INTRODUCING THE POVERTY TRUTH COMMISSION
The POVERTY TRUTH COMMISSION started in Scotland, grew there and in Leeds, and now is spreading further. Please watch the excellent 5 minute introductory video at www.leedspovertytruth.org.uk/2016/02/10/poverty-truth-the-what-why-who-how-video/
It is based in the learning from post-apartheid peace building in South Africa, with its key theme
NOTHING ABOUT US, WITHOUT US, IS FOR US.
It facilitates MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS and DEEP RELATIONSHIPS between COMMISSIONERS*, who are drawn from people expert through their own lived experience of poverty and those experienced in social, economic and political provision.
*The ‘Commission’ itself is to facilitate meaningful, hopefully transformative, listening and learning between two groups of people: those who understand poverty by living it, and those who know it from a governmental, civic or statutory point of view. ‘Commissioners’ are therefore selected people eventually drawn from these two groups. Commissioners from the expert by lived experience group are sometimes called ‘testifiers’, or ‘community commissioners’. They meet together to identify the priority faces of poverty in an area. Commissioners from the local decision makers, sometimes called ‘civic commissioners’, meet the testifiers at the PTC Launch. From there, individual commissioners pursue ongoing, mutual, learning relationships with a commissioner from the other group
It focuses on DEEP LISTENING SKILLS and STORIES. Research shows that a story approach and listening relationships are essential and effective to bring about transformative individual, social and cultural change.
It is a LOCAL INITIATIVE where the learning and practice of other commissions across the country can be applied as a wider RELATIONAL RESOURCE, and local stories can potentially help influence new conversations at a national level.
We now have an opportunity in Morecambe Bay to develop a commission, beginning in the Lancaster City Council area. The Critical Thinking Group of the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Lancaster has endorsed the proposal to launch it.
Why establish a Morecambe Bay PTC?
Of 5 young men in a homeless shelter in Lancaster, one has been on the streets for years due to undiagnosed mental health issues; two were, and are, alcoholics; one, a very articulate ex-soldier, returned from Afghanistan to a broken marriage and PTSD, and the fifth has been drug abusing since he learned it from his carers at the age of eight. In our shared conversation, they were appreciative of one another’s responses, grateful for the help of support workers, all anxious about the looming 13-week deadline when they would have to move on. And all discovered that their shared struggle had been with social exclusion, with nowhere to connect to find whatever they needed to pull out of the cycle, however hard they wanted to change their own lives and the circumstances that damage so many. These are the story-telling experiences that change things for us all, and why we in Morecambe Bay hope to facilitate a PTC in our area.
The indicators of poverty, both rural and urban in this immediate geography are pretty dire, with, to start with, some of the worst health outcomes in the UK. This includes a life expectancy discrepancy of 19 years between the wealthier head of the bay in Milnthorpe and the outlying points of Barrow and Morecambe West End. This led us, as 2MT, a small local charity, first to network with the NHS locally towards a potential culture change from a ‘medical/expert’ to a collaborative one with the communities, and, with the appointment of an inspirational director of Health and Wellbeing, a good friend of the charity, the direction of creative community conversations was established. Follow up has included training opportunities both for NHS staff and local charities and community assets in active listening, a ‘coaching’ culture, and most recently the Art of Hosting and Harvesting Meaningful Conversations in Morecambe West End. A broad network, with meaningful relationships, of local charities working among marginalised communities is in place, and hopefully will roll out further around the Bay.
At the same time, a significant activist network has been established at Lancaster University in the ‘Critical Thinking Group’, (CTG) nested in the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies (RI), a Quaker foundation located within the PPR department, where a 2MT director is positioned as External Partnerships coordinator. This academic and grassroots collaboration has issued in two possibilities. Firstly, the CTG is exploring the potential of a research project on infrastructures for positive peace, where the PTC story will be a central contribution. Secondly the RI has to date facilitated 6 interns to scope, as a PTC initiative, all research on poverty in the Morecambe Bay Area, and as many projects as they could find dealing with it. Following the men’s stories, they particularly focused on social exclusion and where the PTC objective ‘nothing about us, without us is for us’ was evident in addressing it. In the light of growing broad networks, the need to drill deeper to include carefully harvested stories from the lived experience of poverty is paramount, since the research found no evidence of their contribution thus far. Equally the urban and rural civic leaders are so far remarkably under-represented in the community conversations, so the communication and relationship between the two types of commissioner is happening nowhere else. Issues of poverty wider than the health effects, obviously and increasingly the focus of the NHS-initiated conversations, must also be considered; the housing stock in some parts of the Bay, for example, is among the worst in the nation and is ‘pitched’ to Liverpool and Manchester as a shockingly cheaper option for their homeless, who tell of the severe effects of being torn away from their communities.
A committed Start-Up Group has been meeting regularly to develop relationships and hold the space for a Commission while we pursue funding applications, and in considering the geography and other data from the region, has identified the Lancaster City Council area as the starting point for the project, intending to look at other parts of the Bay in subsequent phases. The Critical Thinking Group of the RI for Peace Studies at the University of Lancaster has endorsed the proposal to launch a PTC.
What is the Morecambe Bay PTC hoping to achieve?
While transformative listening will enable co-produced, new rather than pre-determined outcomes, we would hope to discover similar effects as other PTCs, such that civic leaders may recognise that “the pressures of outcomes” smother careful thought, but “stories that speak expose new levers for change” and that testifiers grow in confidence and in representation of broader community effects of poverty. Morecambe Bay PTC realistically echoes Leeds’ PTC’s hopes to see testifiers seated at every table where decisions concerning their community are made. We are also aware of interest in Westminster in the radical health experiments taking place in our region, identified as a ‘Vanguard’ area, as well as in the academic sphere, so also hope to add our experience to the wider national conversation about new political space that can be both accessed and invigorated by listening to ‘other’ stories from lived experience on the margins. We hope to imagine together with new participants in a sympathetic and empathetic conversation broader, more just and sustainable ways forward to greater wellbeing for all.
How will the Morecambe Bay PTC try to measure the impact?
We are aware that the impact will be primarily personal and inter-relational so a narrative record will be the most appropriate method of capturing the learning and discovery.
We are hopeful of academic rigour being applied in the context of Richardson Institute, in evaluating the impact of conversations in a narrative analysis of feedback from participants.
We are hopeful of a journalistic blog journey recording events and feedback.
At a project management level, we will aim for and measure the following criteria:
Participation in the Start-Up Group meetings will be at least 75% of the members at each meeting.
Delivery of the Morecambe Bay PTC Launch Event within the agreed budget and to the agreed timescales.
Attendance at the Morecambe Bay PTC Launch Event of more than 50 Civic and Business Leaders.
Testimony from the testifiers that participation in Morecambe Bay PTC has made a real difference to their lives.
Appointment of testifiers to at least one local decision making body.
Commitment from the Start-Up Group to a second Commission in another part of the region, probably Barrow.
Who is involved in the planning and delivery of the Morecambe Bay PTC?
A Start-Up Group has been meeting since late 2016 and now has a committed group of 16 people, with representation from those with lived experience of poverty, local councillors, the NHS, Lancaster University, faith groups, CVS, many significant charities working among the testifier communities, and local people keen to see lasting individual, social and cultural change.
When will the public launch event of Morecambe Bay PTC take place?
It is currently anticipated that the first launch event will take place around Easter time in 2018.
MORECAMBE BAY POVERTY TRUTH COMMISSION IS NOW UNDER WAY! AN UPDATE November 2018
The Community Commissioners delivered an amazing launch event on 6th July.
- 150 people joined us for lunch and to hear the community commissioners share some very moving stories of how they experience poverty under four headings:
dehumanisation; hidden poverty; things that can help; and poverty can happen to anyone.
- Filmed highlights from the launch, as well as a longer version of the whole event, will be available on our website which is currently under construction.
- 20 Civic Commissioners invited from sectors including local city councils, faith communities, education, the NHS, police, fire service, the university, utilities and transport, DWP and support organisations agreed to commit to the next phase, and have been meeting monthly with 12 Community Commissioners and the facilitation team since July.The vision going forward is together to work towards social transformation locally and nationally.
The Commission will continue to meet at least monthly through four phases:
ENGAGE (July-Dec)Meeting as people
over food or coffee in between times as well as round the discussion circle, learning to listen actively, and to hear and share in different perspectives and life experiences.
EXPLORE (Jan 19-April)Deciding together which aspects of poverty locally we can most usefully explore further, and forming working groups around probably 3 key issues. Nationally these have often been Mental Health, Universal Credit and Food Poverty, but are yet to be decided locally.
Locating situations in the statutory, business, faith and third sectors represented by the civic commissionersto offer new ways of addressing issues discovered in the working groups, in delivering services and improving support and involvement by those with lived experience.
EMBED (Sept on)Evaluating and
improving the experiments, where possible making them permanent changes, and persevering inconversations, learning and development; continuing to collect & share stories to inform the national picture.
Next year there will be a report and celebration of the outcomes but, even this early, some very promising initiatives are emerging.
Community Commissioners have already contributed to regular conversations with PTCs nationwide; a university panel discussion on poverty & health; an NHS senior leadership consultation; input to UN rapporteur on poverty issues in UK; S.Lakes Council panel; and have been invited to participate in DWP training; LCC council policy discussions; food poverty working group; carers in schools support; young carer support in health centres; a utilities supplier is re-structuring billing to help avoid debt occurring.