Category: Unite Community

End of year Benefits Report

Since opening we have dealt with 170 people who have had at least two problems, and many had a multitude of problems and issues that took more than one appointment. In fact we have conducted around 350 interviews. Here is a brief snapshot of the issues that we have dealt with:

All benefits including ESA, IS,JSA, Sanctions, Bedroom Tax PIP, Pensions, DHP, Right to Reside issues for EU nationals and all issues previously dealt with by the social fund and money problems. We have represented 18 people at Tribunals with a 70% success record. We have two Tribunals pending at the Upper Tribunal, one on Bedroom Tax and the other on Right to Reside for a Polish EU national.

From the above around one third have joined Unite Community.

Richard Vivian

Volunteer at Barnsley Unite Community Centre

Regional Workshop

Report to Leeds Unite Community Branch by Gerry Lavery
Unite Community North East (Yorkshire & Humberside)
Regional Workshop 2014

Regional Workshop
Unite Community held a regional workshop on Thursday 13th November 2014 at the Unite offices in Leeds. There were up to four representatives from each of the following areas: Barnsley, Doncaster, Grimsby, Huddersfield, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Teesside. There were four representatives from Leeds: Patrick Hall, Gerry Lavery, Mark Mason, and Dave Robertson. Joe Rollin, the regional Unite Community Co-ordinator, hosted the day with the assistance of Claire Mawson from Unite.

Joe pointed out that five branches have now been established and others are in the process of being set up. Community centres have been opened in Durham and Barnsley, both in NUM premises. Two branch blogs are up and running, and there are now nine Unite Community Facebook pages. There are 1,000 Unite Community members in the North East region. The general message was that this has been significant and encouraging growth over a relatively short period of time.

One of the most instructive and interesting parts of the day was the opportunity to meet representatives from each area and to learn about what they have been involved in and have achieved. The more established branches have been particularly impressive in their progress and an inspiration to those of us at earlier stage of development.

We also heard from representatives of two important campaigns, the Barnsley Freedom Riders and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. The remainder of the day involved very helpful sessions on legal services, training and recruitment.

We look at each session in turn and then try to draw some lessons from the day.

Read the full report here: RegionalWorkshop

Unite Community Regional Day


Thursday November 13 2014

What an amazing day!! It was well organised, informative, fun and inspirational!

Unite Community is 3 years old. There were 480 members in this region (Yorkshire, Humberside and North East) last September, now there are 1000! No other union is organising people who are out of work. There are now 5 branches in this region, with South Yorkshire the biggest and 2 other branches are on the way.

This was a day for 3/4 activists from each branch in the region. Other members came from Newcastle, Durham,  Barnsley, Leeds, Sheffield, Doncaster, Grimsby Teesside and Newcastle. It was inspiring to hear what the campaigns were achieving with the support of Unite Community.

Unite Community is helping release an absolute powerhouse of energy. It is involving people of all ages, abilities and experience. Campaigns include support for the Freedom Riders which has grown into a national campaign; Justice for Orgreave; the Bedroom Tax, opposing benefit sanctions, boycotting workfare, demonstrating against ATOS, campaigns against the closure of children’s centres and campaigns around student fees.

Branches have petitioned, held public meetings, rallies, demonstrations and supported picket lines. Two branches have had joint meetings with PCS members to encourage union staff to refuse to carry out unfair and cruel sanctions.

Some branches have established food banks and clothing banks – with a laundry in one branch area, washing and ironing the clothes for free. This has been very helpful for people attending job interviews.

There are courses for public speaking, learning computing skills, welfare benefits training; banner-making – whatever the need to take a community forward – it can be done with Unite Community support.

It was agreed that we needed to be clear about our aims which are to raise political awareness and give a voice to people who are not working, helping people shape and build strong working class communities.

Many of our campaigns will be about resisting austerity cuts to jobs and services and challenging racism.  It was felt important that we link up with industrial unions and with other community organisations who are working with the unemployed and that we send delegates to trade councils.

Legal help and advice is available to members from the experienced trade union law firm, Thompson’s solicitors. Services include personal injury and accident compensation, criminal law, clinical negligence, free legal advice, pensions and conveyancing.

See photos from the day in the gallery below.

Industrial branch donation

A huge thank you from the Barnsley Unite Community Support Centre to Pegler Yorkshire Branchl NE 405 22, who last night decided to donate £1000 to the Unite/NUM Barnsley Community Centre.

People power can make a difference

When the Civic Theatre in Barnsley announced an upcoming exhibition by Israeli shoe designer Kobi Levi, Unite Community member Brian Clarke dug deeper and discovered that the exhibition was backed by the Israeli Government. A letter to his local council resulted in the cancellation of the exhibition.

“I was looking through the Civic events calendar and noticed this exhibition,” said Brian. “I immediately sent an email to Birdwell Councillor Jim Andrews, that I found it very disturbing particularly as it is to be sponsored by the Israeli government.

“I registered my objection taking into account what was happening in Gaza and how the Israelis are treating Palestinians making the point that if it went ahead there would bound to be demonstrations opposing it, causing embarrassment to the Council. I asked Jim if there was anything he could do to stop the exhibition?”

Councillor Andrews responded saying he also was concerned and would look into the matter. Following a telephone conversation with Civic Chief Executive Helen Ball and enquiries to Northampton Gallery, who were loaning the exhibition, the decision was taken not to go ahead.

Helen Ball explains, “having considered all the information provided I feel that given the level to which the conflict in Gaza has escalated in recent months and the level of upset and distress this has caused together with us being an organisation that receives public funding to provide arts and cultural experiences for local people who clearly may be concerned that we appear to be aligning ourselves with one side of that conflict, the best decision is for us not to go ahead with the exhibition.”

Instead the Civic will now present an exhibition from the Royal Photographic Society, International Images for Science 2013.

This is a great example of how action by a single person can make a difference, if only in a small way and help to raise awareness of injustices suffered by those in far away lands.

Britain’s great land grab

The ‘super rich’, wealthy domestic and foreign property developers and ‘old money’ aristocrats are cashing in on Britain’s housing crisis, while 1.8 million households languish on council waiting lists.

As those ‘super rich’ gathered at MIPIM property fair, the biggest of it’s kind in the world, members of Unite and other campaign groups were outside protesting at the sell-off of public land at a time of a desperate housing crisis across the UK. Unite heard from some campaigners and those affected by this ‘land grab’.

Unite has also produced a briefing – ‘Carving up our communities’link

Please share far and wide, thank you.


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Fair pay for the NHS

Across England and Northern Ireland today, NHS workers took to the picket lines for the first time in 30 years to demand fair NHS pay

KendrayPicket_01_LoUnite Community members showing solidarity on the picket line at Kendray Hospital in Barnsley.

 Given the feedback from our members, we are confident that this was a very well-supported action with over 100 picket line protests outside NHS hospitals up and down the country. NHS workers were especially thankful for all the messages of support they’ve been receiving from the public.

We urge Jeremy Hunt to heed his responsibility to the NHS workforce and patients and to start talking with the unions to discuss fair pay for this vital staff who would rather be caring for patients than having to fight their own poverty.

Health professionals are especially concerned that the health secretary implies that fair wages for them mean job losses, but he does nothing to curb pay excess by corporate chief executives or the horrific £3 billion cost of this government’s useless reorganisation of the NHS.

The health unions are calling for the government not to impose limits on what can be achieved for this essential workforce, but to come to the table prepared to negotiate in a meaningful way.

Today general secretary Len McCluskey visited Unite members on strike picket at St Thomas’ Hospital. He said that we should send a message to this government and the political elite that NHS workers should no longer be treated as second class citizens.

Here are a few photos from today’s action (below).

This is the real Big Society!

Barnsley Unite CSC Staff

Volunteers Richard Vivian, Pete Smith, Muhammad Tariq, Coordinator Joe Rollin and Brian Clarke, outside the centre.

When the Unite Community Support Centre in Barnsley opened its doors on a blazing hot day in June 2013 to a fanfare from the Unite Brass Band, it was with a sense of much needed optimism.

The shadow of the Miners’ Strike has hung like a pall over Barnsley for thirty years. The coal mines that once defined the town are now gone and with little remaining industry, Barnsley has been particularly vulnerable to the storms that have swept the economy in recent decades.

Harry Leslie Smith, in his excellent book, ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ described the grinding poverty of his early life in Barnsley during the 1920s. Not much has changed and what did, such as the NHS and our Welfare State are now being severely eroded. Currently standing as the fourth most deprived local authority in Yorkshire and the Humber, low wages, benefit cuts, sanctions and the hated Bedroom Tax are taking their toll. It seems appropriate that the office is situated in the NUM Headquarters, once known as ‘Arthur’s Castle’.

The centre is open for two days a week and is run entirely by volunteers. It offers a range of advice on benefits issues, including support for appeals and representation at tribunals. It also runs courses on welfare advice training, helping people with computer skills and internet access with the ‘Learn My Way’ course.

Richard Vivian is a retired Welfare Benefits Advisor, who moved to Barnsley thirty years ago, “I came down from Scotland in the middle of the Miners’ Strike and established the Barnsley Centre Against Unemployment, which I managed for over twelve years. The idea of a community union for people not in work, students or retired, organised within one of the biggest unions in Europe not only caught my imagination, it also fulfilled a long time personal aim to unite those in work with those out of work. So when the opportunity arose to become involved in the development of a community support centre in Barnsley, I grabbed the chance. We continue to apply the original aims of the centre and will carry on as long as the problems of working class people remain and we can create and achieve a better and fairer society.

Unite launched its Community Membership Scheme in early 2012, with the aim of bringing the principles of trade unionism to the heart of our communities, such as the values of solidarity, dignity and respect.

During Cameron’s numerous launches and re-launches of his beleaguered ‘Big Society’ flagship policy (a thinly veiled attack on public sector services, under the guise of community involvement), he can’t have imagined Unite Community, even in his darkest nightmares.

Unite Regional Co-ordinator, Joe Rollin explains, “our initiative was a response to massive unemployment, especially amongst young people. Unite saw this as disastrous for the country as a whole and thought it had a moral duty to these people. The whole trade union movement I think, was shocked by the savage way in which the Tories implemented their austerity programme, dismantling our public services and unravelling our welfare state. The movement needed to engage with our communities to help organise a fight back.”

Joe was instrumental in setting up the centre, “the vision is to reach into our communities which once had thriving industries, where joining a union was as normal as having a cup of tea. Now with de-industrialisation, the toll of unemployment has meant that the reality for working class people is bleak. No work at all, minimum wage jobs or zero hours contracts. We want to instil a feeling of dignity and respect back into these communities and show through collective organisation we can stop some of the vicious Con-Dem cuts.”

Volunteers Muhammad (Mo) Tariq, Brian Clarke and Peter Smith play a huge role in helping to run the centre. Mo moved to Barnsley from London in 2011 and advises visitors on welfare rights, helps with admin work and keeps the centre’s social media channels and blog up to date. He says, “I wanted to help people in whatever capacity I could, as the current economic climate is very harsh and communities are suffering.”

Brian helps to facilitate the centre’s various computer courses, such as Learn My Way and Learn with Unite ICT. He is from Sheffield and is a retired engineering worker, first joining the AEU in 1955. He also served as Secretary and General Manager of the Wortley Hall collective until 2005 when he retired, remaining on the management board as Political Secretary until 2013. He says, “after reading an article in the Morning Star I contacted Joe and asked if I could help, as I wanted to keep in touch with our Union. I have been involved in the centre from the early organising meetings and really enjoy the work. We have a very good team in Barnsley with a good mixture of skills and abilities to help the local community.”

Pete has always been active in the trade union movement and was an officer in the Transport & General Union from 1983 until his retirement in 2007. He helps with benefits advice, industrial problems and tribunals. Pete says, “I see Unite Community as more of a movement than anything else. I’d like to see it grow and spread its influence throughout the community, creating links with industrial branches. The centre is the ideal opportunity for me to put something back by helping people.”

In its first year, the centre conducted 180 interviews, giving advice on a range of issues such as Employment Support Allowance, Job Seekers’ Allowance, Housing Benefit, Council Tax, Bedroom Tax and Discretionary Housing Payments. Advisors attended seventeen tribunals and closed 83 cases.

Richard expands on this, “We cannot win all the time but by taking a claimant through the process of claiming and appealing at tribunals, we are helping that person regain their dignity and showing that we do care.

“Mr R was one of our first cases, seeking help with his Working Tax Credit claim. We managed to recover a total of £4,795.68 from HMRC on his behalf.”

“Another successful case,” continued Richard, “was Ms C. “By successfully claiming the Personal Independence Payment and Carers Allowance, as well as winning two Bedroom Tax appeals we increased her benefits from £71.70 per week last year, to £190.80 per week this year.”

Alongside the advice service, another important aspect of the centre’s work is supporting local campaigns. Over the last year, the centre has supported campaigns as diverse as the local Anti-Bedroom Tax campaign, Orgreave Truth and Justice, the strike by Care UK workers, the celebrated South Yorkshire Freedom Riders and the NUM’s 30th anniversary commemorations of the Miners’ Strike.

Joe explains, “The NUM have been a symbol of resistance in the local community. People remember clearly the heroic struggle against the last Conservative government and what loosing that struggle has meant to the trade union movement as a whole. Unite wanted to educate people about our past struggles and learn lessons for the future.”

For this reason, the centre has also set up its own Community Library, with a focus on the history of the trade union movement and radicalism. The growing collection has received donations from Unite members, Red Pepper magazine and would welcome any further donations.

There is no formal lending system, “people just turn up and we record their name, phone number and the books that they have borrowed on our record sheet. There is no need to become a member or make any payments, we just trust people to be honest,” said Joe.

The Unite Community Support Centre in Barnsley has covered a lot of ground over the last year, offering support and advice to the local community. This is especially impressive when considered that the centre is only open for two days a week and stands as a testament to the passion and dedication of its volunteers.

“We have come a long way in a short period of time,” says Joe, “ we want to continue our unique blend of practical support, radical education and direct action against the cuts, so that we can continue to live up to our slogan, ‘educate, agitate, organise’!”

NUM Banners

 To commensurate the 30th Anniversary of the Miner’s Strike the is displaying NUM Banners as well as at gala’s and rallies, banners were also prominently displayed during protest marches, including during the 1984-85 strike against pit closures.

Please click to view pictures!

The NUM banners depicted the history and politics of the collieries and were a huge source of pride for NUM (National Union of Miners) member.

If you have further queries please do speak to Joe Rollin.

Joe Rollin Unite Community Coordinator / Unite In Schools Coordinator
55 Call Lane Leeds LS1 7BW
Tel 07711 375 536

Community Support Centre Websites