Every day, hungry and homeless, 120 people pass through the doors of Newcastle’s People’s Kitchen.
Thirty years after being founded in the kitchen of a Heaton home, trustees say the service – which receives no council or Government funding – is more needed than ever.
But having created a community around their business, they say they need more volunteers “to feed the organisation so that it can feed the people.”
“People know of us, but its one of those things where people in some way seem to forget about us,” said trustee Colin Herron, who became involved with the charity after a talk at his daughter’s school.
“Yes at Christmas and harvest time we are very much in people’s consciousness, but the rest of the time we can slip out of it. Yet in February, or June, we are still badly needed.”
The People’s Kitchen was founded in 1985 following an Evening Chronicle story of a man whose body had been found in bushes on wasteland in Newcastle.
Deeply saddened on hearing that someone had passed away alone and unnoticed, grandmother Alison Kay, then 75, decided to do something to support the hungry, homeless and disadvantaged, and took it upon herself to make soup and sandwiches from her home in Heaton.
She also went to the city centre to sit with hungry and lonely men, some of whom also had alcohol-related problems.
In time she helped to break down their barriers of mistrust and more and more people came as word spread, and when two friends joined forces with Alison, the People’s Kitchen was born.
We haven’t yet ordered our coffee and already Shirley Ford, a school administrator and lead campaigner for the North East Green Party, is racing through her lines.
“As of this morning, we had 22 candidates selected with another five possibles,” she says, as we find seats at a quiet South Shields seaside cafe.
“But things are changing so rapidly now. If you had asked me before Christmas, I would have told you something entirely different. We are a small party, we don’t have much money so it is all about candidates’ enthusiasm.”
She seems nervous, but it is an extraordinary time for the Greens. The so-called surge is in full swing.
Calls for Natalie Bennett to be included in the TV leaders’ debates intensified until the dam broke and broadcasters changed their stance in what has been celebrated as a watershed moment for the party. Now, after 20 years on the sidelines, the region’s handful of Green councillors find themselves in the spotlight and, sometimes, the firing line.
“Yes, but that is exactly what we wanted – to be taken seriously,” said Shirley.
And, it seems, times are changing. The party in the region has tripled its number of parliamentary candidates since 2010 and, Shirley, who is sporting a fern green jumper and matching coat, does not by any means predict a win, but she is brimming with optimism.
“Five years ago, we ran just seven candidates and that tells you where local parties’ strength was at,” she says, with a wry smile.
“We stood someone in South Shields, Gateshead, the three Newcastle seats, Tynemouth and Wansbeck. This time round we are looking at standing candidates in all but two seats. We might struggle to stand in Sunderland but things are changing every day.
“We didn’t think that Blyth Valley would have a candidate but suddenly we have had some key people joining there that have made it possible for members to select.”
The media glare, she says, is winning the party support but the Greens’ operation on the ground is gathering strength.
“I think that national and local media does make a difference as to what people think something is happening,” she said. “We don’t have very much money. It is up for members of each local party to raise the money for their deposit and for any research or materials.
“We have to be creative. We don’t have the resources to go and knock on everyone’s door or to carry out a poll of the constituency, but we are doing what we can.”
Shirley, who will stand in South Shields, was an organiser for the local Stop The War Coalition and has lobbied government as part of the Women in Black campaign against injustice, war and militarism.
“I joined the Green Party 11 years ago but I grew up in a family interested in politics,” she said. “I campaigned against apartheid when I was a student and I was always interested in human rights.”
She says people are finding the party via the Greens petitioning on specific issues, such their campaign against the Newcastle/Gateshead One Core Strategy, which could allow for homes to be built on greenbelt.
Greens are renowned for their passion for the environment and so have been smart in joining with organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage to organisation clean-ups.
But what does it all add up to? Where does she think the Green Party will do well in the North East?
“Newcastle East is one to watch – we have been focussing campaign work in the Heaton area and we are very active in Jesmond,” she said.
“We campaigned during local elections on local issues, including on transport and housing. We have been in that area for two or three years building that campaign level up.
“We have been championing more affordable housing and we have seen a good response in the Newcastle North area. I think in Northumberland, in Hexham and Berwick, we will do well. The two parties wanted to link up on energy campaigning issues, such as the Druridge Bay opencast coal mining campaign.
“There has been a lot of – what’s the word – a lot of synergy. They have been linking up on local issues that they are passionate about and I think that comes across.
“We want people to get the message across we want renewable energy projects that are small scale that are not going to be having such a huge impact.”
While it isn’t likely the Greens can unseat the former Labour Minister Nick Brown in Newcastle East, it shows which demographic supports the Greens – students.
“In Durham, the party had been quite dormant but in the county council local elections we stood 15 candidates and we came second in the City of Durham division of Neville’s Cross,” she said.
“A good number of student residents live there. We also did well in other wards in the city where there is a high proportion of students.
“We have maintained the momentum that that gave us.”
So, the Green Party is relying on the region’s student vote?
“That is part of the strategy, to engage students and to encourage students to stand. Some of our parliamentary candidates are students. Middlesbrough and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland are students, while others are Young Greens.”
The Greens are also popular among socialists after announcing the party would scrap Trident, renationalise railways and offer everyone a single payment ‘citizens income’, though the party has yet to set out exactly how that will be paid for.
> Well, just scrapping Trident alone would save around £1.5 BILLION a year, not to mention the plans to spend over £100 billion on a replacement for Trident.
But, Peter Pinkney, the President of the RMT Union, is standing for the party in Redcar as a result, proclaiming that “the Greens are now the party of the left.”
Shirley said the move was welcome news:
“Peter has been a member for quite a long time now and he spoke at the Green Party conference 18 months ago on the whole railway issue. The national part is very excited about it.
“It is really exciting.”
It comes as the Greens announce membership nationally has grown by 120% this year. Now, their leader will share a platform with David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
“It gives people a sense of a change and there might well be a place for a smaller party,” said Shirley.
“This lets people hear our policies and gives people a chance to make their own mind up.
“Last time, we imported the American presidential debate but that isn’t how our system works. You vote for your local candidate on policies and the debates last time didn’t reflect that.”
And it is on local issues that the Greens stand to make the most ground in this election.
The Coal Authority has granted licences for companies to explore parts of the North coast to see if underground coal gasification is possible.
The Green Party is mobilising its forces and it is when talking about this that Shirley is most animated.
“We are going to campaign on this off-the-coast, underground coal gasification because this issue has been bubbling along,” she said.
“We are keeping an eye out to see if there are any actual planning applications for anything onshore for both the drilling rigs and the processing plants.
“The argument that is always made is that we have got to have jobs – jobs jobs jobs – but they don’t think about the jobs that will be put at risk, such as tourism jobs and fishing jobs.”
Shirley is keen for the party not to be seen as an extension of eco-charities but as a party with a social agenda.
“We have petitions on particular issues in lots of places,” she said.
“Here in South Tyneside we have a schools campaign to bring back glass bottles and in Jarrow we have a petition to save the walk-in centre.
“We are trying to find solutions to the things that really matter to people.”
Winning in a region where Labour is so strong will be tough. On this issue, Shirley found herself agreeing with the leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, who branded the North East a “one-party state” ruled by Labour.
Shirley says because of this dominance by the big parties, the Greens’ long game will be to campaign on voting reform.
“It is sad,” she said “It is partly our electoral system. All of the focus is on those marginal seats and if you are in a safe seat then you are very much taken for granted.
“That is one of the things we want to change.”
She added: “In 2010, a lot of people in the North East told us that they support Green but that they were going to vote Labour because of fear that the Tories could get in.
“Well, the Tories did get in anyway.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 11 Feb 2015
Foodbank organisers have opened what is believed to be Newcastle’s first free clothes shop.
Set up in a church in Heaton, Newcastle, the Clothes Store has a stockroom full of warm winter coats, baby and children’s clothes and mens and womens outfits.
After the success of the East End Foodbank, which helps around 70 people a week, religious leaders have said people in the community are still in need and have now turned their attention to making sure people have enough warm clothes to get them through the winter.
> the success of the East End Foodbank – you might think that the very need for a foodbank is very much a lack of success.
Vikki Gosling from Walker, said:
“I have come to the church before to get two winter coats for my kids after a teacher at school mentioned it. A lot of people say they would dare, and ask how can you ‘embarass yourself’ but if it’s for your kids you’ll do it.”
The region’s first clothes bank, mirroring the way a foodbank runs, was set up in Durham City in October.
Senior pastor Julia Lawton, of the Elim Pentecostal Church on Heaton Road, said she was really keen to set up the store to help people in a time of crisis after running a successful ‘coats for kids’ scheme locally.
“For the clothes store we are trusting people. They will get a voucher and they will be allowed three items per person. If someone says they have a family of six people, then we would need to meet all six people.
“Some people don’t always qualify for things like the foodbank or official help, but they might be out of work. I’ve got one man whose has got two jobs and is struggling to make ends meet. We gave him a coat for his one year old son, and a whole sack of toys because he couldn’t afford them himself.
“There’s no need for anyone to be embarrassed. Most people at some point in their lives need help. It might not always need to be financial.”
The clothes are all of good quality and have been donated by church members and the local community and have been washed before going on display.
A toybank is also being set up after a local man put out an appeal on Facebook and collected dozens of second hand toys in good condition from people living in Heaton and Byker.
Vikki, who has had her benefits sanctioned with just weeks until Christmas, was able to pick up some gifts for her two young children.
“They will be absolutely buzzing to see what they’ve got,” said Vikki, who said she has struggled to find a job.
“When they told me what they wanted this year, I had to just say ‘you know you won’t get all that’. In the past they have asked a lot for presents at Christmas, but they know now that I just can’t afford it.
“I’ll be back with my own donation though, I’ll bring my size 8 clothes down from before I had my children to see if anyone else can use them.”
The Clothes Store will run on the third Thursday of every month between 2.30pm and 4.30pm at Elim Pentecostal Church in the former Heaton bingo hall on Heaton Road. The first one however opens today to give people a chance to have a look before Christmas.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Dec 2014
Families staged a ‘messy march’ in Newcastle against cuts that could see a £5m reduction in funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres.
The figure amounts to about a 65% of the total budget for the service.
Protesters say if the proposal went through it could mean the city’s most vulnerable families would be left without childcare and vital support.
A series of themed protests – including a ‘teddy bear’s picnic’ – have been staged in recent weeks, and organiser Vanessa Cutter, 32, explained the thinking around Saturday’s event at Grey’s Monument.
The mum-of-three of Fenham, Newcastle, said:
“A messy march is a child centred protest march where children do what they do best – make a mess and be noisy.
“It serves several purposes – we want to show the council that we are willing to take action, demonstrate and fight against their proposed 65% cuts to Sure Start services.
“We want to show them that if they close two thirds of centres then the city’s children will have nowhere to go.
“The council seems keen to invest lots of money in businesses and the city centre, but if that comes at the cost of children’s services then we will have to play in the areas they do invest in.”
All of Newcastle’s 20 Sure Start centres are now up for review as city councillors iron out their final budget proposals for the year 2014/2015.
Many councils across the North are struggling to make similar savings – or cuts – including Middlesbrough.
Mayor Ray Mallon announced in January £14.9m of cuts – in addition to more than £40m removed from the council’s budget over the last three years – will lead to the loss of around 300 jobs. Amongst departments are children’s services.
Sure Start was a Labour flagship policy from 1998, its aim was “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development.
In Newcastle 50% of the services are delivered by the council and 50% by the Community and Voluntary Sector. The city council has estimated for the work it directly delivers, the cuts will equate to the loss of 63 full time equivalent posts.
The protestors say the proposals, if carried out, will see the budget slashed by £5m by 2016. This would mean the closure of services, buildings, parents groups and activities for children aged under five across the city.
Mum-of-two Anna Snaith, 28, of Heaton said:
“I am very upset that two out of three options for the future of services in my area include completely closing down the Ouseburn Family Centre which I regularly attend.
“The team there are fantastic and offer so much support to parents as well as children in a wide range of areas. The centre, like all Sure Start centres, promote health and well being for all families which is vital for communities. These services are the future for our children therefore I cannot understand how closing down any of them can be an option at all for our council!”
A council spokesman said previously:
“The city council is facing a considerable financial challenge, to find £100m in savings between 2013 and 2016.
“We share people’s concerns about the future of our Sure Start centres – they provide an important and well-loved service to families across the city – but the severity of the cuts leaves us with no choice but to consider further reductions.
“Nothing has been decided yet and we will be asking people to have their say with a big public consultation in September.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 13 Sept 2014
Scots are heading to the polls later this month to decide on the possibility of independence.
But one Newcastle man thinks the borders of any new country should be redrawn – south of the Tyne.
Andrew Gray, a member of the Green Party, has launched a petition that he hopes could lead to a referendum which could see Newcastle vote to leave England.
While the eyes of the nation have been on Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, Mr Gray, who lives in Heaton, believes the independence debate should extend beyond the Scottish borders.
Distance from London, tuition fees, the rising cost of social care and the privatisation of the NHS are among a hat-trick of reasons Mr Gray believes Newcastle should join Scotland.
“Many people in the North East feel distant from our government in Westminster, both economically and politically.
“The Scottish Parliament has proved that different ways of running public services are possible, including an NHS without the internal market, higher education without tuition fees, and, if there’s a yes vote in the referendum, defence without the threat of Trident.
“We therefore call on the UK Government to grant a referendum to all who live north of Hadrian’s Wall, or in Newcastle and North Tyneside council areas.
“We would choose whether to remain in England or to join Scotland.
“We call on the Government to arrange and fund this referendum, and to be bound by the result.”
Dr Alistair Clark, a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, said the idea was “interesting” but that Scotland is unlikely to expand.
He said feelings of neglect by Westminster have helped lead to the Scottish independence debate as well as devolved power for Northern Ireland and Wales, and those are shared by the region.
“It’s an interesting idea and obviously there’s a lot of sympathy and shared feeling and a lot of links between Scotland and the North of England.
“The issue that it points to is that the north has not been well-governed from Westminster.”
But he added:
“I do not think anyone has interest in moving the border. I don’t really think Scotland wants to add stacks of territory and I don’t really think England would want to give it up.
“There is no political will behind this and you would need considerable political will to make this move.”
The referendum on Scottish independence is due to take place on September 18.
> Why stop at the north bank of the Tyne ? Extend the Scottish border to the north bank of the Tees !
Source – Newcastle Journal, 01 Sept 2014