I write from the standpoint of a local charity. The Wharton Trust in North Hartlepool where I am the Youth and Community Co-coordinator, and the process of trying to solve poverty in my experience is slow and a lonely place to be, with significant opposition. Others in Hartlepool want to do for people such as sit and type up a CV or complete a form for someone, which is a natural reaction, but it only targets the symptoms and can distract from thinking about causes and solutions.
It is a continuing challenge to address the causes of poverty but we feel the way we work is the right way of working, for the people of the area and the wider town. We are a locally based charity that works alongside local people.
From my own experience when I have asked people if they are in poverty they say no, almost every response is no! I think in general people think that poverty is something they see on the TV, commercials about children dying from hunger. I think that this is destitution. There is a challenge here to not just think about the language we use but to understand what some of the words being used mean so that people who have experience of poverty can be part of the conversations affecting them.
Dyke House, which is the housing estate that our charity is based in, is deemed as a ‘deprived’ community but from where I sit it is a community rich with love and care, where relationships and people matter to each other. Where this happens it needs to be capitalised on. Dyke House is not failing, not with all the good will and kindness that exists amongst the people. We receive food almost every day that is destined for landfill and we give it away. But there is no dependency on this food. What has happened is an upswing in the amount of people that want to take and give to others, such as single parents that have just given birth and not ready to leave the house. Giving to the same people continually does not deal with the deeper causes of poverty. Though sharing and helping each other out seems, in our experience, to move people to action.
“It is about creating conditions where people grow and thrive”
We have tried the approach of having lots of money to do things for people. We were once funded through Working Neighbourhoods Fund and employed several staff to sit and do things for people. such as handwriting forms, making phone calls for people, writing a CV and even helping people bid for social housing. We now employ one part time worker, funded through Dyke House Big Local to work alongside people. It is about creating conditions where people grow and thrive, some of which does need investment. The downside to this is we now do not have enough computers for people to use because people stay longer and support each other and learn and we have to make sure we keep these resources for people to access.
The Wharton Trust adopted and embedded a Community Organising approach across the organisation meaning that we do not do anything for people that they are capable of doing for themselves, giving people more control over their situations. We also strongly believe that relationships are really important. People make the choice to engage with us and the way of working we have adopted, a few don’t make that choice and vote with their feet, usually because they want things done for them.
People are learning and the resilience of people is building but that alone will not solve poverty. We must continue to work to address the causes of poverty by having conversations with people and agencies in local communities, building relationships and speaking up when we recognise something is unjust. We have taken the opportunity to work with Joseph Rowntree Foundation as part of Hartlepool Action Lab. People from across the town have come together to train as a team of community researchers and the question we will be asking when we go out to speak with residents is ‘How do we make life more affordable?’