blog · Uncategorized

A view on Britain’s Independence Day (from a former colony)

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.08.49

On 26 May I joined in Guyana’s Jubilee celebrations, marking 50 years of independence from British colonial rule. A month later, I find that while I’ve been away Britain has gone and had its own independence day. At least that’s what UKIP leader Nigel Farage crowed after the results of the Brexit referendum were announced.

The irony is not lost on many. After centuries of empire building, the nation made rich off the back of slavery, exploitation and mass theft of resources has thrown off the yoke of European autocracy and is free. “Britons never will be slaves”, as flag-waving attendees of The Last Night of the Proms lustily sing every summer. Forgive me if I don’t bring out the Union Jack bunting just yet.

Viewing Brexit from Guyana has been an interesting experience. First of all I have to guiltily admit I didn’t vote – for the first time in my life – due to a combination of bureaucracy, laziness and complacency, which meant I didn’t get my proxy voting application in on time. Perhaps I have no grounds to discuss the referendum, but I’m going to anyway.

Speaking to friends here and back in the UK, Brexit is the talking point. Though I sense that people here in Guyana are asking more out of politeness and vague curiosity than any real fascination in the geopolitical affairs of the country they were once forced to call ‘the motherland’. There is some coverage in the local newspapers though, including editorials on what Britain’s departure will mean in terms of the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement), trade (Guyana exported €192m to the EU in 2013, and imported about €122m) and EU funding streams for the Caribbean.

“It is most unlikely that the 27 EU countries, which had no historical relationship with, or colonial responsibility for, the English-speaking Caribbean, will want to maintain the level of official aid and investment that now exists,” wrote Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador, in Kaieteur News. Investment, I’m guessing, like the Gy$2.2bn in budget support that Guyana received from the EU on Monday.

But does Guyana really benefit from this assistance? Have things changed in this country because of foreign aid and investment, or because of local entrepreneurship and partnerships not involving the EU at all?

The British High Commissioner to Guyana, Greg Quinn, promised in a recent Facebook video message, “We will stay a close friend of Guyana and we will stay committed to Guyana”. I’m not sure Guyana is that bothered. When people want to emigrate it seems to be for the US and Canada, these days, not the UK. Minibus drivers hang small stars n stripes on their rearview mirrors, not Union Jacks. Just 11% of Guyana’s exports are bound for the UK, compared to 28% for Canada and 17% to the United States.

The days of the British empire are mercifully numbered. And everyone’s starting to adjust to the new world order. And ask, hang on, why does this small island get a bigger say than us? The UK senses this, but can’t quite face up to its waning power. By voting to leave the EU, the ‘Out’ camp has seized on that last, desperate battle tactic: batten up the hatches, raise the drawbridge and try to pretend you’re safe behind those big stone walls. While the Remainers said, I don’t want to live life that. Let’s talk to our neighbours and see what we can work out.

It seems foolish to leave an institution then spend the next however many years trying to build up the same relationship from outside. Like breaking up with someone, screaming ‘I HATE YOU!’ and expecting they’ll still cook you dinner, lend you stuff and have you over anytime you like – but, you know, just as friends. Yeah sure, that’s gonna happen.

In Guyana, there is anger at foreigners coming in to steal resources and wealth from Guyanese hands, but this is mostly reserved for big business from China, America and Europe. Not struggling individuals seeking a better life for themselves and their families, as with EU migrants coming to the UK.

I’m proud of my UK brothers and sisters who fight against racial prejudice, stereotypes and misinformation. And I try to remain tolerant with those who talk about the country being ‘taken over’ – while still challenging them – because (like with every wave of xenophobia the UK has seen) they’ve been told that our problems lie at the feet of migrants, not our own self-serving political and economic elite.

No wonder they seek comfort in the extreme right. They are ignored by Labour, the Conservatives and other mainstream parties who dismiss them as bigots, without listening. As much as I detest the British National Party, would you get David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn talking to people on a level like the BNP man in the video below? No. They’d sneer and mock them. And we ask ourselves why so many folks used the referendum as a protest vote.

But I’m embarrassed too. By the worrying signs of increased racism on the streets. By the people who represent us on the world stage, like Farage and Boris Johnson. I can imagine now what it feels like to be American and have Donald Trump as your presidential candidate. The global impression of the UK right now is a bratty little kid jumping up and down saying ‘Stop telling me what to do. I’m a big boy now. I don’t need you’ – forgetting that he still lives at home and gets his pocket money from his parents.

When you’re a hero to nationalistic, far-right groups with a hazy dream of going ‘back’ to some monocultural paradise that never existed, you know you’re not doing something right.


Rough sleepers predicted to live longer – 47 is the new 42


(The Pavement, 11 February 2012) The outdated and overused statistic that “the life expectancy of someone who sleeps rough is 42 years” has finally been updated. The original figure came from Crisis’ 1996 report Still Dying For A Home (which we reported on in May 2010). The new report from Sheffield University, also commissioned by Crisis, ups this figure to 47.

But this doesn’t mean 46-year-old Pavement readers should start worrying. What the 1996 and 2011 Crisis reports calculate is not how long homeless people can expect to live, but their average age of death.

The briefing to the new report, Homelessness: A Silent Killer, makes this clear (unlike the 1996 study) by avoiding the term “life expectancy.”

In comparison to the average age of death in the so-called general population (77) it’s a shocking, headline-grabbing figure – even though the reason the figure is so low is that more homeless people die at a young age, dragging down the overall average.

Cause and effect

In the briefing to the report (which is still to be released in full), Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy summarises: “This report paints a bleak picture of the consequences homelessness has on people’s health and wellbeing. Ultimately, it shows that homelessness is killing people.”

However, while being homeless can exacerbate existing health problems or even cause them, not having a home was not found to be the main cause of death among those counted. Instead, the study found homeless people are over nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, three times as likely to die as a result of a traffic accident, twice as likely to die of an infection and three times more likely to suffer from a fatal fall.

Most significantly, however, it calculated that drug and alcohol abuse account for just over a third of all deaths – a huge proportion. But drug and alcohol abuse of course also affects (and kills) members of the general population too. And as Jeremy Swain, CEO of Thames Link, commented on Twitter soon after the release of the report briefing on 21 December: “we know from robust academic research that alcohol and drug misuse nearly always precedes homelessness”.

Counting issues

The researchers also faced major obstacles in methodology. As Dr Bethan Thomas admits in the report: “Almost by definition, it is difficult to count homeless people and it is not possible to reliably estimate mortality for the previously homeless who have now found secure accommodation and so to discover what the long term effects of a period of homelessness might be. It is also difficult to count deaths of homeless persons. Death certificates do not record the deceased’s housing status.”

Despite these obstacles, Dr Thomas went ahead with the report – finding potential homeless deaths by matching postcodes from mortality data provided by the Office for National Statistics with postcodes of homeless day centres and hostel accommodation as provided by Homeless Link. In total 1,731 deaths (where the person was definitely homeless or there is a high probability they were) were counted.

What next?

Crisis has used the new report’s findings to outline a set of recommendations to improve homeless people’s health, in short: prioritise the needs of homeless people in the restructure of the NHS, reform health service delivery for homeless people and ensure provision meets needs and is integrated and holistic.

The next phase of the project, to be published in summer 2012, will investigate cause of death by age and analyse more detailed causes of death – plus, it is hoped, mortality by different accommodation type and area.


A rubbish way to die


(The Pavement, 10 December 2011) Last month The Pavement ran its first advert warning of the dangers of sleeping in bins (pictured). But how widespread is this issue and what is being done to discourage it? We asked Biffa, one of the UK’s leading waste management companies, if this is something they’re aware of and, if so, do they have any records to indicate the scale of the problem?

“It is on our radar,” confirmed Shaun Davis, Biffa’s Group Director of Health & Safety and the Environment. “In terms of statistics we’re quite fortunate because in the last three years we’ve had one accident involving a person in a bin, which resulted in a guy injuring his leg.”

Sadly, over the years, The Pavement has learned of and reported on much more severe, and sometimes fatal, cases. Just last month, two homeless men who were sleeping in a bin in San Antonio, Texas, were accidentally dumped into a waste truck compacter. According to KSAT news, one of the pair, Richard Salinas, managed to escape and raise the alarm but it was too late for the other man trapped inside, who was crushed from the waist down and later died.

In a bid to avoid tragedies such as this, Biffa has implemented a series of “pre-lift” procedures, designed to make sure no one in sleeping inside a bin before it is lifted and tipped into the waste truck. As well as visually checking that no one is in the bin, the bin is rattled once the lifting forks are in position to give anyone inside another opportunity to make themselves known. The trucks are also fitted with cameras, which film the rubbish material as it is tipped into the truck and relay the images back to the cab, giving staff another opportunity to spot a body.

Similar procedures were recommended in People in Commercial Waste Containers, a guidance document issued by the Health and Safety Executive in June 2010. Although not a legal document, it is made clear that “if you adopt the practice and principles described, you should be taking sufficient action to discharge your legal duties, and secure compliance with the law.” Required actions include carrying out a risk assessment of “all of the significant risks relating to the storage and subsequent collection of commercial waste, including the possibility of people gaining entry into bins.”

As well as implemented on-theground procedures, Biffa is keen to make sure its employees are aware of the risks. “We’ve created a DVD called People in Bins, which we rolled across the entire organisation to educate people,” says Mr Davis. “Secondly, as we know we’re coming into that season now which is particularly wet and cold, we run refresher programmes – what we call Toolbox Talks – which are short briefing sessions on the risk of people in bins and the dangers associated… Obviously it’s a risk all year round and particularly a risk in winter when it’s cold and wet, so we’re particularly active at discouraging it then.”

Another step Biffa is currently taking is to introduce a “near miss” reporting programme. “We are looking at actually identifying how many people we think might have been in a bin prior to us lifting it,” explains Mr Davis. “And also when we actually do move it, if anybody is found to be in that bin, making sure that our people report that internally as a near miss because that’s a potential accident – it might have been stopped at that time but we still need to know why.” Under the new scheme, staff will be able to call the Biffa call centre to notify the safety team immediately.

Biffa, like other waste management companies, has also introduced lockable tops and warning stickers on bins, although how effective such stickers are is unclear. The bin slept in by the two men in San Antonio had warning stickers on, and warning stickers were introduced in Brighton long before the death of teacher Scott Williams, who was crushed in a rubbish lorry after falling asleep in an industrial bin. Following that accident, in July 2009, City Clean “upgraded” its warning stickers on large bins and worked with the council’s homeless team to put up posters in hostels and other buildings visited by rough sleepers to warn them of the danger of sleeping in bins.

While Mr Davis sounds a note of caution about raising the issue of sleeping in bins – “people may not have thought of bins being nice and warm and dry and cosy” – he believes educating people is vital, and shouldn’t stop with Biffa. “If you were to lobby the ESA [Environmental Services Authority] then they in turn might get behind a campaign like this and get a number of the other waste organisations behind this. It’s something that I’m particularly keen on promoting and if it came from both sides – from the industry and pressure groups or public groups such as yourself – it could be really worthwhile.”


Unemployed pushed to back of housing queue


(The Pavement, 8 November 2011) Unemployed people will be pushed down the housing register under a new proposal from London’s Westminster Council, introduced to “discourage a benefits culture.”

Under the council’s new housing allocation policy, which will come into force on 30 January 2012, applicants who have been working for more than two years will receive 50 extra ‘points’, moving them closer to gaining a council home.

To qualify, the applicant (be it an individual or the main applicant from a family) must have been working at least 16 hours per week under a written contract for at least two years. Applicants with temporary contracts, meanwhile, must have been employed continuously, with no more than one month’s gap between contracts.

Successful applicants will keep their bonus employment points until they have been re-housed or their application is closed. If they lose their job, the points will not be removed, as long as there is a “realistic prospect of re-employment.”

Those who have been looking for work for more than two years will also receive 50 extra points, as long as they have been “actively engaged” with the council’s Homeless Employment Learning Project, which aims to help those in temporary accommodation into work or further education.

According to Westminster Council’s cabinet member for housing and corporate property, Councillor Jonathan Glanz, “These changes ensure that not only do we prioritise the most vulnerable, including those living in overcrowded properties and those with medical needs, but we also reward those who are doing their best not to be dependent on the state by working or actively seeking work.”

The council is also hoping that the employed people they house will later move out of their council home into private accommodation, leaving their former property available for other people on the housing list.

The plans have met opposition and criticisms from a number of homeless groups and MPs. Alastair Murray, deputy director for Housing Justice, told the Evening Standard that many people would find it difficult to provide the required paperwork, adding: “Quite a lot of homeless people do work but the kind of work they are able to do is quite unstable, so they may not be eligible.”

For Kay Boycott, Shelter’s director of campaigns, policy and communications, the real issue is not the allocation of social housing but the amount of it: “Britain’s desperate shortage of social housing makes decisions around how to allocate it incredibly difficult. What we really need is to build more truly affordable homes for families across the country so we do not find ourselves in this difficult position of having to judge who is most worthy of this scarce resource.”

Earlier this year, Councillor Guthrie McKie, Labour’s Housing spokesperson, described the proposal as “very unfair and extremely divisive.” However, Councillor McKie may find scant support higher up in her own party. At the annual Labour Party conference, Ed Miliband declared: “When we have a housing shortage, choices have to be made. Do we treat the person who contributes to their community the same as the person who doesn’t? My answer is ‘no’. Our first duty should be to help the person who shows responsibility.”

Additional priority will also be given to applicants who have lived in Westminster continuously for 10 years. While priority is already given to applicants with young children, who are homeless or have special medical needs.

Westminster’s plans are just one example of a wider trend, which is seeing unemployed social housing applicants penalised across the country.

Similar policies have already been introduced or proposed in Manchester, Wandsworth and Newham. While in its recent Housing Allocations Consultation, Hammersmith & Fulham stated: “The council is proposing to provide a fixed number of new lettings each year for people who have taken part in specific council-supported programmes to get back into training or employment.”

On a national scale, the minister for housing, Grant Shapps, has pledged to give local authorities the freedom to draw up their own social housing priorities list. In an article for Inside Housing, Shapps wrote: “I believe that many councils will use their new powers to reward and acknowledge those actively working and contributing to their local area, as Westminster and others have done. And rightly so.”

Shapps insisted that “we will retain the ╘reasonable preference’ criteria, establishing proper priority for those in greatest need”, however the vulnerable are not immune from the shifts in policy. Under the new Localism Bill, homeless applicants would be forced to accept offers of “suitable private accommodation” – or face a penalty. This shift, it is explained in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (CLG) Localism Bill Impact Assessment will allow local authorities to “discharge the duty they owe to homeless households.”

If passed, the law would also allow local authorities to operate closed waiting lists, removing the right for anyone (without restriction) to apply for social housing. According to the CLG’s impact assessment, “Under this option, the rules determining which categories of applicants qualify to be considered for social housing would be decided at the local level,” although “the rules determining which applicants receive priority for social housing would continue to be set centrally via the statutory ╘reasonable preference’ categories.”

Shelter issued a briefing for the second reading of the bill, in which it expressed concern over the “undermining” of the legal duty to homeless people: “The proposed changes sever the link between homelessness and recognising the need for a settled home by allowing councils to discharge homeless households into the insecure PRS [Private Rented Sector] rather than find them a settled homeâ•” there is a distinct lack of good quality housing at the bottom end of the PRS market meaning that many of the most vulnerable households will be placed in unsuitable accommodation.”

Another proposal Shelter has requested to be removed from the bill is the removing of tenancy lease security, which would allow councils to reassess tenants after a minimum of two years and evict them if they no longer met the criteria, in terms of for example income and benefits.

The Localism Bill is to have its third reading in the House of Lords on 31 October.


Homeless people victims of slave trade


(The Pavement, 6 October 2011) Following the rescue of 24 “slaves” from a traveller’s site in Bedfordshire, it has emerged homeless people are being abused as slave labour.

The dramatic police raid at the site has received huge national and international coverage, as details of the conditions in which the men were held emerge. Detective Chief Inspector Sean O’Neil, from the Bedforshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, said: “The men we found at the site were in a poor state of physical health and the conditions they were living in were shockingly filthy and cramped. We believe that some of them had been living and working there in a state of virtual slavery, some for just a few weeks and other for up to 15 years.”

Although Bedfordshire Police were unable to confirm this to The Pavement, the Guardian has reported that those found were “all vulnerable men who had been recruited from homeless shelters and dole queues”. They ranged from 17 to 30 and include ten British men, three Polish men, two Romanian men, a Latvian man and a Lithuanian man. Of the 24, nine chose not to assist the police and left the medical reception centre where they were initially taken. The police have been working with the UK Human Trafficking Centre on the operation, which is according to a report in the Times is suspected to be part of a wider slavery chain holding up to 100 captives. Although in a statement from Bedfordshire Police, Detective Chief Inspector O’Neil said: “I am confident that while the investigation is in its early stages this is a family run ‘business’ and is an organised crime group that has been broken up by the Netwing operation.”

Following the raid at Greenacre caravan site in Leighton Buzzard, four men and one woman were arrested using new legislation under the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010. The men – James Connor, 23, Tommy Connor, 26, Patrick Connor, 19 and James Connor, 33 – appeared at Luton Magistrates Court and have been remanded in custody to appear at Luton Crown Court on the provisional date of 5 December 2011. The fifth defendant, Josie Connors, 30, was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit offences of holding people in servitude, plus two counts of requiring people to perform forced labour, appeared in court on 22 September.

For many homeless charities, although the accusations are appalling, they are not a surprise. Thames Reach spokesman Mike Nicholas said, “We’ve been concerned for a number of months now that unscrupulous gangs are targeting homeless people. We’ve been made aware of cases where people from these gangs have approached people where homeless people gather, like soup runs or day centres.”

In total, Thames Reach has been approached by 22 people who’ve run away from the gangs, and received reports from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Southampton, Dover and Luton. “Many were trafficked across from Central and Eastern Europe with offers of jobs and accommodation,” explains Mr Nicholas, “and then when they got here these jobs failed to materialise and often people were subject to physical assault, maybe had to take credit cards or bank accounts out in their names, or were forced to work in factories. We were aware of people being shipped every day from a property in the Midlands to a bakery in Luton.”

In response, Thames Reach put out a warning to other homeless organisations and projects last March. In terms of helping the victims themselves, Mr Nicholas outlined a few possible avenues: “We could help put them in touch with the police if they had been victims of these gangs… Some of them are very fearful and don’t want to talk about their experiences and they’re worried about repercussions and so we’ve been helping some of those people go home. Other people are currently here in safe houses and there are police investigations taking place.”

For Jad Adams, Chair of Croydon Nightwatch, the practice goes back much further: “Around three years ago we were getting a number of people who were coming to our soup run in Central Croydon and trying to recruit people. We challenged them and asked what they were doing and they were evasive. One of our team also followed them and took the numbers of their vehicles.”

Croydon Council also stepped in to help, collating the information to pass to the police, while the soup run’s volunteers began issuing leaflets in English and Polish. “Even if the clients themselves aren’t particularly concerned,” said Mr Adams, “the gang leaders are savvy and they know that we’re on to them.” Since then the Croydon Nightwatch hasn’t seen any more such recruiters.

So what was the advice in their leaflet? “It was to be aware,” explained Mr Adams, “but also to know exactly what the work is, what the rates of pay are and where you are going to be working. And never give away your passport or identity documents.”

This need for awareness has been echoed by many, including Mike McCall, St Mungo’s Executive Director of Operations, who said: “These reports are very concerning. Rough sleepers are some of society’s most vulnerable people. We need to be ever watchful that they aren’t being exploited.”


Care or custody


(The Pavement, 22 May 2009) The campaign to move rough sleepers out of the City of London, reported in last month’s Pavement, shows no sign of letting up. Some rough sleepers have been arrested, a church group has staged a street protest, and readers continue to report nighttime wake-up calls, wetting of sleeping areas by street cleaners and requests to ‘move on’. The story has received high-profile interest from BBC London News and BBC Radio Five Live, as well as other publications, who reported the accounts of a number of rough sleepers as well as the response from Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of Broadway, the charity contracted by the Corporation of London to deliver homeless outreach services within the Square Mile. In the BBC News report, Mr Sinclair said it was not a campaign to harass rough sleepers. “Police are more actively checking on people’s welfare throughout the night,” he said. “There are community issues around what they [rough sleepers] bring in terms of some urination and some belongings that they have.”

Anger and arrests

This response and continuing reports that police and street cleaners are disturbing rough sleepers in the City have angered readers (see letters) and homeless and housing groups, many of whom are concerned by the legal direction the campaign seems to be taking, following the arrest of a reader for refusing to comply with the ‘move on’ policy. On 30th May at 2.30am, police carrying out a ‘welfare check’ on Booth Lane in the City of London woke Peter Pickles, 57, and asked him to move. It was the second time he had been roused that night, and he refused. He was arrested for “obstructing/resisting a constable in execution of duty” and held for, he estimates, three or four hours before being bailed. Mr Pickles, whose 70-mile charity walk in aid of the Spitalfields Crypt Trust (reported in issue 30 of The Pavement) raised around ¬£400, appeared at the City of London Magistrates Court on 6th June. He was represented by a duty solicitor who had earlier entered the waiting room to ask if anyone needed representation. The magistrate said the incident was “out of Mr Pickles’ character” and gave him a six months’ conditional discharge with no costs, meaning that no further action will be taken against Mr Pickles, unless he commits another offence within the next six months. The magistrate also took into account that Mr Pickles was violently assaulted last year (reported in issue 20 of The Pavement). The frequent move-ons have lead to flashbacks of the attack, even though Mr Pickles says, “I find it less stressful out here [on the streets] than in a hostel”. Despite everything, Mr Pickles does not blame the police: “In a sense, I feel sorry for the police, given an order they don’t want to do.” Like many of our readers, Mr Pickles is used to receiving the pink ‘stop/search’ slips from police carrying out ‘welfare checks’. On one such slip handed out just last month, the ‘outcome’ is recorded as “moved on as per force policy Corp of London”. However, Sergeant O’Connor, of Snow Hill police station, told The Pavement that Operation Poncho will continue until further notice, and that the police are involved in “carrying out the welfare checks, checking how everybody is and facilitating cleansers carrying out their work”, the latter aspect, she said, since April or May this year. The Pavement asked Mr Sinclair, of Broadway, about the arrest of Mr Pickles. He was not aware of the case. “It wouldn’t be right for me to comment on individual cases,” he added. “It’s not something that we’re involved in or have been involved in.” Mr Pickles is not the only rough sleeper in the City who has recently had an unexpected brush with the law during this operation. A number of readers spoke about their experiences of being ‘moved on’ to The Pavement and BBC Radio 5 Live. We have since heard that less than a fortnight after speaking out, two of the six men were arrested for suspected immigration problems, despite the police having stopped them for ‘welfare checks’ numerous times before. They were released without charge. Although the Data Protection Act means that the police are unable to confirm the names of individuals who have been arrested and not charged, or comment on their cases, the City of London press bureau confirmed that on 6th June a homeless man was arrested on suspicion of overstaying his visa, and on 8th June another was arrested on suspicion of the same offence. Unfortunately, other than the coincidence of the timing of their arrest, there is no way for us to link this directly to the operation in the City.

Church protest

Meanwhile, in a protest against the campaign, a group from the Bloomsbury Baptist Church, staged a street ‘sleepover’ to show their support and see the cleaning tactics first-hand. Nine members of the Shaftesbury Avenue-based church gathered on Wednesday 18th June on Fleet Street, with eight sleeping out all night. Revd Dr Simon Perry told The Pavement it had been a “revealing” experience: “At 2.15am the police woke us all up and did the thing that the homeless people say has been happening all along, and that is ‘wetting’.” The policewoman told the church group that the place they were sleeping needed cleaning because “homeless people urinate and defecate” and it was “a bit smelly”. Tim Jones, a deacon of the church, asked the policewoman how many hostel places were available and was told “none tonight”. The group hadn’t expected that they would witness wetting (pictured). “I honestly thought it would be political suicide for them to do it while we were there,” said Revd Perry, “because we represent a community that has a great deal of weight behind us politically.” He added: “We will use every resource at our disposal; but in the first instance, this will be an attempt to stop the present campaign, within the context of working in harmony with Broadway.” The protest was a real eye-opener for Revd Perry: “I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it for myself. I’ve now encountered the reality that this is not sensationalism. I’ve seen the politeness shown to us, and the aggression shown to others. On reflection, I would probably say that the politeness and warmth of the police was a thin veneer over the underlying aggression that marks this campaign,” he said. He also criticised the Corporation’s approach to homeless services: “It’s precisely the same philosophy used for children and education ‚Äì results, aims, goals and objectives ‚Äì without taking into account the humanity of people,” he said. “If the order were inverted, we’d be far more likely to achieve targets and goals accidentally.”

Tougher approach

Asked about the increasing anger and concern at the new “more assertive” approach (as it is described on the Broadway website) of the partnership of between the City of London Police, Corporation of London and Broadway, Mr Sinclair admitted that the Broadway was “part of that [approach]” and said “I can see how people would see this as a coordinated approach”, though he denied that it was. “If I can provide some reassurances around that, then I will,” he added. “It’s a different approach all around ‚Äì from the City, from the Police, from the partnership… We’re being far more rigorous in engaging with people and providing positive outcomes.” Asked whether Broadway passed on lists of where homeless people are to the City of London police, Mr Sinclair said: “We work closely as agencies, and people speak to each other on the ground and other levels. We do share information. If the police come across someone, they’ll tell us; and if we saw someone was in genuine distress, we’d call in the police,” adding “There isn’t a war-time table with homeless people being plotted.”

Behind the statistics

Following Mr Sinclair’s response to The Pavement and other media outlets, Broadway has now published a number of ‘positive outcomes’ they have recorded since taking on their contract in March (worth £790,682 over three years), which includes: Six individuals booked into B&B; five accessing emergency bed spaces; six people accessing a rolling shelter; nine people gaining hostel accommodation; one person gaining permanent accommodation; and an additional seven housing outcomes pending. The Pavement asked Mr Sinclair where these individuals had gone on to. He was unable to answer. “I don’t know the details of the individuals,” he said. “I don’t work with them directly, so all I would say is that those numbers here have improved.” He later added: “I don’t know of any negative follow-ups”. Mr Sinclair added: “These figures aren’t temporary, they’re figures. Some of the outcomes are temporary, as opposed to permanent. What we haven’t done is found all these people permanent accommodation ‚Äì it doesn’t work like that. But they’re not temporary outcomes. They’re outcomes.” He agreed, however, that the statistics represented a ‘snapshot’ of Broadway’s progress to date, adding “there are individual stories behind that”. The statistics supplied by Broadway also referred to a number of “wider social/healthcare outcomes” including: 11 requests for mental health assessments; two referrals into detox; five people reconnected to their local community i.e. supported to return to their country of origin, namely Poland (with a further three individuals supported from Tower Hamlets).


The law of the streets


(The Pavement, 22 May 2009) In recent months, The Pavement has reported on the various enforcement measures being employed to drive homeless people off the streets. But do such tactics actually work and if so, who benefits? These are the questions asked by a report, published last year, which examines the impact of enforcement on ‘street users’ in England. The study, carried out by Sarah Johnsen and Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of the University of York, and published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is primarily concerned with measures used to tackle begging, street drinking and other examples of what is often referred to as “problematic street culture”. However, it also refers to enforcement initiatives used against rough sleepers. The examples of enforcement cited in the report will sadly be familiar to many readers: dispersal orders, the closing down of rough sleeper ‘hot spots’, ‘hot washing’ (wetting the streets to discourage rough sleeping) and arrests under the 1842 Vagrancy Act. The report examines how these interventions have been used and their impact in five key areas – Westminster, Southwark, Birmingham, Leeds and Brighton. From the research carried out, the report concludes that “enforcement is a high-risk strategy, only to be used as a last resort, and never with very vulnerable street users, such as those with mental health problems”. Yet, the report also suggests that many local authorities are increasingly keen to employ these measures in what they see as the “fight against rough sleeping”.

Arrests for sleeping rough

The Pavement recently reported the arrest of Peter Pickles, amongst others, who refused to be ‘moved on’ (issue 33). The incident shocked many people and pointed to a new tough approach by the authorities. This arrest may have been less shocking in Leeds, however, where according to the report homeless people have been arrested under the 1824 Vagrancy Act simply for sleeping rough, a policy carried out, the report claims, in order to “disrupt street lifestyles and address associated ASB”. Arrests as a tactic was not used in any of the other case studies areas. This was, says Dr Johnsen, for a variety of reasons. “The first one being that the police don’t actually want to arrest people who sleep rough. That’s not what they’re about,” she says. “Secondly, there’s a significant fear of public backlash, because while a lot of members of the public – certainly the ones we spoke to – approve of the use of enforcement for people who are begging aggressively or are ‘agro’ street drinkers, most have a very different opinion when it comes to people who are ‘just’ sleeping rough.” “The other reason,” Dr Johnsen explains, “is because it would be of questionable legality in a lot of places, as people can only be arrested if they have refused the offer of ‘freely available’ accommodation. In somewhere like London, you cannot say ‘here’s a bed space available to you right now’ because it just doesn’t happen that way. There’s a real process people have to go through in order to get into a hostel, red tape that has to be negotiated, hoops they have to jump through… It doesn’t happen instantly.” Although the report found instances where arrests acted as a “constructive ‘kick'”, motivating a minority of rough sleepers to look for accommodation, rough sleepers generally just avoided arrest by bedding down further away from the city centre in more hidden places. Most support providers, as well as members of the wider community who were interviewed, were opposed to the arrest of rough sleepers.

Wetting down

The City of London is not the first area to see ‘wetting down’ of rough sleeping spots. In Westminster, the council’s environmental team was instructed to leave pavements of designated areas wet after cleaning the streets to discourage rough sleepers from bedding down at night. The local authority justified this ‘hot washing’ as a deterrent that may, with other measures, encourage rough sleepers to ‘come inside’. All of the rough sleepers spoken to who had been directly affected, like many Pavement readers, merely found alternative, out-of-the-way, places to sleep. Unsurprisingly, hot-washing was strongly criticised by frontline workers. One from Westminster, who was quoted in the report, said: “It’s inhumane… These are some of the most vulnerable people in society… They expect to be knocked by society. It’s the norm for them. But I personally think it’s a pretty appalling way to treat people.”

Dispersal and rough sleeping hot spot closure

Although dispersal orders had been considered in a few case studies, they have not been used to any great extent. While in theory they would help break up large groups of street users, there were concerns that dispersal orders would simply shift street activity to another area. Closing rough sleeping hot spots was thought to be a more effective lever to encourage entrenched street users into services, by both enforcement agents and frontline workers. Used most commonly in central London, as well as Birmingham and elsewhere, one Westminster frontline worker in the report agreed. “If an area is disrupted then it might budge someone in their pattern of going to the same place, at the same time. If they can no longer do that it may make them look at something else,” the worker said. But they emphasised a need for “appropriate interagency coordination” and giving “plenty of warning regarding the date of closure and information about support options available”. They also called for eventual closure to be preceded by intensive outreach work.

Concerns of support providers

Many support providers who were interviewed supported the enforcement measures in principle, provided there was coordination with supportive interventions. However, street outreach workers agreed almost unanimously that enforcement measures caused many rough sleepers to “go underground” and sleep in more hidden places, making them harder to locate and offer support to. Frontline staff also objected to the use of enforcement to combat anything but “genuine” antisocial behaviour. Many support providers were also worried that councils were under pressure to “be seen” to take action against antisocial behaviour, with their clients viewed as “easy targets”.

Tarred with the same brush

Following the reports of harassment of rough sleepers in the City, many people expressed feelings of unease and even anger towards Broadway, the charity contracted by the Corporation of London to carry out homeless outreach work within the Square Mile. “It’s really important that outreach workers aren’t implicated in enforcement actions because they lose their integrity in the eyes of people on the streets,” Dr Johnsen warns. While outreach workers in the report were anxious to distance themselves personally from enforcement, frontline workers wanted a “seat at the table” in antisocial behaviour operational discussions, in order to safeguard the interests of their clients.

The view from the street

Like many service providers, those homeless interviewed were often cynical about the motive behind the enforcement initiatives. “What are the authorities actually after? Is it a vanity, a cosmetic exercise? Do they think we should be out of the way of the visitors?” asked one rough sleeper in Westminster quoted in the report. Not all those interviewed were completely against enforcement tactics for “aggressive” individuals. However, the report notes: “street users on the whole believed that they should be ‘left alone'”.

What’s the future for enforcement?

“There’s [already] been a significant change in perception amongst service providers” said Dr Johnsen. “Since we first began the research people seem to have come to a consensus that enforcement can in some circumstances help some people, but only if appropriate support is effectively integrated, and even then you can’t guarantee that it will work for any one individual.” But, there are still gaps in the provision of some services, she adds. “It’s all very well saying to these people ‘you need to change your way of life, you need to come inside, live in a hostel, you need to get drug or alcohol treatment’ and so on. But if you can’t offer it to them then and there, how justifiable is the threat of dire ramifications for failure to engage?” A major concern for many when reading about these moves will be the loss of free will it marks for readers, as they dictate how and where one should live – instead of relying on an offer of an alternative to life on the street, they are attempts to ban it. Broadway has made much of its statement that “we do not believe it is acceptable that anyone in the 21st century should have to sleep on the streets”. The question perhaps to ask now, some suggest is, ‘acceptable for whom?’. See letters for more on the City story and a legal query.


Bin-sleeper dumped by rubbish truck


(The Pavement, 21 May 2009) A homeless man who sought shelter in a bin in New Hampshire, US, was left with minor injuries after being inadvertently thrown into a rubbish-compacting truck.

Guy Stevens, 41, had been sleeping in the bin for nearly two weeks, but on this particular morning the rubbish was collected early. He managed to jump from the truck, but was left with minor injuries and was later seen limping down the street. Mr Stevens was subsequently taken to jail after police discovered he was wanted on a theft charge dating back to 2005.

This is not the first time such an accident has happened. In Ireland last September, Kevin Fitzpatrick was crushed to death when the industrial wheeled bin he was sleeping in was emptied into a rubbish-collection lorry. His remains were found by workers sorting through waste at a recycling depot outside the city.

The 36-year- old, originally from Derbyshire, was believed by police to have arrived in Limerick just that weekend. At the time, the director of health and social charity Trust reported that a similar tragedy had been averted just weeks earlier, after a driver collecting a skip noticed someone was inside it. Meanwhile in 2006, 44-year-old Robert Baswell sustained injuries including broken legs and ribs, after he found himself in a rubbish truck after falling asleep in a Florida bin.


Time travel


(Escape, Jan/April 2009) Carinya Sharples steps into the past at Acton Scott in the South Shropshire hills, discovering the charms of a unique Victorian holiday cottage, the subject of a new BBC television series

The closest most of us come to time travel is jetting over time zones on holiday. But amid the rolling green hills of South Shropshire, visitors can turn back time and live like a Victorian farm labourer. Forget widescreen TVs, microwaves and radiators; in fact, forget electricity and plumbing – guests at Henley Cottage cook and heat their water on a Victorian coal-fired kitchen range, store food in a pantry and take hip baths by a roaring fire. This unique project is the work of Rupert Acton, who manages the estate, and his wife, Louise.

Rupert says: “Henley Cottage aims to appeal to those who would like an adventure. If you are searching for a simpler way of life – water hand-pumped from a well instead of turning on a tap and light from candles and oil lamps as opposed to flicking a switch – then this is for you.”

Stepping back in time

Set in the picturesque landscape of Acton Scott, Henley Cottage is one of a pair of 19th-century farm labourers’ cottages. Because it was never modernised and then left abandoned in the 1950s, it remains a rare example of authentic Victorian life – walk through the aged front door, and it’s like stepping back 150 years. It has its original quarry tiles, worn oak floor boards and sturdy beamed ceilings and, at the heart of the cottage, the coal-fired range. As well as being used for cooking the meals, the range is a great source of heat and all the rooms are surprisingly toasty. Oil lamps, sitting in sconces on the walls, provide lighting, and upstairs the two bedrooms (one double, one twin, and an extra single, if needed) have wrought-iron bedsteads and traditional linen sheets and are warmed by open fires in a coal grate or wood-burning stove.

The attention to detail is fantastic and includes period furnishings, a jug-and-bowl set for washing and even a commode should you get caught short in the night. On arrival, guests receive instructions on how to use all the cottage’s domestic bygones. In fact, the only compromise to authenticity is the addition of a modern toilet and shower, tucked out of sight in the garden next to the original earth closet loo.

Available from April, Henley Cottage is about to find fame in a prime time BBC2 television series, Victorian Farm, which was filmed at Acton Scott and is due to be screened from January.

Around the houses

As well as Henley Cottage, Acton Scott currently offers two other properties: Henley Farmhouse (ref: RJJ3) and The Shooting Lodge (ref: RNP). The Actons originally let out only the 18th-century stone-walled section of the farmhouse, before deciding to extend and renovate the 16th-century timber framed and brick side. The property now offers 10 bedrooms and nine bathrooms, most of which are en suite. “Already we’re getting repeat bookings,” says Rupert. “It’s so satisfying, especially as it was such a risk to take.”

Rupert’s passion for careful restoration is obvious as we tour the estate and he is supported by a team of artisan craftsmen. “I believe strongly in the need to keep alive traditional skills, conserve historic buildings and preserve the natural landscape,” explains Rupert. “These are the principles that I have been brought up with. It can be expensive and it can be time consuming, but the results are worth it.”

The Shooting Lodge was carefully restored and refurbished eight years ago. Today, guests come to enjoy the rural isolation with all modcons and make the most of the entertaining opportunities provided by the banqueting room (a former cow shed with a large open fireplace), which can seat up to 18.

Set in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in the South Shropshire hills, the Acton Scott estate has been owned by the Acton family for over 800 years. Its 1200 acres hold a number of small farmsteads, stone and timber-framed cottages, ancient woodland and open pasture. At its centre is Acton Scott Hall, a Grade II* listed, Elizabethan mansion of 1580, that is the Acton family’s residence.

The local area has twice received the royal seal of approval. Prince Rupert, King Charles I’s nephew, is believed to have stayed at Acton Scott Hall during a skirmish in the Civil War and HM Queen Elizabeth II spent a night on the Royal Train stationed on the railway line at Henley, during a visit to the area, shortly after her coronation. The historical significance does not end there – an archaeological dig of Acton Scott’s Roman villa, an Ancient Scheduled Monument, is currently in progress nearby.

At home on the farm

Acton Scott is also the location for the Historic Working Farm, a favourite visitor attraction for families. The original concept of keeping the farming practices of 1900 alive was conceived by Rupert’s father, Tom Acton, in the 1970s. Open to the public from April to October, it provides a fascinating insight into life on a working 19th-century country estate.

Traditional breeds of animals are stocked while the surrounding land is worked with heavy horses. Milking by hand and butter making are demonstrated daily in the dairy and there are weekly visits from the Wheelwright, Farrier and Blacksmith. Young animals, such as the Tamworth piglets and the farmyard poultry, are hits with children.

Getting involved

The Historic Working Farm has a souvenir shop, café and educational centre and children can lose themselves in the willow maze or dress up in 19th-century clothing for a photo. Acton Scott is also starting courses in rural skills, such as animal husbandry and hedge laying, using the facilities of the Historic Working Farm and the estate at large. Participants can stay at any one of Acton Scott’s holiday houses or book Henley Cottage. “Acton Scott is uniquely placed to offer the experience of learning about 19th century country life while also being able to live as a Victorian might have done, by staying at Henley Cottage,” says Rupert.

Visitors to Acton Scott can ramble over the estate’s green hills, parkland and woods, and there are walks suitable for all ages and abilities. The historic market towns of Ludlow and Shrewsbury are a short drive away. As the properties are self-catering, guests can stock up on provisions in nearby Church Stretton and Craven Arms while the local Strefford Hall Farm Shop delivers meat and seasonal supplies.

It may seem like the Actons have more than enough on their plate, but they already have a new project in the pipeline – turning The Old Smithy, once used by blacksmiths and still in possession of an old forge, into new holiday accommodation. Time may have stood still on the Acton Scott Estate, but there’s no stopping this pair.

Time travel PDF


A Real Barnstormer


(Escape, April/June 2009) Laura and Steve Martin have pulled off an exceptional conversion project at Biddenden Green Farm. Carinya Sharples travels to Kent to marvel at their grand re-designs

It’s not every day that you wake up in a four-poster bed in the turret of an old oast house – unless you’re at Biddenden Green Farm (Property reference: PBBY) in Kent that is, where the distinctive curved wall, exposed brickwork and tall, conical ceiling have been given a new lease of life as an unusual rural retreat.

The transformation from hop-drying farm building to impressive barn conversion began when Laura and Steve Martin decided to move away from London with their two children. Following the train line from Orpington, where they lived at the time, they found a quirky house in the Kent village of Smarden. The only hitch was that the house came as part of a larger package and so the Martin family found themselves taking on a dilapidated 16th-century barn and former oast house to boot. “I wasn’t even sure how I’d feel living in the countryside,” admits Laura, “but houses speak to me – it’s a feeling rather than a logical decision.”

Thankfully the gamble has paid off and today, four years on, the renovated barn and oast guest houses of Lewd Lane have a steady stream of visitors, won over by the combination of tranquil surroundings, homely rooms and quirky, original fixtures. The couple’s determination to keep as many of the original features as possible has proved central to their success. “When you’re doing a conversion like this,” explains Laura, “you’re a custodian. We want to leave our mark without taking away anyone else’s.”

Treading carefully

The Grade-II listing of the Martins’ home and the thatched barn (under which the oast also falls) gave the pair another reason to tread especially carefully. Yet with the buildings in such disrepair, this was no easy task. The barn may have been in active use on the farm just 70 years ago, but it was derelict for many years and the wood was starting to decay. So, as well as enlisting the help of English Heritage, the Martins recruited a specialist timber expert. “He was a great help and keen to preserve as much of the original timber as possible,” says Laura. “When he first came to the barn he was like a kid in a toyshop!”

Willow hurdles

Thanks to this motto of “repair not replace”, the two buildings are full of fascinating historic insights. In the oak-framed barn, built between 1590 and 1610, the original threshing bays are still in place and Laura points out the faint outlines of several circles, carved into the wood. Far from being accidental scratches, they are old ‘witching’ or ‘ritual’ marks, used to protect the superstitious occupants from what the handy visitor’s guide calls the ‘plague and pestilence of witches’.

Other elements of the barn’s previous existence are less noticeable – and probably just as well since what is now the smart kitchen area was once used to make willow hurdles for sheep fields; while the spacious living area stored hay and the second bedroom was a piggery. Today, the invasion of farmyard life is restricted to a complimentary basket of fresh, free-range eggs from the family’s own chickens, while the rooms are filled with sturdy, dark wood furnishings rather than troughs.

Timeless decor

Designing the interiors and sourcing the furniture was Laura’s favourite part of the restoration. “Some pieces came from abroad, the internet, even eBay – but what I loved most of all was going to local antique auctions, like the one in Cranbrook.” The resulting blend of original beams and antique furniture with dramatic fittings and cosy sofas works well, creating a feel that’s homely yet historic – the four-poster beds, dark wood chests and traditional low ceilings adding a real sense of timelessness.

The barn’s spacious living area, sizeable tables, three double rooms (two ensuite), twin room and mezzanine floor (with sofa bed and games) have made it particularly popular among those planning large family get-togethers, friends’ holidays and hen parties. And although history is important to the design and mood of both the barn and oast, Laura is aware of the importance of comfort and quality modern conveniences, especially for self-catered accommodation: “Before moving to Kent, we used to go away on holiday every year to places like this. So we knew the good and bad points and remembered the crucial things to get right, like a shower that doesn’t just trickle on your head. Good beds and kitchen equipment are also very important.”

Drying the hops

The Oast House is a smaller, cosier affair, with a living room at the bottom of the curved tower where once a fire would have been lit to dry out the hops above, the smoke escaping through the roof vents. These days, under-floor heating keeps the place toasty. Above, a four-poster bed sits in the rounded main bedroom, and across the sunlit landing are another two further bedrooms. Back downstairs, the walls of the warm kitchen are dotted with old black and white photos of a farmer in front of the working oast, diagrams of the process of hop drying and other sketches of farm life.

Even though the Oast House has only been up and running for two years – and The Thatched Barn open since just last September – Laura and Steve have already had a number of returning guests and welcomed visitors from as far afield as the US, Israel, Germany and Singapore. The visitors’ books in the barn and oast house are full of praise for an “amazing building, lovely homely feel”. Even local people don’t seem to be able to resist the buildings’ allure. “We’ve had people from Bluebell Hill and Sittingbourne, which are only half an hour away,” says Laura, “But then you never explore what’s on your own doorstep.”

Frogs, ducks and lily pads

And there’s plenty to explore – most guests take advantage of the many attractions to be found across Kent, whether going on a day trip to Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral or Camber Sands beach, walking the wartime tunnels of Dover Castle or Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, or taking the kids to the Rare Breeds Centre or Kent & East Sussex Steam Railway. And with Paris less than two hours away via Eurostar from nearby Ashford International, it’s easy to pop over the Channel for the day to see the sights and stock up on French delicacies. Though with a pond full of frogs, ducks and picturesque lily pads, the chirpy twitter of blackbirds, sparrows and jackdaws, not to mention the impressive sight of hunting horses chomping on grass in the next field, some guests don’t feel the need to venture far from Biddenden Green Farm. And when the sun is shining, there’s nothing better than a stroll through the local fields followed by a hearty lunch at one of Smarden’s three
welcoming pubs.

So after four busy years – and a lot of ironing – has Laura been put off life in the countryside? “I wouldn’t go back to London for anything!”

Article PDF


Cafe culture costs too much to bear


(Birmingham Post, 28 May 2004) Birmingham may have lost out on the title of European Capital of Culture but trying to make up for this by imposing the al fresco chic of Paris on Broad Street is not only unrealistic but also untrue to the lively, exciting nightlife that is already on offer.

Brindleyplace, The Arcadian and The Mailbox at present cater for the more affluent business sector of the community. If we are to make Broad Street a basic extension of these spots then surely we can expect the same sense of exclusivity and the same high prices?

This suggestion totally ignores the majority of night-time revellers who do not go out to cause trouble, as many seem to assume, but instead to have a fun evening out and not break the bank while doing so.

I understand and sympathise with the arguments made about Broad Street’s rowdy, drunken and troublesome image. However, I do not see how something that has become so ingrained in our society’s culture, namely drinking, can be legislated out of existence.

Problems of excessive drinking, criminal activity and anti-social behaviour are to be found in every city all over the country. It just so happens that with the majority of Birmingham’s central bars, pubs and clubs clustered on one street, any trouble is bound to be more concentrated.

Banning drinks promotions or seating people at elegant cafe tables is not the answer. Binge drinking and any of its side effects will continue, just at greater expense to the already debt-stricken students and less well-off sections of society.

Broad Street’s current difficulties will not be solved but instead simply moved and exacerbated somewhere else. What will be the high-handed consensus when this happens? That there is to be a total ban on drinking and that continental cappuccinos are the future?

It seems that the group behind the ‘cafe culture’ proposals is trying to butter up business visitors to the city while making sweeping generalisations about other less affluent members of the Birmingham community and ignoring their needs and wishes.

Not everyone likes, or can afford, to spend a night at the theatre or an expensive restaurant. Many people, including some of the so-called ‘suits’, prefer a night dancing in a club, unwinding with a few drinks, or meeting new people in a busy, sociable environment.

Birmingham is a hugely popular city and the diverse entertainments on offer is what attracts the range of people who choose to party here – whether that be the groups of friends who visit to celebrate a stag or hen night, the students from Birmingham’s three universities inevitably looking for a cheap night out, or the majority of Birmingham’s working residents looking to let down their hair at the weekend.

A night out on Broad Street, for most people I know, is spoiled right at the end by having to wait for hours for a taxi or by the few individuals who cannot handle their drink or who are looking for trouble. Zero tolerance on such people, as has been suggested, sounds more like the way to go forward.

Why should everyone be punished for the thoughtless actions of a few troublemakers? Improvement, not complete redevelopment, is the answer. We should clean up, not be cleaned out.