Don’t demonise social housing tenants

It’s #HousingDay today – a national campaign that, this year, focusses on challenging the stigma surrounding social housing.

I’ve lived in social housing myself – for about five years when I was in my late teens/early twenties on North Hull Estate. It was the house that my boyfriend’s parents grew up in, his granddad lived out his final years there and my then-boyfriend moved in when his granddad was taken ill.

I need to be honest here. I had a comfortable upbringing – in the sticks. I didn’t want for anything – other than for my dad to take the lock off the phone and a more regular bus service to the city. So I fled village life when I was 17 and moved into a one bed flat with a school friend in the Spring Bank area, then slept on a mattress on a floor in a living room for six months with two other friends in a two-bed flat down the road. I worked part time at a print company and did my A Levels part time at college. For a 17 year old this was the bloody life! I was surrounded by students, we partied a lot, we had people round every day – it was the lifestyle my village-dwelling teenage self had dreamed of.

Then I moved into North Hull Estate and things began to change. I saw real life. The difficult challenges that came with it. And the community that supported one another.

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Review: Gale is Dead

Part of the ‘Man Alive’ series on BBC iPlayer

Man alive - Gale is deadI hadn’t heard of this series before but it gives you more than one issue to ponder. There’s the subject of the particular episode and then layering on top of that is the 1960s/70s perspective of said subject.

Fundamentally, however, some things never change. People without love and purpose lose out. Some lose their lives. Gale did.

Gale Parsons’ mother gave her up when she was just six years old. What followed was a never ending state of transience and loneliness as Gale was moved from home, to mental health institution, to approved school, to borstal, to prison and to the streets.

At every single turn her desires were quashed. Which eventually quashed her desire for life. Finding heroin and barbiturates was not satisfying a desire to take drugs, it was satisfying a desire to disappear.

The desires we see glimmers of are told through Mrs David – a teacher from an early school and the only person Gale ever connected with. These desires involve working on a farm, working in a school with children and above all, being loved.

Finding heroin and barbiturates was not satisfying a desire to take drugs, it was satisfying a desire to disappear.

But you had to earn your right to ambition and happiness in the world that Gale grew up in. She told Mrs David she wanted to take part in farm work where she was living, but she hadn’t earned the right so she had to work in the kitchens. She realised as borstal and drugs launched themselves into her life that she would probably never be able to work with children, and every tiny scrap of happiness – including a few shillings’ worth of sweets, a teenage girl’s magazines and even letters – were monitored, controlled and confiscated. Mrs David was told to send soap, not sweets.

I’m lucky to have been brought up in a family home, so it’s hard to really understand the impact of growing up in Gale’s circumstances. I imagine that children receive a very different kind of support today. But one thing must surely remain a constant – the need for love, and the need for purpose. Two things discussed during a workshop I attended last year facilitated by Camerados founder, Maff Potts, that every single human being needs.

This film takes you through Gale’s short life as she desperately seeks both. Eventually, she loses all hope and rejects the love she is shown, and herself, and embarks on a path of destruction.

A truly heartbreaking story that needs to be watched.

I look at Katie Hopkins and think ‘you are nothing like me’

I think I reflect the national viewpoint here.

Anyone who watched Ian Hislop’s ‘Who should we let in?’ will no doubt have Hopkins’ arrogance ringing in their ears. Of immigrants she said ‘You look and them and think you are nothing like me’.

Thank God for that. Because I would have a serious problem with immigration if we were opening our doors to hatred, intolerance and a bizarre and unjustified aversion to the name ‘Charmaine’. One Katie Hopkins is quite enough.

Sadly, people lap up this hatred packaged as fear and jump on the bandwagon. A bandwagon they will soon be pushed off by the very people who invited them on.

Her issues with people who are ‘nothing like’ her seem to be informed by a completely random set of rules. It’s about one religion that she doesn’t follow, it’s about immigration, it’s about girls called Charmaine, it’s about tattoos and it’s about people who are overweight or ‘fat’.

But this is a problem that goes beyond her toxicity. And sadly, people lap up this hatred packaged as fear and jump on the bandwagon. A bandwagon they will soon be pushed off by the very people who invited them on.

Residents of the luxury tower block where Grenfell victims were to be re-housed complained about the impact this would have on property prices. But increasing homelessness in the area is apparently OK?

Donald Trump declared that he would ban all Muslims from entering the US. But arming Americans of other religions with guns is apparently OK?

Piers Morgan doesn’t like people ‘whining’ publicly about their personal problems relating to mental health, but ‘whining’ publicly about how it annoys him is apparently OK?

Diversity will threaten the Trump brand. Terror, in all its forms, seems to be a secondary issue.

There’s one thing that all of the above, including Katie Hopkins, appear to have in common. Selfishness. Those residents in luxury tower blocks must already have plenty of money – they’re hardly going to end up on the poverty line. It’s not about local property prices, it’s about their property prices. Donald Trump, being overtly narcissistic, only wants ‘mini me’s’ running around ‘his’ country so it becomes one great big fat United States of Trump. Diversity will threaten the Trump brand. Terror, in all its forms, seems to be a secondary issue. And Piers is happy for public whining as long as it ties in with his personal views.

Thing is, the majority of the general public will never be truly accepted by these people. You might not be ‘fat’, or tattooed or a Muslim or called Charmaine. You might not be talking openly to a large audience about your mental health issues. But let’s face it, if you haven’t got the luxury tower block or the national profile you’re highly unlikely to be accepted by the people who are encouraging you all to get on board and demonise others. You are the ‘others’ – they’re fooling you.

They don’t like others because they are not them. And thankfully neither are you. So isn’t it time you stopped listening to the people who will never have your back. They will never have your back because of many different reasons. Being British born and Christian will not save you. There are too many factors involved. And unless you’re a clone of the people who are whining, unless you eat at the same places, vote in the same way, pray to the same God, wear the same designer labels, you’ll never fit in. So don’t be fooled. You are not one of them.

In my opinion, they are people who are scared of anything that could threaten their position. Just like those fans of alternative music at high school who never wanted their favourite band to become big because they didn’t want others in on the act. They wanted to keep it all to themselves. They wanted to be special, not mainstream, not average. I include myself in that school music snobbery, but thankfully, I’ve grown up.

Increasing diversity in communities creates more interesting culinary treats. More interesting catwalk influences. More interesting music styles. More interesting stories to tell. More interesting pieces of art. People with new things to say. New perspectives.

But if that creates a new breed of nouveau riche, one that’s less about pounds and more about a different kind of wealth, a really vibrant kind of wealth, what’s going to be left for the traditionalists? They’ll become vanilla in a world of tutti fruitti and Karamel Sutra. Their pounds won’t be able to sustain the kind of power they took for granted. That’s why I think they’re really scared. It’s nothing to do with you. It’s just that they can’t do it without you.

Follow me on Twitter – @Lucy_Nichol78