Tag: barnsley community support centre

Barnsley Unite Centre Report

Attendees at our 2nd Anniversary gathering
Attendees at our 2nd Anniversary gathering

Introduction – Solidarity is the key.

The Barnsley area of South Yorkshire has a long tradition of a strong Labour and Trade Union movement working together in defence of jobs and conditions and supporting the communities that since the industrial revolution have produced coal, glass, steel and cotton in the mines and factories on behalf of the country.  I came down to Barnsley during the Miners’ Strike of 1984 to work in the Barnsley Centre Against Unemployment, a TUC affiliated centre that was part of the South Yorkshire/North Derbyshire Forum of Unemployed Workers Centres and we organised along the same principles as the Labour and Trade Union Movement.  The Barnsley Centre Against Unemployment, along with others, was a model TUC Centre and now 12 years after it closed some of the people involved were lucky enough to be still around and in a position to utilise many of the experiences of the centre and the TUC Forum into creating the Barnsley Unite Community Support Centre. Unite Community nationally have adopted the principles of education, agitation and organisation to face similar challenges to Thatcher’s era brought about by austerity measures and an even more hostile Tory government than Thatcher’s, if we ever thought that was possible!

Soon after our union’s bold declaration to start up a Community Union as part of Unite the Union, Joe Rollin, who had been appointed as a full time organiser for the North East approached me, Brian Clarke, Pete Smith and other well know Barnsley activists, all experienced and dedicated trade unionists to lend a hand in creating the very first Unite Community Support Centre in Barnsley. Joe had already approached the Yorkshire Area National Union of Mineworkers for permission to use spare office room at their headquarters in Barnsley which contains the famous miner’s hall and they agreed, much to our delight. It is worth noting that the agenda of today’s conference is very similar to one that we discussed at our early planning meetings held at the NUM nearly 3 years ago. This is a brief report of the main issues that we have faced and dealt with over the past 3 years, following our initial planning and strategy meeting.

The NUM granted us the use of two rooms and unlimited telephone use. The main office which also happens to be Arthur Scargill’s former office is used for administration, campaigning meetings, storing the campaign leaflets and advice work. It has four computers. The other office, The Women Against Pit Cosures, with who we have a strong coalition, doubles up as a computer training room with 6 computers. Our working relations with the NUM is excellent and our centre and South Yorkshire Unite Community branch was heavily involved in the 30th Miners anniversary events across the country, and of course the creation of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. It is very important to have a strong local branch in areas that we are growing our membership and South Yorkshire branch is just that.

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Main Broad Based coalitions (or partnerships as we like to call them)

Note: In our experience the key to building broad based coalitions is a non-judgemental , non-partisan and friendly approach and stressing the point to other organisations that Unite can help ‘their own’ organisation and Unite’s contribution to the anti-poverty agenda can be in all our interests. Wherever possible it is preferable for the personal approach to be carried out by our members to potential partners, stressing also the benefits of joining Unite, if not already in a union. This approach has reaped rewards in membership for us and helped build up our capacity to achieve our objectives. Here are some of our main partners.

Barnsley Trades Union Council is an active and vibrant arm of the trade union movement in our area and we have 2 delegates to the BTUC. We have regular joint events and demos

Barnsley Council and local councillors and our MP’s It helps our cause that Barnsley is a Labour controlled local authority and that from the start we involved the council in our development, invited the relevant council functions to our planning meetings Unite are represented at their key anti-poverty joint meetings. For example, the partnership we have with Homelessness Team and the Barnsley Advice Network is invaluable as an exchange of ideas and resources. We have excellent relations with the Housing and Benefits section and this helps us smooth the benefit problems between our clients and the council whilst of course retaining our right to represent and support clients at reviews and appeals against decisions made by the council. We have a direct line to local councillors and MP’s and regularly call upon them if needed on behalf of our members.

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PCS and the Job Centre:   We have strong links with the local PCS branch through their representative on the trades’ council and who also happens to be a member of the CAB  trustees in which I am also a member. The main contact in working situations to other PCS members is through the Job Centre Plus staff. We regularly leaflet outside the Job Centre in Barnsley but always contact the local PCS rep to inform him/her. We also make an effort not to blame or scapegoat Job Centre staff for the plight of claimants, especially on the sanctions issues. On behalf of Unite we wrote a letter to the PCS Barnsley branch to explain that, whilst we vigorously campaign against the Tory Welfare Reforms, we recognise that staff is given targets to fulfil on sanctions and Job Search. It is important that the two unions take each other along and talk to each other on the rocky path that the Tory Government has set for us when it comes to Welfare Reform and the problems it has caused.

Red Cross:   The British Red Cross operates from Quaker House almost next door to ours. We have a partnership with the Red Cross to provide ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) to all asylum seekers and refugees that are referred to us by the Red Cross. At present this consists of around 60 all at different stages of entry into the UK. We also provide benefits, money and housing information and along with the Red Cross support and advise them on their applications and support for asylum. We have an Iranian volunteer member who speaks several languages and is vital to sound advice delivery. This is ground breaking work that we are very proud of.

South Yorkshire Credit Union: This is another vitally important partnership as many of our members and potential members cannot access a High street bank account. Also the membership of a credit union allows both borrowing and saving at the same time and benefit can be deposited in a credit union account. As a founder member of the SYCU I understand the importance of a credit union in alleviating poverty and debt and enabling people to budget their income and outgoings.

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Food Bank and Churches: we have a close partnership with the local food bank and we have a volunteer member working in the church which provides daily hot meals

Others (not exhaustive)    Pensioners groups (Freedom Riders!) Bedroom Tax Campaign, Northern College, Barnsley College, Unison and other unions, the CAB and Students Union.

Advice Work and Networking

Networking with other advice organisations is essential if you are giving welfare rights advice. Voluntary and statutory organisation, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, Council Welfare Rights teams ( now becoming rare) Shelter and Age Concern can be referred to and welcome Unites input and support in our experience. Our experience is that it desirable to get to know the key workers of our main partners and encourage them to join Unite. Also ask them to volunteer for us and even take training sessions. Since opening, Barnsley Unite have supported and advised over 300 people seeking our advice, conducted around 800 interviews with many joining Unite. We have taken 36 Tribunals with a 75% success rate – but win or lose, it’s our support to people who are at their wit’s end that is the main thing.

Neil, Linda,John, Brian, Tigsiti Tekleab, Mekdes Zewde, Saron Alehayeku.
Neil, Linda,John, Brian, Tigsiti Tekleab, Mekdes Zewde, Saron Alehayeku.

Changing the Narrative Equality, Lobbying, Campaigning and Recruiting

It follows that strong partnerships and networking can bring their own practices of delivering meaningful equality to the Unite table. Also the referrals and the cross-referrals from voluntary and charitable organisations mentioned above can instil a natural social approach to equalities in all our functions as a union. Equalities are complimentary to everything that we do. This approach is important within the Barnsley community and along with other likeminded partners we try to lead by example in treating everyone equally and with the same careful attention to detail that we would if we were in an industrial setting dealing with our workplace members. Unite Community can provide that bit extra with our campaigning role that gives us an edge over other voluntary and charitable organisations working in the community The ‘we really are in this together’ approach gains us credibility when we are lobbying, campaigning and recruiting especially when we conduct visible campaigns, demos or promotional activities on the street. Student work should now be a priority for Unite as these are our future members who will carry the banner forward, hopefully to a better world. Against a background of poverty and anger it can be difficult to achieve even small gains in a system that is loaded against us. In working together towards our aims it goes without saying that we must have total unity of purpose between ourselves.

The elements of all conference workshops should link into each other and the report backs from the workshops should combine to form a feasible strategy to take Unite Community and the PCS forward. We must keep in mind that we are now nearly 3 years old and many of our more active areas are beyond the basics and are setting their own priorities and strategies according to the needs of their communities. I hope this brief report of our experiences and those who are attending the conference help you to achieve the aims of the conference.

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Footnote

With the seeming success of Unite Community, the volunteers at Barnsley are of the opinion that the work of Unite Community nationally would be enhanced enormously with an increase in the number of full time Regional Organisers. The present limit of one organiser for every region seems wholly unreasonable and unrealistic.

Yours fraternally,

Richard Vivian,

Volunteer, on behalf of Barnsley Unite Community Centre

23.10.2015

Two years of Barnsley Unite Community

Attendees at our 2nd Anniversary gathering
Attendees at our 2nd Anniversary gathering. Brian Clarke and Richard Vivian kneeling with their gifts.

The Barnsley Unite Community Support Centre reached its second anniversary this week and we held a small gathering to celebrate, at the Miners’ Hall.

Head of Unite Community, Liane Grove awarded Centre Volunteers Richard Vivian and Brian Clarke with a book each, a small token of her appreciation.

Neil, Linda,John, Brian, Tigsiti Tekleab, Mekdes Zewde, Saron Alehayeku.
Neil, Linda,John, Brian, Tigsiti Tekleab, Mekdes Zewde, Saron Alehayeku.

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

Unite Community Support Centre’s appeal for books

BarnsleyCSC_Library_LoResVolunteers Richard Vivian, Pete Smith, Muhammad Tariq, Coordinator Joe Rollin and Brian Clarke, with some of the books already donated.

The Barnsley Community Support Centre, based at the NUM Headquarters on Huddersfield Road, is appealing for donations of books for its new community library.

The centre opened its doors in June 2013 to offer a range of advice on benefits issues, including support with appeals and representation at tribunals. Staffed entirely by volunteers it runs courses on welfare advice training, also helping people with computer skills and internet access, with the ‘Learn My Way’ course.

Regional Unite Community Coordinator, Joe Rollin explained, “we have come a long way in a short time and opening our community library is another step forward in our aim to educate. We particularly want people to learn about the history of the trade union movement. We have already received a couple of large donations to help get us started.”

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 centre is open every Wednesday and Thursday from 10.00am to 3.00pm and donations can be brought to the centre, or call 01226 215557 to make arrangements.

Centre closed for holidays

The centre will be closed on the 27th and 28th August due to volunteers being away on much needed holidays. We will be back in business on the 3rd September, as usual from 10am to 3pm.

Barnsley Unite Community Members leaflet Job Centre

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Barnsley Unite Community Members leafleted the Job Centre today to inform claimants about their rights if sanctioned. The sanctions leaflet can be read here.

And also to let the people of Barnsley know about what services we have on offer in the Community Centre. For example, our weekly computer class and library.

We met one lady who was sanctioned after she turned up late to sign on, as her brother passed away last night. As well as numerous workers who had been sacked without notice from agency work, we must carry on our vital work within our communities and spread the message of solidarity.

We also handed a letter to PCS staff explaining our intentions (see below). Please get in touch if your group or branch needs materials to run your own stall.

To PCS Members in Barnsley DWP office

This week on Tuesday the 15th of July Unite Community will be holding a stall outside the Barnsley DWP Jobcentre Plus office to highlight the Coalition Government’s unfair and unjustified attacks on the benefits system and on the unemployed, the sick and disabled and their families who rely on these benefits.

We ask you to support the action in any way you can. I want to emphasise that this stall is not aimed at DWP employees/PCS members who we know are under similar attack from this Government in terms of job cuts, increased threats of disciplinary measures and a squeeze on pay and conditions. We want to make common cause with you as our fight is your fight and vice versa.

Instead this information stall is aimed at the Government’s savage policy of cutting £30 billion out of the benefits system and forcing people off benefits through measures like the cruel sanctions regime and the discredited Work Capability Assessment.

Yours in Solidarity

Barnsley Unite Community Branch

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Unite Community Library

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The Barnsley Unite Community Centre is setting up it’s very own community Library.

We have already had donations from Unite the Union and Red Pepper Magazine. If you would like to donate some books, please drop them off at the centre or put them in the post.

Out and About on the Streets of Barnsley

 

Unite Community activists have been out and about this week spreading the message about the Community Support Centre at the NUM Headquarters, 2 Huddersfield Road, Barnsley S70 2LS Telephone 01226 215557 http://barnsleycsc.wordpress.com/
The Freezing weather didn’t stop a dozen or so activists from leafleting around Peel Square in Barnsley, where members of the public told us of the difficulties either they, or their friends & families were experiencing because of welfare cuts and the hated bedroom tax.

The day was a great success, with our activities being reported in the Barnsley Chronicle, Dearne FM And Radio Sheffield. On the second day of activity, we took our message out to Worsbrough Common and Honeywell estates, delivering leaflets throughout the estates and arranging for posters to be displayed in a number of local shops, businesses and the local Workmen’s Club.

Again, the day was a great success with locals already arranging appointments to visit the centre for advice.

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Welfare Advice Training

Venue: Unite the Union, London Regional Office

Dates: 6/1/2014 to 7/1/2014

The welfare advice training was held at Unite the Union’s regional office in London.  Volunteers from Unite community centre Barnsley, (Richard Vivian and M. Tariq), designed the training which lasted for two days.  In the training we made sure that all the aspects of welfare rights and benefits were covered also with the emphases on what benefit advice is about, being a competent advisor and how the advice should be given.  The core values, campaigning around benefits and protecting client’s rights and advisor client privilege (Data Protection) was also explained.  16 people attended the training and the venue and the arrangements for the training were fantastic and state of the art equipment was offered for the IT support.  Pilgrim, the organiser of the course did a marvellous job over all.

The first day of training involved the introductions, aims of the course and overview of the welfare Reform Act, legal framework, contributory/non-contributory and means tested benefits, Income Support, Job seeker Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.  Second day of training commenced with emphases on how to give advice and what factors a good advisor should consider when giving advice, ESA, Pension Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Tax Credits and Universal Credit.  Different tactics were discussed on how to retrieve the information from the client and act appropriately.  Different examples were in place to calculate different benefits and debates among the students were encouraged to elaborate on benefits, effects on society, sharing of personal experience and knowledge.

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