Launch event: Newham’s Commission on Democracy and Civic Participation

3rd July 2020 - Democracy and Civic Participation Commission

When the Commission on Democracy and Civic Participation started its work in Newham in November 2019, we could have had no idea that a devastating pandemic was about to sweep the world.

The first recorded cases of COVID 19 appeared in the UK at the end of January this year, just as we finished our schedule of public evidence hearings. By the time we came to complete the first draft of our report, the UK was in lockdown.

Like the rest of London, Newham has suffered a high number of cases of the coronavirus, and tragically the virus has taken the lives of many of the borough’s residents. The high rates of COVID 19 mortality amongst Newham’s residents are testament to the UK’s wider social and economic inequalities – in health, housing, access to services and income – that the crisis has exposed, particularly for Black and Minority Ethnic populations. The local economy has been badly affected too, and the impact of the global recession is likely to be severe, with consequences that will be felt for some time to come.

But like many other parts of the country, Newham has also seen a flowering of community support and mutual aid in response to the crisis. The people of Newham have come together to support their vulnerable neighbours, to deliver food and essential supplies to those in isolation, to ensure that people who have lost their jobs and incomes have access to life’s necessities, and to raise funds to support those working in the NHS with vital equipment and daily cooked meals.

Newham’s public services have risen resolutely to the challenge too. Its health and care workers have been in the frontline of tackling the virus, while the borough’s key workers have kept public services running and essential shops open. The local authority and its Mayor have led the way in protecting the public health of the people of the borough, maintaining vital facilities and services, supporting vulnerable residents, and keeping people informed and in touch with the latest public health guidelines.

In doing all of this, the local authority has pioneered new ways of working with the local voluntary and community sector. Newham has a vibrant and resilient community sector, powerfully embodied in the work of local faith groups, mutual aid networks, and such organisations as Age UK East London, Community Links and Newham Citizens – and, indeed, in the One Newham partnership that has recently been created to bring them all together.

All of this gives us hope that the capacities exist in abundance in Newham to take forward the recommendations in the report we will publish on Monday 6th July for the strengthening of democracy and civic participation in the borough. Newham is a place with strong communities and effective public leadership. It has the resources and civic commitment needed to take the borough forward as it emerges from the shadow of the pandemic. We hope our recommendations provide it with new ambition and direction in the tasks it now faces.

If you are interested in following the launch, and putting questions to us about the recommendations, you can follow live from 2.30pm on Monday at https://www.facebook.com/newhamcouncil/live_videos/

We hope to see you there.

– Democracy and Civic Participation Commission