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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My time at the BBC

media

For any journalist, aspiring or qualified, the opportunity to work at one of the worlds most renowned and recognised broadcasters is simply one too good to be missed. For me ambitions and aspirations of seeing the ‘beeb’ in its full glory were fulfilled on a two-week work placement earlier this month. And what an exciting and thrilling two weeks they turned out to be.

There is something simply surreal about walking into a glass-fronted office tagged with the famous BBC logo from the outside throughout to the inside of the MediaCityUK building. The complex in Salford is superbly stunning. Visually, the array of BBC and other media buildings create a modern and fresh environment. On the inside, the offices are minor in comparison to the stunning panoramic views of Salford Quays. It truly is a wonderful working environment.

Having had experience in newspaper journalism, it was an opportunity to see how television news and journalism actually works. So often, as a viewer, we take for granted the end product of a news programme, forgetting the long hours that have gone into producing a regional programme. I approached with moderate expectations – journalism is an industry where deadlines must be met and where journalists often have their own job to do. However, I was surprised at how warm and engaging some of the staff, producers and journalists alike, were in talking about their roles and offering sound advice.

Much of the fortnight placement involved research, a key component in the journalism and media jigsaw. Working with the BBC’s Sunday Politics team, it was an eye-opener to understand how much research has to take place in order for a report or programme to look and sound professional. Doing research, to some, may sound boring, yet it doesn’t have to be. Selecting and compressing opinions, ideas, facts and figures really helps understand a particular story and in turn gives the average viewer a broad sense of the story they are interacting with.

My enjoyment of simply working in an office and doing something I am passionate about made what could be a tireless and repetitive role become alive. So you would understand my overwhelming joy of shadowing some of the journalists of leading regional news programme North West Tonight. My time spent with the reporters was invaluable. Never before could I ever guess it would take up to three hours to simply film and interview for a 1 minute 45 second piece. Visiting a man who had collected one thousand music albums, an urban artist in Manchester and the cast of Peter Pan certainly gave me flavour of the lighter side of journalism, whilst input, discussion and research into stories such as fracking and ‘troubled families’ emphasised the variation in this fascinating sector.

I did begin to learn and understand some interview techniques. Simply asking questions in everyday life is evidence of probing and journalistic skills. In the modern multimedia environment, I was both surprised and un-surprised at the changing roles that journalists have to play. Surprised, I was in awe that journalists, reporters and correspondents are simply more than the question asker and the person who speaks to the camera; their roles consist of editing their pieces, choosing library footage, adding music and writing scripts, something I presumed was conducted by another member of the team. The journalist of today also plays the role of the editor and, at times, the role of the camera person. When reflecting, it wasn’t really a surprise at all. The level of new media and technology must be used and so it makes sense for editing to be done all by one multimedia, cross-platform journalist.

Work experience at the BBC is notoriously hard to get and so I was very surprised to have received a phone call from the recruitment centre. The way to succeed on any journalism placement, not just at the BBC, is to show passion and interest in the sector you are working in. Ask questions about a journalists role, speak to the producer and ask about doing specific things, such as sitting in the gallery of a live news programme. Always ask for advice on how to make a good career out of the industry, but know when to take a back seat. Engage in ordinary conversation. It could be as trivial as something about the weather or as serious as a little bit of input into a production meeting. If you are assigned a piece of research, go above and beyond what you’ve been asked, and if there is a deadline to meet, then meet it.

I talk of asking about advice and what follows is the general consensus of advice I was given by a whole host of journalists and producers.

Work Experience. Possibly the most important factor. The more experience you have, the more shaped you are to the job and perhaps the more passionate you appear.

Qualifications. Previously not really essential, but today journalism postgraduate courses are highly recognised by a number of universities and courses by the NCTJ. Some undergraduate courses are good, but are perhaps a little too narrow.

Connections. Using social media and emails to connect with journalists, editors and producers. Sometimes having an email contact you can update can make all the difference.

Above all, to me, aspiration and passion is what is essential. Being persistent, determined and strong-minded is all essential not just for a career in journalism and the media, but for anything in any walk of life.

All aboard for HS2 ?

A few months back I posted about the confusion of the franchising in the rail industry, with some lines being privatised, others returning to public ownership and some which are in complete limbo. But that led me to the ongoing debate about the new high-speed rail link project (HS2). The facts are great: cutting journey times, creating jobs and boosting business. However, what about the actual reality of the project. Will it actually work?

The project leaders are very good at persuading ordinary rail users into thinking the new line is a good move. HS1 is already in action. It links London with the South of England and to the Channel Tunnel. The new HS2 line will link London and Birmingham and then join the West Coast Mainline north of Lichfield for journeys to Manchester and Leeds. The HS2 website, a modern and rather contemporary document, outlines the main problems with the current running of trains, such as overcrowding, delays and the need for more freight. It further adds that the new project will create a “connected Britain” with railways of a “worldwide standard.”

On a journey between Warrington and London, I compiled a few thoughts.

Current Capacity

It is a clear fact that the railways are running at near full capacity. Ministers behind HS2 estimate that “by 2020 a further 400 million journeys will be made” on top of the 1.46 billion made last year. So it certainly makes sense to have a new rail route in order to ease overcrowding and congestion on other lines.

In 2009/2010, 59 percent of all train journeys started or ended in the London region, according to the Department of Transport. Business and management professionals are amongst those who make regular trips to the capital, the majority of whom travel from other regions. But for ordinary day-trip visitors, commuters and tourists, overcrowding is serious.

A recent BBC documentary, Railways: Keeping Britain On Track, highlighted the daily troubles that travellers face at peak times. Passengers on the East Coast Mainline were seen being crammed into carriages at near-bursting point, many commuters making their feelings known. It is impossible to determine where each single passenger would travel to but certainly the majority interviewed on TV were travelling to the suburbs of London and major towns on the outskirts of the capital. On this basis, ordinary commuters won’t benefit as much from a high-speed link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, apart from a slight ease on crowded coaches. But surely the point is contradicted by the desire of the long-distance traveller. Like me, on my first visit to the capital, I paid to go First Class. This was mainly because it was a long distance and a reasonable deal. For business class and regular first-class passengers they will always remain in the privileged carriages which are less crowded and more comfortable. So it seems the next direction would be to make trains more focussed on the average commuter not the first class buyer.

A commuters nightmare

A commuters nightmare


Current Trains

Like the last point mentions, there are more people crammed into standard class carriages than those who used first and business class. So whilst the few may pay more, the majority will still use trains at the same time and use the same standard class everyday. This brings me to the question of whether money should be spent on the trains themselves and not a new railway line.

A recent Inside Out investigation revealed how fleets of trains operated by Northern Rail had been questioned over safety. Operating in regions across the North of England, the Pacer train, effectively a bus chassis on rails, has proved unpopular with commuters, unsuitable for disabled passengers and unsafe on the rail network. BBC Yorkshire’s Alan Whitehouse outlined how the trains had first come into operation in the 1980’s as a cheap build and a life span of no more than 20 years. Almost thirty years later, these fleets still operate on the Northern Rail network; The rail regulator has now questioned whether the trains should continue to be used. By 2019, Pacers will have to be withdrawn from the rails because of new legislation ensuring that people with disabilities can gain easy access on public transport. The Pacers do not meet the intended guidelines. Northern Rail has accepted that the trains are old and need replacing. However, they insist that passenger numbers are rising meaning the trains need to fulfil extra demand and that there are questions over how to afford replacements.

That word “afford” is crucial in this debate, as the government announced the HS2 project will go beyond budget and cost in excess of £40bn. A lot of money indeed. For the ordinary commuter whose journey takes them between towns and cities they will still use the shorter, suburban lines. So perhaps the billions of pounds worth of investment into a single new line should instead help towards replacing tired trains, not capable of driving the demands of the modern-day.

The Pacer has been brought into question over safety.

The Pacer has been brought into question over safety.

The Commuter

The person who uses the train to get to and from work, college, shops, university, meetings, holidays and visiting family will feel an impact. Why? Because the money for the new high-speed link on top of the improvements needed on existing networks will come from ticket prices. 2013 saw another consecutive hike in rail prices. The Campaign for Better Transport and Railfuture have calculated that over the ten consecutive years, rail passengers’ fares have increased by over 50 percent, whilst some areas of the UK have seen increases in fares above the national average.

I have rarely had a problem with the rail network. Even on my journey to London, the price was reasonable compared to taking a car for instance and the train was plush and comfortable. But I do understand the gripe of travellers who use the network everyday. The age-old problem of leaves on the track, crew member not available and signal problems have all added to frequent delays up and down the country. When the train eventually arrives, disgruntled passengers find carriages like a tin of sardines: uncomfortable, unpleasant and below par. One must wonder as to why an individual would dip into so much money for such a poor service. The fact is there is no other solution. The cost of living has rocketed, along with the cost of owning, insuring and running a car. Whilst public transport has seen major hikes, it is one area that can actually help someone save money.

Whilst the cost to the commuter will increase next year and the year after that, I would question whether HS2 meets the need for the majority of paying travellers. As mentioned earlier, the majority of train journeys are suburban taking people from one town to another often within the same region. Yes, there is a clear demand for the passengers who travel long-distance, but many of these journeys are “one offs” or only on “occasion”. That was the view from some of the people I spoke to on my journey. The demand is where the lines are bursting at the seams. Liverpool – Manchester is one of those lines because the tracks visit towns and villages in-between the two cities. The areas where the commuters live. It can be quite hard to explain. People I spoke to onboard the London bound train made it known they did not want a new line and instead they wish current operations could benefit from the cash. And I agree. Because who exactly is the HS2 going to benefit?

The West Coast Mainline is popular with travellers.

The West Coast Mainline is popular with travellers.

HS2 Users

It is hard to see who HS2 will benefit. It’s certainly easy to see who will be at a disadvantage. Home owners forced out of their homes, tax payers who will see increase in payments because of the new infrastructure, rail passengers who will see increase in fares for similar reasons, people who don’t travel long distance. There are plenty of groups who will be against.

One of the biggest gripes I have with the new project is availability to users. HS2 will leave London bound for Birmingham and then on to Manchester and Leeds. It would be excellent if there were actually any stations to board. Considering where I live, Warrington, I wouldn’t be able to use the new line because it would cost more in money and time to actually get to a station where I could board. Similar situations in Widnes, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Runcorn, CREWE, Bury, Bolton and plenty more. Hundreds of rail passengers will stay in the same boat, or carriage, and use operators and routes they know best. Virgin Trains on the West Coast Mainline is one of the most respected rail operators in the country. Excellent service and trains are quick. Is there actually anybody who needs to get from the North to London any quicker than what is already offered? It took me less than two hours to get from Warrington to London. I’d say that was pretty quick. Granted, there will always be someone who wants to get to the Capital quicker, but for any average user, the train is quicker than flying (when you take into account check in etc) and certainly faster than driving.

And, furthermore, it will only be the people of these large cities who will benefit. Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. That is where the stations will be based. There are no official confirmations if there will be stations in between, but if ministers are promising a quicker journey time, there will be no chance for trains to slow down and stop for several minutes.

Cost

£42 billion. Well over the original budget. It’s interesting to note that on the HS2 website there is little mention of how much the project will cost. There is much talk about “investment” and creating opportunities. But the simple fact is that the project is an unbelievable amount of money. All of which has to be repaid or at least be worthy of value for money. There is little more to say. The government would always get a harsh backlash whatever the cost would be. The fact that it is an extraordinary amount, in such hard economic times, seems to be a laugh in the face to ordinary families and workers. But will it be a good investment? The economic benefits seem very good indeed.

The Economy

Undoubtedly very positive. The official HS2 website offers some confirmation of job numbers and investment when it comes to the workforce who will create the new track, drive the trains and operate new stations. There will be 9,000 construction jobs for the first phase, 1,500 permanent jobs and a further 60,000 jobs when it comes to phase two. The website does offer a statement: “HS2 will generate £47 billion in user benefits to businesses when the entire network is completed, as well as between £6 billion and £12 billion is wider economic benefits.”

A rail network which connects Britain better than current connections is without doubt very good. Businesses will be able to communicate with suppliers and traders more efficiently. An increase in freight on the new line, alongside current operations on the West Coast and East Coast Mainline, will improve trade, imports and exports. Furthermore, HS2 planners confirm that more room is needed for freight. “By 2030, overall volumes are expected to be 120% of current levels.” The new line, campaigners suggest, will not hold back the UK economy. Growth and connections are needed.

An impression of what the HS2 trains could look like.

An impression of what the HS2 trains could look like.

It has to be admitted that a new rail line is needed. The West Coast Mainline is already severely congested and if a new line isn’t created within a generation then commuters and the economy will be at risk. It’s a brutal fact. For me, I won’t benefit entirely from a new line, in fact I’d guess I would very very rarely use it as I am closer to the West Coast Mainline. Further consultations are needed. It’s a fact. Routes and lines do need to be altered. To destroy villages and houses is unnecessary and a sad consequence.

The whole idea is about improving Britain’s rail network. A new link should, say the government, take pressure off existing lines. It’s high-speed because trains will be quicker but they won’t stop at large towns outside the terminal cities. Furthermore, what about the far North of England? Cumbria, the North East and Scotland. Numerous points have been made about the economic benefits to an already struggling North. Why can’t the line go further than Manchester?

The plan is probably quite good on paper. I am not entirely convinced by the idea and nor are many others. I see the benefits but also see through to the problems that will be encountered. High-Speed 2 will be “high-speed” but perhaps more thinking about the execution of the project and current state of the rail network is needed.

For more information visit http://www.hs2.org.uk

Full retirement for TV stalwart

Gordon Burns will retire from TV and radio tomorrow.

Gordon Burns will retire from TV and radio tomorrow.

He has been the face of The Krypton Factor, North West Tonight and the voice of Sunday morning radio. Now, after a career spanning four decades, Gordon Burns is bowing out of TV and radio for good.

The 71 year old had already “semi-retired” in 2011, standing down from presenting duties on BBC One’s North West Tonight after fifteen years in the anchors chair. In that same year, the presenter with strong Northern Irish roots, made a move into local radio, hosting a weekly topical programme on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire. A mix of news reviews, easy listening music and an excellent calibre of guests has made the programme popular with Sunday morning listeners for two years.

On Twitter, Gordon announced that tomorrow’s programme would be his last. I asked him whether it would be the last we see of him on screen and on the radio in the North West. His reply was a simple “probably” adding that he “has so many other things to do“, explaining that he believed “time was running out“.

Burns’ career began in the 1960’s when he started working for the Belfast Telegraph before moving into TV news to front UTV’s nightly news programme. He was one of the journalists centred with reporting on the Northern Ireland Troubles. He later made a switch to Manchester, fronting regional programme Granada Reports before landing the job as host of the The Krypton Factor, a role that made him a household name across the country. Burns returned to his roots as a journalist and broadcaster when he took up the role as anchor of North West Tonight in 1997. It was a move that proved popular with viewers, with the BBC programme winning numerous awards and Gordon himself winning Broadcaster of the Year at the Royal Television Society Awards.

Above all, Gordon has always made the relationship between him and the viewer a personal one. His warmth, charisma and professionalism created a personality and fan base that many journalists and broadcasters can only dream of.

Listeners can hear the last ever Gordon Burns show on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire from 9am on Sunday 14th July and on the BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.

A fond farewell to Television Centre ?

Lights out at 'TVC'.

Lights out at ‘TVC’.

It is hard to imagine but at one point in time the majority of the BBC’s central departments such as news, sport and drama were all based under one iconic roof – Television Centre. Now, however, after 54 years at the heart of West London and as a symbol of the BBC, the building is to close, being sold for redevelopment. When I first heard the news, I admit I did question the decision. Why would the national broadcaster of Great Britain close one of the most recognisable buildings in the country? However, since that decision, the BBC has changed and now the corporation has based various departments around the UK.

Last Sunday saw the final BBC News bulletin come live from Television Centre, before they themselves relocated to a new home. But it isn’t the first relocation. Departments such as drama and comedy have moved to locations including Cardiff and Glasgow, whilst the biggest relocation of BBC departments has been to the new Media City UK in Salford, where BBC Sport, Breakfast and CBBC (amongst others) are now based. I can say I have had the pleasure of visiting Media City and it is a brilliant working environment to be a part of. The modern surroundings, leisure attractions and the Manchester Ship Canal offer an unrivalled media environment.

The new buildings are large, modern and a reflection of the new era for the BBC. The open plan and ‘airy’ atmosphere in Quay House allow BBC Sport, BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live and other departments to work together in a building which offers excitement and evidence of the new digital era for media innovation. It is these new buildings and relocations which will be the new history of the BBC. Official figures already show that tourism in Salford is up for the seventh year on the row, with visitors travelling to see the new redevelopment.

It is the relocation of the broadcaster and indeed other media organisations which are transforming the media industry. Away from the London centric representation that has portrayed the BBC in the past, the corporation is now one which is based and created from all corners of the UK. Not only is money being saved for the corporation but new talent is being discovered from around the United Kingdom.

Departments such as BBC News will remain in London, at the new headquarters at New Broadcasting House, for obvious reasons. The selling of possibly the most iconic media building in the UK may lead you to ask where some of the programmes previously filmed at ‘TVC’ will be rehomed. Well, although the centre is being redeveloped and sold on, some of the larger TV studios will remain. The BBC, alongside other broadcasters and independent companies will be able to hire out or rent the studio – a cheaper alternative than owning the buildings than house the studios. This method of filming is already in place at “The Studios” in Salford where the BBC does not own studios for the likes of CBBC and Match of the Day. However, the BBC does have an increased stake than other broadcasters and companies, so that regular programmes can be permanently based and filmed.

So when I think back to the news that Television Centre will be closed, yes it will be sad to see the national broadcaster leave their iconic home. However, the next era of the BBC is to be created around the UK in new and plush working environments. But will any of these rival the iconic ring in West London? Only history will tell.