Church Action on Poverty is supporting the creation of a new Poverty Truth Commission in Salford. We asked Sarah Whitehead of Community Pride, who is supporting and facilitating the commission, to tell us the story so far.
The journey so far for the Salford Poverty Truth Commission has been one of uncertainty, opportunity and excitement. At the start of the process we were working only with a seed of an idea, a table full of passionate people and a faith in what this could develop into. Throughout the last year the seed has started to sprout and grow and we are hopeful for what will bloom from it.
Back in May we started gathering a diverse group of 15 Salford residents that experience poverty to be ‘grassroots commissioners’ and share their experiences of life and poverty in Salford, together with 15 ‘public life commissioners’ – influencers in business, third sector and public life. The idea behind the project has come from Leeds Poverty Truth Commission, who believe that ‘Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us’, and that the people who are affected by decisions made around poverty should be involved in the decision-making process as equals.
The grassroots commissioners worked together closely to plan and stage a very moving public launch event to share their stories and welcome the public life commissioners to the process. The video below shows some highlights of the launch (click here if you would like to see a video of the whole event):
We were delighted to invite to the stage our sponsors – Paul Dennett the Salford City Mayor and Bishop of Salford John Arnold – to help us launch the Commission. Bishop John told us:
“Poverty is a waste. It is a waste of lives, a waste of talents and a waste of dignity. People in poverty do not want handouts, they want a sense of dignity to be able to look after their own sustainable futures.”
What followed were some very honest, at times heart-wrenching yet uplifting stories of determination and hope from our grassroots commissioners. The words they used to describe poverty were…
desperate, worthless, bailiffs, listen, exclusion, torment, debilitating, fear
Their stories, photographs and poems of addiction, grief, mental health, homelessness, family breakdown and repeated systemic failures moved the audience to tears. Their courage in standing up so bravely to speak out was applauded by a broad mix of local people, community development workers, councillors, activists, social researchers and local media. The event was finished with words from the public life commissioners about what they had witnessed this morning – words such as survival, determination and hope.
Since the launch, the public life commissioners and grassroots commissioners have met to get to know each other. We held an informal BBQ for people to eat together, introduce themselves and talk before we begin the more difficult process of discussing and tackling the issues of poverty in Salford today. One grassroots commissioner Alain, who came here from Southern Cameroon seeking sanctuary, spent a lot of time speaking with Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford MP and Shadow Cabinet Minister) about his situation, and reflected to us after the event –
“I cannot believe I have had this opportunity to meet such important people who are interested in me, never in 9 years living here have I ever met such important people. In Cameroon you could never even stand near a politician, they have so much security around them.”