In 2010, I was in a dead end job staring through the glass ceiling in a corporate organisation. I had been experimenting in noisy bands for the previous 6 years, but eventually donned a second-hand frock and successfully interviewed for a fulltime receptionist role in order to get the regular income I needed to support myself and my son.
I remember leafing through the Guardian jobs pages, wondering how on earth I was ever going to get one of those proper, worthwhile jobs, where I could earn enough money to keep a roof over our heads.
For three years I had been putting through calls, booking meeting rooms and being diligently servile when I finally figured out that perhaps what I needed to get on in life was an education. I started exploring meaningful occupations, and booked onto an introduction to Community Organising training with Citizens UK. During those two days, I trained with the most diverse group of people I had ever worked with - an Imam from a Mosque, an elder woman from Nigeria, young people from comprehensive schools, union branch members and priests. Listening to the stories of triumph in adversity from my fellow trainees, I was stirred from passive servitude back into action. This first phase of conscious adult self-development reinvigorated the punk attitude that had been buried beneath the practicalities of surviving in London as an ‘uneducated’ single mother.
The more dominant market culture that permeates our lived experiences, pushing us away from one another with ‘money is time and time is money’ attitude, meant that I felt I must fend for myself and my son, without help. I mustn’t burden others with my difficulties. Through this introduction to Community Organising, I begun to understand the power of solidarity and collaboration between diverse people and started to discover that I had something to offer. I wasn’t a burden, and by working with others I could be an asset. The message was so beautifully simple I had overlooked it; consciously building relationships through meeting 1 on 1, and uncovering shared interests to develop trust and reciprocity is how all ideas take flight; and it doesn’t cost a penny.
In the same year I went on to take a Master’s Degree in Community Organising at Queen Mary University and ran the Sussex marathon to help cover the costs of my fees. I had done very badly at school so it was terrifying leaping from GCSEs to a masters, even though I was 20 years older!
During my studies, I read about a fourth generation paper bag seller named Paul Gardner - in a blog that I greatly admire called Spitalfields Life. Gardners’ Bags was under threat from a superficial rent increase, and had it not been for the scale of the public reaction to the story, we might have lost this vital part of living, breathing, East End history. I decided to try out some of what I had been learning about and went to visit Paul in his shop on Commercial Street. Through building relationships with the small business owners that Paul knew, we started having small group meetings that slowly grew in size with the support from the anonymous ‘Gentle Author’ of Spitalfields Life. After more than a year had passed, together we launched the 'East End Trades Guild' (EETG) on the 19th November 2012 as a powerful voice for small, independent businesses.
In 2014, while my son was still dependent upon me, I seized an opportunity to work with Migrants Organise, an incredible migrant-led organisation that uses the tools of Community Organising to effect change. Together with extraordinary migrant and refugee leaders we developed voter registration drives and trainings in the run up to the local and general elections. It was a vast privilege to work under the tutelage of experienced Community Organisers - Zrinka Bralo (CEO) and Jessica Kennedy (Development Co-ordinator). It was as if I were a journeyman apprentice to Zrinka and Jessica - the master craftswomen. I have learned more than I could ever have possibly imagined in the last six years and I am emphatically grateful to all the small business owners and community leaders who’ve taught me so much about resilience, courage and determination.
Today I am back working with members of the East End Trades Guild on a crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of our new initiative – East End Independents’ Day.
Shortly after our launch in 2013, members gathered to decide what was most important for them to measure in terms of the value that small businesses bring. With the help of RSA Associate Director Jonathan Schifferes we conducted a survey and the results speak for themselves; ‘We are the "face of the community" for international visitors and locals, serving 520,000 people per month. Our businesses know an average of 80 customers by name and in total we have a turnover of £77 million.’ Small means quality, authenticity, creativity, distinctiveness, local employment, support for the community, and so much more. EETG members are the beating heart of the East End.
East End Independents' Day will champion these values and truths - because everyone should know that a diverse economy is best for all of us. In times when residents and small businesses are being pushed out of the East End, we need your support to resist the dominant market forces that shape urban development.
The EETG is new to crowdfunding, please visit our IndieGoGo page to help us out, there are 4 ways that you can get involved;
- Small business based in the East End? Become a member today!
- Not a business owner but care about the East End? Become a Friend of the EETG!
- Make a one off donation and as a thank you receive one of our unique rewards made by our members
- And please share our IndieGoGo page far and wide!