I was asked to speak about Hope Projects at the launch of Neil Johnson’s book on the history of the Labour Church, a late 19th / early 20th century expression of christian socialism that was connected to the birth of the Clarion movement. As luck would have it, the launch coincided with apocalyptically atrocious weather. The ‘beast from the East’ colliding with storm Emma (I think there is a movie franchise in there somewhere). High winds and driving snow kept all but the hardiest away, but the event went on.
I’m a cyclist. On a good day I cycle from my home in Wolverhampton to the Hope offices in Balsall Heath, in Birmingham. Today was not a good day. I took the tram.
My wife’s grandfather was a proper cyclist. He was ticking off 100 mile days into his 70s. He was a Clarion man. We still have his membership card, proudly proclaiming the objects of the club: Good fellowship; mutual aid; and the propogation of the principles of socialism. On the top of the card is the club’s motto. ‘Fellowship is life. Lack of fellowship is death’. Not just in some metaphorical sense. In the harsh industrial world before the welfare state, before the NHS and with no safety net for workers, if you were on your own and something went wrong, you could perish. Fellowship is life. Lack of fellowship is death.
Fast forward to this afternoon. I was working from home because the weather kept me out of the office; writing the Hope Housing steering group report.
Hope Projects, for those who don’t know it, works with people who have had an asylum claim refused. They are evicted from their housing. Their money is stopped. They have no right to work. Without housing benefit they cannot access mainstream hostels or homelessness provision. No welfare state. No safety net. They are destitute. A suitably Victorian word for a state of affairs that should be consigned to distant history. Hope Projects provides housing, money and legal advice for destitute asylum seekers whose asylum refusal appears flawed.
So back to the steering group report. It collates the information we have about applicants for our housing so the steering group, which meets next week, can decide who we will house. I know we will have 7 bedspaces available. I am looking at 15 applications. On the one hand that’s great. 7 homeless people will get safe, warm homes. And 8 won’t. I am reading the situations of the 15 people. Some have been sofa surfing, but have slowly run out of friends willing to take them in and feed them. Some are still living in G4S accommodation with other asylum seekers, but they shouldn’t be there; it’s a breach of license by their host. If they are caught both they and their host might be evicted. So they leave the house before G4S staff start work and don’t return until after the last person has gone home. Others are already reduced to rough sleeping, on the streets and in the derelict buildings of Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton. I look out of our the window. Driving snow and a bitter wind. 15 people. 7 beds. Fellowship is life. Lack of fellowship is death.