Norwich has been lit up by street lighting since 1832. Marion Maxwell was stunned and angry when she heard about the Conservative county council’s plans to cut this essential service and plunge Norwich into the dark for the first time in almost 200 years.
She wrote to the leader of the council asking for a meeting – twice. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t hear anything back. Then, after attending a Future Leader course in Norwich and leaving inspired, enthused and equipped to fight for her community, Marion decided to take action.
Weeks passed and Marion was far from complacent. She had one to one conversations with more people than I can count and held meetings with people whose reactions ranged from fear to refusal to leave their homes at night. They devised a plan of action. A community walk through an area of Norwich which was due to shortly lose all of its lights was organised.
I was in Norwich for the walk, having spent the week before tirelessly searching for outdoor lights for our grand finale. The walk went through one particular area of Norwich which was set to soon become dark. I would definitely not have felt safe if it were.
Expecting about 40 people for the walk, I was overwhelmed when 100 people turned out on a cold Norwich evening to join the fight to save a vital service which is so essential that nobody ever dreamed it could be taken away. We heard testimonies from people about how it would affect them, from people talking about how crime already affects them to their fears for living in the dark.
Then John stood up. “This cut is a curfew for me”, he said. John is partially sighted and would be forced, by the Conservative county council, to never leave his home at night. Silence followed in the crowd, the results of this cut now fully realised and the dire need for people to fight them understood.
With the press in attendance, David Miliband spoke in support of our campaign and asked us to light up Norwich – at that point, my search for street lighting was worth every minute as we lit up the entire street and Marion and her small team got a louder round of applause than I ever imagined 100 people could give.
The streets will no longer be dark as a result of this action. Marion succeeded in forcing the Tory council to postpone the switching off of the lights and open public consultations, essentially winning not only the battle but this war as well.
Marion also stood in a by-election for a completely unwinnable seat shortly after this. She and her newly recruited team of 15 volunteers worked tirelessly and, as a result, Marion lost the seat by just 100 votes. She is looking forward to May next year.
This is what we, as a movement, can achieve by working together and taking lessons from community organising back into our communities. We can fight these savage cuts and we can win, time and time again. If we are to protect what we hold so dear, we need to be equipped with the skills and support to effect real change within our communities.
One that note, I have to say a big thank you to Ed Miliband for not only endorsing Movement for Change but pledging to take it into the mainstream of the party. I believe that stories like the one that I have just told will soon be commonplace within every CLP meeting and present in every local paper. If we are to fight these cuts and win, they have to be.
James also blogs at www.jamesabolton.com