MAYOR’S WEEK: JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 3

MAYOR’S WEEK: JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 3

It’s so easy, perhaps natural, to want to turn away from uncomfortable issues but as the Harvard philosopher Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This week, together with the Worcestershire Interfaith Forum, I hosted the annual International Holocaust Memorial Day event at the Guildhall.

The theme of this year’s Memorial Day was the ‘Fragility of Freedom’, summed up by these lines from an entry in Anne Frank’s Diary, reflecting on May 1940 when the Germans arrived in the Netherlands: “That is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees.”

This year the keynote speaker was Mr Michael Bibring, a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Michael’s father Harry left Vienna for Britain on the Kindertransport as a 13-year-old, along with his sister. The plan was for their parents to later join them, but that never happened, with his father dying of a heart attack in 1940 and his mother being deported to the death camp at Sobibór in Poland in 1942.

I found Michael to be an inspirational speaker – he laid out very clearly that the Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers, it started with decrees, that Jews had to mark themselves out by wearing a yellow star, that their children had to go to different schools. Over time the decrees went further prohibiting them from using the municipal swimming pool and the imposition of a nighttime curfew, and so on, creating an increasingly intolerable hostile environment that led to the ghettos and once they had the gas chambers ready, the mass murder of the Jews, gay men, gypsies and those with disabilities.

But how did that happen, why did people go along with this? The truth is that those decrees were built on even earlier dehumanising language and ‘othering’. So here is, perhaps an uncomfortable, challenge for all of us. Will you refuse to turn away, will you remember what happened in the Holocaust and will you call out people when you hear them using dehumanising language?

 

 

MAYOR’S WEEK: JANUARY 22 – JANUARY 28

MAYOR’S WEEK: JANUARY 22 – JANUARY 28

As Mayor you get to learn about the many and varied parts of Worcester’s varied cultures. I recently attended the Malayali Christmas celebrations that happen in January each year. It was a riot of sarees, food, music and dance with an amazing Father Christmas throwing sweets and dancing his way through a cheering crowd.

There are over a thousand Malayali families living in Worcestershire who originally came from Kerela in southwest India. Due to their good English and medical training many of these families came to the UK in the 90s and noughties to work in our NHS and as consequence we have lots of Malayali residents living here in Worcester, many working at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.

It’s perhaps dangerous to generalise but the Malayali community are generous to a fault and are a friendly and an incredibly polite group of people. In fact, unless you have been a patient at the hospital you may not have known that the community existed.

A big part of their culture is that they are mostly Catholic, the other for me was to learn that they are very keen on tug of war competitions. Our Worcester team is very good – in the past they have been UK national champions and they sometimes travel abroad to compete. Tug of war is a popular sport in southeast Asia – you don’t need a big space and the only equipment you need is a rope. It’s a very competitive sport – it’s not just strength or weight it’s about timing, technique and teamwork. There is lots of talk about getting just the right type of shoe for getting the best grip.

 

I know that local councillors are working with council staff to try and find a place for the local team to practice. It would be fantastic to see tug of war given more attention in Worcester and I’m sure that if the council can support the community with a space to practice it will be possible to see this great sport taken up by all sections of the community.

 

MAYOR’S WEEK: JANUARY 14 – JANUARY 20, 2024

MAYOR’S WEEK: JANUARY 14 – JANUARY 20, 2024

Last week I met with several members of SpeakEasy N.O.W. during their visit to the Guildhall.

SpeakEasy celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022. The group was created to give people with a learning disability the opportunity to speak up about things that make life difficult for them and to flag the things that need to change. It brings together people from across the county to gather views and opinions and to bring these issues to the attention of the local authority.

Like many third sector organisations, they often fill service gaps that used to be provided by statutory organisations. Despite financial constraints SpeakEasy continues to run a network of Speak Up groups across Worcestershire, these feed into monthly Forum meetings and various project groups such as Health Checkers and the People’s Parliament. To their credit they lead by example and maintain their user-led philosophy with a management committee comprised entirely of their members and a Board of Trustees which includes people with a learning disability.

By supporting people to speak up they achieve many things:

  • increasing people’s confidence and self- esteem, giving people a sense of purpose and recognising the individual value that each of them has to offer.
  • they help people develop knowledge and skills that can lead to paid employment.
  • they offer paid roles within their own organisation for people with a learning disability
  • they provide opportunities for social networking, helping people to develop and maintain friendships and receive peer support. This helps address the loneliness and isolation that affects many people with disabilities.
  •  they provide accessible information on a huge variety of topics including maintaining physical and mental health, managing finances, keeping safe and accessing their communities.

SpeakEasy provide both learning disability awareness training and an Easy Read service to help organisations become more accessible and improve the quality of services they deliver. More information can be found on their website at www.speakeasynow.org.uk

 

MAYOR’S WEEK: 7 – 13 JANUARY 2024

MAYOR’S WEEK: 7 – 13 JANUARY 2024

What a soggy autumn it was with record December rainfall and now floods in the city. A number of streets have been under water, dozens of homes seriously affected and some business and travel disruption. What a miserable way for many people to have to face the new year! It is hard to imagine how dreadful it has been for those who are rough sleeping in such harsh weather. Floods may be receding but now the weather is turning cold.

Thank goodness for the severe weather protocol (SWEP). In Worcestershire this is jointly run by organisations which support homeless people, including the City Council. SWEP is triggered if there is a risk of temperatures falling below freezing for one or more nights. It was activated for five nights over Christmas and again last weekend to make sure all homeless people had a safe and warm place to stay.

I am reminded of the phrase “think global, act local” – good advice even if its origins are disputed. The world can seem a scary place at the moment with climate changing, countries at war, populations moving and nature under threat. The links between these are complex and difficult to resolve. It can lead to a feeling of helplessness in the face of overwhelming challenges.

The key is to focus on what we can individually do in our daily lives, to live at peace with those around us and engage with our community. Let us celebrate the excellent work of local charities and their volunteers, including the Worcester Foodbank which helps those in crisis. Our community has to choose how to prioritise its resources. Politics matters at the national and local level and we can all play our part through the ballot box. So, let’s face the new year with confidence. Spring is around the corner and the snowdrops are coming out in the garden!

 

 

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