR FEEDBACK

Please complete this short questionnaire to tell us what you think? (All results will be kept anonymous and no personal data will be shared with any other party.) 

Fair Work Round Table Wins pledges for action

30 people from six member and 4 non-member institutions attended the Fair Work Round Table at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Heelands.

The aim was to share issues of inequality at work, build relationships with parliamentary candidates for MK North and, through open dialogue, develop ideas for common goals to which candidates will be asked to pledge commitment at a Parliamentary Candidates Assembly on Monday 2nd December.

After a welcome from Debbie Wilson of MK Quakers and Fr Francis Higgins of St. Augustine’s, and special addresses from Mayor Sam Crooks (pictured) and Ian Revell of MK Community Foundation, who presented latest Vital Signs findings on work and the economy), various testimonies of unfair working practices were heard:

Hala Alify of Trubys Garden Tea Room talked about a lack of transparency of contract and termination processes when she was fired from a zero-hours contract, after more than two years of continuous service, by email.

Marion Cole of Works4Us talked about how her organisation supports workers in this situation.

Rukhsana Malik of MK Muslim Association announced the results of an online survey conducted by Citizens:mk between September and November.

Nick Peacock, Managing Director of Ascendant Recruitment, spoke from a recruitment employer’s perspective. He explained his feelings of discomfort at watching workers being unfairly treated in zero hours contracts.

Wider research on fair work policies was presented by Jane Whild of The Open University and Professor Susan Edwards of University of Buckingham.

Jess Goble of the national Living Wage Foundation talked about the Real Living Wage and a new national Living Hours campaign.

David  Chapman of Church of Christ the Cornerstone and Hala Afify of Truby’s Garden Tea Room asked for reactions from guest parliamentary candidates, Charlynne Pullen of the Labour Party and Aisha Mir of the Liberal Democrats (The Conservative Party was invited).

Each was asked to agree to include a statement of support for Fair Work in Milton Keynes. Aisha Mir, the Liberal Democrat candidate, agreed that she would include the Fair Work Team’s recommended statement in her maiden speech:

“Milton Keynes is proud to be a place with good employment opportunities for all, and I will be working with local employers, community groups and Citizens:MK to further strengthen fair work practices in the city. Milton Keynes is committed to ensuring that all workers receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and intends to lead the way with best practice fair employment contracts.”

Charlynne Pullen, the Labour Party candidate also agreed to include these words her maiden speech, with the proviso that she would add ‘trade unions’ to the list of people she would work with in order to strengthen fair work practices,

Other parliamentary candidates will be asked to make a similar Fair Work pledge, as well as pledges for action on other Citizens:mk campaigns, at the Parliamentary Candidates Assembly on 2nd December.

10 leaders attend Police Commander’s Workshop

10 leaders from six member institutions attended a workshop led by Supt Tim Metcalfe, supported by four police officers, at MK Police Station.

The aim was for leaders of Citizens:mk to understand better the aims, operations and constraints of MK Police, to help their research in planning an agenda for the election of the Police & Crime Commissioner in May 2020; also to help MK Police understand better the experiences of diverse MK community groups and get feedback on ways MK Police can improve its service.

As part of this process, five Citizens:mk leaders signed up to  ‘ride-along’ with MK Police on duty, experiencing it from the back of a police car. 

The workshop centred on a ‘table-top’ experience reflecting ‘a day in the life of’ from the perspective of Supt Metcalfe and some of the day to day operational decisions that have to be made regarding professional standards and the deployment of limited resources against assessments of threat, harm and risk. 

This included anonymised details from a typical daily management meeting where decisions have to be made regarding missing persons and the prioritisation of activity in response to the previous 24hrs’ events. Also a discussion about use of taser guns.

The workshop ended with ideas for improvement and initial discussion about ways Citizens:mk leaders can involve their institutions in supporting the Police effort.

In closing feedback, participants said they found the workshop illuminating and helpful, they’d have liked it to be longer. Supt Metcalfe said he would be happy to welcome a wide range of citizens to attend a similar worksho to help more people understand how the Police operate.

Fair Work campaigners disappointed not to see MP in Westminster

Hala Afify’s team of Fair Work campaigners were disappointed not to see their MP, Rt Hon Mark Lancaster, at the end of their day with Citizens UK in London.

Mark’s PA had explained he was too busy with work at the Ministry of Defence, but campaigners hoped their gift of fresh cookies would give him a break for a few minutes!

In the end Hala and the cookies didn’t get past Reception.

David Chapman of Church of Christ the Cornerstone said: “I know MPs are busy but it is disappointing that my MP seems so hard to get to speak to. We are quite a friendly bunch and would have enjoyed sharing our cookies with him! But it was an enjoyable outing all the same, and hopefully we’ll get to speak to Mark back in Milton Keynes sooner rather than later.”

The team is determined to see Mr. Lancaster, to ask him for advice and support in their campaign to address the issus of unfair dismissal from zero hours contracts and termination of contract by email, and look forward to meeting with him soon.

In photos below, Hala and the team with the cookies and a card outside the MoD. (Note in the photo above BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg also out and about in Westminster at that time – yes that’s her!)

Of the Citizens UK Delegates Assembly which the team attended during the day, Rob Paton of MK Quaker Meeting said: “It was another uplifting day with Citizens. The agenda we all came up with is quite distinctive. Its politics, Jim, but not as we know it…’

MK School Pupils Plan Action on Climate Change

50 students from 5 schools attended a one-day training in Community Organising for Action on Climate Change.

The focus for the day was a research action on thecentre:mk shopping centre, which welcomes each year 25 million shoppers -and £750m of shoppers’ spending – in the context of MK Council’s lead in pledging to be carbon-neutral by 2030.

School councillors from the following schools attended:  Jubilee Wood Primary, Orchard Primary, St. Monica’s Primary, St. Paul’s Secondary and Southwood  Primary, who hosted the initial training at the start of the day.

Following a welcome from Southwood Headteacher Kate Mathews, the pupils talked in a series of 1-2-1s about their individual and institutions’ actions on climate change, then saw Greta’s video

Three leaders of MK Green Alliance – Kirsty Forshaw ( Research Fellow for DeMontfort University on ‘POWER’ project & Refill Champion for MK ), Craign Broadbent (MK Cycle Forum) and Sharon Ghouila (Green Steps Consulting), presented testimonies on the impact of  single use water bottles, cycling and recycling in/around thecentre:mk shopping centre.

The pupils then moved into three mixed groups to focus on one of the three issues, created SMART research questions and designed a questionnaire for their listening campaign in thecentre:mk:

After a break, students set off for the research action in thecentre:mk, splitting into four zones for thecentremk research), then moving to the Council Chamber in Civic Offices for squash, biscuits and packed lunch.

After lunching and crunching the data

pupils presented their research findings by school group and heard from Cllr Jennifer Marklew, Cabinet Member for Sustainability and Climate Action, about MK Council’s pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2030.

Students then prioritised the issues for action, identifying power holders, and created the following SMART campaign goals:

  • 75% of businesses in thecentre:mk sign up for the Refill scheme by 1st April 2020.
  • At least three new Refill stations are created in big anchor stores (M&S, John Lewis or Intu) by July 2020.
  • Clean and accessible public water fountains are created (up to 8) by July 2020.

Some schools also created goals for action on themselves:

  • Halve food wasted at Jubilee Wood Primary School by July 2020.
  • Reduce plastic water bottle use at Orchard Primary Academy by 85% by Easter 2020.
  • Provide Year 7 pupils at St. Paul’s Catholic School with school-branded water bottles by December 2019.

Pupils then took the five-minute walk to Church of Christ the Cornerstone – the fourth and last institution they visited during the day – to present their campaign goals to members of Citizens:’mk’s Leadership Group.

David Chapman, a member of Cornerstone Church, welcomed the pupils and talked about his own campaign to persuade the church to require its room hirers to complete a short environmental audit.

The pupils presented their campaign goals to eight leaders of Citizens:mk member institutions , including co-chair Kurshida Mirza, and received their formal consent.

In post-event evaluation, pupils gave this internal action – which was intended to create in pupils a positive reaction to opportunities for action on climate change – a score of 8 out of 10.

One pupil said: “I feel proud of what I did today.” Another said: “I’ve never spoken to a group like that before.”

Jo Cayley, Assistant Headteacher of Jubilee Wood Primary School, said: “The children were really inspired by the day. They have come back to school and shared information about the refill scheme and the school’s mission to reduce food waste at lunchtimes!”

Now teachers will meet on 22nd October to plan next schools’ action.

Radcliffe Canteen Goes Plastic Free – Daisy’s testimony

As a young person in Milton Keynes, it is often hard to feel your voice is being heard, especially in the current political climate. that’s why organisations like Citizens MK are so important when it comes to the opinions and concerns of young people, being respected by powerholders in the community.

11 students from The Radcliffe School Sixth Form took part in a one-term ‘Anger to Action’ course organised by Citizens:mk and funded by MK Community Foundation.

With the help of Tom, the Community Organiser, a small group of us shared our thoughts and ideas about what angered us, issues such as part time jobs and school facilities were topics everyone agreed needed to be explored, but after further discussion, it became clear that there was a more pressing social issue that affected all schools across Milton Keynes. Single use plastics.

Tom assisted us in putting pressure onto our headteacher and other positions of power within the school, to try and get a response from them, in regards to the excessive amounts of single use plastics used in our canteen. Every member of staff we spoke to was extremely cooperative and after weeks of negotiating, research and bargaining, we took the issue to the student council.

This platform gave us yet a louder voice and through them we were finally able to create enough of a stir to be acknowledged and real steps to be taken in the direction of reducing our single use plastics. 

We all enjoyed the project and ultimately learned a lot from Tom and the other inspiring leaders we mingled with over the months, many of which, gave us the opportunity to get our voice heard and make a change for good.

12 Leaders Complete One-Day Training

12 people from 7 member and 4 non-member institutions attended Citizens:mk’s first One-Day Training at MK Quaker Meeting House. Participants included guests from Hong Kong Citizens.

Co-led by Jonathan Cox, Deputy-Director of Citizens UK, the training included a simulation of planning for action on climate change in MK city centre as well as the concepts and tools of community organising for change in local communities.

Leaders in negotiation role play

In post-training comments, trainees said:

  • “The training helped me learn about power analysis and 1-2-1s”
  • “It was very informative. Managed to fit a lot into a short period of time, without it feeling rushed.”
  • “Good opportunity to meet other Citizens:mk members and disucss possibilities.”
  • “The time was just right.”

Trainees will now unertake action for social change in their communities, with the support of mentoring from members of Citizens:mk’s Leadership Group. School leaders will participate in a shared research action to reduce carbon footprint in MK’s city centre.

AGM sets course of action for year ahead

22 people from 8 member and 4 non-member institutions attended the Annual General Meeting on 17th September. The meeting included presentations from:

  • Rob Paton, Citizens:mk Ambassador (fomer Chair) – reflections on progress of Citizens:mk
  • Ian Revell, CEO MK Community Foundation – initial findings of Vital Signs 2019 research
  • Jess Maddocks, Development Organiser for Reading Citizens – growth of new Thames Valley Citizens chapter.

Other guests included representatives of MK Welfare Association and the University of Buckingham.

11 leaders were nominated and agreed to serve on the Leadership Group in 2019-20, as follows:

  • Kurshida Mirza, Truby’s Garden Tea Room
  • Tim Norwood, MK Deanery
  • Sheila Bacon, MK Quaker Meeting
  • Linda McComie, Truby’s Garden Tea Room
  • Sharon Ghoulia, MK Green Alliance
  • Jane Whild, The Open University
  • Rukhsana Malik, MK Muslim Association
  • Hala Afify, Truby’s Garden Tea Room
  • Kirsten Jeffery, MK Green Alliance
  • David Chapman, Church of Christ the Cornerstone
  • Michael Sheppard, MK Green Alliance.

Kurshida Mirza and Tim Norwood resigned as Co-Chairs. Kurshida agreed to stand in as Co-Chair until two other members of the Group were nominated and trained to take over.

Jane Whild volunteered to represent the MK Group on Citizens UK’s national Leadership Group.

Following a presentation from Hala Afify, leader of the Fair Work campaign, the Fair Work Listening Campaign was launched with attendees agreeing to promote the new online survey within their institutions, https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/QRRCS79.

Evaluation of the AGM, as an internal action, concluded a score of 8 out of 10.

David Chapman, who attended the AGM representing Church of Christ the Cornerstone, said: “It was frustrating that I was only able to stay for a short while because the mix of people present, from diverse backgrounds and a wide range of different organisations, is so inspiring. I really wanted to hear what everyone had to say. At a time of national stress and conflict, all Citizens:MK events are local oases of hope.”

Graduation of Community leadership trainees 2018-19

Eight community leaders graduated formally from Citizens:mk’s Two-Day Training courses, which ran in September 2018 and March 2019.

At a Learning Exchange event hosted by MK Academy, eight leaders from five institutions gave short presentations on what they had learned on the course and how they had applied it in their community leadership.

“Presenting back to the group was a memorable moment of my life,” said Sagarika Chakravarti of Jubilee Wood Primary School. “The training has made a big difference to my passion for making impact in my community.”

“I found this event very encouraging,” said Gill Bradley of St. Frideswide’s Church.  “It was good to hear from others how they had applied what they had learnt from the 2-day training, and what had been achieved.   Even those who didn’t think they had achieved much, were able to articulate how what they had learnt had inspired them to do something specific.  I was also encouraged by the affirmation I received from one of the guests regarding my presentation.”

“Hearing others’ stories helped me learn new strategies,” said Tom Bartlett of Aspire Oxford. “Hearing about the range of complex community-organising scenarios set foundations for useful steps I can take in making positive changes within Milton Keynes.’

Graduation certificates were awarded by Citizens:mk Co-Chair, Kurshida Mirza (photos below, with apologies to Craig Broadbent for neglecting to snap him).

Guests at the event included representatives from MK Community Foundation, who funded the training, MK Welfare Association and the University of Buckingham.

student strike for CLIMATE CHANGE

National 30-minute Student Strike, 20th September 2019

Headteachers, your students may wish to join a national 30-minute strike for action on climate change on Friday 20th September. Below are three ways you can support them (with opportunity for follow-up training here):

  1. Assembly before or after the strike – inform students about likely costs and benefits of different types of action, e.g. strikes, petitions, relational power-building for negotiation with power-holders. Your Citizens:mk Community Organiser and leaders of member institutions can lead an assembly presentation.
  2. Conversations– each student could have a one-to-one conversation with three other students – within or between year groups, indoors or outside – to discuss global warming. They could talk about:
    • Your global warming habits
      • what you do that contributes most to it?
      • what do you do that contributes most to reducing it?
      • what more would you like to do to reduce it?
    • Who has most power to reduce global warming?
      • who are the main power holders?
      • which of these are most accessible to you?
      • what can you do to help him/her/them?
    • Your family and friends
      • what’s the worst habit of someone you know
      • realistically, what could s/he do differently?
      • what would you say to them?
  3. Survey Action – students could collect data to answer some or all of the questions below, and feed the results back to Citizens:mk who will collate the data from all MK schools and produce a report which you can present back to all participants:
    • Why are you taking part in this survey?
      • I care passionately about reducing global warming and feed driven to take action
      • I think it’s important and want to play my part
      • I like getting out of normal lessons
      • I didn’t want to take part, but was forced to.
    • If you think global warming is an importan issue, which power holders do you think have most power to reduce it (rank them 1-8 where 1=most powerful and 8=least powerful)
      • United Nations
      • UK government
      • Milton Keynes Council
      • My neighbourhood
      • My school
      • My family
      • Me
      • Other (please state).

For further information, or to express interest in taking part, contact Tom Bulman, Community Organiser, tel 07962 838685.

Leave Meets Remain at City Church

Citizens:mk hosted the first of a new series of ‘Weaving Trust’ events aimed at bringing Leave and Remain voters together.

The event was attended by representatives of the City Church, MK Muslim Association, MK Peace & Justice Network and three political parties, including Cllr Walker, Leader of MK Conservative Party.

The event involved a carousel of short one-to-one conversations between people who voted opposite in the EU Referendum of 2016.

“We wanted to listen to each other,” said Fidele Mutwarisibo, Leader of Citizens:mk’s Fight Against Hate campaign, “and build relationships at a time of division and conflict.”

“It is so easy to live in an echo chamber and to not challenge our views,” said Cllr Walker. “We all have a responsibility to challenge our positions on Brexit, otherwise there will never be a consensus or a way forward.”

“It was useful to be able to hear from Leave voters because there are so many different views,” said Hilarie Bowman of MK Green Alliance. “and the press and TV are rather stereotypical.”

“As a Leave voter, it has been so important for me to have a safe space to debate opinions, challenge existing stereotypes and understand how we have similar views as well as different ones,” said Jennifer Parsons of MK Muslim Association. “Deep questions here have left me thinking more about the issues, motivating me to compromise and work toward our future.”

“Leave/Remain is closer to Labour/Tory than I had thought,” said Malcolm Harper.

If you would like to take part in a similar event, contact Citizens:mk Community Organiser, tel 07962 838685.

Fair Welcome, Fair Work pledged at accountability assembly

Photos by Liam Hyatt.

158 people attended Citizens:mk’s annual Accountability Assembly at the City Church on 25th April 2019, representing 17 member institutions and many other MK organisations.

After welcomes from Rev George Mwaura and Mayor Martin Petchey (pictured above) , a 50th birthday cake was presented to The Open University to mark its 50th birthday. Receiving the cake, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Keith Hetherington (pictured below) said: “The Open University is a social justice organisation.  It is our mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas. We are proud of our membership in Citizens:mk.”

Then Fidele Mutwarisibo of Cornerstone Church led a review of the progress of last year’s campaigns (Mental Health, Life Skills for Young People, House the Homeless and Fight Against Hate) and a minute of silence for the victims of recent hate atrocities around the world.

Alan Bainbridge of MK Quaker Meeting (pictured below left) organised attendees to send by text their ideas about ‘how can we reduce hatred and build a more caring and friendly society in MK’. While this was happening, Papa Huite of MK Congolese Community (pictured below right) sang a spiritual song.

Ian Revell, CEO of MK Community Foundation, presented teenagers and adults with certificates for attending Community Leadership training (‘‘Anger to Action’ and Two-Day Training) and 9-year-old pupil councillor Zoya (pictured below), from Jubilee Wood Primary School, gave testimony of her own training experience of the One-Day Schools Training.

Zoya said: “I am proud to have attended the training and I learned a lot about refugees who are trying to escape problems in their country and how we can help them and make our country a safe haven.”

Headteacher Kate Mathews and Southwood Primary School pupils (pictured below) read a poem about their successful campaign to get their broken steps fixed.

Then this year’s campaign goals were presented:

  1. Police & Primaries Together
  2. Refugees Welcome
  3. Fair Work.

Campaign 1: Police & Primaries Together

Led by headteachers Tony Berwick and Kate Matthews, pupils presented their survey findings and told stories about feeling safer with ‘Police and Primaries Together’ (pictured above). They called on Police Commander Yvette Hitch (pictured below) to pledge more police officer time visiting their schools, which she did. With her colleague Tim Metcalfe, she agreed to implement, monitor, evaluate and report on increased Police presence in Jubilee Wood and Southwood primary schools in Summer and Autumn Terms 2019.

Campaign 2: Refugees Welcome

Following an introduction to Refugees Welcome MK from Area Dean and Co-chair Tim Norwood, Zvi Friedman of MK & District Reform Synagogue (pictured below left) gave testimony of his family’s experiences as refugees nearly 100 years ago. Debbie Brock of MK Cenotaph Trust (pictured below right)outlined the formal process required for creation of a pillar at MK Rose to mark World Refugee Day.

Then Jess Maddocks of Citizens UK and Fred Grindrod of NASUWT teachers’ union awarded Refugee Welcome Schools certificates to three schools and MK College who have recently been accredited (Jubilee Wood, St. Paul’s Catholic School, MK College and Lord Grey School – pictured below). “This puts MK in the lead nationally,” said Jess Maddocks.

A Special Contribution award was made to Janan Abdulbake, headteacher of Al Ajyal Supplementary School (pictured below) for encouraging mainstream schools to achieve Refugees Welcome School accreditation.

Then students from St. Paul’s Catholic School (main picture at top) asked to the front the secondary headteachers of MK Academy, Walton High and The Radcliffe School (pictured below), who were asked and agreed that their school would pursue Refugee Welcome accreditation.

The final goal of Citizens:mk’s new Refugees Welcome campaign is to launch MK’s first Sponsor Refugees scheme, in which a community group raises £9,000, secures accommodation and commits to helping a newly arrived Syrian refugee family to settle in. Rev Gill Barrow-Jones (pictured below) of St. George’s Church, Wolverton, asked party leaders to pledge that MK Council would formally approve the launch of the scheme, as legally required.

Campaign 3: Fair Work

The ‘Fair Work’ campaign presentation began with Fr Francis Higgins of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church (pictured below) talking about how unfair employment practices are criticised in the Bible.

When campaign leader Hala Afify began speaking, she was dramatically interrupted by testimonies shouted from around the hall (pictured below left): “People on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be young, part-time and women”, “I had to change my name to Agnes as my Polish name was a barrier to me getting a job”, “I worked four years as a System Analyst on a zero hours contract and never knew if I was an employee or self-employed”.

Hala gave her own testimony and explained that law firm Dentons had helped to draft the new ‘Fair Work Charter‘ which local employers were to be asked to sign up to, starting with MK Council. Anna DeLiddo of The Open University (pictured above right) explained that she has been involved in a bid for a research grant to help the Fair Work campaign understand the impact of being fired by email.

It was then the turn of the leaders of MK’s main political parties (pictured below – Cllr Peter Marland (Labour), Cllr Alex Walker (Conservative) and Cllr Douglas McCall (Lib Dems) – to respond in turn to the three Asks.

The Asks were:

  1. read and consider all the text messages gathered at this Assembly, circulate to other Councillors, discuss at full Council meeting, and report back to Leadership Group members within three months?
  2. commit MK Council to formally approving a Community-led Sponsor Refugees scheme in Wolverton?
  3. commit MK Council to Level one Fair Work Charter status, committing the Council to maintaining a fair job application process and talking with contracting agencies about fair transparency and termination processes as outlined in the Fair Work Charter?

All three party leaders agreed to all three asks above apart from Cllr Walker (pictured below)who said he couldn’t commit to Ask 3, but would discuss it further with Citizens:mk campaign leaders.

Cllr Douglas McCall (pictured below), pledged commitment to all of the Asks.

Special event: Weaving Trust Between Leave and Remain

Then a special event was announced, ‘Weaving Trust Between Leave and Remain’, intended to promote dialogue and trust between MK people who have opposing views on Brexit. Volunteers were asked to stand if they could commit to attending on 16th May and bringing to the event one person who voted differently to them in the EU Referendum. Nine people, including Cllr Walker, stood. Click here to sign up.

Finally the Assembly was informed by Rev Alison Webster, Deputy Director of Mission (Social Responsibility) for the Diocese of Oxford (pictured above), of plans to grow the Citizens:mk alliance and create the newest chapter of Citizens UK, Thames Valley Citizens.

In post-event evaluation, the Assembly was scored 8 out of 10 and participants in the evaluation pledged to help to double the turnout (to more than 300) at next year’s Accountability Assembly.

10 leaders complete Two-Day community leadership training

10 leaders from 8 institutions, including four member institutions, attended our first ever Spring Two-Day Training in Community Leadership which took place at MK Quaker Centre on Fri-Sat 22nd-23rd March.

Funded by MK Community Foundation, the training taught the universal concepts of Power and Self-interest and the tools of Community Organising.

Trainees came with a range of motivations including: to understand a methodology to drive change, strengthen my institution, engage with the wider school community, organise diverse communities, develop my own and my students’ leadership, find out more about power, help parents set up a PTA in my school, get rid of the prejudice in society.

A short questionnaire after the course, asking about self-perception Before and After, yielded the following results:

  • 110% average increase in ‘My awareness of tools for building relational power (3.9 to 8.2 out of 10)
  • 98% average increase in ‘My confidence in my community leadership’ (3.3 to 6.8 out of 10)
  • 32% increase in ‘My motivation to make positive change in my community’ (6.9 to 9.1 out of 10).

After the course, participants said they’d benefited most from: the techniques and strategies, practical tools, feeling empowered, feeling more useful to society.

Kirsty Forshaw of MK Green Alliance said: “Thanks for all your support on the course. I found it really worthwhile and will be encouraging others to do it too. It’s given me the kick-start I needed to have a more focused approach to how I can make positive change in my community. “

“I intend now to mobilise the community and start dreaming big about using some of the other green spaces in Conniburrow,” said Kirsten Jeffery of Big Local Conniburrow.

“I will now start gathering information from the children and what they’d like to change,” said Deborah Griffiths of Jubilee Wood Primary School. Her school colleague, Sagarika Chakravarti, said: “I’ll definitely that each and every member of staff (at my school) should join this course.”

In post-session evaluation, participants gave an aggregate score of 8.5/10.

Click here to see video of participants’ comments on the course.

Click here for Saira’s testimony.

Those who attended the course were:

AndyCoatonCLT Steering Group
CatherineWilliamsLord Grey School
CraigWarneNASUWT
DeborahGriffithsJubilee Wood Primary School
KirstenJefferyBig Local Conniburrow
KirstyForshawMK Green Alliance
SagarikaChakravartiJubilee Wood Primary School
SairaSajidMK Academy
SharonGhouilaMK Green Alliance
TomBartlettAspire

A month later, three trainees participated in Action Learning Set. Craig Warne said: “This Action Learning set provided an essential space to reinvigorate my momentum and motivation.  Talking with the group helped to refocus and realign my thinking to my vision. To think I nearly had not attended due to other commitments!  I now have the conviction to revisit my priorities.”

St. George’s Church Wolverton launches MK’s first Sponsor refugees initiative

30 members of St. George’s Church and the wider Wolverton community turned out to hear about a proposed Sponsor Refugees initiative. This has grown from a local resident’s offer of a house specifically to be a home for a family fleeing war-torn Syria and would be the first of its kind in Milton Keynes, following other successful initiatives in Canada and elsewhere in the UK.

The initiative follows a Citizens:mk campaign which began in 2015 and, having secured pledges from MK Council, became an independent charity, Refugees Welcome, in 2016.

The meeting was co-chaired by Michael and Tori Snell and heard from a Syrian family who have lived in Wolverton for more than two years following settlement under the government’s Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme (supported by a previous Citizens:mk campaign).

Rev Gill Barrow-Jones gave background to the initiative and researcher Sarah Dolphin gave the results of a recent survey of Wolverton people which showed 75% were in favour of the initiative. Rev Tim Norwood, co-chair of Citizens:mk, talked about how the scheme has worked elsewhere, the challenges – including the need to raise £9,000 for a two-parent refugee family – and the personal and community benefits of sponsoring a family in this way. Local social entrepreneur Marie Osborne also spoke about what it takes go make social initiatives successful.

It was decided to go ahead with a Sponsor Refugees initiative in Wolverton.

The evening ended with individuals signing up to provide active support, e.g. help a refugee family learn English, access schools, etc.

Rev Barrow-Jones said: “I was really pleased with how it went, how engaged everyone was, and how everyone was hanging around at the end chatting!  It was also very powerful to hear from the Syrian family who already live within our parish too.”

If you are interested to know more about MK’s first Sponsor Refugees initiative, and/or explore ways you can help, contact wolverton@citizensmk.org.uk.

Student takes action to raise confidence through conversations

In January Fraser Sones (pictured right), a sixth form student at Stantonbury International, joined other students from Stantonbury and The Radcliffe School in a new ‘Anger to Action’ leadership training course run by Citizens:mk with funding from MK Community Foundation.

When prompted to think about what made him angry about unfairness in his community, Fraser said it was the lack of conversation between students in the sixth form. “I want there to be more meaningful conversations,” he said, “and I’m worried that this isn’t happening due to a lack of social skills relating to greater risk of mental health problems.”

With help from Citizens:mk’s Community Organiser, Fraser conducted research to show that many Stantonbury students had a low number of conversations which students outside their immediate friendship groups…and decided to take action.

He organised a series of meeting with power holders within the Stantonbury Sixth Form, primarily the teachers and managers, for permission to advertise and run a half-hour session of conversation circles. This involved pairs of students talking to one another in a carousel of five-minute conversations about topics they were interested in, including current stresses and future plans.

On the day, 22 students participated and 20 completed evaluation questionnaires which showed:

  • 46% increase in ‘I feel self-confident’
  • 41% increase in ‘I relate well to my fellow students’
  • 30% increase in ‘I have a positive attitude to life’.

Not a bad set of data from just 30 minutes of activity!

Some of the participants’ comments afterwards were:

  • “Incredibly useful, I was able to talk to people I don’t usually talk with and form new relationships”
  • “This has really improved my social anxiety slight(ly) and has worked on how socially awkward I am.”
  • “I never realised how happy I was to meet other people, people were ready to open up”
  • “I met people I’ve wanted to talk to before but were too shy or felt that it would’ve been weird.”

Fraser is in discussion with the power-holders among Stantonbury International staff about which direction to take next with this exciting initiative.

Dave Smeath, Head of Year 12 at Stantonbury International, said: “This unique event was a great success, and a credit to Fraser. I hope that the students who took part will now feel confident to speak to others. I look forward to seeing this work grow”

Delegates assembly agrees campaigns for 2019-20

109 delegates from 15 member institutions attended our annual Delegates Assembly at Church of Christ the Cornerstone on Tuesday 5th February 2019.

After an inspiring welcome address from Rev Ernesto Lozada-Uzuriaga, and a roll call of member institutions present, co-chairs Kurshida Mirza of Trubys Garden Tea Room and Greg Maw of St. Paul’s Catholic School introduced new member MK Council of Faiths with a short speech from Rev. John Robertson.

Citizens UK co-chair Tim Norwood, MK Area Dean, explained new plans to create a Thames Valley Citizens chapter supported by Citizens:mk. Yvonne Smith of Cornerstone said she welcomed the idea of having new neighbour alliances in Oxford and Reading.

RAG-rated updates on 2018-19 campaign goals were presented including a video message from Dr. Fidele Mutwarisibo, leader of the Fight Against Hate campaign.

Sixth form students Zainab Athumani from The Radcliffe School and Fraser Sones and Dylan from Stantonbury International School presented their recent experiences of Citizens:mk’s new ‘Anger to Action’ course, funded by MK Community Foundation. Headteacher Kate Matthews led Southwood Primary School students in presenting their experiences of meeting with the Leader of the Council to raise the issue of the broken steps outside the school main entrance.

The choir of Summerfield Primary School then gave a first ever public performance of their new Refugees Welcome song.

After a short break and 121s, three campaign proposals were put, each with SMART goals as follows:

  1. Refugees Welcomeled by MK Deanery, St. Paul’s Catholic School, St. George’s Church:
    • Three new Refugee Welcome Schools – led by St. Paul’s Catholic School
    • First Community Sponsorship
    • A pillar at The Rose for World Refugee Day
  2. Fair Workled by Trubys Garden Tea Room, St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Congolese Community:
    • Zero hours contracts to include clear clauses on Termination and Appeal processes after 12 months. 
    • HR staff to receive Unconscious Bias training and policies for blind application processes’. 
    • Develop a Charter mark for ‘Fair Work’ employers, including both of the above, and test it with 3 MK-based employers within 12 months.
    • To get a formal partnership with a legal firm, e.g. Dentons, to help draft the charter.
  3. Police & Primaries Together led by Jubilee Wood Primary School, Southwood Primary School and St. Paul’s Catholic School:
    • To increase children’s positive perception of The Police in the community, based on regular feedback and surveys organised through School Councils, by December 2019. 
    • To log regular, informal lunchtime visits by TVP to our schools to mix and meet with children, at least once every 6 weeks.

Delegates gave full consent to these campaigns being given special attention at our Accountability Assembly with power-holders on Thursday 25th April 2019.

In post-event Evaluation, the Assembly was scored 8 out of 10, with two points being dropped due to non-attendance of some members and poor audibility of some speeches.

Researching ‘fair work’ at stadium:mk

On the night of freezing 29th January, a small team of Citizens:mk leaders ventured to Stadium:mk, the home of MK Dons FC, for their game against Oldham Athletic.

The purpose of this research action was to find out from workers at Stadium:mk, including both security and catering staff, how they perceived their experiences of working there.

The action began at IKEA nearby, where workers there were asked about their experiences of working at IKEA. Three staff members were approached and all three said they were happy working for IKEA, highlighting the benefits of permanent contracts, flexible hours and progression opportunities. They felt cared for by the management team.

At Stadium:mk, seven workers were asked, and the responses were more mixed. Most felt loyal to the club, but raised a range of including free parking facilities and promotion opportunities, both of which seemed very limited. One security supervisor had been in role for seven years with no pay increase or progression.

One young security attendant was wearing just a fluorescent bib over her own clothes said the flourescent coats had run out. Others said that the 50p subsidy on hot drinks (sale price £2.20) was too low.

This first ‘Fair Work’ research action was deemed successful in terms testing the questions which can now be used in similar research actions with workers from other companies in MK.

Fortunately, because it was really cold, Dons won 2-1, though it was a bit of a scrape!

St. Monica’s Pupils Create Fundraising Ideas

As part their fourth Citizens:mk training session this school year, school councillors and other pupils from St. Monica’s Catholic Primary School met with Hannah O’Meara from MK Community Foundation to brainstorm ideas for fundraising for the international charity, Missio.

I loved visiting the school and working with the pupils,” said Hannah Meara, “especially their creativity and listening to each other.”

Teacher Eleanor Day said:  “It was a great chance for our school council to understand the processes involved in organising fundraising events.”

Stantonbury and radcliffe sixth formers start social action course

14 students have commenced Citizens:mk’s first ever community leadership training course for school sixth formers, ‘Anger To Action’, funded by MK Community Foundation.

Nine students from The Radcliffe School joined five students at Stantonbury International for the first full-day of training on 11th January.

During the training day, students were taught the core concepts and tools of community organising, including: power, power analysis, self-interest, stick person, relationships and 121s, leadership and broad-based organisation, and the cycle of research, action and evaluation.

Students heard from two witnesses, Linda McComie and Hala Alify from Trubys Garden Tea Room, both members of Citizens:mk’s Leadership Group.

In post event evaluation discussion, participants gave the training day a score of 8/10.

In individual feedback questionnaires, students showed the following increase in confidence before/after the training day:

240% increase (from average 3.2 to 7.7 out of 10) for ‘I am aware of the tools needed for building relational power’

173% increase (from average 4.2 to 7.3 out of 10) for ‘I am confident in my community leadership’

171% increase (from average 4.9 to 8.3 out of 10) for ‘I am motivated to make positive change in my community’.

One student wrote: “I enjoyed the quick pace activities as it allowed us to get through multiple things and stopped us from getting distracted or bored. I learnt about how much I actually have an opinion on how to improve my community.”

Another student wrote: “I really enjoyed discussing issues in detail with people from a different but similar school.”

Another student wrote: “I liked learning about the process needed to make a change, finding out the things I’m passionate to change, and meeting new people who can help me do it.”

Nearly every student wrote about how they had enjoyed meeting and working with students from another school.

The students will meet weekly until the end of Spring Term to develop and deliver social action campaigns in their local community.

“It was a real privilege to observe the students from both schools having the courage to work together so openly and develop skills in 1:1 communication,  identifying relational power, power analysis and leadership,” said Sarah Chapman, Assistant head of Sixth Form at The Radcliffe School. ” A great opportunity for our students – I’m very excited to see what they achieve in their projects.”

First Refugee Welcome School in NASUWT MK Campaign

Jubilee Wood Primary School is the first school in MK to join a campaign being championed by teachers union NASUWT and community organising charity Citizens UK.  Following a breakfast launch hosted by Grant Thornton and Dentons solicitors at the end of November, six schools pledged commitment and three have already completed their accreditation booklet.  The other two are Brooklands Farm Primary School and Lord Grey Secondary School.

“It’s important to our members that we engage in community campaigns which act on their concerns,” said Craig Warne, NASUWT Branch Representative for Milton Keynes.  “To serve one of our fundamental values, inclusiveness, our members want as many MK schools as possible to signup to this standard of welcome for refugee children and young people”

For our school, this is a good initiative,” said Tony Berwick, Headteacher of Jubilee Wood.  “We have already developed various ways of welcoming children and families from a great many cultural backgrounds,and the Refugee Welcome Schools accreditation helps us to remain explicit and focused and how we embed this in our own school culture.  It helps to strengthen our community.”

“Filling in the booklet wasn’t too difficult,” said Anesh Ramlugan, NASUWT member who teaches Year 3 with STEM specialism at Jubilee Wood.  “We just had to think about what we are already doing and come up with some exciting ways of involving more of our community in welcoming refugee children and their families.”“It’s exciting to see how quickly the pupils in various MK schools have reacted to the training session we ran for them in early October,” said Tom Bulman, Community Organiser for Citizens:mk.  “Several other primary and secondary schools are taking interest and securing commitments at senior management level.”F

18 leaders attend first Study Action training morning

18 leaders from 10 civil society institutions, including 7 member institutions, attended Citizens:mk’s first ever Study Action training morning.  The session was led by Jonathan Cox, Deputy Director of Citizens UK.

Building on the methodology of community organising, the aim of the session was to bring leaders together to organise a ‘study action’ in January from which all would learn best practice for their own campaigns and institutions.

The theme was ‘unfairness in the workplace’ and the session began by hearing a wide range of testimonies from participants about injustices they had experienced at work, led by Hala Afify’s story of Zero hours contract termination.  Other issues highlighted included discrimination in screening of job applications, uncertain probationary arrangements, unfair notice arrangements, lack of pay for work travel time and low pay generally.

The training focused on planning for action using 5 steps (see HANDOUT (from Citizens Cymru Wales):

  • Organise a diverse alliance
  • Listen to your community
  • Plan a strategic response to the issue – identify the problem, break into an issue which winnable and worthwhile, who are the people with the power?
  • Take Action to get a Reaction
  • Get a seat at the table and Negotiate.

“What I liked was meeting other members of Citizen:mk and knowing that we can work together for the common good,” said Philip Demarco of St. Frideswide’s Church.  “What was re-enforced for me,was that ‘ordinary people’ can achieve great things if they go about matters in a peaceful, cohesive and just way.”

“Building a wider community alliance is both empowering and powerful,” said Rachel Redford of The Open University.  “What I liked about this training session was realising that changing perspective and shaping perceptions changes everything. There is always a way. Re-evaluation with a strong alliance are powerful tools to finding the way.”

One of the ideas emerging was that Citizens:mk might target local employers to lead a new ‘Community Jobs Compact’ (like the one organised by Wales Citizens), including fair recruitment practices (name/address blind, maybe age too) and Unconscious Bias training for interview panelists, Real Living Wage and secure contracts and progression opportunities for workers.

The group resolved to undertake an action  to find out more about the experiences of workers at MK Dons’ stadium (stewards, caterers, cleaners) on Saturday 5th January 2019.  10 leaders agreed to meet for lunch at 12.30pm in IKEA, then proceed to the MK Dons v Oldham football match, talk to stadium workers, and evaluate soon after the game ends at 5pm.

If you or anyone you know is interested to join this research action, please contact Community Organiser Tom Bulman.