Monday, 8 June 2009

Highlights of a week flitting across the UK

CITIZENS for Sanctuary do not go where we are not invited. We do not have a territotial presence outside of London and so our Regional Campaign Action Teams are set up by local people with a keen desire for change.

So last week I travelled around the country to meet, train and be inspired by ordinary citizens who want to make the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations happen in their community.

On Monday I went to Plymouth. About 15 people gave up half a day to talk about how they might campaign together for the common good in their local area. Isolated from much of the rest fo the country and with no history of migrant communities, there was no shortage of issues to address.

On Tuesday I was in Southampton and Portsmouth, meeting 1-2-1 with local leaders who had attended an introductory meeting in April. The story I heard there was the same story we encounter time and time again across the country - a small core of committed leaders working flat out to cope with the consequences of our asylum system, but fed up with just applying a sticking plaster. They want to organise together for change. The challenge as always is finding the time - so some training on 1-2-1s, the benefits of a relational culture and prioritising could be useful.

On Wednesday I headed up to the City of Sanctuary conference in Sheffield. Great to catch up with some old friends doing some inspiring work, including a university contemporary of mine who is running something similar to our 'Friends of Lunar House' project, except in his local Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in Bradford. I ran a couple of workshops on how citizens across the UK are using Obama tactics to make the Independent Asylum Commission's recommendations a reality. Really great bunch of people came to find out how community organising can make their work more effective. Inderjit Bhogal closed the conference with an anecdote about his taxi driver misunderstanding what asylum is, and then uttered words that were music to my ears: "Let us not use the outdated and misleading term 'asylum', but talk instead of sanctuary." Couldn't have said it better myself!

Then on to Durham, my alma mater. Had dinner with two students finishing their degrees, to talk about how we recruit the brightest and best to become community organisers, and challenged them to get students to support our voucher exchanges.

On Thursday I was in Durham and Newcastle for 1-2-1s with leaders who want to be part of the Regional Campaign Action Team. Again, there was real passion and commitment - mostly from British citizens who have recently encountered people seeking sanctuary who have been poorly treated here.

And Friday, early, I visited Milton Keynes for the first time in my life. Given that I only ever ventured about 500 metres of the train station I will refrain from making the usual snide remarks about the concrete jungle, but will instead say how full of hope the lovely people who attended our training event were. Many of them were refugees or people seeking sanctuary, and by the end of the day, as we taught about power and negotiation, you could almost sense their desire to put it into practice.

So a busy week - but the travelling was worth it. With committed citizens working together effectively and strategically, change will come...

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