Waltham Forest is a diverse and vibrant borough, where 86% of residents agreed that people from different backgrounds get on well together. However, with hate incidents on the rise across London and the UK, the Council wanted to find a new approach to address hate in the borough where people can work together to ensure everyone feels equally welcome and safe.At the end of 2019, the Council commissioned a Citizens’ Assembly to find common ground, share ideas and make recommendations to stop hate. Together with our partners Involve, we designed and delivered the assembly. Over the course of five days in February and March 2020, 45 residents came together as members of a ground-breaking and pioneering assembly; the first to address hate and intolerance in this way. The residents were recruited by Sortition Foundation using a 'civic lottery' to ensure they represented the diversity of Waltham Forest.
Getting a deep understanding of the context and aspiration of the Council around the topic and the method was essential for creating the right design process. These insights helped us to work with the Council to set the right question for the assembly to consider, support the Council to create an Advisory Group and to ensure that the assembly processes produced something that would be meaningful for the Council and the participants alike.
Waltham Forest is a diverse and vibrant borough, however hate incidents are on the rise across London. How can we work together to stop hate and ensure everyone can feel equally welcome and safe in our borough?
Working with the Advisory Group, we had a great range of people share their knowledge and expertise providing evidence for assembly members to deliberate. We worked to ensure the evidence was clear, simple and accurate and came from a range of different sources and perspectives to reduce the potential of introducing a skew or bias into the event. The advisory group was made up of:
- Knowledge experts;
- Stakeholders; and
- Experts by lived experience.
The expert presentations made to the Citizens' Assembly are available to view online.
Wider engagement with communities
Alongside the assembly, the Council commissioned wider engagement to hear the voice of residents, communities and organisations - and gathered evidence from local people who have experienced hate in some way, enabling wider views and evidence to be heard during the Assembly members’ deliberations. As with any Citizens’ Assembly, a lot of careful planning and consideration goes into every fine detail. This was especially the important given the topic - it was so important to ensure Assembly members were able to participate in the learning, deliberation and decision-making phases in an inclusive way. Therefore, Waltham Forest Council, Involve and Democratic Society worked as ‘one team’ to provide:
- A prayer room - accessible anytime;
- A quiet room for anyone who needed some time out - with support on hand, activities and beanbags for relaxing, aromatherapy scents and a livestream from the main room so no-one missed out on any presentations by using the space;
- Specialist advocates who were available each day of the assembly. The advocates provided 1:1 emotional support, advocacy, third party reporting and signposting to other services as needed.
- Locally sourced food and drink - supporting local and community-owned catering businesses;
- Long lunches and regular breaks with time for everyone to unwind and connect with each other over good food - with a special ‘thank you’ celebratory cake for everyone to enjoy on the final day;
- Facilitator and support team briefings which were vital to ensure awareness and understanding of the local context - ensuring the best support was provided for all assembly members; and
- The right venue - ensuring a welcoming, accessible, and comfortable space for all.
Over the course of the assembly’s five sessions, Assembly members agreed on a number of outputs which have since been presented to London Borough of Waltham Forest, as set out below.
A statement of the impact of hate and its vision for the borough
‘The impact of hate is far reaching. Individual’s wellbeing is adversely affected. They can become fearful, disempowered, isolated and angry. Not only does the victim suffer, but this creates marginalisation and division in the community. It makes people feel unwelcome and unsafe and leads to pressure and distrust in public services. Without action, hate breeds more hate.’
A vision for a borough without hate
‘Waltham Forest should be a place of pride, where we celebrate and protect our diversity. One where we work to educate and understand each other in order to build a safer, stronger community. Institutions should raise awareness, promote mutual respect and reliably provide support and protection. It should be a place where people and communities are empowered to stand in solidarity and take action to combat hate.’
The Assembly's recommendations:
% support gathered through the final vote during the assembly is at the end of each recommendation statement
- We recommend a large scale multi-media information & awareness raising campaign. 100%
- Community solidarity and preventing hate crime through effective bystander intervention 94.1%
- Given the rise of hate crimes and incidents in London and our borough, we need to provide support services for victims and rehabilitation services for offenders. 94.1%
- We the people of Waltham Forest believe that effective reporting of hate crime has benefits for the whole community in providing a safe and secure environment. Reporting of hate crime must be made easier. The data needs to enable the effective allocation of resources, identify hot spots and inform the location of safe zones. 91.2%
- In order to support and deliver all the recommendations from the citizens assembly, institutions must: provide adequate and sustainable resourcing; give clear leadership direction; review policies and processes which impact on hate crime and incidents and, work with a broad nuanced definition to ensure action is taken against all discrimination and prejudicial behaviour including that which may not constitute a hate crime or hate incident. 88.3%
- We educate and empower young people in the community to recognise hate, with appropriate tools to reduce hate, to ensure a better future for all. 88.3%
Impact and Learning
On the 9th June 2020, Assembly members presented their recommendations to the Council.
At the meeting, the Council unanimously agreed an initial £150,000 to begin the implementation of the recommendations, and specifically to create:
- A citizens’ panel working group to provide a role in decision making;
- A bystander intervention programme to prevent hate crime and boost community solidarity; and
- A large-scale multi-media information and awareness raising campaign.
Creating a legacy
Feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive:
- 100% rating the events as good;
- 97% rating the facilitation as good/excellent;
- 79% thought that it would lead to a positive change;
- 68% thought that the Council would act on their recommendations;
- 100% said they were happy they took part; and
- many of them wished to stay involved in the delivery of the recommendations.
We also know that for some individuals taking part in this assembly brought about personal change – increasing confidence to speak in public, meeting people they wouldn’t normally meet, feeling challenged, inspired and included in discussions that they wouldn’t normally be part of.
The Council have said that this assembly marks the start of an ongoing process of learning and development with their residents at the centre of this approach.
This was a ground-breaking topic for deliberative democracy, which meant really thinking through all elements to ensure that open and honest dialogue could be achieved in a sensitive and respectful way. Working with a Council that was totally committed to the process and acting on what comes out of it brought an authenticity, honesty and commitment to all who took part.Most importantly, we learned that deliberative democracy can bring about personal and organisational transformation - no matter how sensitive a topic, when you bring a group of people together to learn and deliberate they can make insightful, informed, decisions.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
For further information about this work, please contact Mel Stevens on email@example.com. If you wish to talk to someone at the Council you can contact Rhona Cadenhead, Strategic Director – Corporate Development on Rhona.Cadenhead@walthamforest.gov.uk.