In conversation with: Amanda Walters - From small beginnings to bringing about national change

In conversation with: Amanda Walters - From small beginnings to bringing about national change

A campaigner whose first success was having a crossing installed outside a school is now running her own organisation committed to a new, community-based approach to bringing about change at a national level. And her journey to this point – says Amanda Walters – is thanks to the Churchill Fellowship she undertook in 2019.

“I came back with my mind blown to what was possible. My interest had really moved on to making national change to impact millions of workers at once, many of whom will be low-income, migrant workers."

What Amanda is now trying to achieve, following on from her Fellowship, is to improve the lives of low-income migrant workers. Her Fellowship is among many which have helped inform our Migration Report.

Campaigning from the grassroots up

Amanda has a multicultural background. She was born in the UK to a Colombian mother and British father, lived for many years as a child in Barcelona, then moved back to the UK when she was ten.

As a long-standing campaigner, which started in her student days at the University of Manchester, it was her Churchill Fellowship that gave Amanda the inspiration and knowledge she needed to set up a new type of campaigning organisation.

In 2020, Amanda founded the Centre for Progressive Change. This builds campaigns for national policy change, but it uses different methods – ones that Amanda learnt about during her Fellowship visit to the United States. Its basis lies in community organising combined with an interdisciplinary approach.

The centre is currently running the Safe Sick Pay Campaign, which aims to improve statutory sick pay legislation. Amanda is hopeful that the campaign’s recommendations will be accepted by all major parties ahead of the General Election.

So, what led Amanda to her career as a campaigner?

“I have been a campaigner and community organiser since 2007. I started in the Student Union movement, with Amnesty International’s student action committee, and I was an elected sabbatical officer campaigning to stop increases in tuition fees.”

The loss of the tuition fees campaign led Amanda to consider that there might be more effective ways of campaigning.

She visited Brazil, and stayed in a favela, learning from a community group that was campaigning for better living conditions and sanitation.

“I’d been involved in mobilising and direct action groups, but what I learned there was how an organisation could teach and train residents to campaign for themselves. I saw demonstrations of 4,000 people outside a town hall, with national press, calling on the mayor to make changes. It wasn’t just the usual suspects coming together, it was people doing it for themselves, and the effect was much richer and more powerful.”

In 2014, Amanda began working as a community organiser for Citizens UK and the Living Wage Foundation.

“My first campaign win was for a crossing outside a school. It took a while to get together and it was a small win, but an important one for the parents. My second campaign was much bigger, organising 200 residents in north Kensington housing estates, where we won investment to be put into the housing repair system, and a commitment from the local council to have residents in overcrowded accommodation rehoused.”

Amanda knew she could win on a local level, but wanted to understand how she could scale these bottom-up approaches to a national level, and this is where her Fellowship proved invaluable. Many of those she was campaigning on behalf of were low-income migrant workers.

“As a Spanish and Portuguese speaker, and the daughter of a migrant mother, this cause was close to my heart. People come here for a better life and end up in poor living and working conditions.”

For her Fellowship in 2019, Amanda travelled to the USA to understand how she could build movements of low-income migrant workers in an impactful and far-reaching way.

She spent a week with United Teachers of LA, where 35,000 teachers – 99 per cent of them – went on strike, where the support from parents and students was overwhelming. Amanda also visited New York and Connecticut, talking to trade union and migrant organisations, which were trying to change State legislation.

“I came back with my mind blown to what was possible. My interest had really moved on to making national change to impact millions of workers at once, many of whom will be low-income, migrant workers.

“I saw in the USA that community action is the bedrock, but it has to be supported by advocacy, communication, campaign research, business engagement…. We need an interdisciplinary approach to get the wider reach.”

Taking campaigning to a national level

And so, in 2020, the Centre for Progressive Change was born. The Safe Sick Pay campaign is based on the experiences of low-income cleaners – the majority of whom are migrant workers – and the issues they face and want resolved. The next campaign will be around home ownership for lower income communities, again many of whom will be migrant workers, to promote a shift to stable and good quality housing.

“What the Fellowship did was show me the possible scale of these campaigns, and that you can change legislation through this interdisciplinary approach. I don’t think I would be doing this without the Fellowship.”


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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