Monthly Archives: October 2015

We Shall Overcome


I’ve been reflecting on poverty this week. On Sunday I was at a music gig at Golden Smog micro-pub in Stockton. It was organised by the amazing landlord John Christie, as part of a national weekend of music events called “We Shall Overcome”. It’s aim was to make a political statement about the human cost of the current government’s funding cuts and welfare reforms, alongside raising funds for charity.

When I ran a women and young people’s charity, I saw first-hand the hidden poverty that exists in some of our communities. We gave out food to people who were destitute and without money. Our foodbank workers heard horrendous stories day after day, about helpless situations caused in part by the government cuts and welfare reforms. Elderly women sharing neighbours baths, children going without food, middle aged men deciding between heating or eating. People call it “Austerity”. I call it an atrocity.

I don’t think what’s happening is fair or just. For years Britain’s banking institutions (and those with a lot of money) gambled with hard working people’s money. They made reckless decisions and eventually it all came crashing down around them. The banks crashed and they lost billions and billions of pounds. Our government at the time had to come to the rescue (because it was mostly our money in them) and borrowed about £500billion to save them. Now a few years on, the bankers are back at work doing what they’ve always done, but it’s hard working people and those most vulnerable who are left paying the price. We’re losing tax credits, libraries, youth centres, pension payments, social workers, elderly care services, police officers, street wardens, sure start workers, children’s services and play schemes, just to pay a debt we didn’t create.

There are a whole load of people who think this is wrong. They don’t think it is right that everyday Brits should loose out and so “We shall Overcome” was one of the many activities and actions organised over the last few years to raise awareness about the issue of Austerity.

250 events took place all across the UK. Several thousand musicians performed.  Thousands and thousands of people came along. The event in Stockton was blinding, with poets, musicians, singers and comedians all lining up to offer their creative talent for free in aid of this brilliant cause. I was astounded at the talent I saw. A few of the highlights were Leah Maria, a young girl who had a voice as good as any X factor finalist, Josie Wallace, a quartet of Stand-up, a few brilliant bands, The poet Duggy Verill who had us all in hysterics with his base Boro humour and a solo guitarist called Mary Webb who’s hauntingly good voice had us all in awe.

In total, £1100 plus food and clothing was raised and as we sang together with pint in hand, we made our statement, saying to those most vulnerable, you’re not alone, we won’t turn away, we’re with you; this isn’t over, we shall overcome!

One teen death by suicide is one too many

I’ve noticed many of my friends Facebook posts over the last few weeks urging people to speak out about mental illness. I’ve wrote about campaigns about mental illness before, but I felt I couldn’t let Suicide Prevention week go by without speaking out about it.

I particularly wanted to speak about Teen suicide, one of the leading causes of death in that age group in the UK. It’s hard to imagine the extreme psychological pain that leads to someone deciding suicide is their only option. Teenagers have a lot to contend with, the world can at times be a harsh place. Bullying is rife within some of our schools, pressure to perform academically is great, being accepted and liked, is even greater and mental disorder can affect us all, at any time. Suicide is a tragedy and one teen death by suicide is one death too many. It is something I feel very, very strongly about.

I worked with children who were suicidal when I ran the charity, A Way Out. Some of our work at the time, focused on trying to keep them alive. Sometimes this was around harm minimisation, like getting the child to hospital quickly after a suicide attempt or ensuring they were in safe and secure accommodation where any medicines and sharp objects were out of reach. Other times it was about getting to the root issues, being a safe place for children to come and open up about how they were feeling and ensuring they got the right medical support and treatment to deal with those feelings. It wasn’t easy. I remember at times really praying they would be safe and that they wouldn’t die. I know there are young adults here today that maybe wouldn’t be, if it hadn’t been for our work. That’s a good feeling, but then I think about all the thousands of other children across the UK who will be feeling like ending their lives and I know the battle is continuous.
But what can we do? Well, the message of suicide prevention week was to “reach out”. Let’s look at how.
Firstly, reaching out to those who are vulnerable to suicide, lonely people, a child or friend who is being bullied or maybe someone who you know is depressed? Reaching out as a friend, asking them if they are ok and letting them know you care, can have a significant impact, as can listening and just being there.

Secondly, reaching out and connecting people to relevant services. Although support of friends and relatives is crucial, it’s not always enough. Often formal help is also needed. This maybe clinical, psychological or social. Make sure you link someone at risk to the specialist services that are available.

Thirdly reach out to those who have been bereaved by suicide. Suicide is devastating for families and they may experience a whole range of emotions, including grief, anger, guilt, disbelief and self-blame. Offer them a non-judgmental ear and an opportunity to talk about their loss. It may be a starting point for them to move through their grief.
Lastly, keep raising awareness, posting on Facebook and spreading the word. Suicide “is” preventable so let’s try and stand together to prevent other deaths in Teesside and beyond.