Community power comes to Parliament
By Will Brett, Campaign Director
On Monday 13 June, the movement for community power arrived at the Palace of Westminster to stake its claim. And it was something to witness.
This has been building for years, if not decades. Local people – and the organisations which support them – have long known that empowered communities can be a big part of the answer to the problems facing us as a country. When the pandemic hit, that fact was clear for all to see. But the world is trying to snap back to the status quo – and the status quo is fundamentally distrustful of local people having control and agency in the places where they live.
The energy for this campaign comes from people’s deep frustration with that distrust – and their determination to confront it once and for all. That’s why so many community leaders from all four corners of the country made the trip to Parliament this week. This was their moment.
They came from Barrow and Bristol, Teesside and Tyneside, London and Lichfield, Sheffield and Shropshire – and many, many more places in between. And they came with one, single message. It’s time for a Community Power Act, to fundamentally change where power lies in this country.
After a rousing and supportive introduction from Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, we heard from Sacha Bedding of Hartlepool and Charlotte Hollins of Fordhall Farm in Shropshire, two of the leaders of the campaign. They set out why they are committed to this campaign, and why a Community Power Act would have made their extraordinary efforts so much easier.
Then we heard from some of the other leaders who had made the journey down: Annoushka Deighton, who spearheaded the community buyout of Stretford Public Hall in Greater Manchester; John Lockson, who is seeking to secure space for young people in his neighbourhood in Nottingham; and Trina Robson, who has devoted her life to helping local people in Barrow genuinely shape the public services they use. Inayat Omarji – who led the community takeover of a derelict church in Bolton, and is now a leader of the We’re Right Here campaign – compered us beautifully throughout.
Then the politicians responded – and it was clear that the message is starting to land. Alex Norris MP, Labour’s shadow minister for levelling up, expressed real support for our campaign and said he was looking forward to working with us to make our ideas a reality. “We have to cede power, and now is the moment to do it,” he said.
And Doug Pullen, Conservative leader of Lichfield Council, set out the case for a Community Power Act from both a Conservative and local government perspective. “True community power requires a strong local state. But we’re merely brokers of power. We’ve got to devolve power to communities. Trusting people to shape their own place is the single greatest way to create pride.”
Throughout, there was a strong sense that community power is an idea whose time has come, and one which crosses the partisan divides of politics. And we saw that in the room, as MPs from across the spectrum – Tracey Crouch, Kim Leadbeater, Chris Loder, Kate Green and many more – came in to show their support and sign our open letter to Michael Gove. They were followed by local government leaders from places as diverse as Conservative-run Hartlepool and Labour-run Waltham Forest.
It’s clear that the movement is truly growing. We urge you to join us if you haven’t already. You can do so by signing our letter to Michael Gove, sharing our content on Twitter, joining our mailing list, and even sharing your story of community power.
Thank you to everyone who made this day happen. We have already shown what we can do by working together. Imagine what we could achieve next.
Photos by Jessica Bernard