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Student’s housing proposal results in Mayoral candidates’ pledge to improve local living

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Liam Harney, now a Masters in Research student from the School of Geography, became involved with Citizens UK (CUK), a local community organising alliance, when when he was an undergraduate student at QMUL. He continued to be involved with the alliance while undertaking his Masters of Research degree in Geography. For his final dissertation, he worked with the Tower Hamlets branch of CUK, conducting a survey of people’s experiences of housing in the borough to feed into a campaign around high rents, unreliable landlords, overcrowding and damp.

They carried out the survey in March 2014, with a team of 21 volunteers from the local area. They managed to speak to 324 people in total and produce a report of their findings, which they published and presented to the local Mayoral candidates at Tower Hamlets Citizens’ Mayoral Assembly on Thursday 8 May 2014.

They presented their research findings, and asked the candidates to commit to taking action on the issues, should they be elected in the local elections. Both Lutfur Rahman and John Biggs publically committed to implementing their proposals, which means that CUK will be working with the new council to do so over the next four years.

The key demands were for the following:

  • A tax on empty homes, to fund the fixing of structural damp,
  • A register of private landlords,
  • More Community Land Trust homes to be built (to address the issue of unaffordability of new builds),
  • The council to work with CUK to develop a ‘Living Rent’ model for the borough, whereby rent levels in the social-rented sector would be linked to local average earnings and not the market rate.

The future of Liam’s project

“Drawing inspiration from this project, my PhD will based around a collaborative project with CUK to develop a community alliance in the E14 area of Tower Hamlets and train local residents in public action, leadership and research skills. It will be a two year educational program based on local field-work where participants will gather stories from local residents about what it means to live in the area, their past experiences of social activism and their opinions on what the biggest issues local people face. This will be collated into a booklet, which will be printed en masse and gifted to local community institutions at a big celebration event. We hope to use this part of the research to build a local alliance that can work together to find solutions to common problems in the area, focussing on issues such as unemployment, poor health, safety etc. In the second year of the programme, participants will be trained in action research methods and be assigned specific issues to explore with the wider community in order to produce reports and evidence to support political campaigns.”

The Antipode Grant

Liam has also been awarded The Antipode Grant, which funds social scientific research and scholar activist projects, and has helped to support Liam’s work, which he aims to continue with a PhD at QMUL: “The Antipode grant is really helpful as it allows us to pay for the time of a community organiser for two years, which will be vital to ensuring that a well-functioning and sustainable alliance can be built. It will also go towards paying for participants’ travel costs and for producing publications. The PhD will be using this project as a case study to explore how academic Geography can become more relevant and useful to local communities by aligning itself with the methods and aims of community organising.” Find out more about the Antipode Grant here.

Get Involved

“We are still in the process of planning this programme and are looking for other interested students and academics at QMUL to get involved and help shape the work. In particular, we’re keen for people who can offer their skills in web-design, mapping, photography, film-making and social research methods (such as survey-design, oral histories etc.) to get in contact if they’d like to be part of this exciting opportunity!”

To get in contact with Liam, e-mail him on liam_harney@hotmail.com.

To find out more about CUK, see their website here: www.citizensuk.org.

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