Last Wednesday, the South West London Citizens Community Health Assembly was organised by Citizens UK. This event provided an opportunity to showcase their achievements and their collaborative work with the NHS and local authorities. Stakeholders also collectively made commitments for the forthcoming year.
South London Listens, initiated in November 2020 by Citizens UK, is a community partnership project. It originated in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, aiming to enhance mental health and wellbeing in South London. The project’s core strategy involves listening to people’s experiences, recognising the challenges they encounter, and crafting solutions tailored to the specific needs of local communities.
From November 2021 to November 2023, they produced an action plan and worked on delivering four primary objectives: addressing social isolation, enhancing wages, supporting children and youths, and improving mental health services.
Last year, the South London Listens Accountability Assembly was held at the Greenwood Theatre, King’s College London. The 2023 edition, organised in Wandsworth and hosted at St Barnabas Church near Clapham Junction, marked a pivotal moment as it concluded the inaugural South London Listens cycle. The event served as a platform to reflect on past accomplishments and set the trajectory for forthcoming campaigns.
Over 290 community leaders, senior NHS figures, and local politicians attended the assembly. Regrettably, Wandsworth, the hosting borough, failed to send a councillor to speak during the evening, although representation was made by the Wandsworth Director of Social Services.
One of the main purpose of the event was to hear about the issues that have emerged from their Listening Campaign, where more than 4000 people share ideas on how they can help and support their communities. It was also the opportunity to reflect on what has been done in the last two years, and commit further pledges with their partners, including local authorities and NHS mental health trusts.
The evening comprised brief speeches, commencing with a welcome address by Rev Richard Taylor, Vicar at St Barnabas (a community figure recently involved in the consultation about the Rough Sleeper Hub in Lavender Hill). Nida Mohiyuddin, a co-chair for the Assembly and an educational wellbeing mentor actively engaged in the local Ark John Archer Parent Group, introduced the proceedings.
Representatives from various organisations emphasised the importance of collaborative efforts in effecting change. A role play talked about homelessness, and generous applauds resonated in the church when it was said that it was “definitely not a lifestyle choice“. It was followed by a discussion on housing, which underscored the need for affordable homes.
They acknowledged the six South West London boroughs that had implemented the London Living Wage. Last year Wandsworth and Merton Councils became accredited Real Living Wage Employers (here again was notably absent to mark the achievement). Nevertheless, it was also noted that additional efforts were necessary to guarantee an adequate number of work hours.
- Read our article: London Living Wage: not a priority for the Conservatives in Wandsworth
The Be Well organisations, a key initiative of the South London Listens programme, shared experiences in creating healthy spaces and supporting communities.
Throughout the evening, Local Authorities and the NHS were urged to pledge their commitment to various initiatives, including working with the living wage foundation, supporting Be Well organisations, enhancing engagement, backing the Safe Surgeries campaign, and collaborating with Citizens UK. All stakeholders were invited to sign their pledges at the conclusion of the event.
The assembly also featured entertainment, including dances, and culminated in a musical performance.
What is Citizens UK
Citizens UK is a grassroots alliance of hundreds of civil society organisations, including schools, faith institutions, trade unions, universities, and various community groups. Their collective mission is to build a better, fairer society by bringing together everyday people and local organisations to take action for social justice and the common good.
Founded in 1989, the registered charity focuses on an array of social justice issues, notably:
- Living Wage Campaign: Advocating for a fair and decent wage for workers to ensure they can meet their basic needs.
- Immigration and Asylum: Supporting fair and compassionate immigration policies.
- Affordable Housing: Campaigning for affordable and decent housing for all.
- Refugee Welcome: Supporting refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into society.
- Mental Health: Working to improve access to mental health services and reduce stigma.
The organization’s methodology involves building relationships, conducting listening campaigns to identify community needs, training individuals in community organizing tactics, and fostering alliances between different community groups to achieve shared goals.
Citizens UK has a long history of success in creating positive change in communities across England and Wales. The organisation has played a leading role in campaigns such as the introduction of the Living Wage, the creation of the Sponsor Refugees scheme, and the development of the Parents and Communities Together (PACT) programme.
If you want to get involved in the campaigns and action planning, check the websites:
UPDATE 30/11/2023: Article amended as the date was Wednesday, not Thursday. Also the number of attendees was 290, not 200.
One of the organiser sent us this message:
“The big win for parents was commitment to work with community on the CAMHS waiting list which sees some children & parents waiting a year for just an appointment. NHs also offered to map their resources with a view to offer young people spaces: spaces for activities. They committed to offer these, once mapped, for free! These were two key things parents wanted some movement on.”
CAMHS stands for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and are specific child and adolescent mental health services within the NHS. CAMHS support covers depression, problems with food and eating, self-harm, abuse, violence or anger, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety, among other difficulties.