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Piggy in the Middle

Remember the game? The “pig” stands between two people who throw a ball to each other and (if you’re the pig) you hope to intercept it so that the person who threw it becomes pig.
Simple and fun except when it comes to organisations throwing the ball and you are trying to communicate with them! Often communications don’t work that well, pigs squeal about it, so organisations have come up with a new ploy. They appoint another organisation to throw the ball, usually a new voluntary organisation with a developmental and monitoring role with a remit to both improve communication and build things like resilience, community and coherence (in the pig). That sort of thing.
Well, I can see the point, giving a new organisation the job of doing something you don’t do as well as you’d like to because resources are tight and communications and development are lower down the priority list. But does it work?
Well I now experience this in each of the volorgs I work with and so far it doesn’t feel any better (although in one case the new volorg has not really stated yet). One of the problems is that the new pig has to have a role of their own which creates another link in a chain which is already too long and having created the link, that issue becomes the focus (how do you like my driving/check-out/response times?). When what you want is an answer! This makes things more elusive and part of the gathering organisational miasma. But I’m hoping the clouds will part and soon everything will be come clear……..now, where did I put that ball?

Sports Direct and the NHS: suitable cases for treatment?

Sports Direct and the NHS: suitable cases for treatment?

Sports Direct has been under the cosh recently for paying less than the minimum wage. That’s bad but it’s not just them, it’s the NHS as well. And this is preventing refugees taking vital places on apprenticeship schemes to become Clinical Support Workers.
To date more than 30 refugees at Leeds University Hospital have completed our Hidden Talents programme (where the minimum wage IS paid) and for the first time they now are off benefits and in jobs vital to the NHS. A great result!
But we have tried to repeat the project in Hull, Sheffield and Leicester without success, because on the same apprentice scheme these hospitals pay £3.50 per hour.
None of our customers can afford this, and we wouldn’t ask them to. We have been directed to benefit offices to top up these miserable wages but this represents yet another hurdle for people who are desperate to do a great job for the NHS and be paid a living wage to train, a win-win if there ever was one!

We know the NHS is strapped for cash but it’s paying silly money to private recruitment agencies for nurses, wasting money that could be used to pay proper wages and allow us to provide more nurses to the NHS through Hidden Talents! Our plan is to recruit 400 over the next 3 years!

We want Health Education England to direct Trusts to pay at least the minimum wage, and if they won’t, the Government should intervene to close this loophole that too many Trusts in the NHS are happy to squeeze through.

Please use any or all of this to write to print/broadcast or social media,or MPs

Raise a storm, Alabama style!

Memories of Monica (not her real name)

After 5 weeks of a 2 week stay (!) Monica is leaving for her new home. She came to us as a destitute asylum-seeker having failed in her application to the Home Office and had to re-apply for accommodation and support (which she now has…somewhere). If all that sounds odd, try reading Section 44 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, it does explain it but not in a way I could explain it to you or Monica, it’s a real muddle and in the middle of the muddle is Monica.
This process of destitution happens regularly and that’s why Malvern Open Homes has recruited hosts to make their home available (free of charge) for a short period while things get resolved.
Monica is pleased to have this sorted but is sad to go. She says people in Malvern have been so kind to her and have shown her such love and care. She is very grateful and weepy about it all and it can’t feel good that she will be picked-up and taken to a new town and new home somewhere she may or may not know anyone.
We are glad she stayed with us and know she was in a desperate state 5 weeks ago, she has been a perfect guest, helping where she can and accepting all the kind invitations to meals and sightseeing. In 14 years living in UK she never experienced the countryside and likes it a lot.
Monica has a quiet fortitude (supported by a lot of praying) that gets her through from one day to the next. But beyond that nothing is clear nor settled and as an older person, this must be very hard.
We hope she will get some security but doubt if it will be soon.

Exiting Europe and Welcoming Migrants

The only negotiating position to have with the EU is to exit and leave. It does not have to mean that we do, but it’s clear that the EU will not move unless a very strong resolution is presented. This has always been my view, and I hope it’s Mrs May’s.

For me the hard-ball is to be played over migration because whatever people like to think, the facts on migration all point in one direction, fiscal benefit. David Lammy MP in The European used some very robust statistics in his article (13th January)

“A recent study published by the Economist showed that between 1995 and 2011 migrants made a positive contribution of more than £4 bn to Britain, compared with an overall negative contribution of £591bn for native Britons” This really does seem to nail the lie that it’s migrants who slum it on benefits, they don’t, we do!

Even the most reviled “economic migrants” from Eastern Europe make a major input, ” Between 2001 and 2011 the net fiscal contribution of recent arrivals from the eastern European countries who have joined the EU since 2004 has amounted to £5bn ….even during the financial crisis 2007-2011 their net contribution was £2bn” (Migrants from the rest of Europe added £8.6bn). These figures show the net contribution of people who come here to work and pay their taxes and stay away from the benefits system. Not all do but it’s clear that if our record was a patch on those of migrants we wouldn’t have any problem funding our public services! I’m not saying they should but it’s certainly not a problem we can blame on migrants.

And the truth is, that halting or limiting or managing migration will make this situation much worse. I hope Mrs May is listening!

Sanctuary in Parliament

There were about 200 groups shoe-horned into Committee Room 14 with presentations from organisations ( like Amnesty, Refugee Council and Freed Voices) and individuals, who were almost all refugees.
Most was good and moving and one piece sung! I’m delighted that refugees have not yet discovered “Power Point” and there was only one PP from Hay (who do Sanctuary Breaks see below) which displayed all the downsides including reading out each slide to the accompaniment of an entirely different one! Luckier delegates than me got to see their MP for a pre-arranged visit and discussion about the importance of Sanctuary and the Government’s important role.; mine was detained by “Ministerial commitments”
I tweeted merrily and got lots of likes but due to the rather cramped surroundings and people choosing not to wear their sticky badges it was hard to find people who I wanted to link with.
The main issues were well summed up at the beginning by the excellent Thangam Debonnaire MP for Bristol who kept speakers to their allotted time and jollied everyone along.


Mazen
(refugee) said “We are here for peace and safety and a new life. We hope to go back to our country”

Steve (Amnesty) talked about UK pitiful record for family reunification. (Children once here, have no right -as adults do- to invite their families to join them). Looks like Family Reunion will be a big campaign next year.
Fardous ( a translator who had worked with children) said “the happiest moment of my life was when I saw the children reach safety in the UK”. But she said there was so much more to do.
Dave (Smith) from BOAZ discussed the plight of refugees and asylum seekers made destitute by the 28 day rule and the arbitrary working of the tribunal system. He said how important hosting schemes, such as Refugees at Home, are.
Johnathan (Red Cross) said that they had dealt with over 3000 cases of destitution already this year. The numbers were rising fast. As he said “We must make the case for protection and support”
Brecon, Hay and Talgarth with the “aid” of power point described their brilliant Sanctuary Breaks. They have done a lot and involve groups for a day in all the activities of their towns and villages including 3 square meals which always get eaten!
Wakefield were teaching British cooking skills ( that got a laugh) but refugees in West Yorkshire are now proficient in the dark-art of the perfick Yorkshire pud.
Maleka (Leicester) read two lovely but sad poems about war and fear. “The day you killed me with it, you told me the gun would be my best friend”.

 
Sohil
and others talked about the paucity of legal aid and the problems it caused.
Amir (Freed Voices) described just how extreme our detention system is. “It is indeterminate and feels like a prisoner with a life sentence. It is so violent and hostile that it marks you forever”. He was told “What-ever happens here, stays here; no-one can hear your voice”  An ugly sentiment reminding me of the Nazi Concentration Camps.

So it was both a sombre and happy occasion and good on City of Sanctuary for organising it. Like the best events it gave real voice to their customers who took the opportunity with both hands doleing out both plaudits and brickbats (and it’s clear we have alot of improving to do before we can claim any heavy-lifting medals in this area)

It felt honest and authentic and well worth it; thanks City of Sanctuary!

Dawn’s Hope and Humiliation

I met Dawn* recently and knew that she had received some good news. She had achieved “leave to stay” in the UK. Dawn is a customer of Growing Points, a charity that seeks to meet the ambitions of people from excluded communities. Dawn’s ambition is to become a nurse and getting her “remain” will allow her onto the NHS apprentice nursing programme that Growing Points have set up with the help of the Leeds NHS Trust, Health Education England and our referral partner, City of Sanctuary. A real achievement and getting leave to remain (albeit for only 30 months) has taken time and many, many disappointments. How long has this taken? I asked, expecting to hear 3 or 4 years maybe 5; but it’s taken 17 years! Just think what you were doing 17 years ago it was before 9/11, Tony Blair was still PM and George Bush squeaked in with those hanging chads even Tiger Woods was winning….. a long time ago!
And that’s not because Dawn hasn’t tried and she’s not been supported, but there have been far too many frustrated tribunal appearances with arbitrary postponements, solicitors who cared too little to turn up, and confusing and incomprehensible decision-making, to see this as justice being done to a satisfactory standard, far from it.
Anyway, moving on at least Dawn can now start the apprentice programme and as soon as she does she will be paid, and for the first time she will be able to support her family, something about which she is immensely proud (and grateful). And perhaps because she’s on the programme her benefits, all benefits, will be stopped with “no recourse to public funds” Fair enough you may say, she’s got a job, so why not? Well, this process which has worked so slowly over the past 17 years broke into a sweat, cancelled Dawn’s money so that she has now no money and won’t have any until her papers are registered by the end of this week and her DRS comes through so that she can sign on to the course; then her pay will start. So Growing Points has given her some money to tide her over, a payment for which she is very grateful; as she is for the reconditioned lap- top she has been given in order to be able to undertake her studies. But why is it that all this running to support a woman who is clearly ambitious and competent, left to voluntary organisations and why does the bureaucracy work so slowly to prevent this happening and act with such speed when money is to be cut, all of which frustrates and humiliates the recipient? Why not sort these issues out and let people work; it’s what they want to do and what we want them to do…. isn’t it?
Dawn will, I’m sure, overcome all these humiliations and be completely successful in achieving her ambition and be a great nurse; but couldn’t the State be a lot more helpful?
And just in case you think this is all water under the bridge, Dawn’s ID card which recognised her right to remain bears the words “No Public Benefit”; that must make her feel absolutely great!
A case of a triumph of hope over humiliation!

*Not her real name

Ticking Boxes: how do you measure success?

How do you measure success? At Growing Points we say that our success is achieving ambitions. Wartime Churchill, asked rhetorically about his ambition answered with one word; Victory! Hard to achieve but easy to measure.
In our less heroic times the Charity Commission asks us to ensure our Annual Report is outcome based and increasingly both government and industry are asked to confront the “So What?” question in justifying their results. Never mind the impressive profits and the big offices; what changed as a result of your stewardship?
We think it’s simple too; our customers tell us their ambition ( we even call them outcomes) and we hang on in until they are met. If we do we succeed and if we don’t we fail. Simple; but is there a chance that by concentrating on the aim we miss something more important?
Recently,  Malvern Welcomes organised a Syrian-themed community meal. It was a lovely event, attended by 70 or so concerned people to raise the profile of our ambition to welcome Syrian refugees and raise some money to help them, and we did both ( ticked the boxes!)
But the undoubted star-turn was S, an Afghani  who talked to us about how it felt to be a refugee in UK and why the reception we are planning is so important. He had left Kabul as a child when “quite suddenly people started firing guns at each other” and arrived destitute and alone in Coventry. He learned English, got a job and finished his education and he now helps organisations like ours prepare to receive refugees. The response to his presentation was unequivocal, we all agreed that he was a fantastic advert for refugees everywhere!
He exuded humility and confidence and a sense of ease which everyone found both reassuring and up-lifting. There was absolutely no ‘box to tick’ that would cover that but he certainly played a vital role in buoying us up in our belief that we were on the right track and we’re making a difference.
And everyone who works as Guardians for Growingpoints could tell you of similar feelings of humbling and breathtaking determination to achieve change and make a difference by our customers. It’s ultimately what drives us to go the extra mile with people who have already travelled many hundreds.
S reminded us that at the front of every refugee’s mind is the determination to have their children live in security. They are prepared to risk everything to achieve that ambition. That is very understandable to me and why Growingpoints are proud to be prioritising  our work with refugees this year.
I hope we will be successful.

Real people, real win-win!

This weekend, three of my Growing Points customers are working hard to slay the dragon of the NHS application form. They are 3 of 11 refugee women who are hoping to take the Nursing Apprentice programme  to become Clinical Support workers under a scheme Growing points has established with the help of Leeds Hospital, Health Education England and City of Sanctuary. That is where they hope to arrive in a year’s time and, if they wish, they can graduate onto a course which will ultimately give them registration.

Sitting in Starbucks at Leeds station ( my Northern office!) with each one of them, made me experience once again how important to them our Hidden Talents programme is. It’s not just a job and a qualification, important as they are but it is positively life changing and an opportunity they are desperate to grasp to change their life and social status in this country; to somebody who has made it!
Each one has no shortage of experience to put into their Personal Statement, they have not let the grass grow under their feet over the years whist they wait for the lottery of limited opportunities and the promise of a better life to bear fruit. It’s so impressive and humbling to be part of helping make this small change for us, massive change for them.
As the time for my train south arrives and passes 3 then 4 times I realise a whole afternoon has gone but who wouldn’t give any amount of time and support to those thirsty for this opportunity to break out?
Another Guardian helping on the programme puts it much better
“I just want to thank you  for getting me involved in such a fantastic project at Leeds, with all those inspiring women! It was just the right thing at the right time for me, and I really feel very privileged to be involved…..I shall enjoy being part of it as it progresses.”
And it’s such a good model, the Hospital employs , Health Education England pays for the training, Growing Points provide 1-2-1 support and we hope at the end we have 11 formally qualified customers and the NHS gets more nurses. 
Real people, real win-win!

Bonnie Bute

If anyone has been involved in trying to get a local community behind Welcoming Refugees, you’ll know how important  leadership is, especially in the local press. Often the Press is cautious and craven, worrying about advertising revenue and providing a “balanced view” of contentious issues.
 So it has been really good to read about the heartwarming invitation  by the Island of Bute  to 80 Syrian refugees who have recently arrived on its windswept shores. They must be feeling a long way from home but the work that concerned local people  have done to make them feel welcome is nothing short of magnificent.
But the very best is the leadership shown by the editor of the Local paper Craig Boland who, recognising that not every one on Bute agreed with the move said in his editorial : “There have, predictably but depressingly, been grumbles about how we should look after our own first, how we should be spending our taxes and so on. But mostly these are just not-very-thinly-veiled ways of people saying ‘I don’t want them in my back yard’. Well, I do. I want Bute to be a place where people who come here with little more than the clothes they are standing in can feel safe and at home. I want Bute to be a place known not for narrow-minded bigotry, but for its warmth, and humanity, and willingness to help people with nothing in whatever way it can.”
You can’t ask better than that!