Thursday, 5 September 2013

Poverty and rubbish

Last week Children North East organised a Fun Day in a small neighbourhood in West Newcastle. It is an area of old terraced houses and back lanes in the northern style and one of the most racially mixed parts of the city.

With a small amount of money we provided free ice cream, face painting, animals to handle (snakes and big spiders) and pavement art. Over 270 children, young people and curious adults came along. The ice cream and face painting were huge successes - a lot of children are from economic migrant families many of whom had never tasted ice cream nor experienced having their face painted before. Half way through the afternoon someone offered music and set up their sound system on the street including karaoke creating a street party atmosphere. Everyone had a great time and asked when would it happen again?

The event had another purpose - to ask people what they wanted to change about their area, overwhelmingly they said clear up the rubbish in the back lanes and on the streets. The council estimates the equivalent of 100 elephants bulk of rubbish is left on the streets in this small area every year which looks unsightly and is expensive the clear up.

The reason for our interest in the area comes from our project 2 years ago asking children to take photographs of what poverty looked like where they live. The pictures they took here showed children playing in the rubbish, young people hanging out in derelict rubble-strewn backyards, boarded up shops and cheap takeaways. Those same children and young people helped planned the Fun Day to get some action going that will make a difference.

We asked people where the rubbish comes from, they told us people in need of money knock over the wheelie-bins, haul out the rubbish and take away any clothes they can find which they sell at a nearby 'Cash for Clothes' shop for 60p a kilo. They are driven to these desperate measures through necessity but it leaves mess everywhere. The council has suggested fining people - but how would you catch them and where would they get the money to pay a fine?

By the end of the day we not only had a remit from the community but also  a small group of young people and adults keen to find on a solution. Our next step is to form them into an action team. I'll let you know what ideas they come up.

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