Some thoughts about where I live part 2
Barrow-in-Furness, the place where you’re most likely to contract coronavirus, the place with the highest number of drug related deaths and too many drug dealers, the place that has yet again hit the national press, this time child sexual exploitation, grooming. Reporters being threatened and driven out, racial tension. The headlines, definitely not the detail.
This is my home town. I barely recognise it. Yesterday we lit up our Town Hall in purple – Black Lives Matter! I have the most beautiful grandson. His skin is black and suddenly the George Floyd case strikes terror into my own heart. It’s unbearable. I looked at the comments on social media in response to the town hall photo that was posted last night, the night after Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, AKA ‘Tommy Robinson’ came to town and was arrested. I thought about some of the comments and feelings. When I saw the Town Hall lit up and the declaration of support I felt proud that we can do this and yet, if I am honest, like some of the other Barrovians who commented I also felt a pang, why can we not do this to declare our love and support for Ellie so openly? Of course, I know why. I have worked in services with people for long enough to understand and rationalise … but rationalising is not the whole story is it? Particularly not for us Barrovians.
Then today, I read a blog that my friend Cormac shared. Someone called Jen had written eloquently about her experience of the lock down, the opportunity she had welcomed, a belonging to her neighbourhood that was reminiscent of her early life. It touched me inside and it helped me to find the ‘trouble’, the turbulence that I am grappling to capture and articulate.
A few months ago, I travelled to London for a conference where we were learning about Asset Based Community Development. I thought that some of the ideas might add to what we knew and were already doing in Barrow and help me and my colleagues with the path we were on. Sat in the big circle of participants talking about “community”, about “connectors” and the role of Third Sector organisations I suddenly felt a surge of anger and distress. It was hard to contain. It felt like being overlooked or dismissed in some way in pursuit of something clever, theoretical, something that makes the helpers feel good. I remember managing to say something about being sick of people coming into Barrow and trying to teach us how to connect, telling us what to do, testing ideas … as though we don’t already know!! Well we already know so don’t teach us. We might need help to bring it out, to honour and remember, to discover it again and grow it with our young people but you don’t need to teach us. We can teach you!
When young people are asking in their comments why we can light up the Town Hall for black people and not for Ellie, what is our reply? Do they deserve a response? Are they not expressing the Barrovian in them that means we stand alongside our own? Ellie is one of us. I am glad they feel strongly about it. They should. To them it might look like us elders, leaders are abandoning them, doing nothing. My teacher Pat Crittenden has taught me that being abandoned or rejected is the worse thing that can happen to a child or young person and I believe her. We have something here in Barrow that is part of our history, our culture, the way we do things around here and we are lucky we still have it. I don’t know what the answers are but I do have faith in the good people of Barrow and the good brave leaders who are trying to build relationships and trust between us all so that we can remember and find a better way …