Welcome to the Twenties

It’s 2020! Welcome to the Twenties!

What a decade it’s been. We began 2010 in the throes of recession thanks to a global recession that began in 2008 with the American sub-prime mortgage and investment fiasco and quickly spread across the globe. By 2010 our economy here in UK  had suffered massive damage but we had a working welfare state to protect our citizens from the worst of the crisis.

Then, in May of 2010 the real British catastrophe began, The ConDem government introduced austerity and so began a decade long process of starving our social safety net of funds while throwing massive tax cuts at the wealthy. Ten years on and our vital services are almost unrecognisable, they’re so depleted by years of Tory and LibDem cuts and back door privatisation. And now, in the closing weeks of 2019 a new disaster has begun to bite.

Boris Johnson has such a huge parliamentary majority that he can do whatever he wants and make no mistake, he will. He’s already made it clear that he plans to ‘review’ the relationship between the government, parliament and the judiciary in such a way that he and his ministers will be able to rewrite any law they choose without recourse to anyone – not even the law. Privatisation of the NHS is increasing quickly now and manifesto promises about minimum wage rises and working peoples’ rights are already being fudged. The new decade looks set to be a whole lot worse than the one we’ve just left.

If this nation is to survive the next ten years and still retain even a modicum of decency, if we are to maintain anything close to the social safety net we have taken for granted for so many years we  need to come together as one. We need to put the differences of the last few years aside, forget the petty prejudices and paranoia centering around race, religion, country of origin or social status and work together for the good of the whole community.

Many of us are working hard to do just that. Join us – help keep UK society together until the storm of this far right government is over. It’s a storm we need to face together or few of us will survive it at all.

Paul’s gone to the dogs!

Gone to the dogs‘ is a small cafe with some very big ideas. Just like any other cafe you can go there for a cuppa or a bite to eat, you can even bring your dog inside. But that’s not all you can do. You can take part in the cafe’s ‘Pay it forward’ scheme as well.

When you pay for your food you have the option to overpay and if you do something truly wonderful happens. The cashier taking your money writes the excess amount on a post it note that’s kept behind the counter. It’s a bit like a token for food or a cup of tea that homeless or otherwise disadvantaged citizens can redeem for food.

Not only that, the cafe offers people a chance to launder their clothes, to meet and socialise, to get involved in community projects and also provides advice and advocacy where possible. They’ve even been instrumental in finding homes for people.

I met Paul, the inspiration behind the cafe last Sunday. The cafe was bursting with people, some homeless, some clearly not and all enjoying good food, a cup of tea and a community atmosphere of the kind I haven’t seen for years.

Stand up. Be counted. It’s a duty!

I may be unusual but I’m convinced that it’s a duty owed to my society to stand against injustice. It’s not enough quietly to disengage from abusers, to say nothing in the face of racism or to walk away from the impoverishment of our neighbours.

Perhaps Desmond Tutu put it best…

“If you are neutral when the elephant stands on the mouse’s tail, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Stand up. Be counted. It’s a duty!

Eat your greens!

“Eat your greens! There are kids in Africa who’d be really grateful for what you’ve got there.”

So my mother used to rebuke me. It was a mealtime ritual that has stuck in my memory ever since. I was a picky eater as a child, to say the least. Oh to return to those heady years of my 32” waist and slim fit shirts. Those were the days!

We weren’t exactly wealthy when I was a kid. A student grant doesn’t go far when feeding three children and a single mother who’d gone back to college when my Dad abandoned us. We had lots of homemade rice puddings with strawberry jam. We had crumpets grilled on a toasting fork over the electric fire. We ate cereal a lot (not the fancy stuff) and jam sandwiches. My grandmother’s tatie pots were a joy to behold on winter evenings. So were her meat and tatie pies. It was basic fayre but it was tasty enough. And it was food.

Today, 50 years later I can still hear my mother’s voice echoing in my head. But this time the starving kids she talks about aren’t in far off parts of the developing world. This time she (or rather my mental representation of her) is talking about the children down the road, the school-leaver sanctioned because he didn’t get the DWP letter or the family of four with a single zero-hours contract to live on.

Today, in the world’s fifth largest economy there’s more hunger, poverty and destitution than ever before in my lifetime. And that’s just disgraceful!

This is what we get after 9 years of tory rule.

What will we see after another 5?

I genuinely do not believe that the majority of tory voters really meant for this hardship to continue – even to increase but as is becoming all too obvious, that’s what’s happening. That doesn’t mean that those usual labour voters who ‘lent’ Boris Johnson’s far right government their vote are stupid. But it does mean that they were lied to by an efficient main stream media and a slick marketing campaign aimed at whitewashing the conservative record and deifying Boris in particular. My people, my working-class brothers and sisters aren’t stupid but maybe they’re too trusting.

There’s no point in becoming too despondent about that right now. Instead we need to get active. Community groups are cropping up all over UK to combat the worst abuses of Boris’ government, to help feed the hungry and house the destitute. You can find out what’s going on by checking this link or by subscribing to this blog. Over the next five years I’ll be interviewing and showcasing a host of community action organisations, offering them encouragement and ensuring they keep getting their voices heard.

Why not join one – or start one yourself?

Rose to the occasion

Heather.png

What do you do when the world you thought you knew is falling apart before your very eyes? Heather is a teacher who has seen her life change dramatically over the last 9 years. Once all she had to worry about was in-class discipline and the arduous task of trying to instill not just knowledge but understanding and the skill of critical thinking into her pupils’ heads. All that’s changed now.

These days she sees her colleagues buying shoes for children who would otherwise be barefoot (yes, really), charging electricity keys, buying food for hungry families, paying for pupils’ lunches. She even works with some of the older students who’ve started a uniform recycling bank to help the families with younger children equip them for school.

Like many others, Heather allowed herself to dream in the run up to the general election on December 12th. Like so many of us she dared to believe that things could be different, that things might get better with a change of government and that the poverty and hunger that surrounded her might change with it.
“It didn’t happen” Says Heather “So I decided I’d see if anyone wanted to make that change happen with me”.

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Lynette works as a Transformation project manager in social care.
“I’ve seen the knock-on effects of underfunding services, health, education and voluntary services. I just can’t bear to see people struggling to get by and thrive. I believe everyone should have equal opportunity to have a good, secure life.”

I interviewed Heather and Lynette this weekend. Together, along with Fiona and Claire, they represent ‘The Rose‘, around 100 concerned community activists, all worried about the impact of the next 5 years on communities, upon individuals and upon rights and all ready, willing and able to do something about it.

The basic idea is straightforward enough. Lynette explained…
“We’ll run a national Rose group that has oversight and local Rose hubs that are able to spot gaps in provision and many willing volunteers to help support filling those gaps.”
The principle is simple, but what about the logistics? The ladies had an answer for that question too as Fiona told me…
“We have several people with specialisms in mental health, web techies, researchers, writers, people with experience of organising…”

“… We want to improve the lives of people on a local and (hopefully) national scale.” Claire interrupted. “Anyone can benefit from The Rose’s services be it children, disabled or sick people, homeless people, those suffering with mental health issues, the list is pretty endless. We want to do this whilst spreading the message of positivity and hope.”

Fiona has an enduring mental illness and is reliant on ever dwindling benefits and over-stretched support services herself. She tells me of her fears for the future of UK society.
“I am on PIP, ESA and pay the bedroom tax. Tory benefit reforms have been devastating. I also have seen cuts to my support service. I’m lucky to have excellent family support, so many don’t. I’ve seen many in the disabled and mental health community pushed to breaking point, and tragically even to their deaths. There are many great charities and organisations, helping with great ideas but there is so much need you can never have enough help.”

Fiona’s anxious for the health, well-being and quality of life of our minorities and other vulnerable groups. She tells me how devastated she is at the loss of support for so many and how she abhors the right-wing narrative infecting the country today.
“I just felt there must be some way of helping.” She said.

Although, as Claire was quick to remind me, The rose project is still very much in the ‘ideas stage’ at the moment, the plan is to create a network of regional hubs attached to a central co-ordination point. Each local Rose hub will identify the greatest need in its own area and then that need will be met either locally or via central co-ordination involving all the other hubs. There’ll be specific Rose hubs for specific skills and areas of work such as mental health, homelessness and housing, benefits advice, advocacy etc. Many of the necessary skills already exist within the group membership which continues to grow as people spread the word.

So far they have the beginnings of specialist groups for mental health, education, disabilities, advocacy, benefits advice, homelessness and housing and NHS volunteering. They also have strong links to existing foodbanks and even a free psychotherapy network for people unable to access NHS psychotherapy in their areas and who cannot afford private sessions either.

Just as great oaks grow from little acorns, beautiful Rose gardens can begin with a few good seeds and the determination to make this happen couldn’t be more obvious. With around 100 willing volunteers already signed up from all across the UK it seems as though nothing can stop these very determined ladies and their colleagues as they strive to help not just their own communities but every community in the land.

I look forward to revisiting the Rose project and to watching it grow into something truly worthy of its name in the future.

Find out how you can get involved in your area, share your expertise or lend local support by contacting the Rose here…

Email:info@rosecommunity.org

Website: http://www.RoseCommunity.org

Twitter: @TheRoseCommuni1