The city of York is a site of learning and action for both staff and students of the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR). 

York human rights city logo

On 24 April 2017, York declared itself the UK’s first Human Rights City. After a multi-year campaign, the declaration secured cross-party political support in the city and widespread interest from local civil society and other relevant stakeholders.

The campaign was led by the York Human Rights City Network (YHRCN), a civil society partnership for which the CAHR acts as a kind of think-tank.

Through our work in the city we have been able to model a locally informed approach to human rights. Human rights are often criticised for being too adversarial. The YHRCN approach focuses on local, everyday concerns, positive as well as negative developments, and combines collaboration and critique when working with the City of York Council.

Building a local human rights architecture 

A local human rights architecture has been created, including:

  • Creating a Human Rights and Equalities Board, which represents an institutionalisation of the commitment to be a Human Rights City, specifically within the Council.
  • Developing a Embedding Human Rights and Equalities Impact Assessments (PDF , 825kb) Assessment planning tool for the Council, and training of staff to implement the tool. 
  • Producing an accessible Indicator Report, reporting annually on five priority rights, selected through a survey of local residents. The priority rights are education, housing, health and social care, a decent standard of living, and equality and non-discrimination.
  • Championing Rights Respecting Schools, including the development of a Realising Human Rights Participation Toolkit
  • Supporting the annual programme for York Disability Week and York International Women’s Week.

CAHR’s postgraduate students have played a major role in developing these activities, for example conducting the survey to identify local priority rights and regularly contributing to the writing of the Indicator Reports. In 2022-23, two student groups wrote important research papers about the post-Covid decision to permanently expand the footstreets area in central York, in a way that prevented Blue Badge holders from accessing the city centre. LLM students looked at how to better balance disability rights and access with concerns about a terrorist threat to central York; while a group of MA students analysed the consultation that accompanied the decision-making process. CAHR has been asked by a new administration leading the City of York Council to provide advice on future consultation processes, specifically with a view to reversing the Blue Badge exclusion.