THE people of Sowerby Bridge won’t easily forget Boxing Day 2015.
Like many communities across northern England, they were hit by severe floods. Water swept through the town, inundating properties and causing devastation.
But amid the chaos, local residents saw the community at its best, as people rallied to help total strangers in their time of need.
The floodwaters may have receded, but that need for compassion and camaraderie are greater now than ever, says Kevin Curry.
“We need to have that without there being a tragedy like the flood,” he says. “We need a culture of people coming together. People need to see what is going on; there is a tragedy going on right now. We are not flooded, but it is a tragedy – people are starving and dying. People are blinded by Coronation Street or Eastenders or computer games, but that’s not reality. We need ways for people to get involved.”
We’re in the Happydays bike workshop and café in Sowerby Bridge for the latest Voices from the Margins conversation, and the discussion has turned to ideals. What would a truly good society look like?
“We should be a compassionate, kind society, loving, merciful and caring – like a family,” says Kevin.
We should be like a family
“We need community,” says Mary Stewart. “The closest I have seen was when we had those floods in 2015. I was down at the Gathering Place and people were coming through the door with clothes, food and cleaning materials.”
We need community
Around a dozen people are gathered here, in this charity-run social enterprise in the centre of town.
So, we ask, what are the challenges and issues in Sowerby Bridge and nearby Halifax? What should the election candidates be talking about?
Tom Holmes: “There are buildings empty that should not be empty – closed factories and mills that are decaying but that could become supported housing.”
Kevin Curry: “There is a lot of sofa-surfing. I sofa-surfed for years and often had nowhere to stay – I was on sofas or benches.”
Frank Dunn: “There are single parents struggling to bring their children up and they cannot afford to take them anywhere. How many single parents are going without meals, to feed their children? It’s a lot.”
Steve Dale: “Poor people get penalised for being poor time and time again, for all sorts of stuff. If you go over your overdraft you get penalised; if you miss a direct debit they will fine you; if you have to use your emergency electric or gas you get charged. There are so many things you get charged for, for not being able to afford to do things.”
Poor people get penalised for being poor time and time again
Contrary to claims, work doesn’t always pay, says Martin Green. “Working part-time at 16 hours [per week], I was no better off. I was probably worse off.”
Martin Green again: “They want everyone to be computerised, but some people are not, and they are being penalised for it.”
There are frustrations from the search for jobs, such as here from Steve Dale, a Class 1 lorry driver: “When I went to the job centre, with every driving job I came across I would apply then it would turn out to be a driving agency that just wanted you on their books. The vast majority of driving jobs are just agencies.”
The vast majority in the room say they won’t vote on June 8. Steve says he will vote, but for an underdog who won’t win, in order to limit ever so slightly the mandate of whoever does win.
“I would like to see an option on the ballot paper for a vote of no confidence in the British democratic system,” he says – “an option to open discussions on a new way of doing things.”
I would like to see an option on the ballot paper for a vote of no confidence
What, then, would make things better?
Kevin Curry: “They have all those empty buildings. They need to give grants – what they need to do is to get homeless people and teach them trades while doing their own flats up. And get all the support and friendship networks together. We need somewhere to chill out in safety.”
Kevin again: “Take more off those earning £200,000 plus. We have got nothing and are struggling to make ends meet and have to go down to the church to get fed. The Government are spending too much on missiles to drop while the church is having to feed us. It’s all wrong.”
Frank Dunn: “There is no government that works for people. The best government would be a government from the streets.
The best government would be a government from the streets
What would he do if he were an MP, we ask Frank?
“I would not be sat in an office – I would be out finding out what people want. You cannot say what people want if you do not go out and see them. I think people on the street could tell them a lot more.”
Tom Holmes: “Nobody understands what it’s like until they have been through it.”
Martin Green: “Politicians are no better than a bunch of kids bickering in the playground. If I was a politician I would not argue like that. I would say ‘you fight your fight; I’ll fight mine’.”
Tom Holmes: “You would have a sit-down session and ask people what they wanted. You want people with common sense to get things sorted, not just arguing. Talk properly like human beings.”
Steve Dale: “People do not want to live off handouts – they want to achieve.”
People do not want to live off handouts – they want to achieve
And what should the new Government do first, after the election?
Tom Holmes: “Train people who have been homeless and have been in trouble. Bring someone in from the streets… That would lead to more support for people – involving people who have been through it, not just people who have done a course.”
Mary Stewart: “Bring a team of people in from each town… Those who have been through it can educate people and tell them more about real life.”
Steve Dale: “Invest in British people. They welcome people from certain professions because there are shortfalls, like doctors and nurses, but I think they should invest more in British people and give them support, like lowering tuition fees.”
Kevin Curry: “What I think the new government should do is, instead of saying ‘look how tough we are’, they should share blessings between each other. We need to bless our enemies – and stop sanctioning people.”
We need to bless our enemies – and stop sanctioning people