Jennifer Frame, a volunteer for the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign and SMK Campaign Carousel rider, reflects on how campaigners who are personally affected by their cause can remain resilient over a long period. End Our Cladding Scandal won the Best Consumer Campaign at the 2023 SMK Campaigner Awards.
A safe home is the foundation of a decent life. Yet six years after the Grenfell fire, the government admits that at least 10,000 buildings across the country still have critical life safety defects. It’s no small challenge.
The Grenfell Inquiry has revealed in detail the failures of state and industry, over decades, which led us here. It will report its conclusions in early 2024. The one thing all parties agree on is that the residents of defective homes are entirely blameless – yet somehow, they are still paying the price.
A home is the most important thing you will ever buy, but you have more consumer protection if you buy a faulty toaster.
Due to construction defects, a fire spread rapidly through my four-storey apartment block in Worcester Park two years after Grenfell. All 23 families lost our homes and almost everything we owned.
The injustice would be hard enough to switch off from if you were a professional campaigner – but End Our Cladding Scandal is run entirely by volunteers who are personally affected by building safety issues and is powered by a community of thousands of affected leaseholders. There is no ‘off’ switch.
When your family is living day and night in an unsafe home, when you face financial ruin if the state doesn’t step in urgently to ensure fully funded remediation, or when you desperately need to move home but can’t, it’s not easy to hold on to hope and keep going. How then can campaigners like me stay resilient?
Stay focused on the goal, but flexible on the path
When you are personally affected by an issue, it’s not difficult to find your motivation by keeping your eyes on the end goal. But we can all get frustrated with the slow pace of change.
A recent book on how to be a ‘solutionist’ highlights the benefit of a “Mississippi mind”. You might think of the river as an unrelenting force of nature charting a powerful course towards the ocean, but in fact it has repeatedly adapted and re-routed its path over the years.
As a campaigner, your approach needs to adapt as the situation changes. Raising awareness of the cladding scandal began with protests and projecting videos on parliament; but trying to mitigate the impact of remediation projects on residents requires working in detail with policy makers and other stakeholders. You must keep finding new tactics to shift the outcome, and new ways to start the conversations that can get you to where you need to go next.
Progress on the building safety campaign has been won step by step, through persistence over many years, like a river as it builds momentum. A famous saying is that change comes slowly and then all at once. It helped me when I realised that meaningful change rarely comes from a single silver bullet solution; it may take a thousand actions from many different people to get there. We can all play our part in turning the tide.
Take turns holding the torch
If you are not careful, campaigning can fill every minute of your time, especially when you are immersed in the issue personally. If you need a break – you must take one. “We have to take turns in holding the torch,” as the singer-songwriter Björk beautifully phrased it, in a recent interview about her environmental campaigning.
End Our Cladding Scandal has campaign groups in cities across the country, where you can both ask for and give support to other leaseholders. Taking it in turns to carry the load is crucial to keep going.
We all need to take time to nurture the part of ourselves that exists outside our campaigning and spend time remembering who we were before – and who we will be again when the campaign is won.
Setting boundaries is essential so that you have the strength to keep going. This is especially true in the ‘always on’ world of social media, where so much grassroots campaigning plays out.
Boundaries can also be about what activities you won’t do. Dealing with the owner of our building causes me a lot of anger and depletes my energy – but we have other resident representatives who can handle that, while I can focus on political and media campaigning where I am best placed to make a difference. We all must choose where to channel our energy – and when to conserve it.
Look how far we have come
During SMK’s Communicating for Change workshop, I learned how we can avoid fatalism and encourage active hope, by always leaving an audience with solutions and opportunities to take action.
That doesn’t mean not taking a critical tone or acknowledging the sheer scale of the mountain we still have left to climb; it means showing that it doesn’t have to always be this way. It means, giving people back their power. We all have a responsibility to choose our words so that we leave people feeling more like capable changemakers and less like victims. Otherwise, they may give up – when we need everyone to keep fighting.
When you are personally immersed in an issue, things can feel urgent and desperate. It takes a conscious effort to stand back and see the bigger picture and recognise the progress we have made; however small each step might seem.
As Charlie Mackesy put it so simply in The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse:
“We have such a long way to go,” sighed the boy.
“Yes – but look how far we have come.”
SMK’s three-hour online workshop, The Resilient Campaigner, can help you to learn strategies to maintain your resilience in a challenging campaigning environment. The workshop is run throughout the year by our associates at Bird – experts in resilience.