What a month! The Big Citizens Assembly Round-up (2022 edition)

Ahead of the early May elections, in which new councillors were voted into office across the UK, EFA’s teacher-organisers and students fanned out across London to advocate for access to ESOL and gainful employment for migrant communities across our city.

As an affiliated member of Citizens UK and local Citizens chapters across London, we were excited to take the stage at Citizens assemblies in late April, where each chapter presented its key asks to current borough councillors and standing candidates.

Citizens Assemblies typically take place in mid-Spring each year, ahead of May election periods, and they present an important way for local community organisers and advocates to highlight key issues and secure verbal commitments from those who are in or may take office and have the power to action legislative change.

Check out highlights from the 2022 Citizens Assemblies in the London boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth, Hackney, Greenwich and Brent.

From Southwark and Lambeth:

EFA teacher-organiser and Southwark hub lead Kasia Blackman (second from right) speaks at the 2022 Southwark Citizens Assembly in April.

“Last night was an exciting night for us in South London, with both Southwark and Lambeth Citizens’ Local Election Assemblies taking place just a few miles apart.

In Southwark, we had a fantastic result with Leader of the Council Kieron Williams firmly committing to appointing an ESOL officer, convening quarterly ESOL meetings and compiling an ESOL directory on the Council’s website. Lib Dem candidate Mr Chris Annous also responded positively and agreed to work with us on ESOL if he is elected.

We are so grateful to our Citizens allies – Salvation Army Camberwell, PACT, Surrey Square, Notre Dame, Spring Community Hub, and Amott Road Baptist Church, to start – for working with us on this campaign, and we are especially thrilled for EFA student Adiam who gave her testimony and presented our proposals on stage to over 270 people. Especially with it being her first time even holding a microphone!”

– Kasia Blackman, Southwark Hub Lead

From Hackney:

EFA teacher-organiser and Hackney hub lead Anne McConnell (third from left) joins fellow Hackney organisers to talk migrant employment at the 2022 Hackney & Islington Citizens assembly, 28 April 2022.

That same week, our Hackney hub lead Anne McConnell joined leaders from ELATT London, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, and Loughborough University London to speak about the importance of improving access to gainful employment for migrants and refugees in London.

This has been a long-time focus for our Hackney classes — recently, EFA student Nabila spoke about her experience of seeking employment in London with non-UK qualifications at a Hackney & Islington Citizens delegates assembly. Delegates assemblies take place earlier in the year and present a space for local organisers to pitch issues they believe should be presented to political candidates. These issues are then voted on and the ones with the most support are presented at the April Election assemblies.

EFA student Nabila Bouali advocated for changes to how we consider non-UK qualifications in hiring processes at a Hackney & Islington Citizens delegates assembly in early 2022.

At the delegates assembly, Nabila described how — despite being qualified to degree level and having over 20 years of experience in her field — she faced challenges finding gainful employment in the UK due to employers’ preferences of UK qualifications and experience over non-UK qualifications and experience.

Nabila, alongside Anne and representatives of our partner groups, advocated for the Citizens chapter to request that Hackney council engage local employers in this conversation. Her testimony contributed to Migrant Employment being selected as a key priority for this Citizens chapter to present to standing candidates and local councillors at the 28 April 2022 Hackney & Islington Citizens Assembly.

From Greenwich:

EFA teacher-organiser Lucie Vyhnálková (fourth from right), our Greenwich hub lead, joins local organisers onstage at the recent Greenwich Citizens assembly, 28 April 2022.

Over in Greenwich, our hub lead Lucie Vyhnálková formed part of a team advocating for Greenwich to be named a Borough of Sanctuary by national organisation City of Sanctuary. Earning this recognition would send a strong message that Greenwich welcomes all migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum, and it would drive local activity around welcome, integration, and inter-community connection.

At the Greenwich Assembly, the group asked Danny Thorpe, then-leader of Greenwich Council, and Councillor Nigel Fletcher if they would support this motion, and both committed publicly to doing so. We look forward to working towards this, alongside Greenwich councillors, in the coming months.

From Brent:

EFA teacher-organiser and Brent hub lead Robin Sivapalan (right) speaks onstage at this spring’s Brent Citizens Assembly.

Rounding out a week of brilliant teamwork between EFA teachers, students and community partners was an appeal by our Brent team at this year’s Brent Citizens assembly. 

Their advocacy work has been underpinned by a six-month listening campaign conducted by our Brent teacher-organisers and students between November 2021 and April 2022, during which the group gathered, interviewed and organised stakeholders from across our community to discuss and pinpoint the issues most acutely affecting migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum in Brent today.

The Brent Listening Campaign culminated in an exciting EFA Brent Community Assembly attended by around 100 people across the day, including EFA students; representatives of local charities, organisations, and unions.  Four key priorities emerged from the listenings: (1) ESOL and migrant employability; (2) labour conditions for care workers; (3) support for asylum seekers; and (4) renters’ rights.

Two of these priorities made it onto the Citizens manifesto, with student leaders Fella and Selam providing powerful testimony on ESOL Coordination and a Living Wage in Social Care, and Hakima and Annalibera facing the prospective council leaders as negotiators. 

On the Monday following the election, the EFA Brent student leadership team joined a rally outside the Civic Centre organised by the two high schools in the local alliance to ensure the newly-elected leader knows we’re ready for action. His mother had to learn English on coming here, and nearly every school student in attendance said the same was true for their parents. It was clear why access to support and resources like ESOL can make such a difference to our communities. The council leader reiterated his commitment to hosting a migrant careers fair and to seek funding for an ESOL coordinator. 

Our asylum seeker leaders accommodated in the Wembley hotels have had to speak up to ensure their issues aren’t sidelined, and we are committed to pushing forward on this as a priority too.