Robin Burgess CEO of Northampton Hope Centre talks about Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to the frontline in the battle against poverty…
On the 8th September the Hope centre in Northampton welcomed the leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, on a visit to see what Hope does.
Hope’s been working in Northampton for over forty years, so it’s no wonder that word has got around about the work Hope does, helping people who are poor, homeless or otherwise disadvantaged, and offering food, clothes, access to training and work experience to improve employability, leisure and volunteering opportunities.
Every day we help up to 150 people to find a way out of poverty, building their confidence and self-esteem through support, activities and encouragement.
We help people become employable through casework and training, helping build confidence and skills and make people believe they have something to offer.
Many of the people who use the centre have confidence and self esteem at rock bottom levels, and we work to improve this. For some, we are able to offer training in catering and tool repair, and in 2018, horticulture, as part of our social enterprise, Hope Enterprise.
Welcoming visitors is vital to us, as although we are well known locally, given that well over 90% of our funding comes not from statutory sources (government, NHS etc) but directly from charity, community groups and the public, it’s important we get our message out there using any method we can, and famous visitors will always attract the media.
As a result we were very happy to welcome Jeremy Corbyn when a request came in via one of Hope’s patrons, Sally Keeble, former MP, to ask if we would host a visit when he was visiting the town. He was keen to see the work Hope did addressing very practically the needs of poor and homeless people.
Hope welcomes politicians of all parties and over the years we have met regularly with the town’s MPs, the Police and Crime Commissioner and hosted a fundraising event with Boris Johnson. We of course have no political affiliations to any party, like all charities, but we will always accept a request from any politician to visit.
Whilst we are aware they may use these kinds of opportunities for self-promotion and campaigning or positioning purposes, there is a benefit to us too.
As can be seen from the photos of Mr Corbyn at the centre, these visits provide an opportunity for our clients and service users to speak directly to people in power and to influence policy responses to their issues.
Hope exists to help people who are disadvantaged to have a voice, either directly, as in this visit, or through us to speak on their behalf. Mr Corbyn, to his credit, went out of his way to talk to service users, staying over, despite his minders twitching over their mobiles, to talk to service users and hear directly from them.
He was particularly taken by our art group, as it turns out he paints himself, and has asked for a loan of one of art group painters, Juris, to hang in his office. Juris is well known in the county for his magnificent paintings of service users and volunteers and he is an inspirational figure in his overcoming of a stroke to paint even better portraits in oils than he did before.
Some people question why we welcome politicians, and some complain when we feature their visits in our media. Yet although we do not support any party, we believe it is right for charities to campaign against the issues that affect our clients and these are political.
Lack of services, ill-treatment, increasing poverty and much more are political issues, and charities have a legal right, and even a moral obligation to challenge the oppression of our clients and the causes of their problems.
Over the last year Hope has very much focused on campaigning for fair and decent treatment of our service users and the poverty, exclusion and poor treatment they receive.
It’s easy for charities like us to concentrate on helping people, and not trying to change the causes of their exclusion, like poverty and inequality.
‘The current level of
poverty in Northampton
is a scandal’
We believe we have to do this as well, so gradually we have been speaking out more and more on twitter, facebook and through print and broadcast media, using every opportunity to point out that the current level of poverty in Northampton is a scandal.
If we can get the opportunity to bend any politician’s ear about it, and for our users to do so too, we will, whichever party they represent.
We will lobby them all, regardless of their party colours, to give a better deal, through their policies, for our users. We make no apologies for this. This is part of what we should do.
In fact, we welcome people to join us in doing so. If anybody has the urge to help us work to challenge poverty and poor treatment of poor people, then we invite them to make contact, joining our social media gang, or in fact using any method we can to get the message across: poverty is blighting all our lives. It can include art events and media, drama, photography – whatever you can think of.
Hope is a great place for budding artists and activists to hone and practice their skills, in journalism, social media, photography, music and artivist practice. Give Hope a call if you are interested, or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you know a politician who wants to visit, tell them to get in touch. You listening Theresa and Vince?