Hundreds of people have pledged their support for a new one-of-its-kind citizens’ charter to improve our city.
Community groups, charities, businesses and faith groups across the city have all flocked to become members of Leeds Citizens - a new diverse alliance of organisations which aims to campaign for social justice and the common good.
Over 700 people attended the Leeds Citizens’ Assembly launch, with more continuing to sign up - a scale of ‘people power’ never before seen in Leeds, say organisers.
The launch event, at Elland Road, saw key decision-makers committing to tackle the city’s top three issues highlighted by the alliance - transport, mental health and poverty.
Founding member and ex-Leeds West MP John Battle said they were stunned and excited by the scale of support across the city.
He said: “I think it’s one of the best things to happen in Leeds throughout my political lifetime.
“People are starting to rise up and participate and take the initiative.”
Leeds Citizens will now work with authorities to tackle different challenges facing the city, using public action to bring about change.
Mr Battle added: “It’s power in numbers. We’re getting the whole city together.
“It’s not just a little pressure group. We are speaking on behalf of a wide range of communities and supporting each other for the first time across our city.”
Funded entirely by its membership organisations, the organisation now hopes to remain self-sufficient and sustainable for years to come.
Its launch event last week came after six months of ‘listening sessions’ - when representatives attended hundreds of groups’ meetings to spread the word about their campaign for social justice.
Co-chair Mr Battle added: “We reached out to every corner and asked what the priorities were for their community or neighbourhood.
“The response has been incredible. We were shocked so many people came to the launch. To get everyone in the same room was a tremendous achievement.
“We are a city of urban villages and what we did was get people together from every nook and cranny across the city and groups who are very different and wouldn’t normally meet. We brought them together and agreed a common purpose for our city. It’s really encouraging. It’s re-routing participation of ordinary people and changing for the better the city we live in.”
Leeds Citizens is following in the footsteps of similar movements in cities including Birmingham, Nottingham, Milton Keynes and London - all branches of national charity Citizens UK.
Chris Butler, chief executive of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, currently the only Leeds NHS organisation to be a signed-up member, said he feels it has great potential.
“It’s a model used elsewhere across the country and some have had a remarkable impact on local communities. I’m very keen to be part of that.”
Tom Chigbo, Leeds Citizens community organiser, said the assembly was a “wonderful demonstration of Leeds’ diversity and shared passion for social justice”. He added: “But this is just a first step. Our task now is to deepen the relationships we have built, take more public action together and develop the capacity of more people to participate in public life.”
Work is already underway to tackle the three priorities identified through the listening exercises - poverty, public transport and mental health.
For poverty, the specific issues highlighted was the city’s dependence on high-cost lenders and the need to better promote credit unions as well as the living wage.
Discussions around public transport were mainly focused on buses - the treatment of passengers on buses and the need to explore further possible routes across the city.
And the need to have a single point of contact - or ‘navigator’ - throughout mental health referral processes.
Action now pledged by Leeds Citizens includes:
* The launch of ‘Living Wage Week on November 2 to encourage businesses to pay the living wage - supported by Leeds City Council, KPMB, Path Yorkshire and Leeds Rhinos Foundation.
* Signing up residents to credit unions over the next couple of months and a launch event with Leeds City Credit Union on August 20.
* Working with First Bus to improve reliability and frequency on bus routes.
* Working to develop a new pilot for providing sensitive care for elderly and ‘navigtors’ for mental health.
Community organiser Tom Chigbo said: “It is clear from the turnout, participation and deals struck on the night that people of all ages and backgrounds are ready to play their part in making Leeds a better city for us all.”
He added: “Over the next few months Leeds Citizens will be taking public actions on our campaign priorities and training people around Leeds in the skills of community organising. We are also inviting communities who have not been involved so far to participate in their own local Listening Campaigns.”
To take part, visit http://www.citizensuk.org/leeds