Name: Issy Good
University: Medicine at UCL
Super Power: Citizens UK campaigner
Saving the world: by persuading MPs to pledge to rehouse Syrian refugees in Camden.
Between training to be a yoga instructor in the Indian mountains and studying for second year medicine exams, Issy Good could be forgiven for allowing herself some down time. Yet instead she is an active member of Citizens UK, and last March she chaired a meeting in which political leaders, councillors and figures of note in Camden pledged to help rehouse Syrian refugees.
“Last October the country was still in shock at the awful images of the body of the young boy Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach. There was so much newspaper coverage of the war in Syria and I, like most of my friends, was shocked and appalled about what was happening.”
As story after story about the conditions faced by refugees broke in the news, like many people Issy was compelled to act. She attended protests and talked to people about how awful it was but admits: “it really didn’t feel like I was doing anything, because I wasn’t really”. It’s clear from the offset that Issy is not content with being a passive bystander, and she was soon involved in Citizens UK.
“The way Citizens UK do things is slightly different to other charities – individuals from the community work together on issues that are important to them to create change. I joined a group that was just establishing in Camden made up of students, retired people and working members of the Camden community.”
Issy with the Citizens UK team
It doesn’t come as a surprise that so many people from one borough in London were drawn to this cause. Issy explains that each individual had their own reasons for joining the campaign: “Some members had relatives still in Syria, others had personal friends or family reasons and others were just conscientious citizens. We were all united in our determination to welcome more Syrian refugees into Camden. But we came across more and more barriers from the council and local MPs, as well as the national government.”
The group recognised that the answer was not to demonise the local councilors, but to strengthen the connection between the community and the MPs representing them. The group Issy was part of was made up of individuals from across Camden, and she is quick to stress that the refugee crisis is very much a community focus.
As part of Citizens UK, Issy organised and chaired a meeting at Camden Town Hall on 14th March. Those in attendance included Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party, and Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats – both of whom pledged to ensure that at least 20 refugee families are rehoused in Camden by 2020. Citizens UK also called upon those in attendance to try to raise government targets for refugee rehousing.
Clockwise from top: Shas Sheehan, Keir Starmer, Tim Farron.
Issy remembers the meeting as being a tough event to organise, which ultimately paid off: “For a while [challenging the MPs] would have intimidated me a lot but MPs and other members of government are just people like us. Generally, they want to help and they want to know what constituents think about certain actions. they are voted in to represent the views of their community, so its important to communicate with them if there is something happening or not happening when the community believes it should be.”
The idea of a grassroots campaign springing up in London may sound like a thing of the past– we’ve been conditioned to refute that community even exists any more. London isn’t stereotyped as a warm, welcoming place. Yet Issy and her team challenged not only their MPs, but also the very suggestion that community spirit and unity in London are dying out. Despite being a resident for just two years, it is clear that Issy feels an affinity to Camden. She recognises the history of the borough: “Camden was one of the key places that children first came to on the Kindertransport during the Second World War, resulting in Camden’s strong Jewish community. Anyone who lives here knows how much place buzzes with its multiculturalism and diversity. I think this is Camden’s strength. This means that as a community, we can see how welcoming Syrian refugees is not only necessary but also so valuable to us.”
I asked Issy if she thought living in Camden encourages students in particular to be more conscious and open minded to those in crises: “I think that the people of Camden understand the difficulties of those in crises, even if you look at the homelessness problem, I am always delighted to see that in Camden people will normally stop and talk to the members of our community that are on the streets and offer help, money or a sandwich – I see this more in Camden than anywhere else in London.
Members of the community at the meeting
“Personally, my family is Irish and Camden is the first place where my Granddad arrived when he came over from Ireland. It was one of the only places in London that he felt at home and was welcomed with open arms. If back then the community had turned a blind eye, my family history would have looked very different. It’s important to remember the kindness of strangers and community in the past and try and replicate that with people who are in crisis now. I think the citizens of Camden recognise this”
Issy chaired the meeting, yet throughout our conversation, it’s clear that the team she worked with are never far from her mind: “What did surprise me was seeing people’s strengths and ability shine through. These are people with other things going on with their lives, they are students or have full time jobs or other responsibilities, everyone has something that keeps them busy. But the team is so determined to be part of this fight that they make it work. I’ve seen people give up most of their evenings and weekends, and received emails at five in the morning from these amazingly dedicated citizens. It wasn’t that people wanted to help that surprised me, but how much they were willing to do for others.”
What can students do?
- “Being an active bystander is so important, if you see an incident of racial abuse or a hate crime, do something, call other people around you for help and try and alert the police.”, Issy says.
- “Keep spreading the word, write to your local MPs, remember that they are meant to be representing you and your views in parliament so if they are not you have to tell them (in a polite way!). Most MPs will take your telephone calls also or visit them at a local surgery.”
- “There are groups set up just like Camden citizens all over London – go to the citizens UK website and look for information about the group in your borough. If one doesn’t already exist, make one! You will always find like minded people who want to help if you ask.
- “The biggest crisis we face in London in terms of welcoming more Syrian refugees is housing, if you know anyone with a spare property or if your willing to join our teams to spread the word and ask local landlords about their properties please get in touch!”
It was clear from talking to Issy that community is not a thing of the past, and it is very much possible for students to be involved in theirs – and indeed necessary at times when vulnerable people need groups such as Citizens UK to speak out. “it is easy to feel let down by the political system and to feel frustrated that your voice isn’t being heard, but now is the time to prove how welcoming our generation wants the country to be, how we want a diverse population, how we want to help those in crisis.”
“The voice of the younger generation will be the one that turns this hatred around so its important that we speak up and speak out, do what you can and give what you can-it all makes a difference.”
At the moment, Issy is organising a Citizens UK group in Islington, so those who live in the borough should email firstname.lastname@example.org if they are interested – we will forward on all details.