Ahead of our intensive training weekend in Barnsley tomorrow, Pat Wiggins of Community Union shares his experience of building action through Community Organising techniques following work with Movement for Change on the Isle of Sheppey:
My name is Pat Wiggins and I’m a union representative for Community Union at the Thamesteel steelworks on the Isle of Sheppey, where I have worked and represented workers for the past 3 decades.
Last year, our employer took the decision to close the steelworks with the threatened loss of some 400 jobs. Many of the lads with whom I work were born and raised on the Isle of Sheppey and had worked in the plant for their entire working lives. It was a devastating blow for us all. Through this experience, and the anger and frustrations which followed, we came to believe that only with stronger links across the entire community could we build a stronger voice for jobs and growth in our area. We wanted to let people know what was happening, but we also wanted to get organised and bring about a change in Sheppey.
It felt like a daunting challenge. In my experience, many people on Sheppey are tired. We’re proud of our community but often feel overlooked. Locals sometimes joke that the bridge across to our island is a “bridge to nowhere”, but it’s only half a joke. There is a deep-rooted anger that Sheppey is a forgotten island and we are a forgotten community.
In recent months, Community Union has been working with Movement for Change to help people to get organised across the country. The aim is to forge stronger links between our Union members and local Party activists. In Sheppey, we received an introductory training from a Movement for Change organiser that gave us new confidence in going out into our community and building new links as we take our work on ‘local jobs’ forward. As a result, we are now planning small actions to target the far bigger challenge of how to attract sustainable growth to the island.
The approach will be positive. We’re going to focus on “Pride in Sheppey” and how we work together improve our own streets and public spaces, rather than on the negative messages that leave only feelings of hopelessness and apathy. It’s a new challenge for us, but one which we’ll meet with Movement for Change’s support.