Today we had our first gathering of new testifying commissioners. Over the past couple of months we have been meeting them to discuss their potential involvement. The responses have been so positive and, once again, we are discovering people who have a story to tell that they know is bigger than just about themselves, and who really want to see change for more than just themselves. Some of them we have met through their connections with the first cohort, and others through community and voluntary organisations who have put them forward.
We make no attempt to find ‘representatives’ because fifteen or so people could never be representative of the all the complexity of ‘poverty’ in the city, let alone the city’s diversity. But we ask, ‘does this group look and feel like Leeds?’ Without any intentional strategy on our part, when people placed themselves on a giant map of Leeds it turned out they pretty much reflect the areas of greatest deprivation. Our learning from the first Challenge was that there is a seamless and interlocking web of poverties and people’s experience is individually complex and wide ranging. We have heard some of their stories and are excited by what they will bring to the Commission and to see how they begin to tell and to hear stories of their individual and shared experience. A common theme that emerged in this first session was social isolation due to poverty and its effect on mental health.
In Phase 1 this group will be meeting fortnightly over the next two or so months after which they will be joined by the civic and business Commissioners whom we are recruiting now for Phase 2 which will be 15-18 months long. By the way, you may have noticed we have changed the name from Challenge to Commission. It’s a commission in that it is surfacing and analysing the evidence about poverty but, in contrast to other commissions, the evidence is in the room in the stories and experience of the testifying commissioners.