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Camberwell College of Arts x Citizens UK in action: Festival for Community Organising

  • Written byNicole Horgan
  • Published date 11 April 2023
Festival for Community Organising | photography by Disha Kulkarni, 2023

As a creative institution within Southwark, Camberwell College of Arts has a responsibility to our local community. An exciting local partnership began when in 2022 the College became a member of Citizens UK, a people-powered alliance of diverse institutions working together to lead change for the common good, develop community leaders and strengthen civic institutions through community organising. Camberwell College of Arts joined the local branch, Southwark Citizens, made up of 21 diverse institutions including children’s centres, community groups, schools, and faith organisations, to identify common points of interest. While recognising our power and role in supporting local organisations to tackle pressing societal challenges using our expertise in participatory and creative workshop methods.

In February 2023, Camberwell College Citizens – a core team at the College made up of 13 staff and students who have undergone community organising training - and Southwark Citizens hosted the Festival for Community Organising, a participatory programme with 16 civil society institutions held across 6 days. The programme of 11 talks, events and creative workshops were themed on community, wellbeing and housing, led by academics, artists, architects, community organisers, students and graduates at Camberwell College of Arts and The Hub at Eagle Wharf. Across clay, soundscapes, maps, modelling, icing and origami, the participants listened, built relationships & discovered new leaders. The programme engaged with 200 participants across the diversity of nationalities within Southwark’s community, including: Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian, Italian, Iranian, Latin American, Malaysian and Romanian.

Festival for Community Organising | Photography by Disha Kulkarni, 2023

At the festival’s closing event, artist and UAL alumni Honor Fee led a ‘Coup de Cake’ workshop with Year 10 and 11 students from Notre Dame School where students decorated cakes with their experiences and feelings around housing. The workshop brought to light how widespread housing issues are in the Southwark community, with themes of mould, overcrowding and lack of outside space dominating the discussion. Speaking about this workshop, the students noted how it was crucial in helping them ‘to explore their feelings’ and notice that ‘you aren’t alone and can be heard’. This workshop functioned as a key step in young leaders from the school taking action at Southwark Town Hall, calling for better housing for Southwark residents. As a result, Jasmine Ali, Deputy Leader of Southwark Council, committed to involving Southwark Citizens in the Southwark Repairs Improvement Plan, an overview of the housing repairs service providing a range of services to people living in council homes throughout Southwark.

Providing an environment in which student research could take place and come alive, testing how it is mutually beneficial for both the university and community participants, this workshop was just one of many powerful examples of the impact the Festival for Community Organising had at a university and community-wide level. Internally, training workshops have taught UAL staff and students about the core concepts of organising, as well as how to act within their own spheres of influence. Whilst the festival highlighted the strengths of creatively facilitated listening within a community organising context, with Citizens UK Community Organiser Albinia Stanley reflecting:

"At the launch of [the festival], the room was charged by a breadth of expertise and a shared hunger for action, reminding us why diversity is strength within community organising….As a community organiser, I learnt a lot about creative methods of facilitation and how they can aid listening workshops and build relationships and solidarity between diverse participants. I have been sharing this with my broader team and organisation, so [there has been a wider] impact on the community organising community too!"

Five young participants in the Camberwell College x Citizens UK workshop, standing in front of an exhibition display
Festival for Community Organising Exhibition | photography by Disha Kulkarni, 2023

With the Festival for Community Organising acting as an incredibly positive start to this partnership, the Camberwell College Citizens team are excited to continue this momentum working with Southwark Citizens to bring our unique skills and abilities towards achieving long-term local social change.