How might community organising relate to health or social research? #nottinghamcitizens
Neil Chadborn, Collaboration for Leadership and Applied Health Research and Care @nchadborn
On 17th October I joined a delegation from School of Sociology Social Policy to attend the first major public meeting of Nottingham Citizens.
170 people, representing 34 organisations, met at Nottingham Trent University to discuss how an alliance of organisations from ‘civil society’ might lobby the candidates for the first elected Police Commissioner, to improve the safety of the city.
We heard from the Rector of St. Nicks Church, Steve Silvester, about how the project has developed in Nottingham over the previous two years. During this time the group has raised £100k of community funds, held 1000 meetings and trained over 120 community leaders. The idea is to build a network of faith communities, schools, unions and charities to act on common concerns for the city.
Nottingham Citizens see the election of the new Police Commissioner as an opportunity to get the voices and concerns of the people of Nottingham heard in a powerful way. Four key concerns of Nottingham residents were described by personal testimonies of horrific incidents in the city. These issues have been researched, for example by mapping and surveying. Based on the personal stories and the research, action plans have been drafted to put to the Police Commissioner as the ‘Asks’ of Nottingham Citizens. Our objective for the evening was to vote on priorities (or veto) these concerns. We decided within our organisations our priorities, and the overall result was as follows:
1) Safer Young People – following the story from a young girl who had been traumatised by a man approaching her on her way to school. This is a too frequent occurrence across the city and Nottingham Citizens have mapped routes to school and are asking for a greater police presence on these routes.
2) Sensible Stop and Search – a young black man gave an account of being racially abused and physically assaulted during a police stop and search, being put in a van without being charged and without being read his rights at arrest. Nottingham Citizens are asking the Police Commissioner to ensure that receipts are given for every stop and search (and also stop and account), to ensure greater accountability.
3) Safer City Centre – we heard an account, read by a friend, of a female student who, because she didn’t have enough money for a bus fare, had difficulty getting home after a night out and was attacked and raped in Forest Recreation Ground. Nottingham Citizens are asking for the police to move their operations centre to within the Rec itself. We are also asking that more support is given to Police Community Support Officers who are now on patrol until 1am.
4) CitySafe Cabs – an Asian taxi driver told us about an incident when he was held at knifepoint within his taxi and forced to drive around the city, whilst also being racially abused. He managed to escape and fled his taxi (his livelihood) in fear of his life. His family have lived in fear during the investigation and conviction of the man, and continue to live in fear as he has been seen on their home estate after being released from prison. Nottingham Citizens are asking for match-funding to enable installation of CCTV in taxis.
How does Nottingham Citizens relate to the University? Firstly they are asking for our support on a personal level – if you feel strongly about any of these stories, please come with us to an Accountability Assembly with the future Police Commissioners (Mon 12th November, 18:15) where we will ask for action on these issues (email for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org). In future we could raise concerns from within the university community.
From my public health perspective, action on all of the above has benefits for health and wellbeing for the people of the city. Obviously, if the number of violent attacks can be reduced, that can have huge impacts in avoiding the physical injury as well as mental trauma to individuals and families. Furthermore improving city safety can have an important impact on resident’s perception of risks. For people who may have been leaving in fear of these risks (sometimes emphasised by the press) knowing that the city is taking action could alleviate stress and hence benefit mental wellbeing. However actually taking part in Nottingham Citizens could be beneficial; Prof Sir Michael Marmot (and colleagues at University College London) has shown, in a series of studies on stress and health, that having a sense of control in day-to-day life can improve health and wellbeing.
The second question we are considering, is how departments and centres within the University may relate to Nottingham Citizens. Could Sociology, or various research centres including my own (Collaboration for Leadership and Applied Research in Health and Care) offer support or research for particular projects? In turn this could be an effective way for us to disseminate findings from relevant research to a local audience.
Thirdly can we ‘open up’ our departments to the city communities, whether from a student perspective – widening participation, or from engaging the public in our research processes and outputs, seminars for example.
Fourthly can we learn from their approach of ‘community organising’ to inform our engagement processes. Several of our members are engaging with Nottingham Citizens in order to learn more about the approach. We are also considering inviting their organisers to hold training sessions for our research staff. Maybe this could also be useful for students and teaching staff. This is an ongoing debate within our departments and centre – please feel free to join the debate (possibly on twitter: @nchadborn or @clahrc_ndl or @uniofnottingham or search for #nottinghamcitizens).