Community Organising

It’s in the name! We’re called English for Action because we support our students to take action on the social justice issues that are important to them, as well as supporting and leading campaigns ourselves as an organisation. 

We create change through an approach called ‘community organising’, which builds the skills, confidence, and networks of ordinary people to effect change. Community organisers listen to people’s concerns, build teams, and train them to be change-makers. 

In classes, we nurture relationships between participants to improve their ‘relational power’, focus on lived experiences in our dialogue, and use community organising frameworks for analysing problems.

We are a member of Citizens UK, a home of community organising in the UK, in East and South London. Through this relationship, our students can access leadership training, get involved in campaigns in their local area, and enlist support for their own campaigns.

We are also grateful to Community Organisers Ltd for funding our organising in east London, where we have now trained over 150 ESOL students in community organising.

Community organising fuels our migrant rights campaigning. Some of the campaigns we’re currently involved in are LoveESOL and the Southwark and Lambeth Housing Action Group.

How can we organise people and build power?

Coined as the most radical tool of organising: the relational meeting or 121 is a 30-40 minute meeting where the intention is to connect meaningfully with another person, to understand who they are, what they care about and what they might be willing to do to act on what they care about. 

At EFA, 121s are embedded in our practice and often serve as a key starting point for our organising work. Colleagues meet with each other, we do them with our students and train our students to do them with each other. We have 121s with our partner organisations, hosts and funders. They require time and patience and are actually hard work. If we rush, if we don’t listen, or if we try to tell someone what they should think, we miss the point. 

On the other hand, if done right, through 121s we establish the public relationships that make sustained collaboration and collective action possible. Through 121s at EFA, we are able to identify the issues that affect our students and that they are willing to take action on, we develop student leaders who take on responsibility for planning, organising and evaluating actions, and we grow a coalition of people and organisations that share our anger and dreams.

The work of community organising doesn’t end with 121s; they are just the start. Organising is followed by listening, planning, taking action, negotiating and then organising once again. Making change is a slow process and takes time, but anyone serious about it needs to be ready to put in the work.

For anyone interested in developing a more relational culture within their institution, building relational power and changing the world, below are some tips from Citizens UK on how to have effective 121s. 

Citizens UK Tips for 121s 

What it isWhat it isn’t
Intentional & has a clear agenda which is simply the other person, what’s important to them and why….
121’s teach us to slow down and find out what makes the other person tick. Resist the temptation to move quickly on to ‘business’. 
A chat…
The intentional nature of a 121 should move the conversation beyond the trivial or mundane. It is soul-work. We are not looking for information about a person –we are looking for the person.
Be curious, ask probing ‘why’ questions. But also be prepared to give something of yourself. 121’s require a level of calculated vulnerability. Often people will only share to the level which you first model.
An interview
A Public Conversation…
This is crucial. You might be interested in their private life, but in a 121 the focus is on how those personal moments affect who that person is prepared to be in public. This focus keeps the 121 from becoming therapy, or from failing to lead to action.
A sales pitch or a therapy session…
Your primary motive is not to get the person to do something. It is to connect with them in a meaningful way, to look for common ground, and if appropriate, to agitate them into action with you or with others.
Most people live busy lives. Honour their time (and your own) by keeping it between 30-45mins. If the cup of tea has long gone cold, it’s time to wrap it up.
A date…
It shouldn’t need saying, but there have been confusions in the past! The message here is to think carefully how you initiate the 121.