Rob Telford, an inspiration for our journey
22 July 2013 - 11:13am
My campaigning story begins when I arrived at Cardiff University in 2002. I was a Christian, but I was passionate about social activism and it seemed like nothing for activist Christians was offered by the university societies. So, with a lot of help from the Regional Support Workers at the time (Sarah Stuart, Lucy Smith, amongst others), I co-founded a SPEAK group in Bristol with my friend and fellow guitar hero Ben Butler. We met in coffee shops and talked about what campaigns we wanted to do. My good friend Rachael Bee joined - I mention her because she's still very involved in SPEAK and is doing inspiring things with hospitality for asylum seekers with me here in Bristol now.
I remember how we stood in the Students' Union for a long time getting people to do Big Dress squares, and got lots and lots of people involved. The nucleus of the group remained small and committed, and I have taken this model forward in my post-university life - small really is beautiful! I joined the SPEAK Network Support Team as a Regional Support Worker in 2006 and moved to Manchester, working alongside some wonderful people and continuing the campaigning. When I moved to Bristol in 2008 to live in a community house, SPEAK continued to be a really important vessel for gathering around community action, particularly to do with asylum and arms trade issues.
In 2010, and getting involved in the electoral reform movement, I met a Green Party activist called Gus Hoyt. Gus wanted to stand for election and after the fallout from the 2010 General Election (it didn't turn out so well, eh?) I decided I wanted to help by getting my new friend elected. I got completely stuck in and went out canvassing every night for two months. I realised that knocking on doors had me hooked - it really connects you to the people that the injustices in society are affecting, and brings home what is achievable with a bit of dreaming and a lot of work. So, after another year or so's campaigning with the Greens - and other campaigning groups - I decided to stand for election in the local elections in May 2013.
My selection wasn't exactly straightforward - I really messed up my hustings selection by being nervous - but selected I was by the local party in a target ward (i.e. one where we had a good chance of winning). Gus had won in Ashley ward in 2011 by a handsome margin and I just wanted to join him. If the campaign was successful, we would have the first ward in Bristol with a full complement of Green councillors.
We found a tagline ("Let's make Ashley Green!"), got a campaign team together, and started knocking on doors on weekend days in January 2013. It takes longer than this for people to know you are present and part of a community - I had been attending community meetings in the ward since summer 2011. But the final five months are crucial - you have to be everywhere! The weather was cold, and our campaign team was small, but as the winter changed to spring, it was clear we were getting a really good response, in line with the 2011 campaign. In the last week of the campaign, everything becomes a blur. It becomes a race against time to get to every door - but I'm proud to say we knocked on all 10,000 doors in the ward. Even if people weren't in, they saw my calling card and read our positive message for change - we want safer, cleaner streets, better and cheaper public transport, and sustained help for those on lower incomes being hit by the Coalition's austerity measures.
It was a really closely fought election. My Lib Dem opponent was a former mayoral candidate and head of transport for the whole city, but we kept our message positive and were honest and straightforward with people we met - not hiding anything.
We won the seat by about 200 votes, but it was incredibly close, with just a few votes between Labour in second place and the Lib Dems in third. I had been working to be elected for so long that it was difficult to comprehend that I would be a city councillor, and that I would be part of a Green group of 4 councillors (my friend Daniella also got elected for a neighbouring ward).
I would encourage anyone who thinks they can see the problems in society - on the global, international or national level - to stand for LOCAL council. It doesn't matter what party (well, it does a bit!), it's about connecting your mind, your heart and your passion for justice into an arena that needs people who are spiritually motivated more than ever. You may find the minutiae of governing tedious, but who are we to believe that, if we have a passion, we cannot adapt it to every sphere of influence in society. Standing for your local council will challenge you to live out your faith in a way that you can't imagine. Get involved!