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Director blog September 2022 – Riot Days

Maria Alyokhina wrote the book ‘Riot Days’ (Penguin: 2017) about her experience of activism and imprisonment.  Every page a testament to living one’s truth in the face of real and actual oppression. In her case, a feminist in modern day Russia as part of the punk band ‘Pussy Riot’. For those that don’t remember their protest in February 21, 2012, directed at the Orthodox Church leaders support for Putin during his election campaign, first of all where were you and second, never doubt the importance and impact of creative dissent.

Unlike much of the art we see in London, in galleries or regeneration makeovers where something communal or edgy ends up co-opted and corporatized, this is real. Something the powers that be couldn’t pretend they were down with.   

I mention it because I think so much of the way charities, the public sector and wider private agencies operate locally can feel like a mutual conspiracy to suck the life out of things. Deadly boring and deeply ineffective. On top of that, repressive – shunning different ideas and perspectives. Under the Best Value regime for commissioning and procurement government spoke of the guiding principles are being the three E’s – equity, economy, efficiency. This could now be updated as the three C’s – control, contract, con-trick.  That is sometimes how it feels, repeatedly – control, contracts, conning people. Three card monte.      

I am of course being deeply unfair if I leave it there. To quote a former council leader ‘we are all good people stuck in a bad system’ (Barry Quirk – Esprit de corps: leadership for progressive change in local government). He goes on to say: 

“Councils are public institutions and as such have a legal and constitutional status, but they are socially constructed. It’s the people in them that make them work or fail. It’s no good blaming the construct when the essence of organization is something that we have built ourselves… if local government is ineffective it’s our own feckless fatalism… that are at fault. If things are not going well, there is no one to blame but ourselves. We socially construct the system that we then claim traps us from being effective. So how can good people escape the trap? First, by being open and honest about the failings and deficiencies” 

Taking my lead from this council leader, I also want to be open and escape the trap. My sense is that all is not right, which is why I do community work. I don’t assume equal partnership is a given and I rarely experience it, either for myself but most importantly for community groups and residents. They are not treated as equals.  They do not get the justice and respect they deserve. The heating and water supplies often don’t work, the parking fines mount up, the rat problem isn’t tackled, the GP waiting times get longer, the cost of housing goes up and up. Land value rules everything around us – a license to print money. Since 2010 councils have on average at least 50% less money due to cuts. Think about what that means in terms of who does and doesn’t have power and remember ‘if you want change you need power’: land values go up – those who control land that can be developed control everything and stand to profit by it. The rest of us are trapped. So trapped it becomes routine. Which leads me to one of my favourite quotes from an Italian author Italo Calvino: 

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” 
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities 

Our new vision is about ‘residents driving change’.  Our mission ‘to create positive spaces and opportunities for resident empowerment and wellbeing’. Quirk warns of feckless fatalism, Calvino speaks of escape, exhorting those who would not be feckless and fatalistic to be vigilant and give such people ‘space’. Hence our mission – positive spaces. We want spaces – not just buildings and community centers that don’t cost the earth due to spurious notions of financial viability but also the head space and the oxygen in the room to speak up and not be closed down, shouted down, but space to be, to endure, to act in alignment with our own beliefs and agendas rather than incorporation into someone else’s ambitions. 

Yes I got all of this from reading a book about a Russian feminist. I do tend to read a lot of books though. It is how I decompress and feel enchantment with the world that is all too often dreary.   

Maria Alyokhina writes: 

‘You have a routine; you have a schedule for life and living. Do you also have a set schedule for thinking?  Why don’t you tell them no?  Why can’t you even think about telling them no?  Why does this thought seem pointless to you?  When did it become pointless for you?’  – p.75 / isolation 

Later on she quotes someone else: 

‘If you dream alone, the dream remains only a dream; but if you dream with others, you create reality.’ – Subcomandante Marcos 

Long may we dream and act together. 

Matthew Scott 

TWCP Director 

Wellbeing Navigators Comes to an End

As this chapter of working in Thames View and Barking Riverside closes and another begins I’ve been reflecting on our pilot, Wellbeing Navigators. The standout thing for me has been the relationships formed between all our participants and clients. There are so many different activities, groups and projects going on around here that once you open your eyes to them you start to see a different landscape: a network of residents striving to make their neighbourhood more connected, fun and greener. I have seen former wellbeing navigator volunteers and clients go on to work on the Henry programme, start cooking classes at the Participatory City Warehouse or leading campaigns to open up our local nature reserve. One thing leads to another as they say. 

During our pilot we have helped people retrain – learning skills in motivational interviewing, mental health awareness and social prescribing and to seek new opportunities for employment – coming out of the pandemic. It’s been heartening to have applicants call me to say that having been helped out of rough patches themselves they just want to give something back to their community having been locked away for 18 months of lockdown. This eagerness has allowed us to reconnect many isolated residents back with their community, get active and feeling healthier again. Just a few warm conversations can ignite a life changing transformation. One resident we were chatting to was unaware that our Barking Food Forest was literally on his doorstep, now he’s helping to run it! 

Over the course of walking groups, workshops, community events and 1-2-1s I have seen neighbours who have never met before, meet for the first time and form strong bonds of solidarity as they discuss the common challenges of bills, health, homes and overcoming loneliness in a busy city. It’s quite surprising sometimes how easily friendships can form. Despite the fact many of us spend most of our time looking at screens surrounded by four walls, once we are out and about talking to people we really are all the same: looking for a sense of connection and belonging within our community. 

Alex Anthony

Wellbeing Navigator Volunteer Coordinator

Ripple Reserve Reach Out 

Residents have been working together over the last 3 months to revive a movement long-forgotten  back to life. The Ripple Nature Reserve once stood, open to the public, with two main entrances on  Renwick Road and Marine Drive. Located behind the Barking Reach Power Station, today, it remains  closed. The site has a vast history in Thames View, Barking and Dagenham, and was once a place  where local industry deposited pulverised fuel ash. It’s even rumoured there was a farm located on site.  Residents were able to spot the smallest British Carnivore back then – Weasels and the elusive  woodpecker bird. They may very well still be there. History moved on and the land was deemed safe  for human use and became an accessible nature reserve with the site boasting gorgeous silver-trunk  birch trees, a pond and wildflower meadow blooming with colourful flowers each year in summer  bloom. Unfortunately, the site was closed a number of years ago, leaving nature to leave the Reserve untouched and wild. 

Thames Ward Community Project (TWCP), Barking and Dagenham CouncilRoding Rubbish and a  group of volunteers have been working behind the scenes to open the Ripple Nature Reserve to the general public. The aim is to make it safe once again for young children and the more mature,  responsible adults and dog-walkers alike. Residents are taking part in a number of activities such as  litter picking, planning and crafting so that we can once again bring the Ripple Nature Reserve back  to life and open for all. Consider this the Ripple Reserve Reach Out. If you would like to be  involved please contact us below. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, ideas and for our joint contribution in opening the Reserve in full next year! More coming soon. 

Vishal Narayan, Local Resident on behalf of the Ripple Nature Reserve Resident Group

Email: Nia@TWCP.org.uk to get involved.

Instagram: @Ripplenaturereserve

Join us to celebrate GROW

Throughout August, we partnered with Creative Barking and Dagenham to provide creative workshops and activities for residents in Thames View and Barking Riverside. GROW transformed local spaces and allowed residents to connect, learn a new skill and just relax with family and friends!

Taking place Saturdays – Tuesdays across the Sue Bramley CentreRivergate Centre and our very own Barking Food Forest; the activities have ranged from weaving, sewing, textiles and craft, gardening, poetry and drawing. Residents have also enjoyed live music and catering from local producers!

Following our final workshops will be a GROW celebration event on Saturday 3 September at Barking Food Forest.

JOIN US: 12pm to 4pm

Barking Food Forest, Fielders Crescent, Barking, IG11 0FU

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