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Photo: Alicia Canter/The Guardian
Mohammed, a Palestinian, bakes cheese twists with his host family in London.

Here’s another example of individuals in the UK stepping up to give refugees a welcome — while providing themselves with an experience that feels more meaningful than donating money or sending “thoughts and prayers.”

Alicia Canter, Kate Lyons and Matt Fidler write at the Guardian,
“It’s a simple premise: people with a spare room in their house are matched with a refugee or asylum seeker in need of somewhere to stay.

“And it’s a popular one: before 2015, Robina Qureshi’s organisation, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), used to provide about 600 nights of shelter a year to people with nowhere to go. In the 18 months since September 2015 this has risen to 29,000 nights.

“ ‘We were getting bombarded with people. … They said, “I want to do something.” ‘ …

“There are numerous points in the asylum process that asylum seekers and refugees can find themselves becoming destitute and homeless. Perhaps the most common is when they have their claim refused – at which point support payments stop and they are forced to leave their accommodation.

“People in this situation often find themselves homeless, without the right to work or receive benefits, unable to approach the local authority for help, and yet, in many cases, feeling unable to return to their home country. …

“ ‘The ones I feel really sorry for are the people who have been left destitute for years on end. People take them in and let them be human, and take them into a warm home where people care for them,’ says Qureshi.

‘What the hosts found out was that they were meeting a need in themselves – a need to give. Our society is so wealthy and our houses are stuffed full, but there’s that need to help others.’

“Mohammed, 35, from Palestine, [lives] with Joanne MacInnes, an actor and activist, in west London, and on weekends her daughters Malila, 12, and Eve, 14. …

“MacInnes has hosted six people in her house, but Mohammed is, she and her girls agree, their favourite. ‘He’s the nicest of them all,’ says Eve.

“Currently the family are trying to find Mohammed a wife. He uses his local mosque’s dating service, but says that because of his precarious immigration status he is not considered a desirable match. …

“Mohammed says he was shy when he moved in and nervous about how the family would respond to him.

“ ‘First time I come in here, I’ll never forget, Malila gave me a hug and speak with me,’ says Mohammed. ‘I was shy, Malila come in straight away, hug and speak with me and is not shy, you know. Eve is shy and Eve after two weeks spoke with me. And Joanne spoke with me. I feel family. Listen, I don’t speak English, but I hope you understand me. My dad is dead, my mother is dead [and] my sister. Joanne, Mali and Eve are my family.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: The Guardian
One recent immigrant from Pakistan was welcomed into the home of Jo Haythornthwaite of Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow, an example of individuals stepping up to help refugees.

The hostility to immigrants that fueled the Brexit vote in Britain gets all the attention, but there are other voices. There are always other voices.

Gregory Maniatis writes for the Open Society Foundations about refugee outreach across the British Isles.

” ‘I can’t solve the whole Syrian crisis, but I can do something, for a few people.’ The words of Olwen Thomas, from the port of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, probably sum up the feelings of many people around the world, as we follow news reports about the terrible difficulties that have faced refugee families fleeing the conflict in Syria, as well as other crises around the world.

“Thomas, and other members of her community, are now doing something significant through their involvement in the Fishguard Refugee Sponsorship Group. The group was one of the first to respond to a UK scheme first announced last July by the British Home Affairs Minister Amber Rudd and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby — the leader of the Anglican Church.

“Under the Community Sponsorship program, local groups agree to sponsor refugee families and help them integrate into life in the UK by assisting with things such as finding housing, securing access to medical and social services, arranging English language tuition, and supporting them towards employment and self-sufficiency. …

“One Welsh group in the small town of Cardigan has raised £12,000 as part of its application to the scheme. Vicky Moller, a member of the group, told the BBC … ‘People are very, very keen to help.’

“The sponsorship model being launched in towns and cities across England and Wales is partly inspired by a hugely successful effort launched in Canada in 1979, when the mayor of Ottawa, Marion Dewar, mobilized an effort by community groups to settle 4,000 mostly Southeast Asian refugees. To date, Canadian communities and citizens have resettled almost 300,000 refugees through its private sponsorship program. …

“Chris Clements, a director of Social Finance UK, … has noted the shortcomings of ‘traditional’ refugee resettlement in the UK, which has left many refugee families isolated and struggling to adapt to their new surroundings. This in turn results in high rates of unemployment, depression, stress, and other problems.

“Community sponsorship, Clements says, ‘enables local people to take responsibility for resettling a refugee family, supporting and empowering them to rebuild their lives.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Getty
People take part in an installation entitled Sea of Hull, by artist Spencer Tunick.

The notion that the arts and related fields like graphic design can boost local economies has been an article of faith for decades, causing disappointment when it frequently fails to lift whole cities above poverty.

Nevertheless, done right and with other stars in alignment, it can be a piece of the economic puzzle in a changing world.

Here is a recent angle from Kingston upon Hull in the UK.

David Barnett reports at the Independent, “On New Year’s Day, a firework display heralded the beginning of Hull’s tenure as the Britain’s City of Culture. Multimedia stories from the city’s maritime and industrial heritage were projected on local buildings in front of a crowd of thousands.

“Over in the Hull City Museum they like a bit of culture and they know Hull’s had it for a long time; exhibits go back to the Paleolithic era. There’s also a recreation of a Roman bath house, featuring mosaics discovered in the 1940s in the Roman settlement of Petuaria, modern-day Brough in East Yorkshire.

“But never mind the Romans … what, the people of Hull might be asking, in true Monty Python’s Life of Brian style, has culture ever done for us? …

“It regularly tops the deprivation rankings for the UK’s 326 local authorities – according to the Kingston upon Hull Data Observatory’s latest figures, Hull ranks as the third most deprived local authority generally, and tops the lists of deprivation for education, skills and training. ..

“Perhaps a typical, post-industrial Northern city. Its traditional industries of whaling and sea-fishing have declined, as elsewhere; Hull still remains a large port, though, and there has been a successful drive to attract chemical and health companies to the area. …

“ ‘There might well be degrees of scepticism about what culture can mean to a place like Hull,’ says Robert Palmer, the director of the team that won and managed Glasgow’s successful bid to be named European City of Culture (as it was then known) in 1990. ‘But being designated a capital of culture can bring long-term effects in terms of the legacy it can offer.’ …

” ‘We employ a very broad definition of culture,’ says Palmer. ‘It’s not just what people might think of as “fine culture.” It’s not just opera. …’

“Which is why Hull’s City of Culture website lists events for the coming year that range from acrobatics to walking tours, by way of cabaret, jazz, literature, parkour and, yes, opera. Which is all very nice, but is it just a distraction from the problems facing Hull?

“ ‘There are tangible economic benefits,’ says Palmer. ‘We’ve seen it before in all cities that get a culture status, it’s well documented. Visitor numbers, job creation, the social impact through participation from social groups who are not normally involved in culture. The benefits are incontestable.’ ”

Lots more here.

Perhaps one year of intense focus on the arts and culture can energize enough residents to keep the momentum going. It certainly seems to have done so for Liverpool, another struggling postindustrial city that was a UK City of Culture in 2008.

One wonders if a designation as, say, a City of Math and Science might have the same kind of long-term ripples.

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Photo: Prezi
Something Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about: expensive energy for productions and emissions that increase global warming.

Christy Romer over at the UK website Arts Professional recently posted on the money British arts groups are saving by cutting their energy emissions — a win for them and a win for the environment.

“Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) have saved £8.7m by cutting greenhouse gas emissions since 2012/13, according to a major new report by environmental charity Julie’s Bicycle. …

“The report draws on data submitted via an online reporting tool, an evaluation survey and case studies, ultimately concluding environmental action is making the sector more financially resilient.

“Compared to doing nothing, the reduction in energy emissions has saved £8.7m since 2012/13. The report predicts that if the 4.5% annual decrease continues until 2019/20, emissions will be 46% lower than in 2012/13 and £54m will have been saved in energy costs.

“Alongside a fall in the overall emissions output, and a fall in the amount of electricity and gas used, there has been a 210% growth in the generation of on-site renewable energy since the project started in 2012/13. …

“Julie’s Bicycle pledges to develop Arts Council England’s (ACE) approach to environmental sustainability at the operational, planning and policy development levels. …

“Darren Henley, Chief Executive of ACE, added: ‘Our collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle is introducing us all to new ways of working. … We all believe that art and culture can make the world a better place; this programme shows how our actions can make a real difference.’ ”

More at Arts Professional, here.

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I’ve been a fan of the English dormouse since performing in Alice in Wonderland at age 10. My friend Carole played the Dormouse.

Or maybe my first exposure was the A.A. Milne poem about the dormouse and the doctor. In any case, I greet news stories like this one as a matter of great interest.

Steven Morris writes, “The first black dormouse ever recorded in the UK has taken up residence in a nest box in the Blackdown Hills of Somerset. Britain has only one native species of dormouse, the hazel dormouse. The one discovered in Somerset is a hazel dormouse but instead of having the normal golden-brown fur it is black. …

“The discovery was made when staff, trainees and volunteers from the Blackdown Hills Natural Futures project were checking dormouse nest boxes as part of the national dormouse monitoring programme.

“This year, the project provided 300 nest boxes and more than 60 volunteers have installed and regularly checked them. One was found to have the black specimen inside.

“Conrad Barrowclough, the project officer, said: ‘Learning about and protecting our natural heritage is what we’re all about so finding such a rare dormouse on our doorstep is fantastic, especially at a time when Britain’s dormouse population is under threat.’

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), which collates national dormouse monitoring programme findings, confirmed the rarity of the find.

“Ian White, the PTES dormouse officer said: ‘The national monitoring programme has been running for more than 25 years, with volunteers collecting data on thousands of dormice at nearly 400 sites. Not once has anyone come across a black dormouse.’ ”

Goodness, what delightful jobs these men have! Who wouldn’t want to be a “dormouse officer”? As the New Yorker used to say, “There’ll always be an England.”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: Natural Futures
The first black dormouse ever recorded in the United Kingdom. What a cutie!

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One of the things I like about twitter is being exposed to stories I probably wouldn’t read about in the New York Times. This one is from a UK website called Foodism and highlights an effort to build businesses from food leftovers that might otherwise be wasted.

“It’s 4pm at Borough Market and the gaggle of children are elated, having spent the day growing, buying and selling market produce. Now trading time is over, and it’s time for their little stall to close, there’s only one question left.

” ‘What will you do with your leftover produce?’ asks development manager David Matchett, who runs the market’s Young Marketeers project for local schools. ‘We can make it into leftovers for tomorrow,’ pipes up one kid. ‘Or we can give it to people!’ ‘We give our food to my old auntie,’ shouts another.

” ‘I’ve been running this project five years,’ Matchett tells [Foodism reporter Clare Finney], ‘and not once in that time has a child ever suggested throwing the food away.’ ”

Other uses are found, Finney writes, giving a new heat source at home as an example.

“The heat source is used coffee grounds, recycled by the innovative clean technology company Bio-bean into pellets for biomass boilers, biodiesel and briquettes for wood burners. …

“With its sharp branding, smart technology and simple but potentially revolutionary innovation, Bio-bean is irresistibly representative of the new generation of companies applying principles of modern business, as well as slick design, to an issue that can often appear stale and tasteless: wasted food. …

” ‘These are viable businesses,’ Kate Howell, director of development and communications at Borough Market, says of Bio-bean, and of those other companies turning food waste or surplus into consumables. Indeed, many of the biggest names in the world today actually started here with the market, which has provided a seedbed for sustainable businesses like Rubies in the Rubble, which makes a range of chutneys and sauces from supermarket rejects, Chegworth Valley of apple juice fame, and the street food stall selling meat from previously unwanted billy kids, Gourmet Goat.’ …

“A few months ago, [the grocery chain] Sainsbury’s launched a trial of banana breads made from bananas too bruised to sell in store, to enormous accolades. ‘Originally we estimated they would sell 1,000 loaves,’ says Paul Crew, director of sustainability at Sainsbury’s, with palpable excitement. ‘Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we’ve already sold 3,000, saving just as many bananas.’ ”

Hey, that’s what we all do with bruised bananas! Now you and I can claim to be trendy as well as thrifty.

Read the Foodism article here.

Photo: Foodism
Bio-bean turns used coffee grounds into pellets for biomass boilers, biodiesel and briquettes for wood burners.

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Early last month, an unusual tribute took place at Waterloo Station, London. How I would have liked to be there and see return to life the soldiers who died in the devastating Battle of the Somme in World War I!

Charlotte Higgins at the Guardian describes what the event was like.

There “were about 20 young men, immediately conspicuous because they were dressed in the dull-green uniforms of the first world war. They were just there: not speaking, not even moving very much. Waiting, expressionless, for who knows what.

“A small crowd gathered, taking photographs. A woman caught the eye of one of the men. She tried to speak to him. Without speaking or dropping his gaze, he pulled a small card out of his pocket and handed it to her.

 

‘Lance Corporal John Arthur Green,’ it read. ‘1st/9th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles). Died at the Somme on 1 July 1916. Aged 24 years.’

“There were similar scenes across the UK. … They gathered on the steps of the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow. They smoked roll-ups outside Bristol Temple Meads and marched, metal-tipped boots ringing, through Manchester Piccadilly. They stood in clumps by the entrance to Queen’s University, Belfast, and sat on the market cross in Lerwick, Shetland. …

“The event, which unfolded without advance publicity, can now be revealed as a work by Jeremy Deller, the Turner prize-winning artist …

“The participants were a volunteer army of non-professional performers, including social workers, farmers, security guards, farmers, shop assistants, students, labourers, flight attendants and schoolboys. All were sworn to secrecy, and rehearsals took place across the country over the past months. Deller worked with Rufus Norris, the artistic director of the National Theatre in London, and theatres throughout the UK to train the volunteer army.” More.

Photo: Alicia Canter for the Guardian
Soldiers at Waterloo station, London. Each represents a real person who died in the Battle of the Somme.

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