Community Organisers’ Social Action Hub Marsh Farm Outreach are shaking up local democracy in Luton with the development of ‘People’s Assemblies’, harnessing the creative energy and talent of the Marsh Farm estate community to create a collective decision-making space that people will actually enjoy being part of.
Glenn Jenkins, Marsh Farm Outreach community organiser, explained the rationale behind the People’s Assemblies:
“The whole idea of the Community Organisers programme is to enable a shift away from dependency on old politics with service providers and boring meetings – the old non-engaged model – towards one where residents, people who live in communities, have agency to act because they’re organised effectively, and so are able to engage in the democratic process effectively. People’s Assemblies are a mechanism through which this shift can take place.”
Marsh Farm Outreach are planning to hold People’s Assemblies quarterly, with the first one in April 2020. The Assemblies are intended to be a space where people from the local community will come together to make decisions on the allocation of grant funding for the area, provide a forum to scrutinise local service providers such as the police, and enjoy and participate in arts and cultural activities as an integral part of the democratic experience.
The development of the People’s Assemblies is being steered by two overlapping groups. One is a core team of community organisers, who are recruiting and training ‘street mobilisers’ – local people who are responsible for encouraging their neighbours to attend the Assemblies. So far, 18 local people from 9 different streets on the Marsh Farm estate have taken part in the Introduction to Community Organising one day training course which has provided them with the initial skills needed to carry out this role.
The other group is a team of ‘artivists’, headed by Luton’s Arts Council funded Creative People and Places project, Revoluton Arts, and consisting of a range of different groups and individuals who are using their talents in performance, music, visual art, and more to add some ‘spice’ to local democracy. The team includes a diverse mix of around 45 creatives and performers including rappers Life and Phi, who have previously performed on the Brit Awards, and X Factor contestants Voices With Soul, as well as a wealth of up and coming talent from the local community of young people.