addarrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-up82CF3E98-D323-4B3E-9EDD-EF2E73FB5C9E@1xcancelcircularclockClose IcondowndownloademailIcons / Social / FacebookfilterhomeIcons / Social / InstagramleftIcons / Social / LinkedIn895A4639-EEE0-4BEB-B7D1-CAB21217861B@1xMenu Iconremoverightsearchtagtik-toktranslateIcons / Social / TwitterupIcons / Social / YouTube

Lifted spirits: Coleg Gwent's success in community-led preservation

Lifted spirits: Coleg Gwent's success in community-led preservation

By Adam England, David Key, Keegan Rowlands, & Richard Weaver

This story is an extract from 'Hungry For Change' a new book featuring case studies from schools' organising across Citizens UK. Edited by Dr Sebastien Chapleau. Download the full, free e-book and other publications here.

A group of students from Coleg Gwent in southeast Wales, one of the nation’s largest Further Education Colleges, discovered the power of community organising and achieved a remarkable victory - keeping the doors of their lift open. This was not only a literal accomplishment; it also symbolised the doors they opened for themselves and their peers by building relationships, taking action, and realising the potential for positive change.

Voter registration success: The start of Coleg Gwent’s road to community empowerment

Coleg Gwent, in collaboration with Citizens Cymru Wales, started a mission to boost voter registration among young people ahead of the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) elections in May 2021. Through the '100% registered campaign,' the college registered at least 2,349 16-18 year old students to vote (out of a total of 4500 students in the college). In total, colleges and schools in Wales were able to verify 5040 new registrations to vote by 16-18-year-olds ahead of the Senedd elections.

The impact of their efforts extended beyond registrations, as students found themselves in the spotlight, sharing their experiences on Radio 1 Newsbeat, BBC Five Live, ITV Wales and BBC Wales TV. Participating in super-delegations with political leaders and a focus on civic engagement enriched their leadership skills.

Living Wage advocacy: From Cardiff to Ebbw Vale

From September 2022, first-year Public Services students at the Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone delved into community leadership. In the first weeks of their course, students visited the Senedd in Cardiff Bay and participated in a citizens Living Wage action, as part of a campaign to persuade the Welsh Rugby Union to become an accredited Living Wage employer. Many of the students were making a rare visit to Cardiff and for almost all, it was their first visit to the Senedd.

Welsh students visit Senedd for Living Wage action

Back in their classroom in Ebbw Vale, the students discussed what they had learned. They came away with a good impression, ‘these are people we can meet and talk to, they come from a similar background to many of us, they are passionate about our area, and they want to change things for the better’. From the action, they understood that ‘ordinary people’ were able to act together to help make change.

‘I enjoyed taking part in the action in Cardiff. It developed us. It took a lot of us out of our comfort zone because it made us feel we were part of something on a good issue [the Living Wage]. It showed us how to move. We played a new role in the action as stewards. Many of us are from small towns so doing this in a big city was new for us. I was able to talk to a lot of other people at the action and I was able to meet students and tutors from the Business School in Cardiff University, from different churches and mosques, and community groups for the first time.'

Keegan, student

We talked about the problem of low wages locally in Ebbw Vale, Abertillery and around. When asked if a Living Wage would benefit them or others in their family, about half the class put their hand up. When asked if they knew people who would benefit directly from the local authority paying the Living Wage, one student said, ‘my sister’, another, ‘my mum’. We decided to take action.

In the last week of term before Christmas, the students met with the leader and deputy leader of Blaenau Gwent Council. The students explained why the Living Wage was important to them, and the councillors outlined their commitment to accredit as a Living Wage employer within a year. The students started to build accountable public relationships with these councillors, as they had done with the Members of the Senedd. However, after the meeting, the students were not very enthused or excited by the meeting with the councillors. Despite being important locally, and even important to people in their families, campaigning on the Living wage was not ‘their’ issue, and was not one they had decided to prioritise.

So, what did they want to change?

A proposed closure of the 'Ebbw Vale Cableway,' colloquially known as the lift, stirred a passionate response from the students.

The Lift campaign

The proposed closure of the lift, a critical link between the college and the town, ignited the students' anger and determination. Unaware of the public consultation on the matter, they seized the opportunity to make their voices heard; the lift was particularly significant for Independent Learning Students, those with disabilities and the elderly in the community.

In a remarkable turn of events, the students discovered that the council had found funds to keep the lift open for at least another year, just days before its scheduled closure. Undeterred, they pressed on, organizing an action that involved taking a council member on a tour of the lift and negotiating for its long-term preservation.

The Lift stays open

In June 2023, the students, armed with their research and determination, successfully engaged with Councillor Sue Edmonds. They showcased the lift's importance, proposed solutions, and negotiated for a commitment to better consultation with young people. The result was not only the preservation of the lift but also a broader agreement that young voices would be integral to future discussions and consultations.

The impact was profound. The students estimated that over 3,300 people, including students, pupils, council employees, and local residents, benefited from the lift staying open. This victory underscored the power of community organising, showcasing that meaningful change is achievable when people come together.

Lessons learned: A year of transformation

Reflecting on their journey, the students expressed newfound confidence in their ability to make a difference. Community organising transformed their perspectives on change, instilling the belief that action yields results. The program facilitated connections between students and elected officials, bridging perceived gaps and fostering relationships at local and national levels.

David Key, the Public Services course lead, emphasised that the students now understand change is possible. They've discovered that people are more receptive than expected, and by taking action, they can bridge gaps and create meaningful transformations in their community.

In the end, Coleg Gwent's students learned that community organising is not just about keeping doors open—it's about opening doors to a brighter future, one empowered by the belief that change is within reach when people come together with purpose and determination.

Young people and community leaders are holding banners that read 'hungry for change' with an MP

Many schools (primary, secondary, and sixth form colleges) choose to become members of Citizens UK to build a better, fairer society.

We work together to make change on the issues that matter, from campaigning for zebra crossings on dangerous roads, to reforming the immigration system, to the Living Wage campaign.

Using Community Organising, students, teachers and parents can work together to drive community-led solutions to big and small problems, that work for everyone.

Find out more about how your school can become a Citizens UK member.

Posted by Sylvie Pope on