Tag Archives: jessie jacobs

Without grassroots, independent culture there is no culture

Without grassroots, independent culture there is no culture. And without culture, there’s a gaping hole in our economy and society.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, I have had a continuous, resounding, repeating anxiety when it comes to thinking about our cultural sector (when I say culture, I mean nightlife, pubs, clubs, restaurants, festivals and the arts).
My fear has been this – “What if only the strong survive?”

Polar Bear in Hull

I’ve spent a long time leading, investigating, thinking about and being a part of regeneration projects, creative development and innovation. I’ve seen the big masterplans for city regeneration, the £30 million “knock the old structures down” designs and the development corporation’s “build the business park and they will come” ideas. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. We do and will always need the big top down approaches, but what nearly always works, anywhere, across the globe from Bilbao to Brixton, Belfast to Berlin is culture and cultural regeneration.

I have come to believe that the most important players in any economy but particularly within our cultural economy are the small, the independent and often grassroots businesses. They are the innovators and the entrepreneurs. You know the ones, the arts venue built with love and a bit of MDF, the street food business that trawled the streets for years before getting its first shop, the micro-pub that is now the semi-permanent home of both your best friend and your favourite Gin/locally brewed beer. It’s the theatre in a disused building that brought you the play that then headlined at Edinburgh. It’s the old pub that your heroes played in when they were nobodies and the place most of us still gig in, whilst trying to ‘make it’. Basically – the soul of towns and villages and cities.

The ‘who we are’ of Great Britain, not the ‘what we are’ or ‘what we produce’  The character, the personality and the heartbeat of the places we love and call home.

Let’s look at the numbers: hospitality employs 3.2 million people, produces £130 billion towards GDP every year. The cultural and creative sector produces £10.8billion a year to the UK economy and generates a further £23billion a year and 363,700 jobs. When the Hospitality Union started calling for support early on in the Covid crisis, estimating 2 million jobs could be lost UK wide, I was one of the first in the North East to join their call, and I coordinated a North East response via Food and Drink North East. We got some of what we asked for but not all. When the Venues Trust and Music Trust launched their campaign for a cultural rescue plan, I quickly backed their call and added my voice to their campaign. I was pleased the government responded; but, just like so many interventions in the government’s response to the crisis, they have been slow and geared towards the big companies.

When I heard just this week about the closure of The Welly and Polar Bear in Hull, and Gorilla and the Deaf Institute in Manchester, my heart sank and my anxieties heightened. When I heard the silent mutterings about a known and loved eatery desperately worried they won’t earn back their Covid Crisis loan and unsure of how to keep their landlord at bay, I felt deeply uneasy. You see, to me, the big institutions and the multi-nationals stand on the shoulders of our small independent businesses. They come because someone came before – big corporations are rarely the pioneers, they often aren’t the risk takers and rarely are they the creators and innovators. But for a place to thrive you need all of these things. So whatever is done, at a local, regional and national level, if we don’t favour the small, if we don’t write policies with them in mind, then we may as well say goodbye to all that makes us strong. To all that makes us, us.

But the problem is, the Conservatives rarely seem to favour the small, they don’t tend to make decisions with the little guy in mind. Just look at some of their recent controversies in the Jenrick cash for favours or the type of schemes and companies being supported by our current Conservative Tees Valley Mayor. It’s the big, the flashy, the mate of the mate of at the £50,000 fundraising dinner, the headline winning proposal that has more gloss than grit. But I have come to expect little less. They are after all a party funded by the big, the rich and the powerful. They pay lip service to the small and sometimes they do ok, throwing a little cash about here and there, but when it comes down to it, when the rubber hits the road, will it be Joe’s Gin Bar and Lula’s DIY music hall that weathers the storm and gets their support, or will it be the Multi-national land owner who is second cousin of the PM? I hope I am wrong but the signs so far say we stand on shaky ground.

Vote With Hope

Don’t know who to vote for or even why vote… Here’s some of my thoughts, here is why I am voting. I hope this will make you think about what’s important to you.

Each of us are citizens, we are not just individuals, we are the community, we are the town we live in, we are our country. As a citizen, we have a responsibility for the place of which we are a part. It is our responsibility to choose who governs that place and who makes up the laws and rules for that place. When we vote we are making a choice on behalf not just of our families and friends but hopefully, on behalf of our communities and for the country.

When I vote tomorrow I am voting for the party that I think will make the best job of running the country and the politicians I think will make the best job of looking after my borough and the community that I live in.

As you reflect on what’s important to you, I strongly encourage you to watch this.

owen jones, thinking of not voting, power, people, democracy

Tomorrow I will be voting Labour, this isn’t a decision I made without thinking, it isn’t a political way of thinking I was born into. I spent years working to build a better and stronger society for those most vulnerable. I eventually realised that there was one clear political party that could represent my own values and beliefs the best. Labour. Here’s 5 reasons why.

1) I believe in Labour values – that we achieve more by the strength of our common endeavor than we do as individuals. This is the fundamental difference to conservatism. I believe the years of serving the individual / self, first needs to be reversed and has actually had a detrimental affect on society
2) Labour want to stand up to & tackle unethical & immoral practices of big business. I believe in business, we need prospering industry for prosperous nation BUT… I think it needs controls. Just like individuals need laws to create a safe, ethical & moral landscape for living (think seat belts, theft, violence etc). We have laws to protect ourselves from the worst of ourselves. It’s same with business. It needs laws that ensure it is safe, moral & ethical. To protect it from the worst of itself. Labour aren’t afraid to do this & they also believe it is right. Unlike liberal thinking which thinks there needs to be more freedom.
3) Labour have equality at their core. They believe we should all have equal opportunities. I inherently believe this too. I think it’s a British value that we need to protect. Our care and compassion for ALL is what makes us great!! It’s what makes Britain the envy of the world (I’ve met so many people from other countries who are blown away by our public services / NHS / transport systems / care for those with disabilities) So any party that tries to dismantle that or privatise that are attacking the core of what I believe makes Britain great. Labour get this & are committed to protecting these things.
4) Ed Miliband gets that we need party reform. He isn’t afraid to say that even his own party needs to change to be fit for purpose for the next 20 years (so people’s movements, organising, campaigning, workers unions are all valued and seen as important) this excites me, the potential is big & I want to be a part of helping labour fill that potential
5) I care about the most vulnerable in society. I care about the elderly, at-risk children, homeless, workless, those in social housing… I don’t trust any of the parties to care for the most vulnerable in the way I believe Labour will. They have already made promises about benefit sanctions and scrapping benefit sanctions. I hope this is only the beginning.

So there you go, here’s some reasons to vote, here’s some reasons why I am voting. Now it’s over to you. Vote with hope and never let your voice be taken away from you!

White Noise of Politics

jessie jacobs, politics
For the past few months I’ve been looking at how we get people more engaged in politics, from registering and encouraging people to vote, to mobilising individuals and communities to be more politically active.

One thing has become really obvious in the run up to this General Election. A lot of people genuinely don’t know who to vote for and a very common reason is that people just don’t understand how it all works and what each party stands for.

For the next three days I am going to write an article each day addressing this issue.
We live in an information age. With so much information out there, it may seem strange that so many people are unclear about what politics means and what our political parties are about.
It feels like we are talking about politics more than ever before, my Twitter and Facebook feeds are littered with political posts. The news doesn’t seem to talk about anything else at the moment and our newspapers are a catalogue of party political propaganda. So if there is so much noise, why aren’t people hearing?

Here’s my theory. White noise!

White noise is physics terminology to describe a noise containing many frequencies, a constant background noise that drowns out all other sounds. It can also be used to describe a meaningless or distracting commotion, hubbub or chatter.

Has the continuous coverage of MP’s arguing; the sometimes seemingly meaningless conversations of our media broadcasters (reporting things like how many girlfriends a potential PM has had) and the never ending bombardment of stories about the seven major parties and what they have or haven’t promised, what is wrong with what they have promised and why what they have promised can’t be trusted; simply created a political white noise.

If we aren’t absolutely dedicated to the political cause, with weeks to spare researching the parties and getting our head round it all, how do we unpick all that has been said. How do we find truth from all the chatter? How do we hear what is really being said? And importantly how do we move forward and make that very important decision about who to vote for in two days time.

I am not sure sadly we can address this issue in a few days. For real democratic participation we need to re-think a whole host of things. We might need to re-think community, revive public gatherings, start going down the pub more, lobby for better political education in schools, encourage people to get active in political parties or unions, join or start campaigns, make it ok to talk politics at the dinner table or any table, ensure political voices are welcomed at community events, make our community activities more political. All of these things could ensure our communities are more politically aware and active. They could enable year round politics and not just election time politics

Unfortunately for this General Election we only have two days to make up our minds so If you are struggling to hear through the noise and are still unsure who to vote for, why not think about trying the following

1) Ask a friend for advice. We all have those friends who only ever post things about politics. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you have; they spend most of their time talking about it anyway. Don’t think you can’t ask the really basics either. I’ve been asked all sorts of questions and was very happy to answer them.
2) Choose wisely where you get your information from. The BBC are a much more reliable source of news and information than people like the Daily Mail or the Sun. (although some would say not completely unbiased) Many of our other papers and TV stations are owned by a small number of media owners who have their own agendas (usually to protect their billions and ensure they don’t come under scrutiny or restrictions) so I personally would take what they say with a large pinch of salt (or maybe a whole salt mine of the stuff)
3) Take one of those political compass tests, they’re not completely accurate but they do give you an idea of where you lean politically. These two are good http://election2015.votematch.org/ and https://verto.vote/#/ again take them with a pinch of salt, just because your politics align with a certain party, it still doesn’t mean they are the right party to vote for but at least you will know where you lean.
4) Lastly, to try and understand the main differences in the parties it’s good to understand their core principles, these can be described as left or right wing. Here’s a nice little overview of what that means http://idontgetpolitics.co.uk/right-left-wing Some parties policies may sound similar but there’s still some fundamental differences so understand these and it may just help you make your mind up.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. This is so important!

Sharing honestly about self interest

I want to share really honestly with you this afternoon. My deepest concern for British society, above all other things, above domestic abuse, above crime, above loneliness and even above poverty is this… selfishness. That’s a bold statement I know, so let me unpack it a little.
Many, if not all other social and moral ills of the 21st century have their root in selfishness. To hurt another, steal from them, to fall out with them, to not share with them when we have more than we need, these are all because we put ourselves and our own needs before that of others.

I have spent a number of years, trying to help improve people’s lives. I used to do that through running a poverty fighting charity, I now do that through political and community activism. I love what I do. I love meeting the many amazing people that make up our society and community, from the homeless guy to the radio station manager, to the music promoter. I love hearing their stories, I like trying to understand their challenges or finding ways of walking with them on their journey, supporting them to get where they need to be. Something has been really troubling me though, it has for a while but I just feel like I need to air it.

Can our world, our society, our town or our region ever be all that it can be if we don’t tackle selfishness or self interest.

Can our world, our society, our town or our region ever be all that it can be if we don’t tackle selfishness or self interest. It affects everything – politics, business, family life, justice, welfare, public services, education, charity. We have become a deeply selfish generation. I am not trying to judge, I am just as much an offender as anyone else. I mostly put my own needs above that of others too. I grew up to believe this was progress. That this is how you got on. I’m beginning to wonder if I was wrong.

My friend is a music promoter. She has a huge heart for musicians and for Teesside. She is always trying to do her bit. She inspires me and I love her heart. She is more interested in the scene and in developing new talent and giving them a platform than she is about her own brand. She is rare. The music scene in Teesside is cut throat. People don’t work together. There are a lot of ego’s and a lot of cliques. This saddens me. A lot! I understand it though. It used to be the same in the voluntary sector, I saw it in the faith sector, I see it in the activist sector and the political sector. People are out to build their own empires, their own name, their own thing. They leave little room for the lifting up of others, for the giving away of some of themselves for the greater good. Some text books called it undeveloped or uneducated self-interest. But others say this is the healthy competition that is needed for society to progress, for things to get better. We achieve by being better than the person next to me. By going further.” This is what I am told. “Could Apple have achieved all that it did, if it wasn’t trying to be better than Microsoft?” they ask. “And where would we be without Apple?” Maybe sat with our families having a good old catch up and not reading this article but that is another conversation.


What I want to understand is, is this competitiveness and unashamed selfishness really the only way to build a good and strong society? Is life better now than it was ten years ago, twenty years ago, forty or even fifty years ago. I am not sure, I wasn’t alive forty years ago, but what I do know is that ‘self-first’ makes life really difficult for a music promoter in Stockton trying to do her bit for Teesside. It makes life difficult for the new homeless charity that just opened up and can’t get support because they could be competition for funding. It doesn’t work for activists who find themselves a voice because they are threat to someone else’s power or position. Has this self-first made us a less caring, more lonely, more individualised society?

Suicide, alcoholism, mental health and addiction have been on the rise for the last thirty years. Is this the sign of a stronger and better society? At what point do we stop and take a step back and begin to wonder whether we need a better way?

I am afraid I don’t have the answers, but I guess all I wanted to do was begin to ask the question. Maybe you have some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.

Failure and Getting it Wrong

One of the most significant barriers to overcome when doing something in our communities is fear of failure and anxiety about getting it wrong

I have really struggled with this over the years. In part this has been my own problem but also we live in a society that doesn’t give much room for failure.

We only have to look at how much failure and mistakes, drives our media industry. We’re all it seems, queuing up at the newsagents to buy the papers that sensationalizes someone’s mistake and ridicules a person’s failure. Good news doesn’t sell they tell us, and they’re probably right. We all like to have a good gossip about our neighbours misfortune or what some evil, someone did to us. We are quick to tear down but less speedy to build someone up.

This, I believe creates a culture of fear. The worry of getting it wrong seeps into many aspects of public and private life. I work in politics half the week and there is a real sense of walking on a knife-edge sometimes. You are always just a tweet away from ruining yours or someone else’s career or being put on the front page of a newspaper. The more powerful we become, the more we raise our head above the parapet, the more likely we are to have it removed by a sniper of bad news.

If you have ever worked for a public sector organisation, you will probably have had to walk through this. Why isn’t there more innovation and creativity in public services, people ask? Well, it’s quite hard when every activity you do has to be risk assessed, three times over. These big institutions are accountable to you and there’s a sense that they can’t fail; and yes we do have to do all we can to safeguard against mistakes because failure could have terrible consequences but you know what, here’s the reality. Mistakes will ALWAYS be made. We are human and that’s just part of who we are, we make mistakes.

So what do we do about this? How can we still be brave, how can we step out if it means we may get it really wrong? How can we take risks and do something new or different?

Here some things you might want to think about

1) Stay small and under the radar: I have never been so free since leaving A Way Out. I’m running with all sorts of new ideas, new approaches and new ways of doing things and it’s having significant outcomes. But no one really knows about it. I haven’t set up a big organization. I don’t have big funders or a management board to be accountable to; I’m just getting on with it. I can make lots of mistakes every day if I like and it’s not that much of an issue.

2) Try failing.. a few times. Sometimes the best way to get over the fear of something is to do the thing you are scared of. I once went and held a snake at a snake farm even though I have a phobia of them. It worked for a while. Sometimes we need to fail. I love the Thomas Edison quote

“I have not failed, I’ve jut found 10,000 ways that wont work.”

Sometimes the only way we learn what works and what doesn’t is to fail and do something wrong, so go out and do something wrong, just try and learn from it if you can.

3) Never hold power too tightly. When we get power we have a tendency to want to cling to it. Don’t. Power can be just as dangerous as it is beneficial. Look how much we are seeing the abuse of power being exposed recently. We must handle power like I did with that snake, very, very carefully, understanding exactly what I was holding and being willing to give it back at any moment there was a sign it might turn on me.

4) Let go of yourself! We need a degree of self emptying to hold power and to risk it all. If we are too concerned with self preservation, we may never take the risks needed to step out. I like to snowboard, but if I’m too worried about hurting myself, I will never have the courage to throw myself down the mountain, it’s the same with taking risks and doing something new, sometimes we just need to let ourselves go regardless of the consequence. Let’s stop trying to save ourselves and just give ourselves away to something. What’s the worst that could happen?

Let me end with this quote from Micheal Jordan “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

I hope this blog encourages you to try something you didn’t think you could. Please get in touch or leave a comment if you want to talk more about this.

Saying “No” to Benefits Street… Warning, this one’s political!

Last week Ralph Lee, head of factual at Channel 4 announced he would not back down to pleas by Stockton locals to stop making Benefit Street in our town, I am one of those locals, but I mean really, why would he?  What power does a little town in The North East of England have to change anything that happens to it?  We will just add it to the long list of things we tried to fight and failed, like

– Thatchers anti-industrial north east revolution (a.k.a lets kill your industry & livelihood & replace it with benefits, revolution)

– Blair’s failure to find adequate money in the treasury to develop north east rail

– Cameron’s local government cuts intervention (a.k.a lets take away your libraries, youth services & art galleries to keep giving bankers in London a bonus)

– Ian Duncan Smiths bedroom tax that is ripping apart communities and turfing pensioners out of their homes

I could go on. People wonder why the North East has a drink problem, well that’s what happens when you rip the soul out of someone, take control of of their life, tell them, they’re rubbish and then maybe make a few TV program’s about it.

Our railways, that could help us rebuild our economy through better links to major cities in the north have been completely neglected.  Despite endless debates in Westminster and pleas to the treasury from our local MP’s, we have trains that make India’s railways look modern.  And then some London based bankers decided to play roulette with all of our money, lose badly and then get a bail out from our government but who pays the price?  Town’s like us, who through austerity are having to find millions and millions of pounds worth of cuts every year because money that we used to get from central government went to bail out the bankers.  We are losing our youth centers, drugs educators, youth workers, domestic violence workers, community nurses, rape counselors and children’s play workers.  And so we go on marches, we cry injustice, we plead stop, but just like Chanel4 ‘s Ralph Lee, they don’t listen, they carry on regardless saying it’s in the public interest.

There is a lot of talk around devolution at the moment.  Westminster are beginning to debate about how London shares greater power with the rest of the nation? I can’t imagine any bright ideas coming from the Tories though, particularly if they continue with the idea of English votes for English laws.  To me English rule means a continuation of the same.  After all, it’s only London that’s the problem really isn’t it?

What 45% of Scotland was saying to Britain last month was that they wanted more control of their lives and what happens to them.  Well join the club Scotland, so do we but we are not going to get it until power is genuinely devolved from Whitehall.  Maybe instead of all of the regions beginning their own Independence campaigns, the only thing we really need to do is join together to tackle the power of the city of London and corporations that control us. Maybe we should come together to say to Cameron and his tax avoiding corporate friends, we are serving you notice, we’d like our nation back oh and we hope you don’t mind, but we’ll probably make a TV documentary about it, while we’re doing it!

Things to do in Teesside – Go Outdoors

When you think of Teesside do you think of exotic bird watching, rowing, mountain biking, surfing and sailing. I’m guessing you don’t, yet if you dig a little deeper into what is happening in our area, you will see it is brimming with these types of activities.
saltburn surf
For the last 6 or 7 years, I have taken myself off regularly to Saltburn, clothed myself from head to toe in 5mm neoprene and paddled out into the North Sea on my surf board. I am a surfer and I absolutely love it, I love the thrill of catching a wave, the tranquillity and beauty of being out at sea and mostly I love all the amazing people I have met. Being a surfer has opened my eyes to the richness of the outdoors and particularly the outdoors scene in Teesside. I grew up as a town girl, I never really considered that the outdoors were for me. How times have changed? Through surfing I discovered a very different Teesside and in my quest to shine a light on the area, this week I’d like to share my top 5 outdoor activities

5) Rowing on the River Tees: I was really excited to hear about Rivershack, a new company providing activities on the Tees: They’re based down at Preston Park and have beautiful hand-built rowing boats for hire every day between 10.30 & 4. That stretch of river is so beautiful, teaming with flowers, plants and wildlife, I cant think of a more relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
4) Wildlife spotting at Tees Estuary & RPBS Salthome: I was amazed to find out that our region hosts some of the most beautiful examples of rare birds. The birds and habitats found in this area are internationally, nationally and locally important. Go and explore & try and spot yourself anything from seals, Terns, Kestrels, Peregrine and even Yellow Wagtales.
3) Mountain biking at Guisborough Forrest: Situated on the edge of the North York Moors the area offers miles of scenic moorland routes, excellent forest trails and terrain to suit all types of mountain biking. With a range of graded routes catering for children and families as well as experienced mountain bike enthusiasts it is a perfect weekend activity
2) Surfing at Saltburn: Surfing is Britain’s fastest growing sport and even the North Sea doesn’t put us Teessider’s off it. Saltburn now has 2 surf schools and one surf shop to accommodate, offering all the equipment, advice & instruction anyone would need. It’s my number two activity and a highly recommend it to anyone.
1) Sailing at Tees Barrage, Stockton: There are so many activities here from white water rafting, bell boating, sailing or kayaking, you are never short of new experiences. From those water babies of us to the water shy, there is something for everything, making our international white water centre my winner and the jewel in Teesside’s outdoor crown
So there you go, 5 great outdoor things to do now what are you waiting for? Go and explore!

Discovering Teessides Cultural Scene

Teesside has creativity and culture coming out of its ears. But it seems only a few people know about it. Just like many other great things happening in the region, it is hidden, underground and away from the main-stream. This is probably one of its greatest strengths but also its biggest weakness. The sector has this gritty grassroots edginess, a non-commercialised character and a group of passionate people connected to it, giving their all and usually living off less than a minimum wage just for the love of it. But these people are also often on their own, unknown, undiscovered, disconnected and disillusioned. Our artists live down dark alleys, in empty office blocks, in the back of old pubs or the corner of some quirky coffee shop.

Our artists live down dark alleys, in empty office blocks, in the back of old pubs or the corner of some quirky coffee shop.

Yes some of them make it to the what’s on guide of the Georgian Theatre or walls of Arc but for the most part they are hidden.

When I started my Teesside regeneration journey, I went first to the churches and then I went to the artists. I remember walking into a conversation in The Georgian Theatre organised by some cultural activists from Leeds. I was pleasantly surprised to find around 60 artists and cultural practitioners there, all passionate about our region, about culture and about creativity. For years they had been finding ways to exist and create and perform amongst the backdrop of recession, austerity and apathy.

I was excited about this underground world I had discovered and wanted to find a way to shine a light on it and to show them that Stockton loved them. I started a blog and social media movement called www.ilovestockton.me. Using on-line platforms, the idea was to celebrate the richness of our cultural and creative activities and get people talking about and engaging with it a little more. It began to take off; people started following us and liking and hashtagging us and a buzz began about our town. But in all honesty, there was too much to write about.

Currently there are so many activities happening that I could do with some help. Last month I discovered Keren & Bobbie, two Teesside Uni graduates students putting on art shows in unusual spaces. They’ve now opened up their own Gallery, ‘House of Blah Blah’ in Middlesbrough which launched its new exhibition last night. This month I met Laura from ‘Writers Block’ who supports writers to improve their craft and reconnected with Stephen Irving who is discovering new and emerging urban artists from around the region.


I know if the whole of Teesside gets behind our creatives, maybe we could really put these people and this place on the map. I’d like people to come with me on this journey of cultural discovery. Go visit an art gallery, book to see a play, buy some local art, take part in a poetry workshop. Use your facebook and twitter and instagram to big it up and maybe together we can make Teesside’s cultural light shine brighter.

Be the Change You Wish to See in Teesside

For the past few months I have been getting out and about and meeting local people. I am working on an idea that Teesside and the surrounding areas can change for the better if people come together to be the change they wish to see. Many of us complain about what is wrong with Teesside but few of us do much about changing things. I want to change that and wondered if I could share with you a story about one of the groups I am working with in the hope that they might inspire you. They are the “Friends of Trinity Green”.

I met a lady called Fiona a few months back; she told me how her local area was being plagued by alcoholics and how their local green space, Trinity Green in Stockton Town Centre, had become a no-go area because of this. She wanted someone to do something about it. I asked her whether she had thought about doing something herself. She hadn’t but was very keen to. I suggested holding a meeting for others who may be interested in changing things. Fiona loved the idea and went off and leafleted her street, inviting people to a meeting to discuss Trinity Green. On March 31st about 10 ladies turned up. Initially the group had a lot of negative things to share, they needed time to air how hard things had been, why they were angry and what was going on; eventually though they began to talk about what could be done. Ideas like speaking to the police about better patrols of the area, developing community gardening projects, organising community fun days, maybe even seeing Trinity church used for arts and cultural activities throughout the year and not just at SIRF.

Now four months on, this small gathering of local residents are on their way to becoming a constituted community group. A wonderful lady called Dot has been put forward to be the chair and working together with the local council, things are beginning to change. Drinking in the green has significantly reduced and people are feeling safe again. The next step is to see community and cultural activities happening, so on this Sunday, the 17th August at 12.30pm, the group is going to have a picnic in the Green with their families. They are hoping others will turn up and use this beautiful green space too, either on this day or on other days and are now talking to the council about other cultural ideas for the space. All of this has been achieved in just four months. Isn’t that amazing? I wonder what issues you might be facing in your community, why not organise a meeting with people from your street and talk about what you might do together to change things? If you want some help or to just have a chat, why not drop me an email jessie@ilovestockton.me or even contact your local council or residents group who are always happy to help and advise.

Remember if you want things to change, maybe you can be the change!

What is in a name?

I remember in the early days of starting A Way Out, the charity I was a part of founding in 2002; we spent a long time working out what our name should be.  You see a name is important.  Without a name, you can’t register for a bank account, you can’t apply for funding, you can’t become a legal entity.  Your name is central to your brand, it becomes what you are known as, tells people who you are.  A Way Out was about providing a way out for women and young people from addiction, poverty and sexual exploitation; our name had to link to that.

It was also important in leading the charity to have the right “title”.  I needed my own name that gave me significance, a name or title that gets you through doors, gets funders or decision makers to meet you, gets you round tables, gets you invited to the right parties. Yes, there is a lot in a name. 

I didn’t realise when leaving A Way Out though, how difficult not having a name could be.  Ever since leaving A Way Out, people have wanted to know what I’m doing next.  I have started a new journey of place regeneration and community mobilisation, but for the moment, none of this is solid or formalised, it hasn’t got an agreed name and I haven’t got a title.  And that’s the problem.  You see, the world seems to want a solid thing, with a secure name.  It expects you to do something and to be something, and usually something of significance.  People want a nice neat box to put you in, something that says, “oh so that’s who you are” “so that’s what you do”. But without a name or a title, that is much more difficult. 

I am not sure if anyone heard my radio interview with John Foster last week.  You can listen on iplayer here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0217pwg for another few days I think (it’s 2 hrs in), but if anyone was listening, you will see how strongly this need for the tangible came across. “So what are you doing now?” was the question I was asked time and time again.  I tried to share about the journey I was on, the things I am getting involved with, the things that are capturing my heart, but he kept on questioning… “But what is it? What are you going to do next?” He wanted the solid. He wanted the box. And so in my interview, I gave him the something tangible that he was looking for.  I told him about my political hopes.  I had other beautiful stories I could have shared of communities coming together, local amenities being saved, festivals being planned, events being imagined, artists collaborating, movements beginning, ideas for area transformation being dreamed.  But instead, we talked about my journey into local politics.   I didn’t mind, I have lot’s to say on that subject too, but I found it interesting, that this was the path we took. 

All this, has now got me thinking though.  How far is the expectation to “be” and “do” something secure and significant, or to have a solid name or identity, actually affecting our society.  I wonder how many dreams are never dreamed or journeys never taken because the attachment to the solid is too strong or the expectation of the world around us, too great. I wonder how many people feel they are not good enough, because they are not doing enough, or being enough? 

I am really enjoying engaging more with artists at the moment, they seem to be the one group of people, who are finding an ability to stay in the “transient” and “fluid” spaces much longer than the rest of us, to create, to innovate, to imagine and to dream, without the expectation of going and being or doing something other than just being themselves.  I wonder what the world could look like, if a few more of us were allowed to live like this.  How many more new stories might emerge?  How many changes could we see, not just in society but in ourselves?  It’s an interesting question isn’t it but what are your thoughts? Are there expectations that are limiting us? Or is the solid and secure, the only way, really, in the end?

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