Through community organizing our innovative hub has further embedded Broxtowe CLP within the community we serve:
Community Organising provides the ideal way for Labour to reconnect with our communities. In a world facing unprecedented crises and deepening inequalities that have been laid bare by Covid-19, it offers the means to forge the ideas, strategies and practices necessary to make an impact; not just now, but in the long term. Instead of a one size fits all, top-down, corporate model of organising, we need more community based campaigning; engaging the widest range of people in our movement. We need to focus on the relational rather than the transactional, and campaign to build support in our communities over not months, but years, harnessing the community spirit with Labour and its members at its heart. Continuous Community Organising should be the foundation of our party.
Here in Broxtowe, a key marginal seat covering the south western part of Nottinghamshire, we put theory into practice through working alongside the fantastic Community Organising Unit during the last General Election. Members of the Unit encouraged the CLP to look outwards and engage with our disconnected communities, particularly those who are politically alienated and living in places long left behind by Westminster. We wanted our party to be part of a wider movement rather than being consumed by meetings.
Community Organising requires physical space (a hired hall, a van or a shop) so, with wonderful help from Unite and CWU, Broxtowe CLP opened our first high street Community Hub in early 2019. Initially our activities focused on keeping members engaged, active and educated through holding branch meetings, reading groups, political education talks, banner making, fundraising nights and safe space get-togethers for our youth, women and LGBT+ sections. Once the Hub had become a familiar venue, we looked outwards to how we might engage with our surrounding communities. We began hosting coffee mornings for the elderly and homeless, surgeries with our councillors, and a signposting advice centre that provided basic support and guidance for residents with a range of problems. Staffed five days a week by a voluntary team, mostly consisting of members, we were meaningfully rooting ourselves in the day-to-day lives of residents by listening to them, recognizing their concerns, and thereby better enabling us to raise and act on those issues that mattered to them most.
The most visible sign (and literally so, given it was outside our door whenever we were open) of the Hub’s growing presence was the board we placed outside promoting our Community Larder complete with the strapline – “If you need it, take it. if you can, donate”. More than anything else, users of this service valued it for its hassle-free simplicity: if we had the item in stock, our answer to any request was always, ‘yes’. The Hub was ideally placed to step up when the pandemic hit and we turned our premises into a pop-up food bank; the first and only non-referral service of its type in the area. No questions were asked of inquirers, they just needed to give Broxtowe Labour a call and we would deliver a food parcel to their door. Ten months on and we have distributed 3000 food parcels, fed 10000 people, delivered 2000 hot meals, donated 200 baby items, provided 50 stationary kits and in the process gained 60 new members. All of this voluntary work has been under the Labour Party banner. Such has been our success that we have moved our operations to larger premises in order to cope with demand, and in the process set up a separate member-run charity. We retain the original high street Hub and are now using some of our campaigning funds to finance community projects and support other food banks. We are proud of the legacy we are creating, of trying something new and breaking free from the normal party constraints to get out there and achieve so much through helping communities.
Our Community Hub shows what is possible with a well-resourced, well-funded local Labour Party presence that provides a crucial link between the practical and the political in forging different kinds of relationships with Broxtowe residents. This work has made a huge difference to our supporters and campaigns, as well as those in the local community who have benefited directly. Our members now have a common shared purpose that forges relationships between them. Local communities see the Labour Party as a credible force for good, one to be trusted, and we are recognized as people that get things done: good people doing good things.
By doing the right thing by people that need our help and hope, we are rebuilding our party through actively showing what a better society may look like by promoting collective efforts instead of individualism, co-operation rather than competition, and social equality as opposed to inequality.
We need to re-embed ourselves in working-class communities after the loss of our traditional local presence – such as the Labour Club or MPs office – to show we are here and available all year round and not just offering promises and pledges at election time.
We aim to build on Labour’s reignited visibility in Broxtowe in the upcoming County Council elections. We saw success from the hub model in last year’s Borough Council elections, gaining two seats in wards where we were active in the community: seats that had been Tory controlled for sixteen years. Next year, with fresh engagement in areas with high levels of political apathy, we hope to keep our foot in the door and continue to build links, trust and ultimately support.
We urge the national party, the unions and the wider Labour movement to fund high street hubs up and down the country, using the Broxtowe Model as the template for what is possible: an empowering presence at the heart of our communities – one that will help us all win.
Solidarity, Unity and Community