Organisers from across the UK joined HOPE not hate in Birmingham to learn about best practices and exchange know-how on community organising.

The 18 activists selected for the training all organise in areas HOPE not hate (HNH) is focussed on. The two-day event allowed activists to discuss difficulties they were having and better understand the threat the far-right poses to communities across the UK.

Arun Devasia, HNH community organiser, gave a refresher class on how to have difficult conversations with people holding problematic views without shutting them down or agreeing with them. Active listening was emphasised.

Tom Godwin, Lead Organiser at HNH, says the aim is to have activists feel confident enough to run their own ‘Difficult Conversations’ sessions in their local area and train more activists.

He adds, “The people who came this weekend represent some of the best people we know at HNH. They are dedicated to organising in areas where the far-right have targeted for a number of years. This weekend was about giving us an opportunity to reflect, and re-strategise based on the experiences we have all had.”

He also stressed the importance of an active volunteer network for HNH’s community work against fascism and racism. HNH’s community approach is targeted at communities where support for right wing extremism is highest.

By engaging communities around common issues, fun family events, and conversations on the doorstep, HNH activists put work into areas where high levels of poverty, low levels of education, and a disenchantment with mainstream politics, makes them areas the far-right have consistently targeted.

The community network meeting provided an opportunity for people to share their successes and challenges, and develop strategies for their work. It’s not all about getting out in the areas where the far-right are active. Activists also discussed the necessity of taking care of one another, having socials and meetings where they can educate one another, and mobilising people in response to issues such as Nazi graffiti, hate crimes, or the deportation of community members.

The participants came prepared to represent their local groups and networks, describing specific actions they have taken and issues they are dealing with in the community. The pressures of time and funding were recurring problems throughout the weekend. They also identified the wards that are most at risk to the far-right’s divisive rhetoric and described the variety of ways they were working in those areas to tackle it.

Neill in Derby is planning a listening campaign to better understand why Ukip won a seat on the council. Mark in Basildon holds community dinners and says, “If you break bread with people, you’re actually breaking barriers.”

When asked what made them activists and why they have invested so much energy into their communities, the responses also varied.

Sam lives in Birmingham and he says he decided to volunteer for HOPE not hate because they “came across as one of the most inclusive organisations I’ve been involved with”.

He adds, “I think everyone can look back on the key moments where they felt they just needed to do more. I think everyone has that sense of needing to do more. And that might come from their faith. It might come from their parents. Or one moment having a conversation or seeing a video. But I think everybody has a sense of what isn’t right and I think what pushes people to do something about it can be a multitude of things.”

Trevor, also from the West Midlands, said he’s learnt “you don’t need a university degree to effect change, you use your skills to communicate, persuade and influence people.

Several HOPE not hate staff also attended the event.

Matthew McGregor, campaigns director, ran a workshop called ‘Making use of Digital’, to show how online and offline tools could be used to respond to local issues.

Joe Mulhall, senior researcher, described the state of the far-right in a sobering Sunday morning session, giving in-depth analysis of where the threat currently lies.

The activists in the room did not seem daunted however. Jo summarised her feelings about the far-right, “They haven’t won. We don’t live in the world that they want. They actually think we’ve won – but they have got there first in terms of online spaces, and they have very strong narratives. That’s our opportunity to go and counter that narrative with something hopeful and something that brings us together rather than tears us apart.”