Illustration by Sarameeya Aree
My five-year stint in Parliament ended after the 2019 General Elections, after which I’d never return to government.
I was heart-broken, yet the many messages of support from the young people who had passed through our offices was life-affirming. They enjoyed their time politicking with us, and our way of supporting them inspired them to want a better society and to find ways to change old systems that no longer work for us as a whole.
The worrying truth is that too many young people and families are no longer getting the support they need to lead successful, healthy, happy lives.
My style of working with young people in education is holistically therapeutic, yet simple. It depends on the resources available in the environment and, of course, the students’ needs. I’ll admit that I’ve become obsessed with collaborative working models. Education is key if democracy is to survive and thrive.
In my estimation, schools, communities, and local enterprises need each other’s resources to successfully build skills, deliver training, and create learning spaces, to support common goals that can grow sustainable wealth within their respective communities.
Like every family, a community’s needs will differ, so no blanket prescription will ever cure some of the deep-rooted ills. We will have to collaborate effectively—pool our resources, to maintain true social democracy, justice or freedom.
In 1899, Ruskin College Oxford was “founded by two Americans who studied at Oxford University and decided that the same level of education should be available to everyone, not just the elite.” This workers’ college, dedicated to educating and uplifting the next generation of trade union leaders and advocates for social progress, eventually merged into the University of West London.
Yet the need for dedicated, quality, working-class, trade union and political education remains—and is perhaps more paramount now than ever before, which is why I’ve dedicated myself to this work.
We have seen the lifelines the trade union negotiated, furlough packages that were able to deliver for so many. Much of our bureaucratic operating systems are flawed—some might say broken.
But how will we ever change or mend them if we do not educate ourselves and acquire the necessary tools to do the work to effect the real changes and the healing needed in society? The Government is not and seemingly will not facilitate this outcome. They are barely warding off a general strike of its most dedicated citizens: public workers.
With the support and guidance of some very exceptional individuals, whom I am grateful to have worked alongside at Ruskin College, we continue to hold a torch for lifelong learning, HE (Higher education), skills training and employment rights within the working classes and disaffected communities.
One of these is a pilot for a Community Education Hub based in the Muswell Hill Centre, North London. With the pooled resources of the WEA, a Unite the Union educational initiative, and the MHC, we are endeavoring to target 11-25 year olds, the elderly, and those earning under £21k a year, with a priority to reach those most disengaged and marginalized.
We have an opportunity to offer hundreds of free employability courses, skills and life training, educational support, apprenticeships, and pathways to further or higher education to help build a thriving community.
We’ve started by hosting an outreach event this January to generate some initial data and provide an unfiltered understanding of what the local community and local businesses’ perceptions are of their current needs.
Once we establish what the needs are around a range of issues aimed at enhancing outcomes, life opportunities, employability and education delivery, we will engage with grassroots, community, Black, Asian and minority ethnic and youth-centered organizations to create a program of the best courses to offer and the most feasible means of delivery.
I am proud of my handy work in pulling this together, but I am prouder of how our collective of only four with a shared goal is pulling through. We are all learning to just “go with the flow” in making this work—due to situations outside of our control, we had to push our outreach event date twice.
Like water, we are overcoming any barriers, and allowing the tide to ebb and flow as required: discovering the path which flows best for right now, creating a local recipe for success.
In time, we hope to establish partnerships that build access and opportunity within an essential community mechanism (local hubs/community centers), promoting frontline engagement with local people and businesses.
Together, we seek to understand how to build value and capacity locally and within the developmental and alternative education sectors, which might possibly one day hold solutions for the contemporary challenges facing young people and the wider community.
With only limited access to funding and resources, we are initiating a yearlong pilot scheme at the Muswell Hill Centre. This will produce some impact data about community learning and our educational hubs real outcomes; with any luck, it will help promote similar hubs being established elsewhere.
Perhaps one day we might be able to facilitate sustainable and relevant lifelong learning, skills, and training from within our local communities that are accessible to all without the need for incurring huge debt for the privilege. It is invariably the collective “we” who know how best to support our own needs, goals, and aspirations. And it’s up to us to fix what is broken in our own communities.