Vice Chair of Residents, Edmonton Angel Community Together (REACT)
Cellina lives in Upper Edmonton, in the Borough of Enfield, North London. She calls it home and cares a lot about it. In 2016, the borough had a population of 331,395 with a large proportion of both 0-14s and older people in comparison to the rest of London. It is a diverse place, which has welcomed communities from across the world, in particular Turkish, Greek, Somalian and Cypriot communities. Some of the wards are amongst the most deprived in England, while others are relatively affluent.
Cellina got into campaigning because she saw how her community in Upper Edmonton was being denied vital services and resources offered to other affluent parts of the borough. She says she is inspired by “campaigners with little or no funding but with dogged determination to make a change for the better”, and she is – without a doubt – one of them.
Since 2011, REACT (Residents of Edmonton Angel Community Together) has been campaigning on behalf of over 3000 households living in one of the most neglected parts of Enfield. Despite a major regeneration programme taking place on their doorstep, no comparable investment was planned for their area. REACT has brought the local community together to make some clear and reasonable demands of local decision-makers, and has managed to secure significant new resources and facilities as a result.
“Our campaign remains focused on the reversal of systemic neglect and destruction of our neighbourhood by our local council. We use different influences and media to engage with public and council officials, highlighting issues affecting the neighbourhood,” Cellina explains. “And our strategy in communicating our concerns consistently and directly to those paid to address them have not gone unnoticed”.
REACT is now recognised as a Neighbourhood Forum and has featured in the Council’s Regeneration newsletter as a partner organisation. This has opened up the group to new communities and increased visibility.
Cellina recalls one of REACT’s first successes: “The council accepted our petition to reverse the takeover of our only park to build a new school. As a compromise we were offered a pocket park instead in the same location”. Other achievements have included: Installing Community Notice boards, keeping the local library open; agreeing measures to ease traffic during Tottenham Hotspur matches; achieving commitment from a local developer to create a small pub in a new development, where the historical pub – a key landmark, particularly for elderly residents – had been removed.
Cellina attended the Influencing Change course in 2015 in London. The course enabled her to improve her campaign skills and to find the confidence to see beyond the neighbourhood, positioning REACT as an ongoing channel for community development.
“The course really helped us to achieve these successes to a greater extent than I ever imagined. We are now so much more than an ordinary group at the bottom of the road,” Cellina says.
As well as helping to develop REACT’s strategy, build contacts and networks, the course also gave Cellina some invaluable skills: “I was able to understand how to constructively target people, use the right words to attract attention and not drag a conversation too long. Now, if I meet someone new, I use the elevator pitch to describe our campaign. In 30 seconds, I can get our key message across”.
Through the course, Cellina also realised the importance of working in partnership with other organisations for mutual benefits. She explains: “We have been approached by a neighbourhood group from Ilford – NOISE – to support a strategic benefit and are now thinking of future partnership working.”
On a personal level, the course gave Cellina the confidence boost that was dormant and reinvigorated her interest in causes close to her heart: “We don’t get paid for what we are doing. What we are doing is participating in decision making by bringing people from the community together to contribute in shaping our neighbourhood beyond what they are used to. Knowing what we want to achieve is what drives me to keep going.”
What was the best thing about the ‘Influencing Change’ course?
“The skills I gained have equipped me with growing confidence to challenge decision-makers who are failing the community, and to question what would be the best tools or skills essential for a desired effect or outcome.”
Why would you recommend it to someone else?
“Having kindred spirits under one roof and facilitators with evidence-based case studies was fantastic. This course will help you to realise even the smallest action can make an effective change.”
Your one piece of advice for someone else trying to achieve change?
“Don’t give up. Channel energies on small challenges and don’t be discouraged if the elected officials are passive and ineffective.”