A campaign for greater neighbourhood-level democracy formed in the Autumn in Wigan last year has signed up a growing number of supporters seeking more empowerment for citizens to take responsibility for community action at the local level.
Formation of the Movement for Neighbourhood Democracy was prompted by the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. The Movement is led by Angela Fell and supported at the outset with the expertise of a range of groups and individuals including: Centre for Welfare Reform; Citizen Network; Compass; Deeper Democracy Group; LivesThroughFriends; Opus Independents.
Since its formation, further groups and individuals have signed up to its mission. Its approach is described as 'The ecology of social justice - a deeper democracy where citizens can work together for the good society only we can create'. It lists neighbourhood democracy, vibrant civil society, community services, universal public services, new local government, socio and economic justice and constitutional reform as the key building bricks of its approach.
In an open letter setting out the intentions Angela Fell says "the COVID-19 Crisis has demonstrated the enormous desire and capacity we all have to be full citizens, to help each other out, to decide things together and to work to improve our local neighbourhoods and society as a whole. As we prepare for a new future, we must seize this opportunity to exercise our citizenship to the full, on both local, national and international issues and we must challenge and change the systems that are getting in the way."
She says people must have more power to make decisions on the issues that affect them at every level. "We need a deeper democracy."
"The neighbourhood level in particular needs more development and more power; partly to take decisions on things that can be devolved to that level and partly to have a stronger voice in decisions that do need to be more centralised." Neighbourhoods and other independent communities "are the natural basis for people to join together, and therefore the cornerstone of democracy as a whole," Fell says.
"There are already a few places and people that have begun to make Neighbourhood Democracy a reality - local communities, some local authorities and some organisations are committed to trying to shift their systems to empower citizens and local communities." But Angela Fell says these initiatives are fragmented. "It is time to come together to improve the whole of society, for the benefit of everybody. Publishing this open letter is the first step in a process creating a movement for neighbourhood and deeper democracy from the grassroots up."
She says there are many changes required and there needs to be learning and development. Different places may develop different solutions. She lists the seven core objectives as:
- Neighbourhood democracy where people can decide things together in their own communities
- Community services that facilitate and work in partnership with local communities
- Decent public services and the reversal of the austerity policies that have harmed so many local communities
- New models of local government which embrace and democratic and community involvement
- Regional parliaments that enable regions to define their own priorities
- A new economic settlement that ends extreme inequalities between regions and between people
- Constitutional, parliamentary and electoral reform to ensure the voice of local people, local places and regions is properly heard.
Those who have signed up to the campaign include: Centre for Welfare Reform; Citizen Network; Village In The City; Bury Mutual Aid; Springfield, Beech Hill & Gidlow Community; Nurture Development; Brighton Food Factory; Yorkshire Socialist Health Association; Yorkshire Socialist Health Association; Bevy Community Pub; Panjango; Grapevine Coventry & Warwickshire; Paganhill Community Group; Love Sheffield; Talk Shop; Hands Together Ludlow; Shared Places; Independent Constitutionalists UK; Love Barrow Together; Opus.
The Movement for Neighbourhood Democracy Twitter page is the most active expression of the campaign so far, but online events are promised, including one on 8th February at 2pm.