Citizens Assemble!

The London National Park City is a people-powered movement which relies on grass-roots dedication to steer the transformation of London, making it greener, healthier and wilder. Back in 2020, on the first anniversary of London becoming the world’s first National Park City, we announced our intention to create a London National Park City Assembly, inspired by the national citizen’s assembly on climate. Covid interrupted our plans, but at the start of April 2022, we launched our first pilot LNPC Assembly in Islington.

 Learning as we go

The LNPC Assembly Pilot had three objectives:

  • to test how a citizen’s assembly model could work as the basis of a London-wide National Park City Assembly by focusing on a single London Borough, and exploring how this forum can give voice to new audiences, and understand how an Assembly can be set up and run
  • to understand how an Assembly can provide a democratic forum for a community to contribute to the development of the London National Park City thinking, themes and projects in their locality
  • to generate ideas and recommendations for local decision-makers and institutions to see whether they could be implemented.

We worked with one of our excellent Rangers, Majdouline El hichou, who has a background in participatory community processes, to design and deliver the Assembly. We contacted over 40 community groups and organisations in Islington to tell them about the Assembly, gather their insights and ask them to help us recruit participants for the Assembly. Majdouline conducted extensive background research on Islington and the people who live and work there.

We were lucky to have the support of Islington Council, who are launching a range of initiatives to make the borough greener. Islington is one of the most deprived areas for accessible green space in the country, with a very high degree of inequality in access. They were very keen to see the recommendations from the Assembly fed into their Greener Together programme, which will fund local people to transform grey spaces into greener places.

Big ideas

The Assembly participants generated an abundance of ideas for making Islington greener, healthier and wilder. They ranged from education programmes for local communities around nature awareness to a food festival celebrating the diversity of life and encouraging home grown fresh, healthy food. Other ideas included transforming empty spaces to connect people with nature and creating green employment and training programmes for local people.

Lots of challenges were noted, including the importance of involving everyone and not assuming what the right solutions would be for people. The Assembly also highlighted how to ensure projects could be delivered successfully, especially when people have so little time beyond family and work commitments.

The participants on the day gave wonderful feedback about the event, but if we want to expand this model of an LNPC Assembly across the whole of the city, we need to learn from what didn’t work so well.

Doing better

The number of participants was much lower than expected. This was for various reasons, such as the Assembly being on the first day of the Easter holidays, there were several participants who couldn’t make it because they had Covid or suspected they might have, and there was a relatively short time between advertising the event and holding it.

The group of participants we had were really engaged, but we were missing an important part of the community. The group wasn’t representative of the diversity of Islington, meaning that not everyone’s voices were being listened to.

Part of the reason for this lack of full representation came down to how we organised the event. We didn’t build in enough time to create trust with people whose voices are often marginalised. We’re sorry about this, and it will be a major focus of future pilots and rolling out the full London National Park City Assembly model in the future.

London National Park City needs the involvement of all Londoners to make its vision of a better city become reality. If you want to get involved, find out more ways on our website, or email us at hello@nationalparkcity.org.

We are very grateful to Natural England, who supported this pilot financially. Dawn and Clare from Natural England have been very supportive of our work, and we really appreciate that.

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