Saturday, 12 October 2013

After the radio interview …

BBC Surrey Breakfast Show, Saturday 12 October 

Thanks to local councillor @PaulDeach who listened to my interview live and reacted immediately, this interview is put into context as a more permanent podcast on the Surrey Heath Residents' Blog.
And on iTunes  

no longer available on BBC website)
Speaking live on an early morning radio programme can be deceptively challenging. Firstly, you have to be awake! Then, for example, before sun-up and in the rain, negotiating the Pirbright bends, where the road is strewn with branches and massive surprise puddles, you strive to get to the Guildford BBC studios in time for your precise slot.
Also there is the sensitive nature of the topic. Travellers. Gypsies. Planning applications and prejudice. Yes, enough to wake anyone up when presented with a list of alleged crimes and anti-social behaviour that are, apparently, solely attributable to Gypsies and Travellers.

Thankfully such sweeping allegations against the travelling community are becoming fewer in the wider population. I think so, anyway, but there are always a few who refuse to see them as human beings, in most ways just the same as anyone else. The key difference is that some GandTs wish to retain aspects of their culture, with regard to moving around for work and social gatherings, and pursuing traditional ways of earning a living: tree surgery, garden maintenance, fencing etc; laying tarmac (less so now); scrap metal. This type of work would not fit easily on your average residential estate or road, and it is entirely right that they should be accorded somewhere for them to fulfil their role and pitch a trailer. This is really all they ask for; somewhere within reasonable reach of schools, shops, doctors and so on.
These people are descendants of those Romany Gypsies who years ago co-existed quite comfortably within the context of rural England, making things like pegs and baskets, virtually out of fresh-air and the hedgerow, or offering a useful service such as knife-grinding. Travelling and stopping has become nearly impossible, with so many laws that make this and doorstep selling difficult; now, even remaining static in their family groups is almost as impossible!
Local authorities are trying to do their bit, I feel, but as ever, once they do their assessments, find a suitable plot of land, which is not easy to say the least, the big hitch in the process is the general public’s resentment. Whilst acknowledging the need for site provision, there is still a strong element of NIMBYISM.
How about we all try and turn things around? Instead of dwelling on possible negatives, perhaps, for the sake of their children and grandchildren especially, we should do our bit to accentuate the positive.
Hey!  I hear some Romany Gypsy or Irish Traveller families are settling in near us! I would so like to know more about them and their fascinating culture first-hand. What you see on TV and read in the papers is probably not a fair representation. I shall make a real effort to make them welcome and help them fit in with our community. I’m dying to find out about what the older members can remember of times gone by!
You can compose your own version of course.

Do some follow-up comments come along from the listening public? (I am still listening to the programme, so watch this space...!)
POST SCRIPT: No, apparently there was little negative response this time, for whatever reason.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Ted’s mission: ‘Time and attention’

Neglect of our elderly living at home has really hit the headlines in the media. You must have heard or read something about the 15 minute agency visits, inadequate for most aspects of caring for a human being.  
When you are not old yourself it is a side of life that can easily be ignored, forgotten or pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities in the huge arena of social issues. The slow murder of young children shocks us more, and we can but hope that such tragic, heart-rending incidents are few. With the ageing population, however, this lack of proper regard for the elderly may be on a massive scale.
I remember when working in a Social Services department in the early 1970s, the big move was to get away from ‘putting old folk into Homes’ and make sure they stayed in their own homes. ‘Domiciliary care’ was the term bandied about as offering a rosy future for the new generation of elderly people. For so many it has all gone wrong. Residential/nursing care is very expensive, this we know. The overheads are huge. I don’t know the relative costs of caring for an elderly person in their own home, but it would seem that such domiciliary services have been pared down to the bone. 
This is an aspect of social change that is fundamental to the story in Shades of Appley Green.
I thought it timely to provide an extract, so you can see what I mean. There is a love story and a lighter side of community and family life going on in the book, but the cornerstone of the story is the mission given to young mother, Steph, by deceased landowner, Ted Devonish, who is already known to readers of my first two books.
This is early on, where she has a meeting with some healthcare professionals in the local hospital. 

“So, tell us a bit more about your charity, could you Steph?” asked Nora, the Parkinson’s specialist nurse. “How long has it been going and what sort of things do you do?”
Steph was always pleased to have the chance to promote SSS and hoped that word of mouth would work its magic – and perhaps a mention on the hospital website.
There was a local benefactor called Edward Devonish. …”
… Steph blinked and collected her thoughts. e pulled her to one side“Anyway, divorced and living alone, he died suddenly two years ago. Tragic. Great sadness in the village.” And great sorrow for me, she wanted to add, but thought it best to keep aloof from the grief she had felt at his loss. “Sometimes it seems it’s always the best people who go before their time, doesn’t it?”
Nora and Heather nodded politely but Steph could see she had overstepped the mark. Be professional, she told herself sharply.
She continued, “His only child, daughter Natalie, had always made it clear she had no wish to be involved in farming, even at arms’ length. His total estate, once sold off realised a tidy few million. Now, he bequeathed a portion of this to a charity and for that he set out some rules. It should be used to set an example of a charity giving special support to senior citizens who need it. For example,” and she handed over a small brochure that set out the SSS mission, “more than personal care, medical attention, financial guidance. Not just housework either, necessary though that is, but on top of that, for those elderly whose families were too distant or too busy, they should be given time and attention.”  Steph stressed the key words, just as Ted used to. She would never let that man down.

Nora nodded, as she scanned the leaflet. “Certainly what people with Parkinson’s need. Everything slows down and not everyone appreciates that.”

A mental picture of Jackson filled the screen inside her head. “Ted knew that so many isolated old people need someone who can listen and respond; treat them with respect as an individual; without being in a rush, think what that particular person really needs based on the lives they have led.”
“Aren’t there charities and agencies who already do this? They have volunteers and even paid support workers who visit, don’t they? Befriending services?” asked Heather, looking at her watch not quite discreetly enough.
“There are, and they do an excellent job, but there aren’t always enough to go round. Carers are inevitably pressed for time by agency schedules. Time costs money. Often there’s little continuity so carer and client really don’t bond – don’t have time to bond. Nobody’s fault, just a fact of life. And volunteers come and go. Few people can afford to give of their time for nothing these days, however much they’d like to. Edward Devonish saw it as important that consistent, visiting friends should be rewarded and … well, have training to be professional so they could also offer information and support.  He said it must be self-funding after five years and set an example so other branches will set up in other areas – without his initial financial backing obviously.”
“So a lot hangs on the success of this pilot then?”
Yes, she thought, all eyes are on me in the village. “Exactly. It’s my job to ensure that Special Support for Seniors has a future.”  Her commitment had extended to giving up a well-paid job but they did not need to know that either. There was so much more to it than that.
Nora raised her eyebrows and threw her a sympathetic smile. “To set an example? Wow, no pressure then! What a challenge Steph! To be self-sufficient sounds demanding, to say the least.” Steph really liked Nora; she was excellent at her job and people respected her for both her expertise and kindness.
“Yep. But Ted Devonish had the foresight to see that if the charity could draw on his bequest indefinitely its staff would just see it as another paid job and be less motivated.”
“So – you have to fundraise as well? I mean, as well as actually helping local clients in quite a direct way.”
Steph nodded. “We need to recruit a dedicated publicist and fundraiser – obviously who can raise much more than they are paid. It’s early days for that, though. First, we need to get the whole thing working."

“Who else works for SSS?”
“I report to a manager – whose role it is to secure other funding like lottery money, trusts and legacies, that sort of thing. And …” she added, reluctantly, trying not to baulk at the words, “… manage me.” The notion of being managed was too close to being bullied in Steph’s eyes. Her mind flicked back subliminally to when she began keeping written records on how she was once ‘managed’ … at a time when she was so desperate for work she dared not open her mouth to anyone about what her manager was doing … Would she want Faith to read about that in the diary?
“What have you achieved so far then, Steph?”

Shades of Appley Green, is available as a paperback or on Kindle from Amazon, (or from Waterstones bookshops) First published in February 2012.

BBC UK News ‘Disgraceful’ short-care visits on rise, says charity.’