As part of our Leaders' Development series for anyone new to TCC, leaders have shared their experiences of being involved in community organising with TCC over the past 25 years. With their experience of organising and achieving issue wins, this is an opportunity for them to share their thoughts on what they have gained from being part of TCC and give an insight into what works and how they keep going when things get difficult. After a meet and greet for new leaders in early 2021, we asked some experienced TCC leaders the questions below.
You can read the full responses or click on a question in the box below to find out how each of the leaders has benefitted from being involved in TCC and the changes they have achieved. You can also watch a short film of interviews with some of the original leaders who founded TCC in 1995.
The Venerable Chris Potter,
Capel y Groes
Transition Holywell & District
Click on a question to jump to an answer, or you can scroll down to read the full responses below.
How has being part of the TCC alliance benefitted you?
Chris: I have learnt about the importance of listening to the stories other people tell about their lives and experience. When private stories become public issues, change can happen. Where there are people, there is power and, through organising, that power can be put to good public use.
Menna: Being in the TCC alliance has benefited me because it has given me the confidence to act. Working with others and receiving TCC training to understand who holds the power in a particular situation, I have been able to apply my principles to change things.
Rob: Being part of TCC has helped build my self-confidence over many years, as I always felt strongly about peace and justice issues and sort of knew I should be doing more "politically" but didn't know how to go about it. TCC was getting organised, getting out into the world, and acting! It taught and demonstrated that "power" was not a dirty word but essential for achieving change. It has taught me the importance of having "meaningful conversations" and listening out for what really drives people. All this came in very useful when I set about forming the Holywell & District Transition group. Without my experience with TCC, I doubt I would have had the skills and confidence to do this.
What is the best change you have made through community organising with TCC?
Menna: There are several great changes I've been involved in through community organising with TCC. Shortly after becoming a member, I was involved in organising a petition for Wrexham Borough Council to recycle waste instead of incinerating, which would have damaged the environment for years. I was also involved in ensuring that Wrexham was awarded Fairtrade Town status, and that Wales was given Fairtrade Nation status. I was also part of getting the first Night Shelter for the roofless in Wrexham. More recently, I have been part of the group that campaigned for a free breakfast for secondary school pupils in Wales, who receive free school meals. I have also helped TCC provide training for understanding how refugees and asylum seekers are treated.
Rob: I think persuading others in TCC to set up a climate change action group was the best change I have made. This group has really made a difference as far as local government in North East Wales is concerned and has pushed climate change higher up the agenda of all three counties.
Chris: Apart from the way TCC training has helped me work with the congregations I have served as a priest, there was one issue in my first parish where organising produced an effective and lasting change. The village where I lived was on the main road between Ruthin and Wrexham and it always felt dangerous to cross the road. The school and the community council had been trying to get traffic calming measures in place for over twenty years and nothing had happened.
Using organising methodology, we researched the issue, found out where decisions were made in the local authority, wrote letters telling of personal experience of danger and held meetings with councillors. Within six months we had electronic speed warning signs and speed bumps.
Shamima: In 2021, I worked with TCC when an elderly lady fleeing domestic abuse was signposted to the charity I am a support worker for, BAWSO. When I contacted local hotels to find a safe place to stay, I was informed by staff that due to Covid, they would need to check with the council first before offering the lady a room. With BAWSO being a member of community organising charity TCC, we worked together to approach local authority Covid enforcement teams in Wrexham, Denbighshire, and Flintshire to address the issue.
We gained agreement from Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire local authorities which meant that people fleeing domestic abuse can be assured that if they arrive at a hotel seeking a room, the hotel is able to provide that accommodation without checking with the local authority first, due to Covid.
What is hard about community organising and what tips do you have to keep going when things get tough?
Rob Owen: Tip 1: Try not to waste opportunities during a one-to-one conversation! I think people are now more receptive to the need for change – we could just be upfront and say: "I think you might be interested in a local organisation I belong to. Can we have a chat about it?"
Tip 2: Invite a TCC organiser to your meetings at least twice a year and keep inviting your group members to Strategy meetings and make sure transport arrangements are discussed.
Menna: The most difficult thing about community organising is trying to explain to people what community organising is, and what we're trying to do at TCC. Some people have their prejudices. There must be plenty of patience, as some activities take a long time to come to a conclusion. As Sister Sheila used to say: "TCC never goes away." After writing this, I came across this quote from Martin Luther King in Barack Obama's book: “Change has never been quick. Change has never been simple, or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination.”
Chris: Organising needs large numbers to turn out for public events, which means a good quota of people from groups who may tacitly support the issue but perhaps are not as acutely engaged with it as those who are more immediately affected.
As for keeping going, an abstract and stormy looking painting that was gifted to me years ago, reminds me not to give up. The painting is called “The 38th day” and is inspired by the story of Noah’s Ark. On the 38th day, Noah and all on the Ark didn’t know that in another two days they would be safe. The “38th day” then became a byword for hanging on in there, don’t give up yet, we’re nearly there.
Who or what do you feel are the most important influencers in the local community?
Chris: A lot of local information and trends appear on social media instantaneously. And then things like shops and businesses, food banks, charity shops are a pretty good indicator of the mood of a place and these things influence how people feel. In Llangollen, there has been a series of business people who have bought up hotels and other venues and who seem to be able to operate with impunity regarding planning regs, so they have been pretty influential on their own behalf. It is the politicians who need to be persuaded to pick up issues that local groups present them with.
Rob: During Covid, the Welsh Government has been very influential. Locally, where I live in Holywell, local schools have been amongst the main influencers, as well as the Business Association who ran a successful campaign to open up the High Street to slow-moving traffic again. The Transition group has been respected for organising big annual town centre events and improving various areas of the town e.g. doing a Holywell Heritage Trail, tree planting, public gardening, public artworks, litter drives.
Menna: Where I live in Wrexham, communication with local council members is sometimes difficult, although we have gained more respect with TCC in recent years. Some members are very supportive, others are reluctant to listen to our request. The groups that are members of TCC are a great influence in the local community, with everyone doing their best to solve the problems we encounter.
Any other words of wisdom?
Chris: Do your research, gather the stories, be patient, be persistent, be polite AND assertive and be clear that you are not going to go away.
Rob: I think we need to provide positive visions of what really matters in life, a vision of what a much-needed, greener, simpler lifestyle could be like. Unless the public is brought "onside", politicians will never take the radical action we need.
Menna: II have been involved with TCC for 25 years and have seen the alliance develop. It's great to see the young people who work for TCC so dedicated. They always give of their best and are determined to succeed. My only advice is: Keep at it!
Chris: I’d like to add something. Action usually springs from frustration and anger about sustained injustice. Anger is a powerful emotion and can show itself in different ways. Someone pointed out to me that in the Greek original of the biblical quote “the meek shall inherit the earth”, the word for meek - praus - was the same word used for harnessing a horse. There are two words we use that seem to mean the same thing - harness and bridle.
But when we say someone is bridled, we mean they are constrained and prevented from speaking or acting, but to harness something is to direct its strength to a given purpose.
Anger that is bridled is dangerous. But anger that is harnessed gets directed to a purpose, it is under control and focused. That’s where the passion in organising comes from and that’s what makes it effective. You can be patient, polite and persistent and still show how angry you are.
Thanks to Chris, Rob, Menna and Shamima for sharing their thoughts and experiences of community organising. If you would like to speak to a TCC leader about their experience of being involved, please get in touch and we can arrange this.