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An unsure start

11 Feb

locked-doorEarlier this week I read George Monbiot’s encouraging piece about rebuilding society from the ground upwards. Crammed with examples of positive initiatives that local communities had devised and implemented themselves, the piece provided a glimmer of hope showing normal people taking control and making a difference, slowly healing fractured communities and as a result building tolerance, inclusivity and empathy in their local area. A powerful legacy: what that comes down to is making the everyday world a more palatable place. And doing this breeds enthusiasm to do it more. As Monbiot puts it, “a dense, participatory culture that becomes attractive and relevant to everyone rather than mostly to socially active people with time on their hands”.

And then, then, only hours later, it’s back to the usual frustration as I read a piece about the accelerating pace of Sure Start Centre closures. Now, these are not community initiatives, but they are initiatives designed to help the community, so their closure runs in direct contradiction to the hope-filled narrative that supporting people at grassroots level will generate greater returns and build a community that people living there can be proud of.

It’s not a direct correlation, Monbiot’s concept of rebuilding society and Sure Start, but it’s close enough to be a tangible example of the consistent lack of focus from the current government on supporting people to make change within the minutiae of their lives which will be magnified to much greater change as time passes. When I lived in Walthamstow through the dizzying disorientation of a first baby, social activities organised by Sure Start provided an excuse to leave the house that I didn’t have to find the wherewithal to arrange myself; and I know that for many the organisation performed way more crucial roles than that. For people who don’t have family support in the vinicity, or an urban family to fulfil the same safety network role; for people who are struggling with trying to do the right thing in any aspect of childrearing; for those whose questions need personal not generic answers; or even for those who need to sit and nurse somewhere accepting that isn’t their own home, Sure Start was invaluable.

And now, with 350 centres closed since 2010 and a mere eight new ones opening; well, it’s clear that the support for so many adults at the start of a brand new lifestage, and children at the start of a brand new life, simply is no longer there.

This again symbolises the lack of attention to the vulnerable which is becoming the hallmark, probably the most lasting legacy, of our current government. The DfE says they are ‘committed to giving children a good start’, and claim that they are ‘investing a record £6bn in childcare per year by 2020 [which] includes extra support for disadvantaged families’, but if Sure Start is scaled back, and there is no sign of anything specific being implemented to take its place, what does this look like? The evidence – or lack of any – points to yet more empty words, and another void in communities at crucial lifestages.

 

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Horton Hears A Who-am-I-to-be-silent?

30 Jan

horton-hears-a-who-am-i-to-be-silent

I’ve not written on this blog for ages and ages. 

I’ve not written because I have been angry for a really long time, and so the urge to write has left me. This is because writing about what has made me angry will make me more angry about it; or writing about other things that still exist that don’t make me angry feels like fiddling while Rome burns. 

I haven’t simply been angry. I’m sad too, very sad. We will be the next generation that has to apologise to its children for the catastrophic disastrous mess, the ongoing motorway pile up of decision making that’s leaving our country, the services we hold dear, the principles our country is supposed to uphold, unrecognisable, decimated. And the same thing is happening globally on a scale which looks set to wreak even greater, perhaps irreversible, havoc. I have been uncomfortable that I have been inarticulate, but I have had nothing to say that has felt like it could address the torrent of horror unfolding, flowing into the future.

And as I say, it’s not just anger. A lot of the time what the news tells me leads to a sadness that creeps underneath celebrations and erodes the ordinary joys of life. Even feeding the birds in the garden, watching them devour what I give them to stave off winter starvation, has made me despair. What’s the point of supporting nature, I have thought, if the leader of the (allegedly) free world is a climate change denier with our own unelected Prime Minister in his pocket? They’ll die out soon as the ice caps melt and the air quality plummets (did I mention I was mired in negativity?); am I simply prolonging the inevitable?

This weekend, though, was a watershed for me. I need to fight through the silence. A wise friend asked me why I was not writing; I explained; she pointed out that now more than ever all voices, however minor and inconsequential (like mine – I have no illusions!), should be raised. No voice should stay silent against the rising tide of all that’s wrong.

In the shower, I thought about this. And a little sentence from a little book came into my head. Dr Seuss’s ‘Horton Hears a Who‘ – which is of course the story of the oppression of a minority group – the Whos, dwelling in miniscule Whoville – by a more powerful group, the Wickersham Brothers (this tale is ringing curious bells), a virtually voiceless group only heeded by one individual (the elephant Horton) who is himself oppressed and tortured for his support of the Whos (allegory alert!!) – has this sentence towards the end, as the Mayor of Whoville exhorts his citizens to action:

“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!” 

It’s the participation of the single previously silent Who that makes sure the Wickersham Brothers hear the cries of Whoville. The Wickersham Brothers change their tack; they view Whoville as a town of living things and vow to protect them, those who are more vulnerable than they are but who have the same unequivocable right to life.

Okay, so I’m not Horton. It’s difficult to stand up as one person with no involvement in the workings of the political classes, and even less influence. I’m not very brave at all.

But I cannot be the single silent participant, however quiet my voice alone may be. I have to be an honorary Who. I have to raise my voice along with the other voices trying to be heard protesting against the horrors unfolding around us daily, until, like the Whos, there is a loud enough chorus to be heard. Time to be silent no longer.