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Citizens alliance takes aim at housing, inclusion and safety

Continuing with their pledge to ‘make Oxford a better place for everyone’, Thames Valley Citizens have kick-started their campaign by focussing on housing justice, inclusive jobs and the safety of women and girls. 

An accountability assembly is an event used by Citizens’ alliances to build public relationships with decision-makers, by presenting testimonies of community concerns and bringing specific asks to those with the power to make change. 

There were representatives from organisations in Oxford, Milton Keynes and Reading Citizens. Oxford Citizens and Reading Citizens were founded last November, making them Citizens UK’s newest alliances. The Diocese of Oxford is a strategic partner of Thames Valley Citizens. 

The purpose of the assembly, hosted by Oxford Brookes Students Union, was to introduce the Oxford Citizens and Reading Citizens alliances, build public relationships with Oxford City Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner candidates, and make progress on their campaigns. Speakers shed light on pressing issues such as poor housing in Oxford and safety concerns faced by women in Reading. There was also a chance for members to build relationships, strengthening public friendships across organisations. 

On the night, Phoebe Parr from Oxford Brookes Union, said: “Our students don't feel like citizens. Our female students are scared to walk through South Park because of the lighting. They have precarious contracts with landlords in mouldy houses, they feel taken advantage of with nowhere to turn. 

“We want our students to feel a part of the Oxford community to feel pride in their homes and their spaces. And that's why we're really happy to support this event.” 

During the assembly, those in attendance were asked to stand if the issues being highlighted affected them and their loved ones, and if the asks were enacted whether this would positively affect them. Almost everyone in the room stood, showing the commonality of experience and the need for meaningful change. 

Thames Valley Citizens welcomed Councillor Susan Brown (Oxford City Councillor, Leader of the Council and Leader of the Labour Group), Councillor Lawrence Fouweather (Oxford City Councillor, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group), and Tim Starkey, the Labour candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner. 

Both councillors supported businesses in Oxford paying their staff the Oxford Living Wage, with encouragement for employers to gain Living Wage accreditation, both want to see social housing retrofitted, and agreed to meet with Oxford Citizens to follow up with them on these issues. Cllr Brown also reported that the council’s aim was to increase inspections for rental properties under the new Selective Licence and the Houses of Multiple Occupancies licenses, which Oxford Citizens would support to ensure rental standards are adequate and safe for tenants. 

Upon request from Oxford Citizens, Cllr Brown and Cllr Fouweather agreed to ask for Oxford City Council’s website to be clearer that tenants can anonymously report their landlords for poor standards and ask for an inspection in relation to their rental license, with detail on how their anonymity would be kept.

The assembly also heard from Laura Coyle from Turpin Miller Solicitors on their legal aid work, and legal advice through Oxfordshire Welfare Rights, Barton Advice Centre in Oxford and collaboration with Launchpad in Reading. Oxford currently does not have a law centre, therefore it can be difficult for Oxford residents to get free legal advice when they experience issues with housing. Ms Coyle agreed to work with Oxford Citizens to explore expanding the model of legal advice provided at Barton Advice Centre to other advice centres across the city.

Holly Templer, member of Oxford Unitarians of Harris Manchester College and co-chair of the assembly, said: “It was so wonderful to see members from across our Thames Valley Citizens alliance come together and to hear the candidates agree to almost everything we asked of them. 

“I used to be involved in the London Citizens alliance, which was founded more than 30 years ago, and their assemblies get thousands of people attending. Our alliance has only just started, and the assembly was fairly small this time. But we have started something which is growing quickly, and will still be going in 30 years. I’m so excited to see what we can achieve.”

Thames Valley Citizens remains committed to advocating for tangible solutions to improve the lives of residents across the region and ‘building something that will last more than a generation’.

For media enquiries or further information please contact Rebekah Sharrock.

Page last updated: Thursday 25th April 2024 12:36 PM
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