Neil Jameson’s Story
Neil Jameson is the Founding Executive Director of Citizens UK, the home of community organising in the UK. In 2016, Neil was awarded a CBE for ‘services to community organising and social justice’. Here, he reflects on his 1977 Travelling Fellowship.
In 1977 I was a Project Leader at a small family centre in Coventry. My job was to serve the needs of the residents of the council estate at which the centre was based. A friend who had seen an advert for the Travelling Fellowships recommended that I apply. It was apparent to me that a Fellowship could provide a boost to my own career development, but that it was also an opportunity to explore new ideas around how to work differently with communities.
My Fellowship grant allowed me to travel to several cities in the USA. In New York, Boston, Chicago and Detroit I observed a number of initiatives where large alliances of institutions, particularly faith groups, were coming together to fight for common causes, such as better housing, safer streets and more stable employment. I witnessed community development projects, regeneration schemes, and programmes using business to lift people out of poverty. Through working together to achieve these goals, the bonds between these people were strengthened.
The most important aspect of my Fellowship was a meeting with Ed Chambers, then Director of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the community organising network established by Saul Alinsky in 1940. The IAF’s model was to be the inspiration for Citizens UK, and this meeting was the start of a relationship between the two organisations which has continued for decades.
My Fellowship provided me with the insight that organising helps people to participate in public life and strengthen themselves in the process, but it would take ten years for me to raise enough money to put this idea into practice and establish Citizens UK. In the intervening period, I read more about community organising and came to understand that what I had witnessed in the USA had happened in the UK for hundreds of years, but this tradition seemed to have been lost.
I established Citizens UK in 1989, and since then it has changed my life, my family’s lives and the lives of the thousands of people who work with us. Citizens UK Alliances have been established across ten major cities or regions of the UK, including London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Tyne & Wear and Wales. In 2001 we launched the Living Wage campaign, which has led to over 3,000 organisations in the UK becoming accredited Living Wage Employers. We now employ 55 Community Organisers: we have created a career and a vocation out of organising communities so that they become more powerful. I am thankful that my Churchill Fellowship enabled all this to happen.