Mums making a difference
by Barry Knight
Local people complain that they are ignored by politicians until election time. Then, they are wooed with all sorts of promises to improve their lives.
Such behaviour causes much cynicism towards politicians, who are seen as only in it for themselves. It also leaves local people feeling powerless to change anything. The growing chasm between the political class and local people is one of the causes of the collapse of trust in our society.
There are exceptions. The Janette Kirton-Darling Memorial Prize is showcasing how local people from Tyne and Wear can shift the power in decision making by working with people in power to build the society they want.
The awards ceremony for the Janette Kirton-Darling Memorial Prize will be held on Wednesday 30th November 7-9pm at the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Saint Nicholas Square, Newcastle NE1 1PF. The event is free to attend but requires a ticket. Please register for your ticket here.
Over the week or so, we will be posting brief stories of the seven shortlisted finalists for the prize.
Parents and Communities Together
We start with Parents and Communities Together (PACT), which runs ‘Mumspace’.
As the name suggests, this is a safe haven for mums who give each other mutual support and build a sense of community. It is all about ‘their time’ when they can do whatever they want – whether it is meditating, talking about their worries, or giving each other advice. Volunteers look after their children while they enjoy each other’s company.
The process has helped many mums go onto achieve things they never would have dreamed of doing before. As one put it:
‘Since coming to MumSpace my confidence has soared. I now have a job which I would never have thought I could go for an interview because of my anxieties. There is always someone to talk to when needed and advice offered.’
During the pandemic, PACT organisers ran online sessions to support the mums and wanted to listen to their concerns. Questions included:
- What are you unhappy about in your community?
- What makes you angry?
- What would you like to change?
To act on the results, the mums went out and took photos of their concerns which they later made into a video.
The main concerns raised were the dog mess on the streets and the state of Alexander Scott Park in North Shields. Their local park was full of rubbish, the play area badly vandalised, the seats damaged, dog muck everywhere and open use of drugs.
The group noted that in the more affluent parts of the borough, the parks were maintained to a high standard, whereas in other poorer communities like in this part of North Shields, the parks were neglected.
The question they asked was:
‘Why is our park so poorly maintained when Northumberland Park just along the road is flourishing?’
During lockdown, access to open green spaces was very important, so with the help of Tyne and Wear Citizens, they wrote to the council to express their concerns. The council responded by saying that these were persistent problems they could do nothing about.
So, the next step was direct action. This took the form of a clean-up of the park. It took place in May 2021. Over 30 people from MumSpace, Tyne and Wear Citizens and the community turned up and filled up several bags of rubbish. Photos on social media showed the poor state of the park and the amount of rubbish collected in two hours.
Having demonstrated local concern for the state of the park, the group asked to meet the council official and the three ward councillors for the area. In June, the group met with Councillor Bruce Pickard and Samantha Dand from the council. Penny, a mother and now a volunteer at MumSpace, expressed her concerns about the poor state of the park, the amount of rubbish, and lack of maintenance. Penny asked for swings, improved signage, decent bins, tree planting, and repairs to play park and seats.
The response from the council was positive. Since June last year, the appearance of the park has vastly improved. Most of the items on the play park have been repaired, seats have been painted, swings are now on the frames, signage is now up designed by the children of St Cuthbert’s Primary school, trees have been planted, a mobile CCTV camera has been installed and the park is being attended to by the council on a much more regular basis.
This has had a positive effect on both the mums from Mumspace and members of the community. The mums have proven that they have a voice and it can be heard when acted upon. Members of the community now have a safe space where they can relax and take their children. They now have a sense that the park is theirs and they are willing to look after it. This has recently been proven with the council asking the community to help plant 350 trees in the park which took place in March 2022. Over 40 members of the community came and took part.
Mumspace has enabled mums, many on low incomes, to develop relationships, to grow in confidence, to become more integrated into the wider community and with the action at the park, to enhance the quality of an important resource for them and the wider community.
Written by Barry Knight, based on material provided by PACT.
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