Tagged: Northumbria University

NE solicitors to join nationwide boycott over legal aid cuts

Solicitors in the North East will join a nationwide boycott that could see criminal courts grind to a halt.

Lawyers in the region have backed an unprecedented protest over the government’s cut to legal aid, which comes into force today.

They said a planned 8.75% cut to the publicly funded criminal legal aid budget was “uneconomic” and “unsustainable”.

Mass meetings of solicitors and barristers who specialise in criminal work were originally held in Liverpool but later also in Newcastle, London, Manchester, Leeds, and other cities.

All agreed not to take on any legal aid cases as of today, but will continue to do duty work to avoid breaching their contract.

Legal aid is the help given to people that may not otherwise afford their own lawyers and is a big source of income for many firms.

Solicitors in the Northumbria area, which includes, Newcastle, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead, have backed the nationwide action after they held a meeting at Northumbria University on Monday night.

Lewis Pearson, deputy vice-president of the Newcastle Law Society and partner at Pearson Caulfield solicitors, in Newcastle, said the boycott was a last-ditch effort to save legal aid.

Full story :  http://northstar.boards.net/thread/164/solicitors-join-nationwide-boycott-legal

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Scottish referendum saw a boom in border inspired art works

Art works inspired by the border between England and Scotland blossomed around the referendum, a North East based academic has claimed.

Northumberland’s cultural and social relationship with Scotland was enriched by political events, according to Northumbria University Professor of Art History, Ysanne Holt, and she hopes the focus on the ‘borderland’ area continues for a long time to come.

Prof. Holt, who studies the cultural landscape of the Anglo-Scottish border region, said:

 “The referendum clearly drew sharp attention to this region and its cultural identity, and let’s hope the focus remains. The events of last year caused valuable reflection on the longstanding interconnections across the border, fostering for many a sense of wanting to develop further collaborations, not just in terms of shared resources such as tourism, forestry, roads, rail and so on, but in the arts and culture as well.”

Full Story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/69/scottish-referendum-border-inspired-works

 

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Election Candidates urged to back pledges on homelessness

A North-East think-tank is calling on parliamentary candidates to support a series of pledges to tackle the region’s homelessness crisis.

Research by the North East Homelessness Think Tank (NEHTT) has shown that many more people are at risk of homelessness today than at the time of the last general election in 2010, and that the numbers of people falling victim to homelessness are rising.

These trends are particularly worrying because of recent changes to housing and welfare policies and potential plans for further cuts to public spending.

NEHTT, of which Northumbria University is a founding member, is asking candidates to sign up to its charter to support specific action by the next Government.

NEHTT is a regional group comprising academics, researchers and policy officers.

Key partners include Northumbria University, Youth Homeless North East, Homeless Link, Shelter, Barnardo’s, Northern Housing Consortium, Changing Lives, IPPR North, Oasis Aquila Housing and the NE Regional Homelessness Group, as well as independent specialists.

The pledges are:

*Appropriate housing with adequate support services will be provided for vulnerable people making access to sufficient social housing a priority.

*Housing benefit will be retained for under 25s

*It will be compulsory to find settled accommodation for offenders leaving prison or who are homeless within the community.

*All houses in multiple occupation and B&Bs which cater for homeless people will be inspected and must provide good quality facilities.

The statutory definition of homelessness will be improved by ensuring that all forms of homelessness – rough sleeping, those in temporary accommodation and ‘sofa surfers’ – are officially recorded.

 Adele Irving, research fellow at Northumbria University and one of the founding members of NEHTT said: “We believe that it is vitally important that policymakers not only recognise and take action to address homelessness, but actively campaign and work towards achieving long-term change in the law around homelessness.
 “The charter is a series of pledges which we hope candidates elected on May 7 will support in the next parliament.

“The pledges are based on the knowledge we have, from a wide range of research evidence, about what would make a real difference to address the key issues encountered by many homeless people, and in particular about homelessness amongst single people and under-25s.”

So far, signatories include four Labour candidates and six Green candidates. Further support has also come from two Labour front bench MPs, and two Conservative candidates.

Source – Northern Echo, 10 Apr 2015

Newcastle marchers protest over George Galloway’s presence at counter demo to Pegida

Demonstrators against an anti-Islam march planned for Newcastle city centre have expressed concerns over the presence of maverick MP George Galloway.

It comes after Mr Galloway announced plans to join a counter demo in the city on February 28 against Pegida UK’s first British rally.

But in an open letter other counter demonstrators have highlighted concerns that the Respect MP’s “divisive public figure” is raising issues among those hoping to take a stand against Pegida.

Gary Spedding, 24, a human rights advocate and Northumbria University student, said in the letter:

“This is highly problematic for us wishing to attend and support the demonstration against Pegida.

“Whilst we appreciate organisers have made it clear that they are aware his politics are not agreeable with everybody who will be in attendance, we do believe there are vital aspects which have been overlooked.”

The letter, co-signed by Lizi Gray, Women’s Representative for Northumbria University, goes on to outline concerns over Mr Galloway’s stance on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, as well as his alleged past comments suggesting Julian Assange was accused of nothing more than “bad sexual etiquette”.

Mr Assange is currently wanted in Sweden to face allegations – which he denies – of sexual assault made by two women.

But the open letter has angered Mr Galloway who today said he planned to take action in relation to it.

He said:

“I’m extremely disappointed that two individuals with their own agenda, in a highly-defamatory letter over which I am taking action, are effectively undermining the opposition to Pegida.”

> Aint that what so often happens, though ? And all the people who aren’t pushing their own agendas but just, you know, think it right to protest against a right wing organization like Pegida, they just get fed up and don’t bother anymore.

The MP last week revealed plans to come up and be part of a counter-demonstration where he will stand “beside the hundreds of other anti-Fascists against this highly-provocative incursion by Pegida which can only be intended to stir up racial hatred.”

Pegida have said the are planning a “peaceful” demonstration not associated with any extreme Far Right organisations and picked Newcastle because they already had a number of followers from the area.

The counter demonstration, organised by multi-cultural organisation Newcastle Unites, is expected to include representatives from a number of anti-fascist organisations.

In the open letter, Mr Speding goes on to say:

“We hope that organisers will disinvite Mr Galloway, or if too late for a disinvitation, then at the very least consider not giving him a platform.”

> I, for one, hope they don’t.

Northumbria Police have now confirmed they have spoken to Pegida in relation to arrangements for the planned march.

A spokesman added:

“We have spoken to the organisers and they have informed us they plan to hold their event on February 28.

“We are aware there are also plans in place for counter events to be held in the city on the same day.

“We will now speak to all of those involved, our partners and our local communities and over the coming days agree on plans for the events.

“Northumbria Police respects the right to peaceful protest and takes a neutral standpoint, not supporting or endorsing any groups or individuals.

“Our role is to protect, reassure and support our communities as well as the safety of everyone – those attending any events, those protesting, the general public and those policing them.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Feb 2015

South Tyneside Council to bring in Living Wage

South Tyneside Council has confirmed plans to introduce the national “living wage” for around 1,000 staff.

A meeting of borough council last night saw members agree to move forward with the phased implementation of the Living Wage.

From April, the local authority will delete spinal column points 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the national government pay scale, so that no employee will be paid less than £7.29p per hour.

Following the implementation of phase one, the council will then look towards the implementation of the full national living wage rate (outside London) of £7.85 per hour.

Coun Ed Malcolm, Lead Member for Resources and Innovation at South Tyneside Council, said:

“We are working towards permanently protecting our lowest paid workers for the future.

“This is not about giving staff pay supplement which could be taken away at any point – this is about making significant, lasting changes to our salary structure. Staff affected will not only benefit from the extra money in their wages but also from additional benefits like increased pension provision.

“As a council we are committed to the social justice agenda and trying to bring real change to the lives of people in South Tyneside.

“There is a compelling case to introduce a living wage because it brings dignity and pays families enough to enjoy a basic but acceptable standard of living. However it is important that we consider this very carefully in the context of ongoing Government budget cuts and our commitment to protecting vital services in South Tyneside.”

The council set up an Independent Wage Commission in June last year to examine the benefits and challenges of adopting a living wage in South Tyneside, which found that a living wage would make a positive contribution to reducing poverty and promoting well-being among low paid workers.

It also said that affordability would be a challenge in the current economic climate, with South Tyneside hit by Government funding reductions.

Coun Malcolm added:

“Of course we would have liked to implement the full living wage with immediate effect but given the unprecedented cuts imposed on the authority we have had to take a prudent approach.

“When we have further information on our future funding, we will sit down with our trade union colleagues to consider the affordability of implementing the full Living Wage from 2016 with a view to eliminating low pay across the council’s workforce.”

Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University and chair of South Tyneside’s Independent Living Wage Commission said:

“South Tyneside Council’s support for the Independent Commission’s recommendation to introduce a Living Wage will make a real difference to the lives of people living and working in South Tyneside.

“In recommending its introduction, the Commission were convinced that increasing the income of the lowest paid employees would make an important contribution to reducing the scale of in-work poverty, have a positive impact on the life chances of families, young people and women and, by increasing local spending power, also boost the local economy in South Tyneside.

“The council are to be commended for their support of such an important initiative.”

Latest figures show that nearly a quarter of all workers in South Tyneside are paid below the living wage.

The living wage is set independently, updated annually, and is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK.

Source –  Shields Gazette,  05 Dec 2014

Living wage joy for 1000 South Tyneside Council staff

A thousand South Tyneside Council workers will begin to be paid a national living wage from next year, it was confirmed today.

The authority is the first in the North East to commit to working towards the implementation of the full national living wage value of £7.65 per hour – £1.34 above the national minimum wage of £6.31 an hour.

The historic move is a major financial boost to borough cleaners, school lunch supervisors and catering assistants in schools, residential homes and leisure facilities – 95 per cent of whom are women.

And it means those workers, who are currently paid £6.54 an hour, will eventually see their hourly rate rise by £1.11.

Pending full council approval in December, from April next year the process of introducing the wage on a phased basis will begin.

Today Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for Resources and Innovation, said there was a “compelling case” for making the change, which will cost the authority an estimated £700,000 to implement.

He said:

As a council we are committed to the social justice agenda and trying to bring real change to the lives of people in South Tyneside.

“This is not about giving staff pay supplement – this is about radically changing our salary structure.

“We are working towards permanently protecting our lowest paid workers for the future. Staff affected will not only benefit from the extra money in their wages but also from additional benefits like increased pension provision.

“There is a compelling case to introduce a living wage because it brings dignity and pays families enough to enjoy a basic but acceptable standard of living.

“However it is important that we consider this very carefully in the context of ongoing Government budget cuts and our commitment to protecting vital services in South Tyneside.”

The council established an Independent Wage Commission in June last year to examine the benefits and challenges of adopting a living wage in the borough.

That commission found that a living wage would make a positive contribution to reducing poverty and promoting well-being among low paid workers.

Now the local authority will look to implement a phased introduction of the new hourly rate.

From April 2015 its the lowest paid employees will receive £7.11 per hour – representing an immediate increase up to a maximum of 67p per hour.

Coun Malcolm added:

Of course we would have liked to implement the full living wage with immediate effect but given the unprecedented cuts imposed on the authority we have had to take a prudent approach.

“When we have further information on our future funding, we will sit down with our trade union colleagues to consider the affordability of implementing the full Living Wage from 2016 with a view to eliminating low pay across the council’s workforce.”

Rachel Reeves MP said:

“It’s brilliant that South Tyneside council is making this important commitment. It shows that even in tough times when there is less money around we can make choices that help build a fairer society.”

Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University, chair of South Tyneside’s Independent Living Wage Commission, said:

“South Tyneside Council’s support for the Independent Commission’s recommendation to introduce a Living Wage will make a real difference to the lives of people living and working in South Tyneside.

“In recommending its introduction, the commission were convinced that increasing the income of the lowest paid employees would make an important contribution to reducing the scale of in-work poverty, have a positive impact on the life chances of families, young people and women and, by increasing local spending power, also boost the local economy in South Tyneside.

“The council are to be commended for their support of such an important initiative.”

Source –  Shields Gazette,  17 Oct 2014

The young and unemployed invite David Cameron to the region to see what it is really like

Prime Minister David Cameron has been given an open invite to visit the region’s young unemployed to stop him labelling them benefits scroungers.

The Tory leader announced plans to ‘combat’ youth unemployment by stopping benefits after six months for those aged 18 to 21 to wean them off a life of ‘dependency’.

While it played well to the gallery at the Conservative party conference, it left young people at the sharp end angry at how it seems to portray them.

Katie McLaren, 21, graduated with a degree in Performing Arts three months ago from Northumbria University and has still to find work.

I’m trying to get on the employment ladder, be an adult, but there aren’t a lot of work opportunities out there,” she said. “Believe me I’m trying.

Why doesn’t he speak to the young unemployed to find out what the situation is like? I think there’s a lack of understanding between the south and the north as well as politicians with the people they are supposed to represent. If he wants to come up here he is more than welcome.”

The region has one of the worst jobless rates for young people in the UK, running at 25% or about one in four.

And the figure for all ages in the North East is about 10%, the worst in the UK by a considerable margin.

Neil Burke of Youth Focus North East, a charity which aims to improve the life of young people across the region, said: “There might be lots of jobs in London but there aren’t loads of jobs up here, as the figures show.”

Speaking about Mr Cameron’s proposal, he said: “What about young people who have come from vulnerable circumstances?

“They can be socially isolated and getting them out of the house to train them can take four months which could be great work. And then have them find work in two months?

“It’s a one-size fits all policy. Many might have been let down by the education system and haven’t left school with the skills to get a job and sometimes it can take more than six months to get them ready for work. It seems to me the six month figure has just been plucked out of the air.”

Under the plan, unemployed 18 to 21 year olds will be given six months to find work or training before their jobseekers allowance (JSA) is withdrawn, and replaced with a ‘Youth Allowance’ which would be set at the same level as JSA, £57.35.

This would be time-limited of six months, after which young people will have to take an apprenticeship, a traineeship or do community work – such as cleaning up local parks – to earn their benefits.

Young mum Amy Ormston, 22, from Gateshead dropped out of college to have daughter Mya. She is now training to become cabin crew.

She said: “I don’t agree with the plans to cut benefits at all. If it happened to me how would I be able to feed Mya?

“There aren’t jobs but there is plenty of voluntary work going round – how many of those lead to a permanent job?

“He is tarring young people with the same brush. Stigmatising them as if all we want to do is just to be on benefits.”

Lizzie Crowley of the Work Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation providing research on work, said similar schemes have been introduced in the US and Australia and have not been successful – unless the intention was to save money on benefits payments.

She said: “People have just left the system before the time period is up. It can lead to homelessness or relying on your parents even more. That’s people who have stable family relations.”

Katie said she has family to go back to in Hartlepool. However she added: “I don’t think that would be fair on them and I’d feel a failure if I had to.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  01 Oct 2014

North East – Welfare Reform Puts Single People At Risk Of Homelessness

This article  was written by Adele Irving and Sheila Spencer, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th June 2014

 Last year’s big welfare reforms – the introduction of the bedroom tax, changes to council tax benefit and the localisation of the social fund – are causing severe hardship and putting single people at risk of becoming homeless. Housing professionals tackling homelessness among single people have told researchers at Northumbria University they are preparing themselves for a rise in the number of people losing their homes.

 Because there is no requirement to measure single homelessness in England, it is extremely hard to find direct evidence of the impact of reform. But welfare reform is leading to a rise in the number of risk factors for homelessness, and our study found these risks were escalating fast in the north east of England.

 There is a shortage of one bedroom flats in many parts of the region, with sharp competition between individuals trying to move on from supported housing, and those faced with having to downsize to avoid the bedroom tax or risk falling into arrears.

 We are also seeing a slide into food poverty. Single people without disabilities tend to have much smaller incomes at their disposal. Many are now economising on food in order to pay basic household bills. Use of food banks is growing and some local authorities and housing providers say they are becoming part of a standard response to poverty, rather than a last resort.

Tough benefit sanctions are disproportionately hitting vulnerable young and homeless people. Rent arrears have increased in the region, though some housing providers say they have now begun to stabilise. When sanctioned, claimants often do not understand the complex rules that can protect housing benefit payments and are being plunged into further debt unnecessarily. Increases in money lending are also reported.

 There is already additional pressure on advice services. The Citizens Advice Bureau says the number of people asking for help because of council rent arrears is up by more than a third and the number looking for advice about discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – used by government to offset the impact of the bedroom tax – has doubled.

Benefits is now the biggest category for services, and many advice providers are struggling to cope with demand. But, as one agency noted to researchers: “No amount of advice is going to replace the entitlement that has been lost”

 Crime levels are increasing. Two north east police forces report an increase in burglaries and shop thefts, and some homeless people are turning to crime instead of applying for hardship payments when sanctioned.

Other emerging effects of welfare reform are deteriorating physical and mental health, worsening relationships with families and increasing numbers of people who are found to have complex needs.

 Local authorities and housing providers are putting significant resources into helping affected households, particularly those struggling to pay the bedroom tax.

An Ipsos MORI survey of predicted housing association spend reported an average of £109,000 per household affected by March 2014. The irony is that this expenditure may not have been necessary. One local authority, which in July 2013 had just 54 customers affected by overcrowding (1% of the total on the housing register), commented: “We’ve spent over £4m fixing a problem that never existed.”

 There is also growing evidence that the welfare reforms have failed to encourage people into work. A series of reports show that homeless people and young people in the north east want to work, but face significant barriers. Increased conditionality appears to actually be discouraging engagement with government support and removing people from benefit claims altogether, rather than improving their chances of securing employment.

 Agencies across the north east have called for action to understand the cost-effectiveness of welfare reform, campaigned against the proposed loss of housing benefit for under-25s and challenged DWP to work more closely with agencies supporting vulnerable homeless people. Wouldn’t government funding be better spent supporting vulnerable people into work and investing in social housing?

Adele Irving is a research fellow at the Centre for Public Policy at Northumbria University. Sheila Spencer is a housing consultant

Source –  Welfare News Service,  11 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/welfare-reform-puts-single-people-risk-homelessness/

North East arts funding fight goes to Westminster

Arts organisations have hit out at the London bias which is starving cultural bodies outside the South East of funds – and demanded a better deal for the North East.

Theatres, local authorities and actors’ union Equity told MPs that the concentration of resources in London and the south had to stop, not only because it was unfair but because it damaged the economy.

They issued the demand in submissions to a Commons inquiry looking at the work of the Arts Council.

It follows the publication last year of a hard-hitting report backed by senior arts figures including Melvyn Bragg and producer David Puttnam which warned that London receives £563.9m a year in culture funding from the Government and the Arts Council while the rest of the country gets £205.1m.

Latest Arts Council figures showed that arts organisations in the North East received £5.59 per head a year, compared to £21.33 per head in London.

And the study also found that the North East had received £86.22 per head in arts lottery funding since 1995, while Londoners received £165.

The report’s authors included Peter Stark, professor of cultural policy and management at Northumbria University.

Speaking at Westminster, he told the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee: “We have an enormous potential out there and the resources are in the wrong place.”

He added: “There is just something wrong that Westminster is benefiting to the tune that it is while County Durham is benefiting to the extent that it is, and something must be done about it.”

In a written submission to the inquiry, the North East Cultural Partnership, a body backed by 12 local councils and North East Chamber of Commerce, warned that unfair funding “has led to networks of artists and organisations in some parts of England, which, for all their strengths, are smaller and less powerful than we need”.

Funding bodies such as the Arts Council should look for ways to make funding decisions locally instead of in London, it said.

The Touring Partnership Ltd, which represents nine theatres across the country including the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, said: “The gulf between the current per capita investment of the nation’s funds for culture in London … compared to the rest of England … is unacceptable by anybody’s reckoning.

“Even when the funding to those key national institutions is removed from the analysis, the inequity remains extreme and, in the interests of basic democratic fairness, should be redressed.”

Actors’ union Equity highlighted the economic importance of the arts, telling MPs: “An independent Economic Impact Assessment of ten of the North East’s leading cultural organisations showed that £4.06 of GVA is generated within the region for every pound of subsidy received.”

However, it said it would have concerns about simply cutting funding for the south to shift the money north.

But the Association of British Orchestras, which represents Royal Northern Sinfonia at Sage Gateshead among others, warned: “We would respectfully point out that criticisms of the perceived imbalance between Arts Council funding in London and the regions is a distraction from the more critical issue of maintaining local authority investment in arts organisations when this funding is so under threat.”

The inquiry continues and MPs will present their findings later in the year.

Source – Newcastle Journal, 26 March 2014

Driven to the brink of suicide: Tyneside Mind launch short film highlighting real experiences

A powerful new film captures the desperate real experiences of being judged “fit for work” for people with mental health problems.

Tyneside Mind launched a short film highlighting the real experiences of three local people with mental health problems undergoing Work Capability Assessment.

The film ‘But I’m here for mental health – three stories of the Work Capability Assessment’ used actors to tell the genuine stories of individuals who were deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos Healthcare despite the severity of their mental health problems and the significant barriers they face to get into work.

Local MP’s were invited to the showing which was be aired for the first time at Northumbria University Cinema last week.

The film tells the story of two men unfairly dismissed from work due to ill health and one woman whose sleep apnoea and depression prevent her from being able to work. In a particularly poignant moment in the film one man, who can’t write because he has carpal tunnel syndrome, has to admit to his elderly mother that he has contemplated suicide since losing his job as she fills in the application form on his behalf.

Another scene depicts a lady standing on a bridge thinking about ending her life because she has been told she is fit for work.

“It’s been really traumatic and very confusing for people,” said Oliver Wood, vice chairman of Tyneside Mind, who has himself now been back in work for two years after claiming benefits due to a mental health problem.

“They don’t really understand the process or how, when they are really very unwell, seeing senior hospital consultants and receiving support from mental health services, they are being declared fully fit to work because they are physically capable.”

Currently 37% of all North East appeals against decisions to change or remove Employment Support Allowance are successful, which rises to more than two in five for cases involving mental and behavioural disorders.

But Oliver points to Department of Work and Pensions figures for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear which suggest that over the past eight months an average of 2,200 claimants a month – including many with mental health problems – have had their benefits sanctioned and 1,700 a month have given up their claims.

One fear is that many people with mental health problems may be suffering in silence, due to the increasing “stigma” of being on benefits.

The film uses reconstruction to depict service users’ real stories, interspersed with verbatim quotes from Tyneside Mind service users.

With funding from The Millfield House Foundation and support from Helix Arts and Tyneside Mind, the film has been produced by Meerkat Films to help raise awareness of the devastating impact this assessment process can have on vulnerable individuals with complex and fluctuating conditions.

The release of the film also coincides with the Litchfield Review – the fourth annual Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment, which is currently used to determine eligibility for the out-of-work benefit Employment and Support Allowance.

Over a third of assessments involve people who have applied primarily due to a mental health problem and many more applicants experience a mental health problem alongside other illnesses or disabilities. Yet, the film aims to show that the assessment is not suitable for people with mental health problems, and often actually pushes many people further away from the workplace by exacerbating their mental health problems and directing them to inappropriate support and expectations.

Stuart Dexter, Chief Executive of Tyneside Mind, said: “At Tyneside Mind we help people every week with benefits-related enquiries, and our resources are increasingly stretched.

“The people we represent are still not getting a fair outcome from the Work Capability Assessment. The assessment process is not sensitive enough to recognise the impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work, and can cause a great deal of stress, especially for those who get an unfair decision and then have to go through a lengthy and costly appeals process. This film aims to highlight what it’s really like for the many individuals subjected to this process and urge the Department for Work and Pensions to urgently improve the system.”

Steve, whose name has been changed, but who speaks of his experience of the Work Capability Assessment in the film, said: “The whole assessment process was so traumatic that I really didn’t think I’d be able to recover from it, let alone talk about it.

“Unfortunately I know that there are so many others like me who have felt humiliated and had their views neglected.

“Tyneside Mind suggested I get involved with this project and I wanted to help because I feel it’s so important to raise awareness of the way vulnerable people are being treated. I hope this film will help change things so nobody else will have to endure what I did.”

Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Dec 2013