Seeking social change connections in historic Newington Green church

Amidst minced pies and mulled wine, about 30 people gathered in the nave of Newington Green Unitarian Church on Friday evening for the inaugural meeting of the “Changemakers’ Hub” – a group to support people seeking social change form connections and help one another.

Based in Stoke Newington, the 300-year old church seeks to draw on its illustrious history of social activism. Mary Wollstonecraft, a seminal 18th Century feminist philosopher and activist, was a member of the congregation.

“It’s really important when you’re doing social justice work to be connected. It can be lonely, angry, frustrating work – we all do better when people have our backs,” said Andy Pakula, the New Unity church minister.

“One of the things that’s special about this place is an underlying belief that people can change the world for the better,” said Penny Walker, a volunteer with the church who has worked with several NGOs.

“Having radical ideas about how to do that is part of the tradition of this place.”

The Changemakers’ Hub is the brainchild of New Unity employee Ally Scott, who previously volunteered with the Unity Project, a migrant support group.

Scott noticed there were a large number of people wanting to get involved with the group, but unable to work in the ‘caseworker’ role that was required.

“Often these people don’t have the support or the connections to [make change], so what it’s about is bringing people together to achieve meaningful change – that’s the plan.”

The meeting itself consisted of various group discussion sessions, allowing members to network and offer their various skills to other attendees.

New Unity Minister Andy Pakula gives introduction to the inaugural Changemaker’s Hub at Newington Green Unitarian Church, Pic: Alex Wilkins

By the end of the evening, several concrete ideas emerged for how the group might serve its members: as a place for mentorship, as a library for information on how to run a good campaign, or even as a central signpost pointing to smaller, more directed groups in the local area.

Attendees came from a wealth of different volunteering and professional backgrounds, something that was important to members.

“The idea of a community has become so narrow – we have this kind of community or that kind of community, but it needs to be wider than that.” said Kelvin, a Stoke Newington resident who works with mental health organisation The Advocacy Project.

“Bringing people together with a whole bunch of different interests, trying to do whatever they want to do, and do it well, is exactly what is needed.”

Ally Scott hopes that the group will continue to meet and develop in future months.

“It would be wonderful if we could have a solid core of committed people that knew what they wanted out of this, so we could support new ideas until they became reality.”

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