Europe charges ahead in electric car use as UK efforts fall flat

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Plans to equip every new or refurbished home in Europe with its own electric vehicle charging point have been announced in a draft European Union (EU) directive. But as Europe surges ahead with green transport solutions, the UK is falling behind because commitments to the number of ultra low emission vehicles on its roads are well below target.

The EU directive, designed to boost the electric car market, is due to come into force before the end of the year. It also states that by 2023 all new developments in the EU zone will require at least 10% of their parking spaces to have charge points.

For many people the perceived problems of short range, time spent recharging and limited charge points for electric cars are a big turn off. But the technology is constantly improving. Renault has just released an electric car with a 250 mile range, which will go a long way in allaying people’s fears. The increase in charge points is another turn on. Guillame Berthier, Renault’s sales director for electric cars, said…

Read more at The Canary

Do you want to live a longer healthier life? New evidence shows eating this food group can help

Increasing the amount of whole grains you eat is good for your health, and the more you eat the greater the health benefits. For every 48 grams of whole grains consumed per day, there is a 25% decline in cardiovascular disease-related deaths, and a 20% decrease in the number of total deaths (deaths due to all causes).

These are the findings of the first meta-analysis (which compiles the results of many studies and then uses statistics to calculate an ‘average’ of those results) review of studies associating whole grain consumption with life span and susceptibility to disease.

This may not come as a surprise, as whole grains such as whole wheat, oats and brown rice are generally accepted as being better for your health than the processed versions. Processing generally involves milling the grain, removing the outer husk which also contains health promoting components such as dietary fibre, B vitamins, and minerals.

This meta-analysis confirms the already large body of evidence supporting the health benefits of whole grains and other processed food. But will this change the way we eat?

The findings support the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued by the US government, which recommend at least three servings daily of whole grains. They also match the current UK Eatwell guide. Both guidelines offer limited advice which suggests cutting out processed foods.

Senior author of the study, Assistant Professor Qi Sun from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained the strengths of this study:

Previous studies have suggested an association with consumption of whole grains and reduced risk of developing a multitude of chronic diseases that are among the top causes of deaths, although data linking whole grain intake and mortality were less consistent

The study found that for every serving of whole grains (16 grams) consumed per day, there was a……

Read more at The Canary

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

“Putting lipstick on a pig” thats the end result of billions spent by government on IT projects

A scathing report on government digital policy says it has failed in its objective of “transforming government”. The numerous iterations of applying technology to government has amounted to no more than expensive window dressing or, as colourfully described in the paper, “putting lipstick on pigs”.

The term e-government is used as a catchall term for words commonly used in associating information technology and government, including: electronic, digital and online.

One of the major reasons for this failure, according to the report, is the assumption that government is a service industry. This leads to the adoption of a private sector model for plans to use technology to enhance government activity. The report states, in no uncertain terms:

Governments do policy, not services…Citizens are not customers

Because of this service industry mindset, the authors argue, work done on researching and implementing e-government tends to be done by people with technology and management backgrounds. The people who should be leading this work are those with a public administration or political science background, who best understand the role of government and how it can be improved. These improvements can then be adopted digitally.

The paper argues that cosmetic changes have been made to the front-end websites, whereas little significant change has happened at the back-end. One of the authors of the report, Paul Waller of Brunel University, says…….

Read more at The Canary

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

People with ME/CFS have long been told it’s all in their head – these scientists disagree

A conference bringing together the brightest minds in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis a.k.a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) research, presented results that promise to bring a new dawn in understanding this debilitating disease. A hot topic at the conference was the search for reliable biomarkers to diagnose ME/CFS which can also aid understanding the mechanisms behind the disease.

A biomarker is something that can be measured reliably in the body to determine if someone is ill with a particular disease, or recovering due to treatment. For example high levels of glucose in the blood is a biomarker for diabetes. Currently there are no biomarkers available clinically to diagnose ME/CFS, diagnosis relies on a set of symptoms which are also common in other illnesses.

Dr Ian Gibson was chair of the conference, organised by the charity Invest in ME Research, and also an author of ……

 

Read More at The Canary

Featured image via Invest in Me Research, artwork by Wolfgang Stiller

EU backs Open Science policy, while UK considers censoring scientists

The EU has agreed all publicly funded science within the EU should be available free of charge. This momentous decision supports the Open Science concept, which promises to increase access to research data and enhance its use.

This enlightened leap by the EU is in stark contrast to the UK government’s recent moves that, with an astonishingly cynical backdrop,  could prevent publicly funded academics from ensuring their work benefits the public via evidence based policies.

The EU Competitiveness Council announced after its meeting in Brussels that all scientific papers funded fully or partly by public money will be made free to access by 2020. This occurs under the Netherlands presidency of the EU, who have been strong proponents of Open Science. Chair of the council Sander Dekker, who is also a cabinet minister in the Netherlands, said …….

Read the rest at The Canary

A robot just performed major surgery all on its own. And nailed it!

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

The robot surgeon depicted in Ridley Scott’s science fiction film Prometheus is one step closer to reality. A team from the USA has developed an autonomous robot surgeon that can perform intestinal surgery without guidance from a human doctor.

Robot assisted surgery (RAS) has become increasingly common during operations in recent years. RAS requires a human surgeon to control the robots activity. The new cutting edge robot designated ‘Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot’ (STAR) needs no human input during its surgical work, thanks to powerful intelligent algorithms, 3D cameras and a near infrared fluorescent imaging system…    Read more at The Canary

Information and tools to change the world in 2016

Knowledge is power, so they say. The information technology revolution we are living through offers the possibility of significantly increasing our knowledge; which if used effectively/collectively can empower us to change the world. I am assuming anyone reading this will want to change the world for the better, if not I suggest you stop reading this now.

Governments across the world are firm believers in the well worn maxim7851166090_fe20caa69a_o knowledge is power, which is why they generally try to maximise the amount of information they have on you while limiting the amount of information you have on them. Our current government is an excellent example of this type of behaviour, currently they are pushing through an Investigatory Powers Bill (but don’t worry they promise only to use it against paedophiles and terrorists) while simultaneously trying to nobble the Freedom of Information Act (while insisting they are promoting transparency).

Below are a list of websites that enable you to gather relevant information and offer suggestions on how to use it. Maybe after reading this article you could use your powers to oppose the governments nefarious plans, but that is completely up to you. All I ask is that you use any new knowledge you aquire wisely.

They Work For You

They Work For youWhat does your MP do all day? Does he actually turn up to parliament and vote, or does he spend most of his time being wined, dined and schmoozed by powerful lobbyists? They Work For You is an excellent tool which provides an easy way to find out, just stick in your postcode and you can find out what your MP has been up to lately. You can also search parliament records for subjects, keywords and phrases that have appeared in debates. If you register you can get email alerts every time your MP speaks or an issue you are following is brought up in parliament.

Local Authority Public Records

If you want information at a more local scale your local authority holds a wealth of information relevant to you and your community. Manchester City Council’s website has a comprehensive ‘The Council & Democracy‘ section to promote public and press scrutiny of the local democratic process. It includes information on:

  • MCCrecords
  • Links to live and recorded webcasts of meetings.
  • Meeting Meeting minutes and agendas
  • Information on councillors in the borough
  • Statistics,census and budgets
  • Policies, strategies and future plans

These sites are generally not very well designed and the included search tool not very useful. On my more cynical days it crosses my mind that maybe this is done on purpose to make it harder to find relevant information. If you are struggling to find what you want I suggest using Google Advanced Search, which allows you to search the whole of Manchester City Councils website by inputting the council’s URL (i.e. http://www.manchester.gov.uk) into the ‘site or domain’ box.

What Do They Know

An excellent site that allows the public easy use of the Freedom of Information Act 2000Freedom_of_Information_logo . This beautiful piece of legislation was brought in by the last Labour government and in my opinion was their finest moment. It enshrines in law public access to information held by public authorities, some information the authorities have to publish, some you have to ask for.

What Do They Know provides an extremely useful tool to ask those questions to the relevant authorities. The relevant authorities (particularly central government) may writhe, wriggle, squirm and try every possible tactic to delay/not publish data that is embarrassing to them. So it is important to ask the right sort of questions, which the site offers advice on as well as providing information on successful and unsuccessful requests by others; they also describe what actions to take if the authorities will not release the requested information.

Full Fact

fullfactAn excellent independent charity (website developed by mySociety) that helps you separate the wheat from the chaff and the bullets from the bullshit when it comes to the claims made by politicians and the media. The site can also help translate the doublespeak spin which the majority of politicians try to bamboozle us with these days. Full Fact describe themselves as non-partisan which gets a big tick in my book, because as Skunk Ananasie sings “everything’s political!

38 Degrees: people, power, change

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When you have gathered and analysed your information you may have identified something that you would like to change, and are prepared to stick your neck out and campaign to change it. This is an excellent time to visit the 38 Degrees website which has an excellent Top Tips section on running a successful campaign, including short videos giving advice on:

  • Writing a petition, the site contains an excellent e petition tool
  • How to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • How to write emails promoting and supporting your campaign.
  • Running events to boost campaigns.
  • Involving the media in your campaign.

BBC Academy

BBCacademyI love the BBC, which maybe explains why the current Tory government killjoys are trying to diminish its capabilities and turn it into just another substandard, heavily biased, advertisement riddled private broadcasting company. Amongst the many magnificent offerings on its website is the BBC Academy which has an excellent journalism skills section. Two particularly useful sections with relevant information on creating online content to support campaigns are Social Media and Content Production.

UK Parliament Website

parliament-uk-logo

The UK Parliament Website provides everything you need to know about the workings of the mother of all parliaments in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. You can also submit evidence to upcoming Select Committee’s and Joint Comittee’s through this site.

Office for National Statistics

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Another treasure trove of information which the government don’t mind to much about being made public. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the largest independent producer of official statistics in the UK and is the recognised as its national statistical institute. But beware, there can be a certain amount of spin in how they analyse and present the data. If you cant find it here you need to make a freedom of information request.

So there you have it, for what its worth. I hope there has been something of use to you in this article to aid your quest for a better world in 2016. If you have any sites that would make a good addition to this list please suggest them in a comment below. I will take this opportunity to wish you every success in your activities this year and – may the force be with you!

 

Article first published in 38 Degrees Manchester, 6th January 2016

A battle won for the homeless campaigners in Manchester?

The “juggernaut” of Manchester City Council appears to have changed course recently announcing new initiatives to reduce homelessness in Manchester. What has been the role of homeless protest camps and campaigns in bringing about this change?

Banner used at various homeless protest camps in Manchester. Photo: John Clegg

Banner used at various homeless protest camps in Manchester. Photo: John Clegg

Recent statements by Manchester City Council relating to the opening of new hostels for the homeless, investigating the implementation of a Housing First policy and coming up with a new homelessness strategy indicate a new-found energy within the council towards tackling homelessness and rough sleeping within the city. Is this a battle won for the homeless people and their supporters who have been campaigning for the rights of homeless people since a protest camp was set up in Albert Square in April 2015? Councillors responsible for homelessness services indicate that the protestors have had nothing to do with progress made by the council in improving services to the homeless.

If you are a resident of Manchester you will probably be familiar with the homeless protest camps that have been situated at various points around the city, either by walking past them or hearing about them in the news. The council, desperate to end the bad publicity, chased the occupants of these homeless protest camps through the courts, forcing the camp to move to different locations and increasing the amount of bad publicity, both locally and nationally, the council was subject to.

In the Court of Appeal on 14 May Judge Allan Gore QC rejected an appeal against a possession order served on the protest camps, but admonished “the juggernaut” of Manchester City Council, saying: “In a democratic society of the 21st century it is an affront that vulnerable people should be left homeless.” Mentioning the increasing scale of the problem and the loss of rights homeless people suffer from, Gore concluded: “Street homelessness is a problem for all of us.”

Sign displayed at the St Ann's homeless protest camp.

Sign displayed at the St Ann’s homeless protest camp.

In an attempt to end the homeless protests MCC changed its strategy and attempted to get an injunction against protest camps within the city centre. Initially MCC and its legal team sought to acquire what was described in court as “an injunction against the whole world” by solicitor Ben Taylor, who was working pro bono representing the homeless defendants due to a number of requests for legal aid being refused. The injunction eventually awarded to MCC was a much watered down version of what they wanted: it was only serviceable against people “erecting and/or occupying tents or other moveable temporary forms of accommodation for the purposes of or in connection with protests or similar events arising from or connected with the Claimant’s [Manchester City Council’s] homeless policy on land”. A full report on this court case and the resulting injunction can be read here.

At the time many people supporting the campaign believed that this sort of injunction would be unenforceable due to the difficulties proving that someone was actually protesting against MCC’s homeless policy. The once-again evicted homeless protest camp took this latest development on board and set up a street/refuge for the homeless called the Ark under the Mancunian way on Oxford Rd, specifically stating it was not a protest camp.

Sign displayed at the Ark saying it was not a protest camp.

Sign displayed at the Ark, Oxford Rd, saying it was not a protest camp. Photo: Manchester Evening News

However for some unknown reason MCC seemed to believe they could make this injunction stick in court and during the eviction proceedings of the Ark, seven people were charged with breaking the injunction, potentially facing up to two years in prison or a £5000 fine. But during the court hearing on the 30th of September “Manchester City Council was almost laughed out of court” according to a report in the Salford Star. Circuit Judge Gore on the day was particularly damning of the case presented by the council, criticising the lack of dates and descriptions of behaviours breaching the injunction. The Salford Star reported Gore describing the case presented as:

“A fundamentally misconceived and inappropriate way to advance criminal proceedings, where the party [Manchester City Council] seeks that the court orders to commit people to prison”.

The judge refused the council’s case to have the defendants committed due to breaches of the injunction, and also dismissed a possession order on the Ark camp citing serious procedural failures in the case presented by MCC.

Ben Taylor, representing the defendants, said of the case in the MEN. ”The degree of incompetence in making this application by Manchester council’s legal team is breathtaking, it beggars belief. My clients were petrified that they could be going to jail simply for living in a tent. I would have expected Manchester council to have done have done their job properly. The application was so fundamentally flawed it didn’t even get off the ground.“

Improved services for the homeless

Perhaps all this negative press and admonishments by the judiciary has had an effect? Recent statements by MCC suggest they are beginning to change their strategy when dealing with homelessness within the city. During a Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting on 27th October 2015, a report on MCC’s Homelessness Strategy was discussed, which included a number of positive steps including the following:

  • An empty buildings survey in progress, refurbishment of 18 empty properties to house the homeless, and new homeless shared housing bed spaces reopened.
  • A draft code of conduct and standards for residential Bed and Breakfasts used to temporarily house homeless people, with the aim to have agencies only using accommodation signed up to the code.
  • Implement a Housing First model in Manchester, which will be evaluated by York University, work to commence in April 2016.
  • Evidence-based report on the effects of government policy on the housing situation in Manchester. It will cover changes to welfare and benefits payments, Universal Credit for housing paid directly to landlords and the use of benefit sanctions. The report will be sent to national government seeking to influence policy.

In a statement published by MCC on the 16th November it was announced that two unused buildings – the former Beech Mount Children’s Home in Harpurhey and the old Hulme Library – would be opened up to be used by rough sleepers, and also mentioned plans for other temporary accommodation for rough sleepers to be made available. In the statement, MCC’s executive member for adult health and well being, Councillor Paul Andrews said:

“We’ve spent months working on plans to open up empty buildings across the city to make sure nobody has to sleep rough on the streets this winter… we’re now continuing to carry out inspections so we can open more empty buildings in other parts of the city. As well as this, we’ve also reopened some buildings as shared houses, while faith groups are opening up other centres, meaning there will be a much wider range of bed spaces available across the city.”

Andrews went on to say that although this was a good start more work was needed by MCC homelessness services and its partners in the voluntary sector to: “…make sure the right help and support is available to rough sleepers so we can help them make the first steps towards getting off the streets for good.” In a later statement released on the 6th of December the council reported that 165 new bed spaces would be available in Manchester for rough sleepers this winter.

Councillors dismiss homeless protests as a distraction

During the scrutiny committee meeting, scathing remarks were aimed at the role of activists/protestors in the homelessness issues in Manchester. Councillor Andrews had this to say about rough sleepers and homeless within Manchester:

“A lot of them are not Manchester residents, a lot of the people you see on the streets at the moment especially in tents are not even homeless, they are actually professional protestors. There has been lots of stuff going on in the media to actually deal with that. Despite all that going on our homelessness teams and our officers are out every day trying to identify people who are actually homeless , to actually deal with them and get them off the streets as quick as they possibly can. That is impinged somewhat by the protestors and trying to get through the crap that’s going on with the protestors”.

These views were echoed by Councillor Hazel Summers, “I am probably not allowed to say this but I will: the protestors are actually distracting us from our job.”

Understandably the protests have been very trying for the homelessness services team, but that is the job of a protestor: to make the person responsible for dealing with the situation as uncomfortable as possible. Polite letters from the public and campaigns by homeless charities have had very little effect on changing things. The protest camps raised the profile of this issue locally, nationally and finally internationally with the involvement of Gary Neville. I don’t expect the homelessness services in Manchester to be singing the praises of the protestors, but they should recognise that the protests and the surrounding publicity have provided an extra impetus, enabling them to introduce new initiatives and speed up the provision of services already in the pipeline.

Andrews also tries to undermine the legitimacy of the initial protest camps by saying the majority of the people in the tents on the streets of our city are not even homeless and calling them professional protestors. This sort of line has been uttered by council officials before, which I described in a previous article in Contributoria. I have also heard, from a Manchester councillor, that this belief in professional protestors is prevalent in the upper echelons of MCC. So I will reiterate what I have said previously of my experience of the protest camps in Albert Square, St Peters Square and St Anns Square: activists have been an important part of this campaign, but they have always been in a minority compared to campaigning members of the homeless community.

Homeless support/campaigns post injunction

The failed attempt by MCC to enforce the injunction and eviction order on the Ark was eventually followed by a successful eviction order on the 20th of October 2015. The protest that gained the most press coverage for the plight of the homeless in Manchester was the squatting of the Stock Exchange building on Norfolk St in Manchester city centre by the Manchester Angels. The building is owned by footballing superstars Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, who instead of dragging the squatters through the courts said the building could be used to shelter the homeless until February 2016, when building work was due to start. Another group called the Creative Hub have been squatting buildings in Manchester and offering shelter to the homeless as well as art, yoga, and education courses. The Creative Hub were evicted from their last property on Houndsworth St, along with 27 Homeless people, on the 17th of December, but according to their Facebook page they already have another squat set up.

A growing problem

The latest figures on rough sleeping in Manchester produced by MCC indicate the growing nature of the problem (see graph below), with the 2015 count of 70 being a 63% rise from the year before. And the actual figures are likely to be much worse than this as the way the count is carried out (on one night of the year with in specific city centre locations) is generally regarded to under count the problem. Councillor Summers indicated this at the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting: “The headcount is set up in a ways to undercount the problem, as a snapshot of one particular night”.

Rough Sleepers Headcount for Manchester 2010-15

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

Jenny Osborne , Senior Strategy Manager of Public Health Manchester, spoke at the same meeting. “Hazel [Summers] asked me to pick up a piece of work about 5 months ago to accelerate the strategic response to the growing problem of rough sleeping we have in the city.” Osborne went on to describe how inaccurate the rough sleepers headcount was likely to be by comparing it to data gathered from the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, where the council has an obligation to house rough sleepers in very cold/bad weather:

“Last year the headcount for rough sleepers was 47; we know that from the severe weather protocol we operated last year that 234 separate individuals accessed that provision during the cold weather period.”

The coming storm

The council initiatives are very welcome news to the homeless community in Manchester and their supporters. But will these latest efforts be enough to circumvent the perfect storm of poverty approaching due to the governments austerity agenda?

The funding cuts imposed by central government have forced MCC to make funding cuts, to Housing Related Support and the Homelessness Prevention Grant, totalling £2,013,188 in 2015. And the funding cut of 56% to the central grant given to local authorities announced by George Osborne in the autumn statement has yet to bite. The amount of social housing is set to fall with the extending of the Right to Buy to housing association properties, with vague promises to replace those sold under this scheme but no actual plans on how this will be done; similar promises have been made before and not kept. The government has got rid of the obligation for private building firms to provide social housing in their developments. The 1% rent cut every year for the next four years that Housing Associations have to make is predicted to force housing associations to abandon plans to build 27,000 new homes, according to the National Housing Federation.

Supporters outside court after first court appearance for eviction from St Ann's Square

Supporters outside court after first appearance for eviction from St Ann’s Square

Every cut the government makes to public spending is set to increase poverty and homelessness within the UK: social security, social care, mental health and drug/alcohol services have all been savaged by cuts, with more to follow.

The struggle continues

I believe this is a battle won for the homeless campaigns, and everyone who has supported them, in Manchester this year. The progress made by MCC Homelessness Services also deserves praise, but council members would do well to avoid churlish remarks aimed at the campaigners. There is a lot of bad blood between the two groups, who should try to remember that they are both ultimately on the same side in the continuing war against homelessness.

Currently the job of council members involved with Homelessness Services must be an exceedingly difficult one. Being faced every day with increasing levels of homelessness and having to deal with that problem with dwindling resources, must be at at times both heart breaking and soul destroying.

Councillor Fran Shone spoke powerfully at the Neighbourhoud Scrutiny Committee meeting in October of how the increasing levels of homelessness had affected her:

“The position we are in in Manchester is absolutely shameful, its awful. I can’t believe It when I walk round the city centre actually. It makes me cringe to be a councillor and to be involved with Manchester… I know lots of people are working extremely hard, but I think we have been very slow in responding to this … These people [homeless] aren’t the problem, they are vulnerable people who we have a responsibility for, and are just failing catastrophically, every day, its awful. And its something I think we as a council have been very, very weak on recently. We have to find some way to solve it whether or not we are responsible for it.”

I am confident that with the right planning and adequate resources the council could make big progress in tackling homelessness. The current council plans look promising, particularly the Housing First initiative; similar Housing First programs in the USA and Canada have provided outstanding results in reducing homelessness in a cost-effective way.

But the best laid plans will amount to very little if sufficient resources are not in place. The council needs to seriously consider whether it can reverse some of the funding cuts to Housing Related Support and the Homelessness Prevention Grant. The plan to present an evidence based report on housing/homelessness to central government is a good one, the power of which could be increased by collaborating with other councils, thus increasing the leverage power of the combined reports and improving the chance of extra funds from central government to deal with housing issues.

The chair of the Scrutiny Committee meeting, Councillor Daniel Gillard, was in no doubt as to who was responsible for the increasing levels of homelessness within Manchester:

“The ultimate blame, the ultimate moral responsibility, lies for the last 5 years, with the Tory/Liberal and now Tory government, they are the ones who should be ashamed of themselves. I would love to meet any one of those ministers in a one to one debate, and walk them round this city and shame them personally; they ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Conrad Bower  – First published in 38 Degrees Manchester on 21st Dec 2015

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/conrad.bower
Twitter –  @ConradBower1
LinkedIn – uk.linkedin.com/in/ConradBower

Science Slam: a synergy of science and poetry transcends expectations

Poetry and science are two things generally not associated with each other, in fact if you joined the two in a word association test you would be one step closer to a chemical cosh and your very own padded cell. However the audience attending the Science Slam at the packed out Nexus Art Cafe Thursday night will never again doubt the validity of the two pursuits being combined; though I can’t rule out they may end up bouncing of the walls of a padded cell at some time in the future.

The Science Slam was one of many events on the first day of the Manchester Science Festival, which runs until the 1st of November at venues across Greater Manchester. The experimental collaboration was thought up by Dr Sam Illingworth and Mr Dan Simpson who also performed at and hosted the event on the night.

 Video highlights of the Science Slam

Simpson, the poet of the duo who also writes about science, described how he and Illingworth had thought up the event:

“Originally it was going to be what a slam is, which is poets and scientists doing three minutes of material, having scores at the end and the highest score wins. But as we chatted more we realised that wasn’t the best way to do it, putting science and poetry against each other, so we decided to get them to collaborate.”

This resulted in the evenings format of 5 local poets teamed up with a scientist each to create and perform 5 unique pieces on the night.

Teams:

  • Adrian Davison (scientist) & Lenni Sanders (poet)
  • Rebecca Docherty (scientist) & Dominic Berry (poet)
  • Ben Spencer (scientist) & Rebecca Audra Smith (poet)
  • Jo Browse (scientist) & Louise Fazackerley (poet)
  • Tim Walton (scientist) & Kieren King (poet)

Illingworth, a Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University was extremely pleased with how the show had been created, performed and received. “It wasn’t the poetry of science, it wasn’t the science of poetry, it was genuinely something interdisciplinary and it was amazing. I loved it, the audience loved it, and I feel incredibly privileged to have worked with such an incredible group of people.”

Conrad Bower

First published in the Manchester Mule, 25th October 2015

Further Information:
Manchester Science Festival – http://www.manchestersciencefestival.com
Dan Simpson – https://dansimpsonpoet.wordpress.com
Dr Sam Illingworth – http://thepoetryofscience.scienceblog.com/author/thepoetryofscience

Seeds of resistance sown at housing crisis event in Salford

A Manchester Housing Action event took place in Salford on Sunday, aiming to bring together local people and groups working to find solutions to the housing crisis. The free public event included contributions from Generation Rent, The Radical Housing Network and Focus E15.

Speakers from Focus E15 shared their victories in preventing evictions and disrupting housing conferences in London, offering advice on how similar victories could be attained in Greater Manchester.

The housing crisis is showing no signs of abating. In Greater Manchester, 3,971 tenants were evicted for rent arrears (Apr 2013 to Mar 2015), the highest two year level recorded over the last ten years, according to a report in the Manchester Evening News.

Manchester City Council’s annual count of rough sleepers in Manchester during a night in November 2014 came to 43; it was 7 in 2010. Local charities estimate that the real number is double that of the annual official count.

The event at Islington Mill in Salford was well attended by residents of Salford and Manchester, who had much to contribute during the discussion sessions. Steve North, a Unison Union member spoke of his experience of private renting. He had been in 13 properties in 13 years and now fears he will never get a permanent home for his family.

“Our rights are non-existent,” said North, who expressed that he did not feel able to challenge housing issues as he would issues at work.

Along with North, John Clegg from Unite in the Community Greater Manchester Branch also pledged union support for campaigns fighting for tenants rights.

Members of Focus E15, a London based grass roots campaign for decent housing for all, travelled to Salford to speak at the event. Emer Mary Morris has been a Focus E15 member since 2014, when the group occupied flats on the Carpenter Council Estate in East London, which had been left boarded up and empty for years. Morris also spoke of Focus E15 actions in disrupting the MIPIM UK international property fair last year:

Emer Mary Morris of Focus E15

Emer Mary Morris of Focus E15

“We dressed up as delegates going to the conference and actually rushed the doors and got the conference closed down for a couple of hours, while Boris Johnson was meant to be the next speaker.

“It was a really playful celebratory attitude that particularly Focus E15 bring to the protest. It’s not about being violent or anything, we are actually being very celebratory.”

This year’s MIPIM conference, which began yesterday, is taking place at Olympia in London. Both Salford City Council and Manchester City Council will have stands there, with the cost of the stands being up to £505 per square metre according to a report in the Salford Star, which describes the conference as ‘the largest property orgy in the country’.

Pollyanna Steiner is a community organiser for Generation Rent, a national campaign for tenants rights, and one of the organisers for the event along with Kate Hardy and Tom Gillespie. Steiner was happy with progress made during the meeting.

“It was a forum for freedom of expression about housing issues people are experiencing, and a safe place for sharing that. It was a space for progressing and exchanging ideas about how to organise against the kind of issues we are seeing in the housing crisis; for example, resistance to eviction and how to collaborate and share resources when you have so much taken away at a community level.”

Kate Hardy, a member of Feminist Fightback, was involved with the Focus E15 campaign in London. When she met Pollyanna they had the idea of inviting Focus E15 members up to talk about their work in London. Hardy said:

“There is a serious housing crisis in Manchester, which I think has been relatively hidden up to now.

“You can obviously see that there is the Ark and there is visible street homelessness, but what hasn’t been quite talked about is the kind of things we heard today, about tenants having their leases changed, very poor conditions and lots of attacks on people with disabilities. It has really made visible all the different strands of the housing crisis that are happening in Manchester.”

When asked what advice she would give to the people of Greater Manchester struggling with housing issues, Morris answered simply: “talk to each other.”

“The strongest power they have against us is that they isolate us and try to make people feel alone. The more that you talk to each other, the more you realise other people are going through exactly the same thing that you are. The more you gather together and start organising and talking, the more you can build a consistent movement and fight back.”

Conrad Bower

First published in the Manchester MULE, October 21st 2015

Further Information:
Generation Rent – http://www.generationrent.org
Focus E15 – http://focuse15.org
The Radical Housing Network – http://radicalhousingnetwork.org
The campaign established as a result of the event is, Manchester & Salford Housing Action – https://www.facebook.com/1mcrsalfordhousingaction?fref=ts