What and Who are “Citizens”

Citizens UK is a people power alliance of diverse local communities working together for the common good.

Through community organising, local leaders are able to develop their voices and come together with the power and strategy to make real change. Branches of Citizens have been established across the country.

More information about Citizens UK can be found on the website.

Harrow Citizens was founded jointly in April 2018 by Rabbi Michael Hilton, now Emeritus Rabbi at Kol Chai and Rev Rod Green from St Peters Church, West Harrow.

Following a series of meetings held at a number of different faith organisations across Harrow, the members of each organisation voted to decide which issues they most wanted to campaign on to bring about positive change for the people of Harrow.

The result of this has been that since 2018, Harrow Citizens has been campaigning on

  • Making housing affordable for all in Harrow
  • Improving mental health services
  • Making refugees welcome

Harrow Citizens currently comprises the following organisations:

  • St Peters CoE, West Harrow
  • St Albans CoE, North Harrow
  • Hujjat Stanmore, KSIMC (Stanmore Mosque)
  • Mahfil Ali SICM, North Harrow (North Harrow Mosque)
  • Wealdstone Babybank
  • Kol Chai Reform Jewish Community
  • St John Fisher RC Church North Harrow

What has Harrow Citizens achieved?

Advising struggling tenants, enforcing affordable housing guidelines, and supporting the homeless.

The HOUSING ACTION TEAM first met in January 2018 – two Kol Chai members joined forces with five from St John Fisher RC Church. We are now good friends and colleagues.

We began work on :

1. Affordable Housing & Homes for the Homeless. Action: lobbying the Council to ensure that the vast new Civic Centre Development included the mandatory 33% of ‘affordable properties’.

2. Tackling ‘Poor rental conditions under rogue landlords’ was the next project. Action: Our Team produced and distributed an ‘Advice and Help for Tenants’ leaflet. This was delivered to areas of poor quality rental housing in Harrow.

3. Housing the Homeless/The Malachi Project. Since 2020 we have focussed on establishing supported accommodation for eight currently homeless people. Action: discussions with Council leaders and Harrow’s Housing Team has brought success. We have found a suitable site for eight modular homes and are working closely with the Council, the Salvation Army and the Hill Group developers to implement this project by the beginning of 2023.

Once established, we will look to volunteers in our community to visit and support the residents.

Improving Mental Health Services in Harrow

Our initial work focused on developing two Directories of Mental Health Services in Harrow – one for the general population and one setting out services specifically for children and adolescents. We enlisted the help of our three Harrow MPs and the Harrow Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to distribute the Directories to every school in Harrow and every GP Practice.

More recently, we have focussed on developing a relationship with mental health leads in the Central and North West London (CNWL) NHS Trust and we are now a member of the 3rd sector partnerships group hosted by CNWL.

After several years of campaigning and engaging with Council Officers, Councillors, members of the CCG , relevant homelessness and mental health charities in the voluntary sector, we have succeeded in obtaining agreement by the Council to pilot a “one stop shop” medical facility for the homeless and vulnerable in Harrow.

This will be based on the successful model in Watford, the Meadowell Clinic, where people who are homeless and/or vulnerable can receive medical support for their physical and mental health together with a range of support services such as debt relief, housing advice, addiction cessation treatment, nursing and counselling which they can receive under one roof. This will mean that the clinic can centre on the needs of people who typically find it difficult to attend appointments in different locations to the detriment of their health.

We have been invited to join the Working Group set up by Harrow Council’s Homelessness Reduction Board to establish the “one stop shop” and we are currently working on identifying a suitable venue for the pilot. Our aim is to find and open the venue by the end of this year (2022).

Making Refugees Welcome

A small multifaith refugee action team, led by Kol Chai, has had considerable success in collaboration with Harrow Council.

SYRIAN REFUGEES

Following the inaugural Harrow Citizens Assembly in 2018, the Council agreed to resettle two Syrian refugee families, provided that Harrow Citizens found an agreeable landlord and also committed to ongoing befriending and other kinds of support, over and above that which its own officers could provide.

Two family sized houses were found through the good offices of St Peter’s Church. Over £10,000 was raised via an online appeal to enable our volunteers to refurbish and equip the houses. The families moved in during summer 2019 and, joined by a third family relocating from Scotland, have begun the process of making new lives. Befriending has proceeded at the pace that the families can accept, as they have all suffered trauma and fear to a greater or lesser extent . Three new Kol Chai volunteers joined as local friends, specifically to provide tuition in English, IT and Maths.

AFGHAN REFUGEES

Following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, we responded positively to the Council’s request to get involved in their commitment to family resettlement on a larger scale than for Syria. This time, private landlords known to the Council have been persuaded to accept Afghan families; the Council have then fully refurbished the flats and houses and we have supplied new items such as bedding, towels, food and electrical appliances – a fresh round of fundraising raised over £3300. In addition, we have sought and received donations of crockery, cutlery, pots, pans and many other household essentials. All of this much valued work has ensured that families move into something like a home and not just a house or flat.

As of May 2022, eight Afghan families have been resettled under the two applicable Government Schemes, but the Council believes the demand is strong enough that in due course over 30 families might settle in Harrow. In order to continue to respond positively, we have successfully strengthened our volunteer team across the five participating communities and arranged a local commercial storage facility. Council funding has been sought for the storage and new purchases. We hope to have formal agreement shortly, following a delay associated with the change in political
leadership at Harrow Council.

What can Kol Chai members do?

If you are interested in any of these three topics, please contact us to join our campaigns – [email protected]

Harrow Citizens also holds open meetings and Assemblies, and you can also help us by attending these meetings when they are advertised in the synagogue diary or weekly email.

The more people who participate, the stronger are our campaigns and the more we can achieve!

Footnote: On 10 May 2022, following the local election, a number of Harrow Citizens volunteers met the new Leader of Harrow Council, Cllr Paul Osborn and three of his senior Councillors. We briefed them about our work to date. We anticipate holding further formal meetings with the Leader and the relevant Portfolio leads when we are able to present our work in more detail and continue our successful collaborative working with the Council under its new Leadership Team.