The call for peace

manchester-attack

Source: The Independent 

The last few days have been dreadful. Yet amongst the hatred is a shining light of hope and reassurance. The people of Manchester and far further have come together. Political leaders have stopped the mud-slinging contest of the general election (for now). For me, one of the phrases that has stuck with me comes from Colin Parry OBE. On the topic of terrorism, we need to prevent gaps widening in our society, encourage diversity at a local level, and in response to the calls to ‘throw them out our country’, Mr Parry says no. ‘Throw them in to our peace centre’ he says.

This is a man who has experienced what many of the Manchester victims’ families will be experiencing. It’s difficult for anyone to comprehend the barbaric loss of a child, teenager, young adult, mums and dads, who were simply enjoying life. For Colin Parry, the story is similar. His son, Tim Parry, was one of the victims of the Warrington IRA bomb attack in 1993. His accounts are well documented as are his natural emotional responses in the aftermath of the attack.

The Foundation for Peace, set up by Colin Parry and his wife Wendy, was in response to attempts to bring peace to a troubled Northern Ireland in the 1990s. Since then, there has been an evolution of peace brought to the streets of Northern Ireland; the threat of terrorism has not gone away. For so many young people, the events of the 2000s and 2010s has seen the shift of how terrorist atrocities are carried out. Colin Parry is the embodiment of peace and this is how the foundation describes what it does:

“We do not take sides, we are not aligned to any conflict, we are not faith or political based and we do not pursue causes such as justice or truth.”

At first glance, it may seem undue for such an organisation not to seek the truth. But tackling terrorism and extremists is not about truth. The great work of the Greater Manchester police force will deal with investigating the truth and seeking some sort of comfort and justice for the families affected – notably by unraveling the network of terrorist connections.

Colin Parry is a man who speaks compassionate sense in difficult circumstances. As does Andy Burnham, Metro Mayor for Greater Manchester. Both appeared on the BBC’s Question Time in the days after the Manchester bomb. It wasn’t about taking sides or showing how political parties will respond. It was about coming together, uniting, and pausing to understand how peace can be achieved.

All panelists on that edition of Question Time were in large agreement. Tackling terror plots requires more than simply shutting Britain’s borders and hoping such cowards don’t find their way in. The police and intelligence services will already be foiling terrorist activity as you read this – and the work they do which we are not fully aware of is something that we should be thankful for.

So how do you stop or flush out terrorist activity? Well it’s difficult. As the panelists on Question Time agreed it comes down to the ‘grassroots’ of communities across the United Kingdom. The terrorist who brought Manchester together in its darkest period was a student at a local university; he lived in Greater Manchester’s suburbs; he was born in the UK just like millions of others. Yet he turned on his own city, targeting the youngest and most innocent.  It is not for me to judge what he did in the weeks, months, possibly years, in the run up to the attack. What is almost certain, however, is that somewhere along the line he was radicalised. His behaviour probably changed, his thoughts and perspective more than likely differed from those he previously had. His brain became washed with this evil. There is no finger pointing to be had either as to who could have stopped him and so on. It simply does not assist the situation at this time.

Britain is now a multicultural, multinational island of communities. Everyone, from religious groups to the average atheist college student, has a duty to be vigilant. It may be difficult to identify a change in someones behaviour which may indicate they are identifying with extremist views. That is where Colin Parry and his peace centre come in.

The Foundation for Peace works on the following stages:

  • Transforming communities
  • Advocacy – training people to raise the difficult issues
  • Sharing experiences – the charity is a safe environment for people to come and share their backgrounds and gain support.
  • Dialogue – a crucial communication link between conflicting parties to help understand eachother and challenge prejudices
  • Conflict resolution – understanding why conflict happens and how it can be dealt with a non-violent way.
  • Leadership – allowing people to take back their skills to their own communities.

The Peace Centre in Warrington exists as a result of bereaved parents who came back from a troubled Northern Ireland full in the knowledge that they could make a difference. The threat of terrorism is very much a different scale to that of when The Foundation for Peace was set up. But that doesn’t mean its values, ethics and purposes should be any different.

The Peace Centre can teach anyone, those who need help or those who simply want to learn. It is not about alienating people, it’s not about making assumptions, it’s not about segregating communities. There may be little comfort for the city of Manchester at present but on this truly awful week, people like Colin Parry and organisations like The Foundation for Peace are needed more than ever.

 

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Neighbour, what neighbour ?

“Love thy neighbour”. Originally a commandment. Today, a phrase used by few. Why you ask. Because the idea of forming a friendship with your next door resident, creating an unrivalled bond with care and affection, has been blown out of the window completely. New figures suggest that a huge 60 percent of British people don’t get on with their neighbours and 28 percent wouldn’t wish to socialise with them, according to a survey carried out by insurance group Swinton.

Reasons why people have a dislike toward the people or person living next door include blocking driveways, overflowing bins, barking dogs, partying all night and simply because they can’t be bothered to speak to them. It is evident in communities right around the country. Neighbours are no longer someone you can give the keys to whilst you go on holiday. Oh no, nowadays neighbours are more of an enemy. Or at least someone who you acknowledge has an existence.

For me, I see all different types of neighbours. On my right, I have a retired elderly couple who are brilliant neighbours. The best neighbours you could ask for. Always lively, always chatting and genuinely nice to talk to. Across the road are neighbours who don’t really make an effort and god knows who lives in the houses beyond. You could say it’s rather sad. My grandparents always tell me about their “amazing” neighbours. They often recall their days of youth and how everyone would leave their front doors open and everybody would bond. Today, I wouldn’t dream of leaving my door open. It just seems wrong in every term of social etiquette.

I have a genuine bond with my right-hand neighbours. Even a few weeks ago, I knocked on their door at 10:30 at night to tell them they’d left the car windows open. They were, quite frankly, overwhelmingly grateful. And I know they would do the same back. My neighbour on the left is in a world of his own. He’s not really an enemy or a bad neighbour, but his conduct certainly needs questioning. The photo below explains all.

garden

There is nothing worse than a poorly maintained house and a garden that belongs in a skip. The man next door (I don’t know his name) is probably rather pleasant. I’ve said hello to him in the one in six month appearance he makes. I wouldn’t describe him as a “hateful neighbour”, but living in a community should mean you adhere to certain conventions. Keeping a tidy garden is a must. Waking up to see a dismal display of horticulture really is most depressing. No aspiration and lack of care says a lot about an individual’s lifestyle and their approach to the community and neighbours.

Type in “neighbour complaints” into a search engine and there appears pages and pages of advice as to how you should approach neighbours who annoy you. Talking to them, calling the police and legal action are all suggested solutions. I would never take action against what is a disgraceful garden, but surely the resident in question must feel some embarrassment and shame towards what he displays and how other people see it. It does become an annoyance and a talking point. The lack of attention and affection is not just evident in the garden. It’s evident throughout all of society with more neighbour disputes than ever before. Is there any need for it?

I honestly believe there is a need for good neighbours. They can be motivating, aspiring and quite helpful. The change in social issues such as education, wealth and religion have all led to inevitable, often unnecessary, conflicts about the most minor problems. It really is no surprise that we hear stories of neighbours at “war” with one another and how many people don’t even know their neighbours. It is a sad to see dilapidating communities and neighbourhoods. A million miles away from the thriving hubs they once were.

Is Warrington really that “crap” ?

Think of a “crap” town. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty you can think of. Whether it’s a hometown you’re bored of, an area where you’ve had a bad night out or a location with a poor reputation, all of these add to the passionate argument of bad towns. Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK, edited by Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran, is a rather humorous approach to towns which are as the definition suggests, “crap”. Now a second edition is underway and amongst the top one hundred worst towns is Warrington. I live there. So is there any real evidence to suggest that the town is worthy of the crap town title?

Before we go any further, we really have to consider the meaning of “crap”. A trusty visit to Etymology Online reveals what the majority know already: “act of defecation” is the 1898 meaning. More widely, The Oxford English Dictionary refers the term as being “something of extremely poor quality.” Therefore, for the purpose of this post, we shall refer to Warrington as supposedly being something of poor quality and not an act of defecation. So, the definition is clear. Now what is exactly “crap” about Warrington?

A comprehensive government survey ranked the town bottom when considering quality of life. Taken into consideration included high unemployment rates, relatively low life expectancy and a failure to safeguard children properly. Poor aspirations also contributed to the results. A sad consequence considering the investment into local training and education for young people and adults alike. In response to the survey, Warrington Borough Council branded it a “shambles” suggesting there was no reality between what the inspectors found and the feelings of residents.

Every town will have its poorer sides. Warrington has hit the headlines over its nightlife. Violence on the streets and cheap prices of alcohol have tarnished the once fairly positive reputation. Staying with the town centre and the apparent high unemployment rate is a direct cause of the recession and down turn. The once thriving Bridge Street area, today, stands only as a gateway of closed shops. Warrington Market, advertised as “Award Winning”, feels more like a deflated arena of stalls compared to the former glory of original market. The new build, according to residents and stall owners, drove regular customers away; today, the hustle of the market is long gone. In fact the hustle of almost all of the previous thriving town centre shopping areas has disappeared.

But it’s not all bad. Where some areas of the town centre struggle others boast with success. The most recent redevelopment of Warrington town centre was the complete overhaul of the tired 1980’s feel of the shopping mall. Refurbished and modernised, the arcade now boasts some of the best high street retailers in a modern and attractive environment. A new bus station, glass fronted and airy, was constructed nearly seven years ago, replacing the dingy environment of the former gateway. Infact, whilst the survey of life quality may have placed Warrington at the bottom, there was praise for transport links.

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

The survey stated that the public transport system demonstrated “exceptional performance or innovation that others can learn from.” It’s a true story. Despite some negativity towards the local bus company, drivers being rude and buses being late, the links across town and beyond are very good indeed. The prices…well that’s for another day. The two main train stations, Bank Quay and Central are a key railway links. Bank Quay provides residents with the links to the North and South within a short period of time. Central Station is used more often by commuters and shoppers, travelling to either Liverpool or Manchester. But the line does extend further, placing Warrington firmly on the map in a connected Britain. All of this adds to a business boost for the town.

Ranked 16th in The Santander Corporate and Commercial Banking’s UK Town and City Index, Warrington has been praised for its above average business start-ups and satisfaction amongst employees across the town. Whether it be pubs in the suburbs or small ventures in the town centre, it is clear that businesses are successful. Furthermore, the local retail parks boast some of the biggest stores in the town. At Gemini Retail Park, the second largest Marks and Spencer outside London is a real success story, whilst the first IKEA to be built in the UK is next door. Across the town, retail parks are shining examples of businesses with an optimistic outlook despite the gloomy figures. The future looks bright as well. Building work on the Omega site has begun with warehouses and roads taking shape. It may take nearly thirty years to complete, but the plan is for Warrington to be an international hub as one of Europe’s largest business parks.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

A key tool in unifying town folk shelves any resemblance to Warrington being “crap”. The history and culture of the town is one that brings pride. There is plenty of history, whether it be the Roman crossing point for the River Mersey, Oliver Cromwell’s residence during the Civil War or the scars at RAF Burtonwood. The key “wire” industry of years gone-by has placed Warrington on the history timeline, whilst strong links still remain to the industrial past. There’s plenty of culture too. The Parr Hall has boasted some the UK’s best known comedians including Jimmy Carr and Peter Kay, whilst The Pyramid arts centre and museum boast much about the pride of the town and also a showcase of what the town can achieve, through projects and links with local schools. Warrington Walking Day, an annual event, sees churches walk together through the streets, whilst carnivals and events all year round see the thriving community spirit.

In sport, the iconic Warrington Wolves team have grown with history to become a force in the Rugby League world. Rugby followers and those who don’t follow alike hold one thing in common – support for their town team. Rowing, Athletics and Rugby Union are also represented in the town strongly, whilst the Warrington Town football team are currently in the Northern Premier League Division One North.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

There is one event that unifies people like no other. The IRA bombing of 1993 in Warrington town centre left two young children dead and countless more injured. In the wake of the atrocity, schools, students, parents, teachers, churches, politicians and many more stood shoulder to shoulder to support the families, friends and loved ones of the victims; The Peace Centre was set up in memory of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball. The centre continues to offer learning services to young people with opportunities to connect and express. Annual events in the town which mark the solemn anniversary unite town people, whether it be children at school, parents at work, shoppers or social network users. United in grief, hundreds mourn the victims but admire the work and progress that has been achieved by the families to reach peace. The events of the past twenty years are held with pride and affection towards those involved and the legacy achieved.

Warrington extends much further from the negative stereotypes of a gloomy suburban town. Yes, there are some divisions between living conditions, housing conditions and even road conditions, but Warrington does bridge that gap with its community involvement to create one unified town. When the survey outlined how aspirations were low, there are two factors. Yes, the environment you live in, but also the person themselves. Anybody can achieve regardless as to how “crap” their town is. Look at Chris Evans, from Warrington. Pete Waterman, from Warrington. Sue Johnston, from Warrington. The list goes on.

The Omega project is a promising development. Warrington Borough Council recently gave the go ahead for a new regeneration project of the town centre. Proposals include a new cinema, new eateries and an improvement of town centre leisure and recreational activities.

The original question was about whether Warrington or any town for that matter is “crap”. Stereotypes will always be present as will divisions. But if you strip to the reality of where you live and see what is actually happening, I’d say Warrington was better than “crap”.

Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK will be available from online retailers.
For more information on what to do in Warrington, visit http://www.warrington.gov.uk

Why Costa is the real winner at Media City

A refreshing backdrop for Media City UK.

A refreshing backdrop for Media City UK.

It has been just over two years since the start of the march to the Media City UK in Salford. The first BBC departments moved from London to the North West in February 2010, followed by the remaining departments in the following months and years. The BBC move is complete and Media City now homes ITV Granada, The University of Salford, children’s programmes and soon the new Coronation Street. But from what I can gather, a chain of a popular coffee shop franchise is the real winner.

Whenever you think of Media City, you don’t automatically consider the huge scale the project has actually been. Many might think the ‘beeb’ paid a few builders to erect some fancy buildings and moved in within a few months. Wrong. The site, on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, had been derelict since the closure of the dockyards in the early 1980’s. Peel Holdings bought the plot of land and did no more. In 2003, the BBC announced it was considering moving crucial departments away from London to Manchester. Talks began about constructing a new “media village” in collaboration with ITV Granada, the North West’s strand of ITV. A number of possible new sites were considered, but it was Salford Quays was chosen. The area, over years, has seen considerable development; The Lowry Centre, office blocks and museums had already started to revive the former industrial setting.

The move to Salford was confirmed in 2006. Around 1,800 jobs would be relocated, according to the then BBC Director General, Mark Thompson. Construction on the new site began in 2007, with the announcement in the same year that departments including BBC Sport, CBBC, Radio Five Live and BBC Breakfast would all make the journey to the northern capital.

I have had the pleasure of visiting the attractive site. Media City UK boasts buildings that house the production departments of key BBC programmes, whilst The Studios contain several high definition studios and the BBC’s Philharmonic Orchestra. Other buildings include modern apartments, flexible office space for media and creative industries and The Orange Tower which houses The University of Salford and ITV. The site is very impressive. The architecture and abstract design of the buildings is quite an eye-opener. The ‘airy’ and open feel of the village is very different to the brick and mortar that once occupied Oxford Road in the heart of Manchester. The “media village” feels iconic and a part of new media history. But it is easy to see why people don’t appreciate the site.

Some residents have objected to the site being built, whilst others have relished in its good fortune. Some jobs have been created over the years including in the construction of the site, whilst inside the companies that now occupy the buildings, jobs have been offered for local residents and apprenticeship schemes to aid to the young members of the Salford community. However, a recent committee hearing told how just 39 new recruits out of 350 jobs going were from the Salford area. Whilst this news may cause an upset between the media complex and local residents, it is clear that Media City is more than just a hub housing some of the nations best known programmes. It is a vital organ for the regenerated Salford community. Since it’s construction and opening, Media City has brought a new wave of tourists to the former docks; the sector seeing a boost in visitors for the seventh consecutive year. But whilst the construction has been fairly speedy, the cost of relocating existing staff has angered licence fee payers.

The recent closure of the BBC’s iconic Television Centre was reported as being a part of huge savings for corporation. Departments including BBC News and radio moved to the New Broadcasting House in Central London, whilst other departments had moved to Salford, Glasgow and Cardiff, amongst other areas. The Public Accounts Committee recently grilled BBC executives about the cost of the relocation for the core departments. The top bosses at the beeb continue to insist that the entire project came in under budget, but there are still questions over the relocation packages offered to staff, some of which had to move home from London to the Northern region. BBC trustee Anthony Fry admitted that there would be “raised eyebrows” over the pay of £1million to just 11 staff, whilst the cost of relocation for around 900 staff had nearly toppled £25million. Whilst it may have been a cheaper option to move North, it is clear that the cost to the licence fee payer is great and it’s unlikely that the packages paid out will be repaid in a couple of years.

Tony Morris and Lucy Meacock look above Media City in the Granada Reports studio.

Tony Morris and Lucy Meacock look above Media City in the Granada Reports studio.

But what about programmes themselves. Do they feel any different? No. Whilst ITV’s Granada Reports is now broadcast from a new state of the art studio in The Orange Tower, the programme still feels like it should – a regional news programme, with a live backdrop of the piazza and canal at Media City. Production at ITV is completed on the seven floors that the corporation occupies in the building, so content is unlikely to feel any different. Even the new Coronation Street set, currently being built within the complex is an exact replica of the former set in Quay Street. Viewers won’t notice a difference. Over at the BBC, just a few hundred yards away, the story is very much the same. BBC Sport broadcasts from a new newsroom with no onscreen indication that it is close to Manchester city centre. Nor does Match of the Day, broadcast from Quay House, which feels more like an evolution of the previous theme. CBBC and Cbeebies feel identical to the previous studios, as does BBC Breakfast which could still be confused as to being in London. As for radio, surely nobody would notice the difference? For viewers, content remains the same, high quality broadcasts that have always been provided. The base for the actual production teams is now just in a new location. Costing less than operating from the heart of London. Good move.

The BBC has made a good deal in suggesting a “media village” collaboration because it’s one of a kind in the UK. The cost has run into millions and to the average viewer they won’t even notice the difference. Bu the setting, atmosphere and entire surroundings of Media City feel pleasant and vibrant. Media and creativity at its highest level. The build probably has been worth it. Even on my first visit I was taken back by the grand scale of the buildings and the knowledge of what was being produced and what will be produced in the future. Media City is more than what meets the eye. It is a community bridge and an environment for learning and development. What is certain is that thousands of tourists will continue to flock, year in year out, to visit the complex.

Costa Coffee hosts tourists and staff alike.

Costa Coffee hosts tourists and staff alike.

But out of all of the names who are on site, there is only one winner. Costa Coffee. A small branch squeezed between the BBC buildings and The Studios. For the visitors, studio audiences and tourists, the branch is ideal for a snack or drink to break the day. For the staff of Media City, including journalists, presenters and production staff, the shop is a way of getting out of the office for a light refreshment. And on the odd occasion, you may just spot some famous faces having a coffee before filming. An ideal location for an ideal chain to bring tourists, enthusiasts and professionals all into one place. A mirror reflection of what Media City UK stands for.

Young politicians should be embraced not pushed out

Cllr Jake Morrison, 20

Cllr Jake Morrison, 20

The Labour Party’s youngest councillor, Jake Morrison, was suspended earlier this month by his own party for an alleged row between himself and a Liverpool MP. The allegations were made by Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree. She describes the twenty year old as having a “complete lack of teamwork”. He claims she has never given him a chance. But does the suspension of a young councillor do more harm than good? Does it prevent the next generation of politicians from following their dreams and goals?

I am a great believer in local politics and government. It can certainly do a lot of good. The opportunity to bring up local issues that matter within the community is something of great recognition for a councillor and MP, non-more so than a younger member. There does, however, appear to be a negative representation about local government when it comes to issues about expenses, education and decision-making. All influence and change voters’ minds throughout any political career. For a younger person it may be more difficult to handle, but it shouldn’t prevent people from joining politics, especially as the door opens to welcome more independent candidates.

Decisions and U-turns are crucial to a success of a government. Too many decisions that too many people dislike will turn voters against your party, whilst too many U-turns will suggest that your party is not competent enough of leading the country. The way in which a leader manages and presents himself is crucial when connecting to the ordinary voter. And with every term that passes, it appears that the “three main” parties that once stood for such different ideologies have become merged and there is no clear distinction as to where one party ends and another one begins. There is now more room than ever for independent candidates to stand up and be heard. There has been an overwhelming support to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in light of political scandals and failures to serve by politicians. Seven out of ten people I have spoken to claim they will vote for UKIP or a candidate not from the main parties at the next general election. But back to the original question. If a young individual wants to join politics, then they should be embraced and welcomed for wanting to make a difference to social issues, including education, poverty and welfare. Whilst Cllr Morrison has stressed he has always and will continue to support the Labour Party, there is a big enough gap today for a young candidate to stand up and devise a campaign that they believe is right for their community. A stand-out candidate.

Whilst a stand-out candidate is needed to ensure a strong relationship begins, there does need to be a positive working environment. Cllr Morrison sticks out in my mind, not because of his politics, but because he is Liverpool’s youngest councillor. That goes a long way, especially in keeping young voters interested in politics. He is portrayed as a confident, young and positive individual. Even when he claimed that Luciana Berger MP had made “his life unbearable”, his attitude and presence was still largely positive and the determination to continue with his job came across very well. Luciana Berger MP has denied the allegations made by Mr Morrison, but despite that we must applaud the motivation and drive of the young councillor to continue despite these hiccups to his role.

Luciana Berger stated: “Of the 14 Labour councillors in the Wavertree Constituency you are the only one who chooses not to engage with my office, or get involved with our constituency activities.” Ofcourse it is impossible to determine what happened and whilst an internal party investigation is underway, we cannot be certain to make judgements.

What I do believe, however, is that we should welcome new and young life into politics. The next generation of councillors and MP’s are around and could be living next door to you. We must admire a young generation who are determined to make a stand, work for their communities and ensure their heart is where it needs to be.