Do you know your neighbours?

I have recently made a new podcast for New Internationalist on the FAN network…

Nearly two years ago my partner persuaded me to go with him to a FAN meeting in Cardiff. He had stumbled across the group through work but had become hooked. I wasn’t keen to give up some of my Saturday morning but decided to give it a go eventually and was glad I did.

Friends And Neighbours (FAN) groups began as a network of people making a difference through the power of conversation. When fear and anger towards the ‘stranger’ next door is often promoted by politicians and the mainstream media, FAN successful brings people together, not through some kind of top-down ‘cohesion’ exercise but through community run groups which just ask people to talk on a subject for five minutes. Nothing more.

Although FAN began in Cardiff, the idea has now spread as far as Pakistan, all with the same structure and principles. For this podcast I spoke to FAN fans in England, Wales and Pakistan.

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Somewhere to_ show off in Cardiff

Checking out Cardiff’s young talent with somewhere_to in The Hayes, Cardiff city centre, on Tuesday…

Shannon gets recruited to sing

Empty buildings frustrate me, and it’s getting more common. While thousands of people are in need of housing, or community space, loads of it is being wasted, or hoarded. Squatted community centres like the Red and Black Umbrella, here in Cardiff, are one way people tackle this from the grassroots. There are also emerging projects like Capacity Bristolwhich aims to “legitimatise the temporary usage of space by artists.”

Fluidity Freerun

Fluidity Freerun

Livity, the “socially responsible communications” people, are doing things their way with somewhereto_, along with Channel 4 and the Legacy Trust. The aim is to match 16 to 25 year olds up with space they’ve been looking for to do anything from singing to running a community group or practising gymnastics.

Cardiff’s somewhereto_show off leg started off very quiet; no background music and no performers, but things eventually kicked off with Lloyd Daniels (he’s off X Factor) who did two covers. After that things were pretty much back-to-back with some performers who had been pre lined-up to play and some who had volunteered off the street, with a crowd gathering for each one.

Ffion impressed with her voice

Performances were singer heavy, not quite the crazy array of Britain’s Got Talent style acts I was hoping for, but people like funky duo Twelve Strings and Ffion Edwards, who had to convince the Livity people that she was actually 16, and not younger, blew everyone away. Sam Hickman, the Joanna Newsom-esque harp player and singer covered Paloma Faith – she’s one of my favourite Cardiff buskers, locals can check her out singing near the Owain Glyndwr. For the boys, Shannon and Russell Jonesbrought out the retro rat pack voices, despite their fresh faces.

Nathan Mizra

Fluidity Freerun satisfied my craving for acrobatics with their impressive parkour, Saeed brought out his motorbike noise impressions and Nathan Mizra did a touching but short spoken word performance. Other performances included the terribly named Ladies Love a Superherowho were a bit like a McFly for 2012 and gave Llyod Daniels a good run for his money singing wise. Didn’t get asked to have as many photos with teenage girls thought and sign as many flyers, all in good time though.

Hopefully this competition will go some way to raising awareness about somewhereto_ and underused space in general, and be more than just another talent show.

Cardiff was the last date of the tour but you can still submit video entries online until 16 July 2012.

Celebrating Cardiff’s women

Last Saturday at a craftivism workshop in Cardiff I met Sara Huws and something she mentioned got me thinking: Where are all the statues of women in Cardiff?

If you know Cardiff your thoughts will automatically snap to statues like Mother and Son on Queen Street, or maybe Nereid on Kingsway. Statues like these were pointed out by fellow workshop attendees but none of us could name them as people; they are all nameless women representing an aspect of womanhood or some kind of character or concept.

Nereid

Nereid by Nathan David

Sara wrote a blog post on this in 2011:

“I’d rather be proven wrong about this, but it really does look like every female body represented in public sculpture around Cardiff is symbolic (every! single! one!). They fall into the following general categories: angel, goddess, virtue, caryatid, figurehead, mother and wife. Possibly mermaid.”

In her post titled A Modest Proposal: A Statue of an Actual Woman for Cardiff, she explains her quest for, “a public sculpture in Cardiff of an actual female person, living or dead, whose name I could Google.” She wrote:

“In a frankly super-retro twist on an ole’ Victorian classic; women’s bodies and what they represent are abundant in Cardiff, but not their stories, identities and voices. The ‘seen and not heard’ female slips unnoticed into the civic background of the city.”

I was pretty surprised that the capital city of Wales, a place full of strong women and a city that often celebrates its diverse past and present would have been able to find many women to dedicate statues to.

It could be argued that nobody deserves a statue, that behind every great politician, scientist artist of sportsperson there is a number of great people contributing just as much, if not more, to their community and the world. But it’s a shame that the public face of Cardiff while finding it within itself to dedicate statues to men like Aeurin Bevan, Jim Driscoll and Ivor Novello, all just as deserving as Cardiff and Wales’s well known women who have not been given the same kind of celebration. After all, if they are not celebrated and given the same public respect as men what hope is there for the rest of us?

The original post was a while ago now, July 2011, but Sara is still interested in Cardiff’s missing woman statues. She has said she’ll be researching women’s stories and posting about them as she goes as well as conducting a poll.

So here’s my suggestions (and yes, I think nominations can be dead or alive, and I admit I don’t have a great knowledge of history):
Shirley Bassey – Sara’s prediction of the poll winner
Tanni Grey-Thompson – Possibly one of Wales’ most well known sportswomen
Gillian Clarke – poet, playwright and many other things, also figures in many G.C.S.E and A Level English anthologies and course work

Who would you like to see a Cardiff statue for?

Read Sara’s full post on her blog Boglyn, here.

Thanks to David Reeves for the photo.

Phone hacking, journalism ethics and the digital revolution

This article was originally written in answer to the question below for an assignment at university in January 2012.

Does the phone hacking scandal show that good journalism will be the first casualty of the digital revolution in the media?

Journalism is dying, or that’s what many people would have you believe; the internet means that people will never pay for news again, and the phone hacking scandal is the nail in the coffin for the trust of journalists.

In a 2011 IPSOS MORI poll only 19% of people said that journalists could be trusted to tell the truth. This is not a new thing; in 1983 the percentage was the same. TV news readers fair better however, with 63% of the poll respondents saying they can be trusted to tell the truth, more, in fact, than the ordinary person in the street.

Michael Jermey, ITV’s Director of News, Current Affairs and Sport, said he thinks this is justified. The regulatory framework for broadcasting is different to print journalism, and UK broadcasters are expected to be politically impartial in their news output. Ofcom’s code requires commercial broadcasters, “To ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.” The BBC’s editorial guidelines are similar.

Broadcasters are on limited  airtime however, and as summed up on the News Bias explored blog: “There is a tendency to try to fit news into small sound-bytes in television media, which can lead to omission of information, the limiting of debate, and a lack of context.” People often look elsewhere for analysis and to find out about things that matter to them specifically. After all, as Jermey has said, news is consumed as part of the evening’s entertainment on channels largely going for a mass reach.

In order for journalists to be more trusted they need to connect with the outlook of their audiences. Ian Hargreaves, former editor of New Statesman and The Independent, said in his book Journalism: Truth or Dare? that, “Non-diverse journalism cannot, by definition, achieve trust across the whole range of a public which is itself so diverse in terms of economic circumstance, class, ethnicity, gender, region, and in many other ways.”

Caledonian Mercury editor, Stewart Kirkpatrick, said at a recent Cardiff conference The Future of the Press in Wales, that he sees the future of journalism as one where the journalists are more connected to their audiences through understanding and finance, with audiences funding them directly.

Nicholas Brett, Deputy Managing Director at BBC Magazines, sees this connection to the audience as vital, and has said that to have an active relationship with an audience you need to choose the medium they will respond to instead of just ‘pushing the information out there’.

The internet is where this is done best. Verification can be a problem in the vast amount of information, but journalists face this to some degree in every medium. As Andrew Marr said in his book My Trade the internet has made it harder to lie in journalism, this is partly due to the speed at which mistakes can be highlighted.

The turning point in the hacking scandal, for the public and the media, came with the revelations about the hacking of missing girl Milly Dowler’s phone. The attitude up until then seemed to be as summed up in the comedy-drama Hacks on Channel 4, when the character Kate Loy who seemed to be based on Rebekah Brooks, said “They’re celebs – anyone with a publicist has got it coming.”

Ethical problems in the media are not a new thing, whether it be scaremongering, discriminatory and untrue headlines, the death of David Kelly or even the death of Princess Diana in 1997; something Ian Hargreaves has celled a ‘defining moment’ in British journalism as Diana’s car, which crashed, was being chased by photographers.

At the Leveson Inquiry, set up to investigate the role of the press and police in the phone hacking scandal, Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers said “Ethical – I don’t know what the word means…We do not talk about ethics or morals because it’s a very fine line and everybody is different.” Ethics are tricky ground but they need to be talked about.

Charles Reiss, former political editor of the Evening Standard, has said that journalists need to be more reliable and seen to be. George Orwell’s 1946 essay, The Prevention of Literature said, “What is really at issue is the right to report contemporary events truthfully, or as truthfully as is consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observer necessarily suffers.”

The Leveson Inquiry will be making recommendations on the future of press regulation and governance but there seems to be little consensus on what this should be. At Hacked Off: Reform, Regulation Democracy and the Press hosted by the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform at Cardiff University, Rob Williams from The Independent said the scandal should not be used to limit the freedom of the press. But, after giving evidence at the inquiry, Ian Hargreaves said he believes Leveson is aware of these fears and is personally anxious that he won’t be seen as curtailing press freedom.

The press currently has a system of ‘self regulation’ administered by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which is meant to be independent. Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian, sees continued self regulation as the only option as it is flexible. The public interest is “a common sense, malleable thing,” he said and thinks trying to interpret a statute won’t work for such a fluid concept.

In a January 2012 leader, The Times said, “The regulator of the press needs to have the confidence of the public. And this simply does not exist at the moment.” They proposed a move to more independent regulation, pointing out that “journalists cannot go on marking their own homework”, and that, if state regulation were to happen, many people publishing on the internet would come outside it.

At Hacked Off, Martin Shipton, head of the NUJ for Media Wales, said he thought it was significant that News International doesn’t recognise the union, which has its own clear code of conduct: Journalists there were operating in a “moral vacuum”.

However, Ian Hargreaves pointed out in Truth or Dare? that journalists and editors are individuals, wherever they operate: “Journalists are part of the societies in which they work. They acquire, within those societies, a sense of right and wrong: they have, thank goodness, a moral compass learnt outside journalism.” This was echoed by Ian Hislop in his recent evidence to Leveson.

We shouldn’t use the digital revolution as a distraction from tackling problems with ethics present in journalism for a long time before the hacking scandal.

Opportunities presented by the internet are described by Ian Hargreaves in Truth or Dare? as a challenge to develop a way of reporting, “which feels fresh, startling, and memorable in the way that it did when newspaper publishers first understood how to use headlines, typography, and layout to make navigation of a newspaper more rewarding, and pictures to make the experience more arresting.”

But, as the hacking scandal shows, alongside this freedom journalists should be aware of ethics and of their audience, with codes like those from Ofcom, the PCC and the NUJ acting as a guide.

A journalist’s job is to connect people to new information about things that effect their lives, as well as the wider world around them, so any regulation needs to reflect that journalism is varied and may sometimes cause trouble.

No such thing as a free ride

First appeared on the alt.cardiff website on Thursday 14 December.

People on controversial work placements in Wales are working unpaid while unemployed. Critics see this as unfair but supporters argue getting experience is vital

Person working in Primark

In the ‘big society’ there is no place for those who don’t pull their weight, but in Wales there are now 137,000 people unemployed, a record amount.

Jobcentres arrange a variety of work experience to get people back into employment. One of these schemes is Mandatory Work Activity (MWA), where people undertake compulsory unpaid placements, or lose their benefits.

People can be referred to MWA at any time but they have usually been receiving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for at least 13 weeks. Placements are up to 30 hours a week, for four weeks.

Specialist providers such as A4e and Rehab JobFit are contracted to deliver placements through a variety of businesses and organisations. Since June 2011 Rehab JobFit has provided placements for 349 people in Wales. Over two thirds of these are in South East Wales, for organisations including YMCA and Wales Air Ambulance.

While some see MWA as work people should do for benefits, others see it as slave labour. Public Interest Lawyers have begun legal action against MWAdescribing it as “unlawful forced labour”.

Wasted skills?

It has been reported people doing MWA are forced to work in shops like Poundland and Primark, despite any other skills or experience. But some have managed to get placements suited to them.

Katie Simpson, 23 and living in Cardiff, has done two unpaid work placements during two years of unemployment. She said the first, compulsory and arranged through A4e, was for 13 weeks. She was expected to do 20 hours of work a week and five hours job hunting, but says she did get an extra £15 in JSA. She was also able to work for the Youth Offending Service where she already volunteered.

Bronwen Davis, also living in Cardiff, had been unemployed for 18 months when the jobcentre told her she had to do a work placement. She arranged her own with a music studio. “I don’t think a lot of people realise you can do that, but it can be a good opportunity to go and try something you’re interested in,” she said.

She said through running drumming workshops she learned more about working freelance and became more confident about self employment, which is her aim. “I did feel exploited though,” she said. “The company was getting hundreds of pounds a day and I wasn’t getting paid.”

Learning on the job

Katie’s second placement was with a claims management company and although it wasn’t compulsory she was told she had a strong chance of a job if she took it. “I was pretty reluctant to the idea, the placement was full-time. If I worked there I’d struggle to find any time to search for other positions,” she said.

It went well initially and Katie began to apply for jobs at the company but, “By week six the pressure of the job, with an income of £53 a week, started to take its toll and I took a couple of days off sick,” said Katie, who suffers from depression. When she returned she says she was given a disciplinary.

Katie was given the opportunity to sit on the team she had recently applied for a job with but the manager questioned her on her absences. “I knew this wasn’t strictly legal,” said Katie.

After three months another manager confessed to her that she had no chance of a job. “She said that for every application I had applied for there were more experienced individuals applying,” said Katie.

Katie doesn’t feel the placement was worth the work experience. “I had been talked down to nothing,” she said. “I felt incredibly depressed about my abilities. It’s an experience I would rather forget.”

Katie McCrory, media relations manager for A4e, said, “Lack of experience is one of the main reasons why people get turned down for jobs they apply for.”

Rob Fitt from Rehab JobFit, another provider, said MWA helps people, “establish the discipline and habits of working life, such as attending on time or regularly.” But many people have had previous employment.

Boycott Workfare campaign against compulsory, unpaid work experience. A spokesperson said MWA does not tackle unemployment successfully. “We haven’t received any news of people being offered full time paid positions,” he said.

He says they have no evidence people are being matched with relevant skills. “It seems where retail companies are concerned, people are being mandated to stack shelves,” said the spokesperson.

MWA can be seen as a way for businesses to get free labour at the expense of the state, and taking on paid staff, but some argue it is fair that people should have to work for their benefits. Employment minister, Chris Grayling,has said about work programmes: “No one should expect to be able to sit at home doing nothing.”

But with employment levels at a record high in Wales, and austerity measures taking hold, there is increased frustration that in the ‘big society’ hard work counts for nothing.

New Blog: Take Root

I’ve started a new blog called Take Root all about grassroots campaigns and community projects in Cardiff. Hopefully it will grow to be a good place to find out about what’s going on in Cardiff and how to get involved as well as a place for discussion and interaction.

It’s early days still so any feedback welcome and if anyone wants to contribute in any way just let me know.

 

Siop y Bobl: Cardiff’s People’s Supermarket

First appeared on alt.cardiff on Tuesday 11 October 2011.

Siop y Bobl beat Blasus (Delicious) and Broccoli to name the shop based on the London People’s Supermarket featured in a Channel 4 documentary.

Deri Reed, the Ethical Chef, was inspired by the volunteer run supermarket and wanted to try it in Cardiff. The project now has support from the Wales Co-operative Centre and over 300 people interested.

“There’s no doubt that the current food system needs improving,” saysGwion Thorpe, project leader. “Despite the growth of farmers’ markets, box schemes and community food enterprises in Cardiff, the big multiples continue to dominate.”

He says Siop y Bobl will give people more choice; “Ultimately it’s a People’s Supermarket to meet the needs of its members and the local community.”

Organisers are looking for more people to get involved. Get in touch on Facebook and Twitter.