Framework sections highlighted: Connect, Listening, Organise, Power

ACORN organise locally to bring power back to renters

ACORN are a national community union with local branches across the UK who organise people to come together and take action on issues affecting them in their communities, including – but not limited to – housing and renters’ rights. Members pay to join, and local branches are springing up in cities across the country. In Newcastle, Sheffield, and Bristol, ACORN are supported by the Community Organisers Expansion programme to train more local leaders and members so that they can be more effective at taking action.

ACORN’s Newcastle branch originated in 2015 in the suburb of Heaton, a mixed community consisting of families, professionals, and students.  As the Heaton group began to grow the following year, they became by default ACORN’s citywide branch.  This year, Heaton locals have been working to refocus their energy on the local community.

Heaton resident Ellie initiated this process by suggesting a re-launch meeting for Heaton members, which fourteen people attended.  With training and support from their local community organiser Ellen, the group have been door-knocking in the area to listen to tenants’ concerns and ideas regarding their community, including issues around housing.  Ellen reflects on the diversity of the group that has emerged from this process:  “The group is kind of mixed, that’s true.  There are people who don’t have any jobs, then people who drive taxis, people who work in cafés, there are people who are doing master’s degrees.  There’s a couple of students.  It’s a pretty mixed bag.”

Around a third of the Heaton group has participated in one-day community organising training.  Ellen explains the benefit this training has had on the group:  “It’s given them more of a plan and a sense of how it all fits together, as well as the big picture aims of organising; and they’ve used that training in the activities they’ve been doing.”

Power comes from having a group of people who both have the knowledge and are there to do it with you; to show that they’ll provide support.

The group held their first ‘know your rights’ drop-in session for local renters at the Star and Shadow Cinema in September.  Local people brought their concerns to this session, including issues with housing discrimination, disrepair, and landlords withholding deposit money from tenants.  The group is now organising to tackle some of the issues uncovered through this ongoing listening and are seeing positive results.

ACORN’s activity is a prime example of how communities can build and exert collective power when they come together through organising, as Ellen explains:  “People facing difficult situations with letting agents are normally doing it on their own.  They often don’t know what rights they have and even if they know them, they don’t feel confident to use them, because they’re scared of getting a bad reference or losing the house or losing their deposit.  I think the power comes from having a group of people who both have the knowledge and are there to do it with you; to show that they’ll provide support.”

In addition to this, Ellen also reflected on how the process of going back to building up Heaton’s base has illustrated the power that comes from working locally.

“Our focus this year has been on like rebuilding local groups, so people feel a bit more connected to the organisation and feel like there are people around them and that they know are a part of it. It’s hard for people to pay for a bus and find the time to go across town to a meeting. If something is local it can be more powerful, because it’s easier for more people to come together.”