Thursday 30 June 2011

'They look after us when we're young, we should look after them when they are old!' Solidarity with striking teachers!

Like many other people, I got to enjoy a day with my kids today because of the strike by the National Union of Teachers. They, together with several public sector unions took this action in the face of intransigence from the government over pension provision.

The government want public sector workers to work an extra 8 years, pay more each month towards their pensions (an average of £300 a month more) and still look forward to a reduction in the amount they are to receive.

Not only is it understandable that they are striking, but it is applaudable. Teachers in particular provide one of the most important functions to the nation, and all of us who pay taxes should value their vocation, and allow them to retire at a sensible age with some dignity.

The government feels that to strike is moral outrage, at the same time preparing to spend £76 Billion on a Trident nuclear weapons system, £6 Billion in Afghanistan and 'what ever the cost' of military action in Libya. I believe that it is far more moral to value the people who educate our children. My daughter held aloft her placard 'They look after us when we're young, we should look after them when they are old!'

Tuesday 28 June 2011

The unrecognizable highstreet

TJ Hughes is finally to go, alongside Thorton's Chocolates. Bradford is slowly losing its famous high street brands. We didn't have a Habitat or a Jane Norman, so at least its only 2 empty shop fronts and not 4, but its still another blow. TJ Hughes saved the iconic Co-operative building, a 30's masterpiece, it would otherwise have fallen into sharp decline. Heaven knows what will happen to the building now.

During the 1980's there seemed an obvious trend on the high streets of England. Whereever you went, the shops began to all look the same, the same stores in every town and city, and the local shops were gradually being wiped off the face of main street. 

Now those same stores are increasingly looking precarious, from Mothercare to HMV. Many of these shops aggressively located near to local stores selling similar things, putting them out of business. So now we are left with a vacuum, which nobody can afford to fill. Will it be a short blip in capitalism, or are we in for a long period of empty shopfronts? whatever happens, the English high street is about to undergo the biggest face lift in recent history.

I've recently taken to buying everything I can from the city centre. It may cost more, and is a little trickier than buying online, but I would prefer to see at least one or two shops left in Bradford city centre!

Monday 27 June 2011

100 days and nights of bombing Libya

Have we got very far in the last 100 days? At first it all seemed so wonderful; 'protecting civilians from a massacre!' - but like all lies, it all soon fell apart. And like all lies, the lies just got bigger. To cover up the mess we are in, the propaganda just keeps on coming.

100 days after the outbreak of Nato bombings, the International Criminal Court finally announced the warrants of arrest for Gaddafi and one of his sons. But of course, all war is crime. All those who feel that force will sort out the problems are deluding themselves. They are part of the problem.

We all want Gaddafi to go. He is another mad, bad dictator that we happily shook hands with and sold arms too. But it matters how we choose to rid ourselves of these people. It must come out of the efforts of the region itself. It must come about with diplomacy, sanctions, and primarily through non-violence.

But the bombing continues, innocents continue to die, and the two sides will grow in hatred, sowing the seeds for violence to flower in the coming years. The West has spent Billions on the war effort, Britain already wasting £250 million that could have been spent on struggling public sector projects. Imagine a different world. Imagine how we would feel if we were celebrating 100 days and nights of relentless peace making....

Can Murray finally do it?

Don't get your hopes up! You know where this will end! Why do we do this to ourselves every bloody year? AAARRRRRRGGHHHH!

The Biafran War is over.

I have finally finished reading 'Half of a Yellow Sun' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the terrible tale of the ill fated Biafran war of independence against Nigeria. The war was fought between 1967-70, but was ultimately very one sided, and the Biafran people suffered horribly, many dying of starvation while the world looked on.

I am ashamed to say I knew nothing of the conflict before I read this book, and I am grateful that the author has opened my eyes. War is often told from the viewpoint of the victors, but Adichie comes from the losing side, and the inevitable Biafran slide from national certainty to utter collapse is delivered with no holds barred.

Loyalty, infidelity, rape as a weapon of war and many other themes are dealt with honestly and with brutal clarity. It was not a fun read, but I'm glad I stuck with it till the end. I tried not to look away, as we often do with war. The Biafra-Nigeria conflict may be over, but there seems to be no end in this world for the appetite for war.

Friday 24 June 2011

'Walk for Justice'

21 of us managed to make the long trek from Bradford to Leeds, a 'walk for justice' as part of Refugee Week. The walk was undertaken by sanctuary seekers and their supporters, and took in the regional 'Asylum' courts in Thornbury, on the outskirts of Bradford, and the 'Waterside Reporting Centre' in Leeds.

On the way, the conversations were optimistic but sometimes heartbreaking. I spoke to a woman from Africa who had not seen her children for 9 years, and I met someone from Iran who had been forced to report to the centre for nearly 10 years, not being able to work for a decade until he finally won his case to stay.

This walk, and any acts of solidarity with those who have gone through the hell of seeking sanctuary, is vital to demonstrate solidarity with those who arrive at our shores. On arrival at the courts in Leeds, we were refused the dignity of being able to use the toilets and the security guards even chased after a retired Methodist minister who had accidentally parked in the wrong place.

The immigration service is a tough one to work in, but if they worked on the basis of hospitality and care rather than mistrust and hostility, I would begin to feel that I lived in a more civilised society!

Dealing with depression

In my book, I talk about the problem of 'burn out', and talk about the importance of prayer, time out and solidarity (circles of support and friendship). I've really struggled to make use of these tools over the last week or so, as I have had  to deal with a sudden wave of depression.

It's been hard to blog, or do much really, though superficially one has to keep on going whatever, even when feeling down. I rarely suffer from 'being down', and am normally fairly bouncy, but after a series of knocks, even I got worn out.

Firstly, the Treehouse Cafe, the world's first fairtrade cafe, situated in 'Desmond Tutu House' is really struggling. Much worse, when our church offered to help out, some members of the Treehouse refused as their militant atheism overcame the desire to keep the cafe open. It was hugely frustrating, and a realisation that as progressive as our church is, atheists can often reject working with us simply out of dogma. Ironic really.

The reason it really bothered me, was because in the same week I learnt more about the 'review' Desmond Tutu house is to go through to see if it is 'viable'. The review was partly triggered by the debts that the Treehouse Cafe had run up in utility bills. The thought that the project I have developed over the last 6 years might be under threat really knocked me back.

Then I learnt that my wife had not had her contract renewed at the University. Losing her job after 8 years was a terrible blow, and is part of the terrible dismantling of the world renowned peace studies department. The European wave of cutbacks finally came home to our family.

Friends have rallied around my wife and I, and I'm sure all will be well eventually. The  Desmond Tutu House project will survive, even if some in the Diocese cannot see it's value - but its been a tough week or so. If you pray - hold us in your heart. If you're suffering from depression - hang on in there; 'This too shall pass'.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Celebrating Refugee Week

The launch of refugee week was awesome! We listened to speakers from a wealth of nations, and contributions from the organisations that have emerged over the years to support them. I had a sudden feeling that we had turned a corner in Bradford, and we truly had become a city of sanctuary.

5 years ago, the attitude towards asylum seekers seemed more hostile, and services for them disjointed. Now the opposite is true, with a genuine sense of welcome in the city, and all the voluntary and public bodies mostly singing from the same hymn sheet.

This has been partly due to the work of BEACON, BIASAN, the  Bradford City of Sanctuary movement and the tireless work of Bradford Action for Refugees, but it has been the strength of character of the refugee groups themselves that has really made the difference, exemplified by the work of the refugee forum.

When partying and eating with the sanctuary seekers and refugees in Bradford, one can genuinely be proud to live in a city that has such a positive attitude to those who come from foreign shores. We can learn great wisdom and gain much joy from our encounters with strangers.

Monday 20 June 2011

South of the Border

Just watched Oliver Stone's travelogue through Latin America, after finally picking it up from 'Dogwoof' productions. It's an important film simply because it forces North American audiences to actually listen to the views of the elected leaders of the South; Chavez, Morales, Kirchners, Correa, Lula and Lugo.

Along the way, the abhorrent policies of the IMF and US imperialism are laid bare. There was a long explanation of the situation in Venezuela, partially because of the role the US played in the attempted coup in 2002, but partly because Hugo Chavez has been such an inspiration to the Latin American left in general, probably more so than Cuba in recent years.

In my book, I talk in depth about solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela, as examples of nations where the poor have been lifted out of deep poverty by the actions of their respective governments. This does not mean we cannot be critical of their governments, but we must see politics through the lens of the poor, and not the lens of the media, which tends to favour the rich. This film is a good reminder as to why that chapter is important. South America has demonstrated a different way to act in the world.

Democratic revolutionary socialism, allowing nations the right to not have their property plundered by the rich and powerful, is a powerful and viable alternative to modern capitalism.

The film has it's weaknesses, and I would have loved to have heard much more from Fernando Lugo - the former Bishop, now President of Paraguay. He is proof that Liberation Theology is far from dead, indeed, it seems to be forging a new way of being faithful to the world! Watch it if you get the chance!

God bless you Brian Haw

For over 10 years he devoted himself to highlighting the atrocity of war. He was a familiar figure to all of us who have opposed the recent US wars - he was a beacon of determined resistance in the face of an unrepentant government.

In 2007 he beat Cameron and Blair in the channel four competition to find the most inspirational political figure. Despite numerous attempts to move him from the square (including introducing and entirely new law!) Brian was resolute to the end.

Brian, for your faithful work for peace, and tireless campaigning on behalf of the suffering children of conflict, we salute you. See you on the other side.

Friday 17 June 2011

Official Government policy; 'Work till you drop!'

The announcement that virtually all government employees will have to work till they are 66, and will have to pay considerably more towards their pensions is a depressing story indeed.

Danny Alexandria and his millionaire chums will now face opposition from the GMB, the NUT and a range of public sector unions. For them to successful in there campaign for better conditions for their members, they will need widespread support from those of us not employed in the public sector.

The government will portray the unions as being unrealistic and greedy, so we must be prepared to make sure they are not isolated and picked off, one union at a time. To implement such horrific changes, the capitalist class (exemplified by this cabinet of millionaires), will need some hard hitting tactics. It is therefore not so surprising that the police (along with firefighters) will not have to endure the same changes as nurses and teachers. It looks like the government are getting ready for a full scale onslaught against the working people of this nation, and it may well resort to force.

Let us stand firm with the public sector workers - no society should hand over a trillion pounds to the banking sector, spend a million pounds a day bombing Libya, be prepared to lose billions of pounds in tax revenue from the most profitable companies, and at the same time, tell its public sector servants to 'work till you drop!'

Thursday 16 June 2011

Have you ever heard of Nifissatou Diallo?

A great tragedy has happened, and I am worried that the victim is virtually nameless, someone whom nobody seems to care. Her name is Nifissatou Diallo, from Guinea, an African, a Muslim, a widow and mother of a 15-year old daughter. The police found her hidden behind a closet, crying and vomiting, traumatized by the violence she had suffered at the hands of the guest of a hotel suite, a guest whose name she didn't even know.

Director General of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn, was the hotel guest. We now know his name, and it looks clear that even he cannot evade justice. It is important though that the world is known not just by the perpetrators of violence, not just by those with power, but is known through the eyes of the victims.

Nifissatou Diallo can be a lens in which we see not just those women who are abused by men, but through whom we can see the countless millions who are abused by the IMF. The weak and the vulnerable who are chewed up and spat out by those who make decisions based on profits and not people.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Two fingers up at Berlusconi's nuclear option

It has been lovely to watch the tide turning on this repugnant right wing Italian. Berlusconi has often looked invincible. Whatever he did, however racist or sexist his behaviour was, he kept managing to get the votes.

Not any more. He lost the vote on his hopes to revive Italy's nuclear energy programme. It was overwhelmingly clear - in the wake of Fukushima, Europe is waking up to the realisation that a nuclear option could bring disaster upon us.

But perhaps more importantly for the fate of democracy in Italy, the referendum ended the lack of accountability for the political class. From now on, no-one, not even the previously untouchable Berlusconi, will be immune from being taken to court.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Will the hole in Bradford finally get filled?

The T&A had an exclusive today - a new photograph of the 'revised' Broadway Centre produced by developers 'Westfield'. Westfield will be holding a new public consultation on the project in July, and want people opinions. The scheme has been scaled down to reflect current economic conditions.

If you've read my book, or lived in Bradford over the last 10 years, then the mention of the firm 'Westfield; may fill you with dread. They have promised to start building on the site in the heart of the centre several times before - start dates have come and gone, so its hard to get too excited about the news story.

I'm happy that the scale of the shopping centre has been reduced. If it is to be built, it mustn't empty the rest of the city centre of it's existing shops. I like them where they are, in buildings with charm and character. Westfield's building proposals look as is they could be the sort of place that assisted suicides could be accommodated in. Bland, emotionless cathedrals of consumerism.

But the hole needs filling, so let us pray that this is not just another dud public relations move by a company that has had little regard for the people of Bradford over the last decade.

The Lemon Tree

I just watched Eran Riklis' 2008 hit film 'The Lemon Tree' and needed to share my despair. Yes, it is a great movie, the story of a Palestinian widow going through the courts to protect her lemon grove from destruction after the a government minister moves next door. But no, I didn't enjoy it.

The wall wins, eventually the film climaxes with an Israeli and a Palestinian separated by a huge wall, and 150 lemon trees cut down to the stumps, so that the Israeli defence chief does not have to worry about 'terrorist' snipers using the lemon grove of his neighbour for cover.

This terrible, hopeless ending brought me to tears, and reflected back to me a terrible day, where walls seem to be springing up all over the place. Walls and separation are a reality of this world. I hope though, that history is on the side of those who eventually tear the walls down.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Peru's shift to the left?

Ollanta Humala was elected last week as President of Peru, and it marks another significant shift to the left by the people of Latin America. Some did not think it was possible, as Peru and Colombia are seen as unshakable supporters of the US free market model. Investors showed what they thought of the people#s decision by wiping 12% off the value of Peru's stock market in a single day.

Humala had to endure the jibing of a hostile press, and the constant derision from elite of the country who almost universally supported his opponent, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the disgraced former President, Alberto Fujimori. This was despite Mr Humala having to make significant shifts to the right since his last election defeat in 2006, which had been attributed to his support for and association with Hugo Chavez. To appease worried middle class voters, Humala ditched many of his left wing policies and appeared to favour a more free market model.

If Humala does not regain the courage of his earlier convictions, then his presidency is unlikely to be of much benefit to the third of the population living below the poverty line, and the next third who 'get by' under the free market model currently prevalent in Peru.

He must be bold if he is to make the kind of changes seen by those lifted out of poverty in nearby Venezuela and Bolivia. Should he decide to follow that route, he must be prepared for the continuous attacks on his government from the US, the multinationals and the 'markets'.

For the sake of the poor, for the sake of Peru, home of Gustavo Gutierrez, father of Liberation Theology, let us pray for courage in Peru's new president.

Friday 10 June 2011

The Big Sing at the Mela

For those of us in Bradford, the Mela is one of the highlights of the year. Not only does it bring the best in Asian cuisine and culture into one awesome smelling and looking place, but it seems to bring out the best in Bradfordians.

Yes, it's a long way from the heady days when local enthusiast 'Dusty' was in charge, and yes, down to local government cutbacks, its only one day this year, instead of the usual weekend. It is still a wonderful event and I would recommend it to anyone living in West Yorkshire for a great family day out.

Our contribution this year will be in the 'Sanctuary Tent'. This tent celebrates the best in the cultures of those who arrive as asylum seekers in our country - and is full of dance and music and story. Members of 'SoulSpace' will be kicking off contributions by a special service of songs from the world music collection from the Iona Community. These songs of hope and commitment from South Africa, Cuba, Rwanda, Scotland, always inspire and uplift - even with my voice!

If in the area, come down to the Mela this Sunday in Peel Park, and if in the mood for spiritual music that is full of passion, then get to the Sanctuary Tent for 12 noon!

Thursday 9 June 2011

At long last, the Archbishop speaks out!

I know it must be a difficult job, being the head of such a large organisation, having to be fair to so many different perspectives from so many different parts of the globe, but I for one am glad that Rowan has finally found a voice.

The Big Society is clearly a cover for ideologically motivated cutbacks, the changes to the education and health system were not in the manifesto's of either the Tories or the Lib-Dems, so it is true to say that these policies have no democratic mandate. Rowan is understating it when he talks of anger and anxiety caused by these policies.

I was invited on to Radio Leeds to debate the matter and was rather frustrated that the media was more fascinated with the story of whether Rowan has the right to talk about politics. I guess it has been so long since he has been anything but muted on so many issues that it is understandable to some degree.

Jesus spoke out against the leaders of his day when they were mucking up society and causing injustice, of course the Church should be involved in modern political debate. The question should not be, does Rowan have the right to voice an opinion, but rather, why doesn't he do it more readily and more clearly.

It took 5 years for him to admit that war on Iraq was wrong and did more harm than good. When is he going to condemn this government for bombing the hell out of Tripoli, or announcing more spending on Trident replacement?

Still, I'm glad he's beginning to voice an opposition to the economic and social policies of the Con-Dems. He is a wise man,  and I want him to find his own voice more often. Prophetic ministry can come from the very top Rowan!

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Prayers for Syria

First it was President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, overthrown after 23 years in power. Then Hosni Mubarak lost out to the peoples power in Egypt, after 30 years of absolute control. This week President Ali Saleh looks likely to have been ousted from Yemen after 28 years.

Where will the Arab spring take root next? Libya has been brought to a complex military and political stalemate, with Gaddafi holding on for now. In Bahrain, King Hamad has shored up his power base with troops from Saudi Arabia and looks unlikely to fall. All eyes now look to Syria.

President Assad is prepared to use all the force at his disposal to stay in power. Up to 750 protesters have lost their lives already, but it looks likely that may just be the tip of the iceberg. In 1982, Bashar al-Assads father slaughtered over 10,000 protesters in the city of Hama.

Now it looks like the town of Jisr al-Shughour is preparing for horrific showdown with the army, after claims that 120 government troops were killed in the town a few days ago.

The future for the ordinary Syrian citizen looks grim, but there are signs of hope. Non-violent resistance in the country is stronger than in Yemen and Libya, this has proved to be a much better tool at dislodging the giants than simply violent insurrection. Put simply, you can't use guns against these people. They know about guns, and they very well armed. But it is the peoples outrage to the murder of children that will make them fall eventually. Assad is losing his legitimacy daily.

I pray for my Syrian friends, they have a right to live in a free and noble country. And one day, it will be insha'Allah.

Amnesty International at 50! Now lets get writing!

Last night at JustSpace a small group of us gathered to write letters for Amnesty International. For the last 6 years we have met every two months, and sat down and put pen to paper. We listened to stories of death sentences in Iraq and disappearances in Sri Lanka, then held silence for political and faith related prisoners everywhere.

The importance of the work of Amnesty International cannot be underestimated. It has changed the way the world has looked at human rights. Though it is working with political leaders and dealing with international bodies, I think it is successful primarily because it works from the grassroots up. The letter writing connects individuals and small groups to the realities of human rights abuses around the globe, and empowers them to do something about it.

Tonight there will be a meal at the Treehouse Cafe to celebrate Amnesty at 50. But more important than the fundraising and delicious meals, will be another opportunity to write letters and press governments to stop torture and abuse. Amnesty helps the people tackle the powerful, and stops governments thinking they can get away with murder. Happy birthday Amnesty, now, lets get writing!

Praise for Bradford's pioneering Palestine Solidarity Group!

At the Annual General Meeting of Bradford's Palestine Solidarity Campaign, it became clear that the local group had excelled themselves. Rukaiya Collector, of the National Executive of PSC, explained how the campaign to ask wholesalers to stop stocking Israeli goods was a groundbreaking initiative.

The Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign is a classic tactic of Non-violent direct action, and it has gained ground in the last 5 years around the issue of Israel/Palestine. Here in Bradford, activists have been asking Muslim stores to not sell Israeli dates, especially during Ramadan. The campaign has been quite effective, though there are still many stores who do not seem to care where their produce comes from, even if they recognise that they shouldn't be supporting the Israeli economy.

Rukaiya hopes that other parts of the country could follow Bradford's example, and that the BDS campaign can grow till the point that even the business community in Israel puts pressure on the Government to stop its atrocities in the occupied lands and seek a realistic peace settlement.

Things are changing, Egypt is beginning to lift restrictions on Gaza; a new wave of democratic youth movements is forcing the old Palestinian leadership to unite rather than fight amongst themselves; and the Israeli government heads towards pariah state for its killing of Palestinians and arrogant denial of human rights in the region.

Israel cannot keep playing the 'anti-semitic' card against the BDS campaign or any criticism of its policies. It needs to engage in a pragmatic and peaceful diplomacy, it needs to recognise the rights of the Palestinian people to live in peace and with dignity. We must struggle against injustice with every non-violent tool at our disposal.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Poor Kids; 'From the mouthes of babes...'

The BBC documentary on the life of kids living in low income families was completely depressing.  Poor kids from Leicester, Bradford and Glasgow told their stories of missing meals, living with illness, worrying about debt and generally feeling insecure and worthless.

The kids were amazing and articulate, putting into words the realities of life on the edge. Here, in one of the richest economies in the world, hundreds of thousands of kids live with this hell.. 1 in 6 of poor kids has considered suicide. Poor families pay over £1200 than average families on credit charges and extra fuel charges (metered). Kids live with terrible housing conditions (1 million kids live in housing considered 'unfit' to live in) and with nowhere safe to play.

The stories of the damp bedrooms brought back terrible memories of my own childhood. I recall that in one council house I lived in, my bed linen was perpetually mouldy, and I was constantly ill. But you would hope that life in 1970's Britain was significantly worse than 2010. Not true. The same problems apply today, because capitalism always ends ins a hierarchy, with the wealthy often completely ignorant of life at the bottom of the pile.

People will always find reasons to blame the poor. The Tories, the press, even the last Labour government found it easy to scapegoat the poor (though at least with Labour, the 'Surestart' programme was designed to help those with least) I hope though, that these stories, told so eloquently from these kids, cannot so easily be ignored. 'From the mouthes of babes', the truth of poverty will be heard.

Monday 6 June 2011

When the IMF are endorsing the Tories, it's time to fightback!

So, the International Monetary Fund has supported the right wing, neo-liberal agenda of the Tories? Well that is hardly surprising! Many working in the field of development have campaigned against the IMF for decades because it has always sided with the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor.

The IMF, like Cameron, have disguised their language to sound as if they really care about the most vulnerable, but in practice, their policies have continued to follow the rules of the 'Washington Consensus'. Privatisation, trade liberalisation, erosion of public services (especially health and education) and the steady decline of democracy, as power is handed over to international finance bodies and trans-nationals.

The IMF has often wrecked national economies by offering a simplistic 'one size fits all' approach in formulating their policies. They also fall short of being a model of transparency, and have become synonymous with unaccountable and undemocratic governance. There are far too many examples of destructive social and economic impacts following the imposition of IMF policies for us not to be worried about their comments regarding the UK.

Now that the IMF have endorsed Tory economic policies, it is clear that we need to redouble our efforts to resist them!

Yemen gets rid of another dictator, but what next?

President Saleh looks almost certain to be the third dictator to be ousted during the 'Arab Spring'. He left Yemen for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia two days ago, following a rocket attack on his Presidential compound, and would find it almost impossible to retain power back home.

In power for over 30 years, he has been popular with the West for his support for the 'war on terror'. It has meant that we were happy to sell him weapons to use on his own people, and were slow to condemn the horrendous attacks on protesters over the last 10  weeks.

Despite Saleh's departure, Yemen is not a successful product of non-violent revolution, and it is unclear who will fill the power vacuum. The tribal power grab is certainly not a peaceful one, and elements connected to al-Qaeda are present in some parts of the country.

What becomes clearer with each passing moment, as the Arab Spring turns to Summer, is that the gains of Tunisia and Egypt are not being replicated in Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. Each country is different, and will require different solutions.

Two common threads are these: First, the West has responsibilities to these nations based on its colonial history and modern political involvement. Put simply, our foreign policy has built up horrific dictators that we have been prepared to 'do business with'. This cannot be allowed to continue. The second common element, is about non-violence. The more the opposition groups are armed, the more likely things are to turn into prolonged bloodshed.

We need to find ways of supporting those who bravely resist the despots we have helped create. Not with bullets, but with diplomacy, targeted sanctions, international courts challenging human rights abuses, and foreign policy not based on what is best for business, but what is best for the people in those countries.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Breathing Space

I love city life, the sights and smells, the people and architecture. But city life can be tough, and we all need 'breathing space'. This has been one of the most fun aspects of the life of our 'fresh expression' of church - we have often found time to get out of the city, found time for breathing space.

Yesterday we were in the wonders of 'Henacre Woods', (bigger than an acre, and definitely no hens) and followed the woodland stream to its source, passed a lovely small set of waterfalls. It was a short walk away from the 576 bus route, and the children had a fantastic time exploring.  I held back from the group at one stage, looked up at the tree canopy, and gave thanks to God. I can't remember the last time I had done that and really meant it.

It seems to me, whether religious or not - we all desperately need to create gaps, moments in the wilderness, breathing spaces for our souls. They enable us to be thankful for the wonder of creation. These moments help make sure we don't get too lost in the unnaturalness of the built up world.

The Big Lunch V The Big Society!

Long before that evil Tory ruined the word 'Big', the Eden Project coined the event 'The Big Lunch'. It is a simple but brilliant idea - streets are encouraged to close down the roads to traffic and the neighbours are invited to eat lunch together.

Today, 'The Big Lunch' came to Ashgrove, the perpetually sunny street where Desmond Tutu House is located. We had been building up to it for months (3 months legal warning to get a road closed!) with lots of litter picks and leaflets to prepare the neighbours. The local Methodists got involved (though the Catholic Church completely failed to engage...) and the council pitched in with its neighbourhood community team.

From 12-4, all traffic was stopped, bunting went up, and tables went out on the streets. Neighbours were a little unsure at first, but the kids pestered them to come out (they could smell the face paint) but 2pm it was a roaring success, the Muslim kids playing football with the Latvian and Polish kids. The Ugandans playing 'superheroes' with my little ones.

If we provided more community space for kids to get to know one another, then the world would some be a better place.

Then the food began to pour in - with East European, African and Asian delicacies way beyond the size of the trestle tables we had borrowed from the YMCA. People living in hostels were mixing with students of electrical engineering. local homeless people came and ate their fill. It was heavenly.

'The Big Society' seems to be based on cutting down on vital resources, ending up with vulnerable people going without. 'The Big Lunch' on the other hand, is about building community from the bottom up, regaining a sense of belonging and neighbourliness. After such a heartwarming day on the street, I pretty much know which one I prefer!

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Natural Shale Gas fracking lunacy!

Go and see the film 'Gasland' (available through the fantastic 'Dogwoof' film distributors.)  It is clear that the process of 'fracking' has some disastrous effects on the environment, especially on local water supplies.

The news that it may also be responsible for low level earthquakes around Blackpool is apparently not news to the industry, where these side effects are known and predicted. I wonder if the people living nearby had been given this information before 'fracking' was started.

We have a finite planet. We simply cannot keep on squeezing all the non-renewables from the earth. our desire for more sources of energy seems to outstrip our care for the planet. I fear that the oil and gas industries are being given permission to get away with the murder in the search for new ways of keeping the old systems going.

The public need to know if the government has given permission for any other 'fracking' experiments. And we need to stop this method being used throughout the poorer parts of the world, as desperate for energy as they may well be.

If we don't stop this madness, and concentrate our 'energy' on renewables and reduction of energy consumption, then we will end up being well and truly 'fracked'.

Private care V public care

The Panorama programme showing horrific treatment of those in a private care home is not a shock to many who have worked in the sector. In the late 1980's and early 1990's I had several jobs working in residential settings, and post social work qualification, a spell working in and then running hostels for the voluntary sector.

From working with the elderly, mental health issues, learning difficulties, the homeless and those coming out of prison, I soon developed a view that the public sector was almost always the best way of providing services. Whilst there were some fantastic private/voluntary sector hostels, and some poor public sector care homes - clearly, on the whole, the private sector provided a second rate service.

Profit margins are always at the front of private sector projects, which means less staff, poorly paid and poorly trained. Where ever cuts can be made, whatever concerns about the level of care, managers implemented them with little resistance.

But it is the poor levels of monitoring that is the biggest problem, and it is this one that can allow the worst cases of abuse to happen.

Yes, the public sector was almost always the costliest way of offering provision, but this was for a reason. High levels of well trained staff and high levels of monitoring. Good care cost money.

Often the private sector not only cuts corners but also syphons off huge amounts of public sector funding for providing the services, money that ends up in the pockets of owners and company directors of these care homes.

I remember once walking out of a job in a private sector care home for people with learning difficulties. One of the patients had been flinging excrement at the other patients in the TV lounge. Though the incident had happened much earlier in the day, none of the staff had been bothered to deal with it, leaving it to the night staff to clean up. It was horrible and degrading for all those having to live in those conditions. I had witnessed some awful sights over the previous 3 weeks, but it was for me the final straw and I quit that night

Public sector care has been much derided since the Thatcher era, but I for one have witnessed enough to say; I'd rather our governments spent less on bombs and city centre water features, and more on decent public sector provision for the most vulnerable in society.