Community leaders urge people to get involved in local campaign to tackle inequalities

Giants of the community gather for the launch of Let’s Talk. Photograph: Julia Gregory

“Be a leader, not a follower,” urged parent champion Jessica Plummer.

She lent her voice to the launch of Islington Council’s Let’s Talk campaign, which is designed to help tackle inequalities in the borough and improve people’s chances.

The council hopes that people who live, work or study in the borough will share their personal experiences of inequality and suggest ways that it can make improvements.

Plummer is an anti-knife crime campaigner whose son Shaquan Sammy-Plummer was murdered in Winchmore Hill in 2015.

She launched a foundation in his name and spends time talking to students in schools and pupil referral units to prevent children getting caught up in knife crime.

Twenty-nine young people have been killed so far this year in the UK.

Plummer said: “We have got to work as a community and work with young people. There’s nothing out there for them to do. The children and young people need a voice.”

Gladys Cobbina-Agyemang said talking can help break down barriers.

She set up the Black Women’s Link Project to help tackle loneliness and social isolation.

“When we are in a community, we need a sense of belonging,” she said. “Some of us do not have any family nearby, some have new babies or have language problems or do not know how to access community resources.”

Paul O’Brien from the Sunflower bakery on Caledonian Road helped deliver food parcels to Islington residents in need during the pandemic.

He saw first hand some of the inequalities in the borough.

“We need to talk to everybody to understand each other, with more community spirit and helping each other,” he said.

He is the chair of the Cally Traders Association, which started last year with just six members but has grown to 55-strong in a few months.

The council hopes businesses like them, along with residents, will help test solutions to problems such as disproportionate access to mental health services, the unequal effects of air pollution, and inequalities in educational attainment which can affect young people’s opportunities.

It will be staging conversations with residents until the spring, like those at its launch in Caledonian Park, where it had set up ‘conversation benches’ – a concept it will introduce in other parks.

It follows the council’s Fairness Commission a decade ago.

A new inequality taskforce of civic, academic, and business leaders with expertise across health, poverty reduction, and education, will also help.

Council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz said: “We want to have a genuine conversation with people going through challenges.

“We are asking them to bring their ideas and are hoping to work with people for solutions.”

She said these could be simple ideas which could make a change or more complex issues.

Recently a headteacher asked her if school streets, where roads are closed to motor traffic, could start earlier near the school to cut pollution for children on their way to the breakfast club.

“We want our residents to take the lead, and to collaborate with us to design a new era of public service delivery,” said Comer-Schwartz. “Old solutions won’t work for the new challenges and greater complexities we now face.

“The balance of power must shift to the people in our communities, to those who live these experiences every day and are key to creating a more equal future.”