In its progress over the past two years, Peterborough Citizens has made tremendous progress. Central Park is safer; students push forward a goal for more mental health support in schools and colleges; and the alliance refugee hosting group recently secured its first home for an Afghan family.
Its new President, Rachel Nicholls, who is also Principal of Peterborough College and Deputy Chief Executive of Inspire Education Group, is confident that many more great achievements are to come thanks to the efforts of our young people.
Rachel, who recently reprized the role of Citizens, arrived in Peterborough from Stamford College in December 2018 – following a career that has emphasized the importance of teamwork and growing as a person.
Rachel is originally from Wolverhampton and went to Halesowen College, then studied for a sports degree, before getting a job coordinating FE extra-curricular activities.
She said: “That was about 25 years ago. From there I found something that gave me real purpose and I could see the value of what FE was. I didn’t didn’t stay for my A levels – it wasn’t that I didn’t like school, but I liked playing sports more.
“I then went on to my PGCE and teaching and then my Masters. I worked at eight different FE colleges around the country, in a variety of different roles, in areas such as Hull and Stockton-on-Tees. J was in Rotherham when the sexual exploitation cases came to light, which was a very difficult time for the town.
“So I’ve worked at a number of different colleges in cities in roles, both urban and affluent, and I’ve seen the importance of FE.
“I always thought it was more than qualifications. They are important and we work hard to give our students the qualifications that will help them take the next step.
“But it’s also about having other traits, so they’re a complete individual and make a positive contribution in life.”
During her first weeks in Peterborough, one of UCP’s lecturers, Dr. Tim Hall, came to see her.
He had been researching Citizens UK chapters at his old location in London.
He believed Peterborough could benefit from its own alliance, with civic organizations and leaders coming together with people who genuinely care about what’s happening in their communities.
Rachel said: “I was reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography at the time and she was talking about community organizing, so at the same time I was talking to Tim in January 2019 I was reading about how Barack had been involved in that when he was younger.
“I met again with Tim and Daniel Mackintosh, who was another lead organizer. I could really see how civic organizations working together could bring about needed change.
“From my sporting background, I’m a big believer in teamwork and collaboration.
“It’s about developing leaders and leadership, especially in young people. So as a teacher, educator and now principal, that resonated with me.
“I’ve always had a strong sense of wanting to challenge social injustice, and getting angry at someone’s gender, race, social class, and background can unfairly impact one’s life and chances. from someone.”
The regular meetings have taken place online, with dozens of students joining faith leaders, educators, volunteers and more to push their ideas forward.
The first step was to launch a major listening campaign, which collected the thoughts and opinions of over 2,000 people in the community about what made them angry and frustrated.
From there, a number of campaigns were identified; The first two dealt with mental health, crime and community safety.
Peterborough MP Paul Bristow said being part of the first of these campaigns – meeting with the GCC and raising the issue of people’s mental health in parliament – was one of the proudest moments of his tenure of deputy.
A meeting is now scheduled with MP Will Quince, Minister of Children and Families, regarding counseling in schools.
In the second, students were concerned about vandalism in Central Park, leading to a successful bid to secure more CCTV and lighting for the park.
The campaign, led by Year Six TDA Deputy Headmaster James Mepham, brought together pupils from Nene Park Academy, Greater Peterborough UTC, St John Fisher Catholic High School, Arthur Mellows Village College and Peterborough College.
And a third campaign was born of the global situation, with the formation of a group to welcome refugees following the Afghan crisis last summer.
Rachel said: “Citizens help facilitate, train and support, so people can go out and exert their influence. It’s not just about doing this as leaders, it’s about developing it from from scratch and empowering people.
“Our young people are doing a fantastic job and showing what can be achieved. It shows that they don’t have to accept the status quo.
“We want more people and civic organizations to be involved. The more of us working together, the more we can do about key changes in the city.”
The refugee hosting group recently secured its first five-bed house, and that kind of success may become even more important with the ongoing Ukraine crisis.
The alliance also supports the Living Wage campaign for health and social care workers, and Rachel thinks other potential goals in the future could include homelessness and mental health.
Students will continue to publicize their work, with the goal of involving more schools and colleges. An evening of action at Peterborough Cathedral was well attended, despite taking place on the same night as the FA Cup clash between Peterborough and Man City, with some powerful speeches.
They will be the young leaders and pioneers of Peterborough’s future, and Rachel added: “There is a capacity in people who want to support and help each other.
“You see that with people volunteering to host refugees from Ukraine, and volunteers throughout Covid, signing up to work at vaccination centers or doing deliveries.
“People are stepping up and wanting to see their communities thrive. There’s a thirst for that, and what citizens can do is channel and facilitate that – and bring people together to effect change.”