Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Any Spare Change, Guv?


Anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with a town called Mansfield in the East Midlands may well find little in this broadside to concern them. Then again, if you live in Milton Keynes, Derby or Norwich, or any number of towns or cities labouring under the fluctuating mirage of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, you may still find points of empathy.
It’s here, in the austerity-hit, socially run-down East Midlands that you’ll find ordinary ‘hard working’ people (does it always have to be ‘hard’ - can’t we just ‘work’?) hanging on to the fraying strands of something called community spirit by engaging in projects such as the much-praised children’s homework club on Mansfield’s Bellamy Road Estate. The Bellamy estate is one of the most severely deprived wards in a town at the centre of  one of the most economically and socially deprived areas in the country in terms of educational performance, health and crime.   In such a needy area, this club is an invaluable service for local families and the community. But not for long. Because its sponsor, the YMCA, has suffered funding cuts, the club, and the Y5 Internet Café which hosts it, are to shut on June 24th. The effect on the morale of the 750 households on the estate will be terrible. There are charities which may take an interest, but the local residents are weary of the long drawn out, Byzantine processes of funding applications. And even if a charity steps in, by the time a decision is made, the Club and the Café will be long gone.

This club is about more than homework. It also provides a secure, supportive, hopeful and practical alternative to the less positive surrounding influences. By supporting the children to study, Hooray for Homework Club gives the local children a better chance of social mobility. The club’s safe, learning environment is assuring to local parents. Says one parent: “The kids love going and I am very pleased with the staff. It is the best thing we have ever had for the kids on this estate.”
Jayne has worked on the project since it began three years ago. After initial wariness from local families, she has seen the community embrace and welcome the project. She also observed its impact, particularly on the youngsters, such as Aisha.  A visitor to the club since she was five, Aisha was always getting into trouble. Hooray for Homework Club noticed her creativity and channelled it, and Aisha’s behaviour has improved vastly. Her behaviour at home has improved too because she doesn’t want to miss a night at the club, where she produces some brilliant artwork. Some former members of the club, now at secondary school, return to it as volunteers. Jayne believes that “without the support and influence the homework club gave the children, they would not be at secondary school now and would be doing something much more negative with their lives.”
As Messrs Osborne and Cameron search for new ways to punish the poor and remove benefits, we’re looking back a century to see if the old, Dickensian style of benevolence might be resurrected. Maybe there’s a new Andrew Carnegie out there, wondering if he can offer a kind gesture with his spare millions.  It’s worth a try.
On January 1st this year the Financial Times revealed that the top five banks - Goldman, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase Citigroup and Bank of America Merrill Lynch - paid out a whopping £1.3bn in wages and bonuses between them. Banking’s lucrative enough, but Advertising agency WPP’s chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell was paid almost £43m last year, so he’s the best paid boss of a British public company. His salary was £1.15m, increased by a long term £36m bonus and a £3.6m short-term bonus. Including pension payments and other items, according to WPP’s annual report, Sorrell received a total of £42.98m. That’s an hourly rate, if he works a 40 hour week, of about £20k per hour. His pay was more than twice that of the second-best paid FTSE 100 chief executive, Ben van Beurden at Royal Dutch Shell, who received €24.2m (£17.5m). A less well-remunerated Goldman Sachs banker, Michael Sherwood, only earns a measly £6,250 per hour. Hard times indeed. Let’s hope he doesn’t have a spare bedroom.
So our message from Bellamy Road to the 20% of the UK population who now own 60% of the nation’s wealth is this; forget the so-called ‘politics of envy’. You’re rich, we’re poor, plus ça change, fair enough. On May 7 the nation gave you carte blanche to become even richer over the next decade. Your greatest desire, a corporate-friendly, City-centric government is now yours. The people of Bellamy Road don’t want Ferraris or swimming pools; but they would love to see their kids still able to go to the Homework Club on the way home from school. And what would it cost to keep it going for a few more months until we find more charity? A mere £10k plus. Just think of the kudos you’d get from such an act of generosity. And maybe even a tax break. But are there any pillars of public benevolence and compassion in this new unequal social landscape? We doubt it - but go on - prove us wrong.
We have yet to find out. And we’ve got just 21 days to find some money.

If you’re the one to help, contact Roy Bainton, editor of THE BELLAMY BUGLE, the newsletter of the Bellamy Road Estate. roybainton@hotmail.com

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