Field Notes article

Faith-Inspired Community Organising and the London Olympics

It is just days before the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Olympics.  A significant — though usually undiscussed — factor in the success of London’s Olympic bid was the diversity of cultures and faiths in the city, and particularly in east London, where the Olympic Park is located.

Community Organising and the Olympics

In December, I blogged on the work of the Contending Modernities project in east London and its research on Christian, Muslim and secular involvement in community organising. A noteworthy recent development is that Britain’s community organizing alliance — Citizens UK — has played a significant role in shaping aspects of the 2012 London Olympics.

This 2005 article gives a flavour of the way churches and mosques that are part of Citizens UK have been working together over a number of years.  This has borne fruit in a number of very tangible ways.  First of all, those working on the construction of the Olympic Park, and those working in it during the Games being paid a living wage.  In recent months, Citizens UK’s churches and mosques have hosted “Jobs Fayres” that have helped over 1200 unemployed locals find work at the Olympics.  Research by the Institute for Public Policy Research has contrasted the effectiveness of community organizing in identifying “job ready” local people with that of private contractors paid significant amounts to do much the same thing.

Earlier this month, community organizing won a third significant victory, as the Mayor of London signed Mayoral Decision 1028. This creates east London’s first Community Land Trust (CLT).  It is the fruit of almost a decade of campaigning by churches and mosques in London Citizens.  They have campaigned for CLTs in successive Mayoral elections – winning commitments from all the main Mayoral candidates at 2500-strong Citizens Assemblies (the most recent of which is described here by Ruhana Ali).   Along with celebrating this success, churches and mosques in east London are now turning their attention to the need for affordable, community-owned housing on the Olympic Park after the Games.

Forthcoming research

This summer will see a number of publications connected with the Contending Modernities project:

  • A Covenant of Virtue will tell the story of Islamic involvement in community organising, both in terms of its theological motivation, and through case studies.  This short booklet is aimed at increasing Muslim engagement in public life, and deepening the dialogue between Muslims and people of other faiths and worldviews.  As the Olympics fall within Ramadan, we hope to launch the booklet at a multifaith Citizens Iftar during the Games.
  • In the next few months, we will also be publishing two pieces of qualitative research on Christian and Muslim engagement in community organising — exploring the different motivations for this work, and its wider impact on the way diverse communities negotiate and promote a common good
  • We will also be publishing some work on the role of faith communities in the response to last summer’s riots — and their ongoing importance in “reweaving the fabric” of civil society.

I will be blogging again soon about two longer-term pieces of research, which Contending Modernities is conducting in partnership with Theos, a London think tank.  One of these will be largely empirical, involving fieldwork in east London and three other English cities, and the other will be a more conceptual piece, growing out of my forthcoming book on morality and religion.

Angus Ritchie
Canon Dr. Angus Ritchie has ministered in East London since 1998, throughout which time he has been an active leader in London Citizens.  In 2005, he became founding Director of the Centre for Theology & Community.  He is an occasional contributor to The Guardian, and His first book, From Morality to Metaphysics: The Theistic Implications of our Ethical Commitments, which explores the theistic foundations of morality, was published by Oxford University Press in November of 2012, and his subsequent publications can be accessed at The Centre for Theology & Community.

3 thoughts on “Faith-Inspired Community Organising and the London Olympics

  1. Angus, as we build a broad-based organisation here in Vancouver, I would love to spread the word about your current and forthcoming publications. Vancouver faith communities are facing similar challenges to those in London and concerns and the work of Citizens UK is seen as a beacon we can follow.

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