Category: Durham Community Centre

Tory MP’s shameful jibe at poor

This article by Duncan Milligan originally appeared on UniteLive.

Wealthy-backed Tory in bizarre attack on clothes bank helpers

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The £64,000 question – why did a Tory MP with rich business backers attack Unite members helping the poor?

Unite Community members who set up a socialist clothes bank in Durham for those too poor to afford charity shop clothes, have been criticised by a Tory MP for being motivated by “party politics”.

Unite members hit back saying he should be more concerned about why such a service was needed rather than attacking those trying to support the poor.

James Wharton, Tory MP for Stockton South has registered £64,000 in political donations and sponsorships in the last 12 months all from big business backers. Mr Wharton has a track record of wanting to cut welfare spending and to stop increasing benefits in line with inflation.

He has also backed the bedroom tax which forces those on housing benefit to either move house or lose money. He is firmly opposed to taxing bankers’ bonuses.Reacting on local ITV News to the launch of the clothes bank Mr Wharton said, “We have to recognise this is six months before an election. This is the Socialist Clothes Bank. It’s been set up, backed by a number of trade unions, and there is more than a hint of party politics about what’s going on.

“This is as much about making statements about politics as it is about doing good things. I welcome one; I’m not convinced about the other.”

Angela Appleby, a Unite Community member who works with the project said the MP’s intervention was “totally unexpected, he is from a constituency many miles away and there is no reason why he should have said anything.

“One of our members, Dawn Wilson, had the idea when she heard one woman say she could only afford one pair of shoes and had to decide which of her kids got the new ones. We took clothes as donations and operate the clothes bank alongside a local food bank.

Shameful

“People on welfare benefits can use the local food bank and then use the local clothing bank to get a bag of clothes.

“James Wharton’s comments are shameful, he has no idea of what is happening in an area outside of his constituency and the desperate need that people are in.”

Joe Rollin, Unite Community Coordinator for the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside said, “To seek to undermine the huge voluntary effort put in by our members getting the clothes bank up and running in order to score cheap political points is unacceptable.

“The fact that he was 100 per cent wrong in his analysis is almost beside the point – the only person playing party politics here is Mr Wharton himself.

“Those organising the clothes bank have had to seek donations of clothes and help from ordinary people. They have not had access to the sort of donations flooding in to keep Wharton safe in his parliamentary seat.”

And strong criticism came from local MP, Labour’s Grahame Morris. “James Wharton is oblivious to the hardship and suffering of everyday people caused by his government’s policies of austerity,” he said.

“At every opportunity, he has voted in support of cuts to social security; raised taxes which hit the poorest hardest such as VAT; introduced cruel and callous policies like the bedroom tax impacting thousands of disabled families and allowed a system of sanctions to embed in the culture of DWP which has resulted in thousands of people, already in hardship, losing their benefits for minor infringements.

“Instead of attacking volunteers and charity workers trying to help the most vulnerable in society, he should look at his own government’s actions which has led to the need for and the rise in the number of food and clothes banks.

“I think before criticising, this privileged Tory MP should visit the clothes bank and see first-hand the difficult circumstances many people are facing in our communities,” added Mr Morris.

Backers

Mr Wharton, educated at the £26,000 a year St Peter’s school in York was a corporate lawyer before entering parliament in 2010. Between October 2013 and October 2014 he has registered £64,000 of political donations from wealthy Tory business backers.

This includes £25,000 from Peter Cruddas who made a multi-million pound fortune in banking.

It also includes donations worth £15,000 from colourful Russian businessman Alexander Termerko whose engineering company is based in the north east.

Mr Termerko has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative party. The Russian government failed in its attempts to extradite him on fraud and other charges, the British judge saying the Russian prosecution was politically motivated.

The now UK-based Termerko spent £90k on a bronze bust of Cameron at a fundraising dinner and is in the “leaders’ group” – membership of which includes dining rights with the PM.

Mr Wharton has also registered £14,000 of donations from United and Cecil which is a private dining club for largely anonymous Tory donors and operates out of a converted barn in Iver, Buckinghamshire.

United and Cecil target donations at Tory MPs in marginal seats such as Stockton South, where Wharton is clinging to a slim 343 majority.

Wharton’s campaign has recently been boosted by a £10,000 donation from JCB research run by Lord Bamford. Bamford is one of the Tory Party’s main financial backers and indicates the seat is a key marginal.

UNITElive contacted Mr Wharton by email to ask if he had anything to add to his earlier comments. There was no reply at the time of publication.

County Durham Socialist Clothing Bank

From the Durham Unite Community website.

Yesterday saw the opening of the County Durham Socialist Clothing Bank.  The inaugural session In Brandon was a huge success and generated much interest from the local media

It was the idea of Dawn Willson (pictured below) and Cath Ainsley who realised that some people cannot even afford to buy clothes from charity shops. With help and support from Unite, Durham Miners Association, GMB, RMT, Brandon Welfare and all those who donated clothes and/or time their idea became a reality and yesterday showed that there is an absolute need for such a scheme in  County Durham.

Dawn Wilson founded the clothes bank

You can read some of the press coverage by following the links below. ITV’s coverage is particularly interesting due to the comments made by James Wharton  Conservative MP for Stockton South.

ITV reports on Clothing Bank

BBC coverage of clothing bank

Clothing Bank

Following the MPs comments, Unite In The Community released this statement:

Durham Unite Community  Support Centre

Miners Hall, Redhill

Durham, DH1  4BD

Tel.  0191 372 7137

E-mail. durhamcsc@gmail.com

James Wharton shames himself with comments on launch of Durham Socialist Clothing bank

Durham Unite Community were most disappointed to see the response of James Wharton MP when asked for comment on the launch of the County Durham Socialist Clothes Bank by the local ITV news.

“We have to recognise this is six months before an election. This is the Socialist Clothes Bank. It’s been set up, backed by a number of trade unions, and there is more than a hint of party politics about what’s going on. This is as much about making statements about politics as it is about doing good things. I welcome one; I’m not convinced about the other.”

– James Wharton MP, Stockton South, Conservative

To seek to undermine the huge amount of voluntary effort spent by our members getting the clothes bank up and running in order to score cheap political points is unacceptable.  The fact that he was 100% wrong in his analysis is almost beside the point – the only person playing party politics here is Mr Wharton himself.

It is unclear as to why James Wharton MP would be approached for comment on an initiative covering County Durham when he is elected to represent a constituency some distance away, and it was clear from his comments that he was completely uninformed as to the nature of the clothing bank and the support it has received from trade unions in the Durham Area.  In fact, quite why he chose to comment on a subject he obviously knew nothing about is a mystery which only he himself will be able to answer.

The co-ordinators of the Socialist Clothing Bank are both members of Unite Community, which is a non-industrial section of the union created to empower people outside the labour market to use the trade union values of solidarity and collective action to improve their own and others’ situations.  As well as the clothing bank, Unite Community has opened a community support centre at the Durham Miner’s hall providing welfare advice and training courses.  We have been grateful for the material support received from the Durham Miners’ Association, GMB and other unions, which has included providing accommodation for these services and donations of time and clothing from their own members.  None of this was done on the basis of being for or against any political parties – it has all been done out of a desire to help local people in dire need of help.

To even imply any of these are party political actions displays mindset sorely lacking in empathy for other people – helping out fellow human beings in times of need, as our members are doing through the clothes bank, is something that politicians of all parties should be applauding rather than cynically trying to denigrate their efforts in the way James Wharton MP has done.

Unite Community will continue to encourage our members to find new and innovative ways to help out in their local communities, and encourage more people to do the same.  Instead of playing politics with our efforts, we would be grateful if in the future Mr Wharton would let us get on with it and stick to his role as a politician which should be trying to tackle the reasons behind their being a need to set up food banks and clothing banks in the first place

Unite Community is a section of the Unite trade union for those not in work.  It is dedicated to helping give voice to the most vulnerable in society and seeking to empower people to improve their own local communities.

For further information about the Clothing Bank or the wider work of Unite Community in the County Durham area, please contact the Durham Community Support Centre (details at top of page)

More on this from today’s Huffington Post.

Durham Welfare Rights March

Click on the images to see the slideshow.

In Defence of the Welfare State

Demonstration against benefit cuts, Durham

Friday The 11th of July saw the Durham Unite Community Branch hold a lively protest outside the Job Centre, The Durham Unite Community Members were supported by community members from Newcastle and Teesside in our first joint action in the North East something we aim to repeat!

You can see from the photographs and video that after the first hour of protesting we were joined by our Unite brothers and sisters from the Unite Political School, meaning we had well over one hundred people demonstration. We got lots of support from members of the public who are suffering with the Con Dem’s cruel and unnecessary welfare reform, a letter was handed in to the Job Centre PCS members explaining that the protest was not aimed at workers but at the government’s cruel policies, which are condemning thousands of people into poverty and reliance on Food Banks.

The Durham Branch took the opportunity to show off its new banner with the slogan “Celebrate our Past, Fight for our Future”. Watch this space for future action!

Sanctions Leaflet here

Video of the Protest here

Durham Unite Community Centre Blog here

Demonstration against benefit cuts, Durham Demonstration against benefit cuts, Durham Demonstration against benefit cuts, Durham Demonstration against benefit cuts, Durham Demonstration against benefit cuts, Durham

 

Campaigners take cuts protest to Durham streets (From The Northern Echo)

The Northern Echo: Campaigners take cuts protest to Durham streets
Campaigners take cuts protest to Durham streets

VOLUNTEERS from a new campaigning community centre took to the streets to highlight problems caused by welfare cuts.

Unite community volunteers based at the new part-time community and advice centre at Red Hills, in Durham City, staged an information event in Durham Market Place on Monday (January 6).

They handed out leaflets and offered advice on avoiding debt.

They say the Government’s welfare reforms are putting people in need.

Robbie Faulds, one of the volunteers, said: “Everyone we spoke to was in agreement that people are hurting, especially after Christmas.

“Even if they weren’t experiencing difficulties themselves, they invariably knew a friend or family member who would benefit from the advice we will be offering at the centre and understood the need to campaign against the cuts which are so damaging to the most vulnerable in our society.”

The Community Support Centre is open from 10am to 3pm every Wednesday and Thursday. For more information, visit durhamcsc.wordpress.com.

Original article here: http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/local/northdurham/10919531.Campaigners_take_cuts_protest_to_Durham_streets/

Grand opening of Durham Community centre

Photo copyright Mark Harvey
Photo copyright Mark Harvey

“Educate, Agitate, Organise”

150 people attended the grand opening of the Durham Miners Association (DMA) and Unite Community Support Centre on Friday 15 November 2013 in Durham City.

This is the second joint initiative between miners’ and Unite Community members. Earlier this year the National Union of Mineworkers and the country’s largest union set up a similar centre in Barnsley.

Unite has also established a further four support centres across the UK including in Tower Hamlets in London. The City of London may see £billions of pass through it every day, but many parts of England’s capital city remain blighted by poverty. Liane Groves, Unite Community national coordinator, is currently examining if similar centres can be opened in many more locations to help counter this government’s sustained attacks on the unemployed and working people.

In each centre a body of professionally trained volunteers provide welfare and employment rights advice, whilst there are multi-skills courses for unemployed people plus opportunities to join Unite as a community member and get active in campaigning against the likes of the bedroom tax.

The support centre in Durham is located in the DMA’s Redhills building. This was opened in 1915 and is a handsome, impressive building that stands as a fitting tribute to the Durham miners’ struggles for decent pay, safe working conditions, justice and equality. The building is a masterpiece both architecturally and in the materials and craftsmanship. When miners met coal owners there to negotiate over wages and conditions it placed them on an equal footing.

Today, the grandeur of Redhills stands in direct contrast to the situation facing the former mining communities in a region which urgently requires regenerating in order to boost employment opportunities.

Once proud locations such as Easington Colliery now have over half the shops on the front street boarded up. Easington survived after the tragedy that killed 85 miners in May 1951 and the small town was the scene of heroic resistance during the year-long miners strike in 1984-85. John Major’s government made people pay for fighting for their communities when the mine was closed in 1993 with the loss of 1,400 jobs. The brief media attention, which followed the filming of Billy Elliot there in 2000, failed to halt the inevitable decline with young people facing a future without work. Many people have relocated and there are now a large number of empty houses. Sadly, the example of Easington Colliery is not unique in Durham.

Which, as Dave Hopper, the DMA general secretary, said is “why it is great to be opening this support centre. We have got tens of thousands of people who are being denied benefits they because they don’t know what or how to claim even if they are working. Many infirm people also need help as they are wrongly being classified as fit for work and thus denied what are already meagre benefits.

“There is a lot of despair in our communities, especially amongst young people. Even those who manage to find work are on zero hours contracts where if they don’t jump to the employers’ demands they get sacked. We want to make sure they join a union. We are organising a series of meetings across Durham and want people to get much more active in campaigning to protect services and for jobs to be brought to the region. The DMA and Unite can do a lot of good work together through this support centre.”

Initially, the centre will be open between 10am and 5pm every Wednesday and Thursday.  Amongst the ten volunteers is Aurelia Smith, a former civil servant and activist in the PCS trade union, and John Kelly, the Unite branch secretary for the Durham geographical branch and part-time lorry driver. Both have a wealth of experience in providing welfare and employment rights advice and wish to introduce people to trade unions as organisations that can help them. The hope is that someone who comes into the centre for benefits advice and/or to enroll on one of the many skills courses will also become a Unite community member. Then, once they find work they will switch to becoming an industrial member of Unite.

The skills courses that are planned under the direction of Unite learning organiser David Condliffe include english, mathematics, information technology, public speaking, graphic design and new media. These new skills will improve people’s employment prospects – thus boosting their confidence – as well as being able to help them in any campaigning initiatives they may wish to get involved with locally. “We have put on media courses in the Barnsley support centre and by the end we have had people designing their own posters as part of campaigning against the bedroom tax. The blogger courses we have organised have seen people design their own blogs in order to involve friends in fighting to protect a local bus route,” says Dave. The support centre has a suite of computers and is newly decorated. A visitor will pass along corridors packed with history including old miners banners and a plaque to those from County Durham who fought in the Spanish Civil War between 1936-39.

The struggle against fascism is an ongoing one. The weekend prior to the opening of the support centre witnessed the English Defence League march in nearby Shotton Colliery and opposition was limited. “That is an example of why we cannot allow our communities to be left to rot. We must fill them with progressive politics and restore the old socialist values of the trade unions. We need the Labour Party to then recognise it must support the communities that back them.”

The local Labour Euro MP, Stephen Hughes, was one of many dignitaries at the opening and he “warmly welcomed this new initiative in these troubled times.”  Ian McFaul from Thompsons solicitors did the same whilst Howard Beckett, head of legal and affiliated services at Unite, said, “we can learn everything from this initiative. What we are doing is nothing more than what the DMA has done historically in providing services, including housing, to its members.  Which is why it can still bring out tens of thousands of people each year to its Gala despite there being no working mines locally.”

It was left to Karen Reay, Unite regional secretary for the North East, Yorks and Humberside, to sum the day up: “What a great turnout of local trade unionists, elected representatives and members of the local community. We are sure we can utilise this great building to help rebuild our local communities.”

Durham Community support centre

Unite, the UK’s largest union and the Durham Miners Association (DMA) have joined forces to open a community centre in Red Hill, Durham which will support the local community. The new centre at Miners Hall, Red Hill, Durham, Co Durham, DH14BD, had its “Grand Opening” on Friday 15 November.

The centre will be open for two days a week (10am — 3pm, Wednesday -Thursday) offering help and support for individuals and for the community as a whole. The centre will allow people to learn new skills, provide support with welfare problems and support for people looking for work. The centre will also become a hub for the local community to campaign on welfare changes.

With devastating cuts, such as the Bedroom Tax, housing benefit cuts and ATOS to name a few, the centre will introduce Benefit Buddying, which will offer peer-to-peer support for many of the most vulnerable people who will suffer as a result of these cuts and who have difficulties with benefit claims. Unite Community aims to bring together and help give those in our society who would not normally have a voice.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/SHiEgvLBSj8]

Miners’ hall to become community centre

Len McCluskey at this year's Durham Miners' Gala
Len McCluskey at this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala

A MINERS’ hall is to become a part-time community centre and campaign base to fight the Government’s welfare reforms.

The trades union Unite and the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) have teamed up to open the DMA’s headquarters, the Miners’ Hall, at Red Hill, Durham City, to the community two days a week.

Visitors will be offered the chance to learn new skills, help with welfare issues and support to find work.

Supporters hope the centre will also be a hub for local campaigning against reforms such as the so-called bedroom tax and other benefit cuts.

A grand opening will be held on Friday, November 15, after which the centre will be open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 3pm.

The opening will be addressed by Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary.

Karen Reay, Unite’s regional secretary, said: “This exciting development in conjunction with the Durham Miners’ Association brings Unite back into our industrial heartlands.”

Dave Hopper, from the DMA, said: “We have opened the community support centre in partnership with Unite in a response to the vicious attacks on the benefits system brought in by the Con-Dem government.”

Durham’s will be the fifth such centre Unite has opened this year.

You can find the original article at The Northern Echo here.

New union community support centre for Durham to open

Durham opening poster

Unite, the UK’s largest union and the Durham Miners Association (DMA) have joined forces to open a community centre in Red Hill, Durham which will support the local community.

The new centre at Miners Hall, Red Hill, Durham, Co Durham, DH14BD, will have its “Grand Opening” on Friday 15 November from 2pm where the public and press will be able to meet the volunteers and see what the centre has to offer.

The centre will be open for two days a week (10am – 3pm, Wednesday -Thursday) offering help and support for individuals and for the community as a whole. The centre will allow people to learn new skills, provide support with welfare problems and support for people looking for work. The centre will also become a hub for the local community to campaign on welfare changes.

With devastating cuts, such as the Bedroom Tax, housing benefit cuts and ATOS to name a few, the centre will introduce Benefit Buddying, which will offer peer-to-peer support for many of the most vulnerable people who will suffer as a result of these cuts and who have difficulties with benefit claims.

With unemployment running at 22,700 in County Durham – the largest number of any local authority area in the North East and over 4,000 unemployed young people – the centre’s services will be a vital resource for the local community adversely affected by government’s cuts to services and social security payments.

Unite regional secretary Karen Reay said: “This exciting development in conjunction with the Durham Miners Association brings Unite back into our industrial heartlands. Our members can be confident that we are aware of their local issues and that Unite is seeking to work with the people of Durham to address them.

“By working with local campaign groups and politicians we can ensure that our members’ voices are heard and that issues that matter to them are top of the local agenda.”

David Hopper of the DMA said: “We have opened the community support centre in partnership with Unite in a response to the vicious attacks on the benefits system brought in by the Con-Dem government. The last Conservative government decimated our coal industry now this government is making the people of the North East suffer all over again.”

Unite regional community coordinator Joe Rollin said: “I am really pleased that we are opening this centre in Durham where the local community is in great need of support and this centre will go some way to providing that assistance.

“Our experience of working with local groups and individuals ensures that issues which matter to people are campaigned for. This centre will become a focal point for making those changes.”

Unite has already opened four such centres this year – in Barnsley, Belfast Cinderford and Tower Hamlets in east London.

Downloadable PDF Poster: Durham opening poster