The Roma Kavárna Drop-in on Coatsworth Road in Gateshead is going from strength to strength. It has been extremely busy and we are helping many families. We have had regular support from Gateshead Citizens Advice Bureau and also had a visit from EMTAS and Acorn, regarding schooling and housing issues respectively. Many thanks to our great interpreters, Irma, Zaneta and Eva for all their excellent work. Please see the Roma Section of this website for the report for March 2018.
Since mid-January A Living Tradition has been running a successful Roma Kavárna or Drop-in in Gateshead. Please see the report on the Community - Roma page. Many thanks to Irma Karchnakova,and Zaneta Karchnakova for all their hard work and Becci Varnham for help as well.... The Kavárna acts as a bridge between the local Roma community in Gateshead and the wider Gateshead and Tynsedie community, enabling them to gain support, help and their human rights....
A living Tradition are proud to announce that they are organising two events to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2018.
Thursday 25th January 7.30 p.m. North Benwell Youth Project, Ellesmere Road, Benwell, Newcastle. A Living Tradition are putting on another showing of the very powerful and moving film, A People Uncounted, about the plight of the Roma during the Holocaust and the continued discrimination they face in Europe today. This film is suitable for over-16s only.
Friday 26th January 9.30 - 3.00, Armstrong Building, Newcastle University. A Living Tradition presents a a conference on the '10 Steps to Genocide; Reflecting on the Porajmos and the Genocide at Srebrenica'. This innovative conference will involve members of the local Roma and Bosnian communities telling how genocide affected their people and how it developed gradually using the commonly accepted 10 Steps to genocide pattern. We will then use these experiences to reflect on signs of the 10 steps in our own society on Tyneside and in the wider country.
This will be a very useful event for anybody wanting to learn more about the Roma Holocaust or Porajmos and the Genocide at Srebrenica in 1995 and also for anybody wishing to work for better community relations on Tyneside today. Please see the link below to sign up:
As we reach the misty month of November it is perhaps time to begin looking back at 2017 and what A Living Tradition has achieved. So please see below our Annual Report for 2017:
1st September saw the opening of my first art exhibition, at Path Head Water Mill near Blaydon, with a series of nine drawings and one photograph exploring our great human rights' heritage in Northeast England.
The themes explored include, the early Radical Newcastle of the late 18th century, the anti-slavery movement in Newcastle and the Northeast, Joseph Cowen and the the Cooperative Movement, the visit of Guiseppe Garibaldi to Newcastle in 1854, the Jarrow March in 1936, the liberation of Belsen Camp by the Durham Light Infantry, Newcastle university honouring Martin Luther King in 1967 and the response in the region to the tragic murder of Jo Cox in 2016.
Some examples of the artwork can be found on the Art page along with a longer description, and an piece from the Chronicle which featured the exhibition on Sunday 3rd September.
Many thanks to all at Path Head Water Mill.
Saturday 20th February saw another A Living Tradition event, in conjunction with The Black Portraits exhibition at the Discovery Museum. On this occasion, we were celebrating the Northeast's great heritage of human rights and community work in general and the work of Newcastle City Council in particular, as part of this heritage. A number of councillors, including the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, were among the good-sized audience. During the course of one and a half hours, those attending were rewarded for their attendance with two presentations, a couple of songs, a short play and a poem, all written and composed by myself.
The play examined the coal trade between Northeast England and London 200 years ago and some of the human rights issues of the time and how they relate to our lives today. One of the songs celebrated the Pitmen's Great Stand of 1765, is called We are Strong and can be heard in the music and writing section of this website, whilst the other, also in that section of this website, was the Lady Waits about Aung San Suu Kyi and her long struggle for democracy in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi was one of three human rights campaigners who have been awarded the Freedom of Newcastle by the city council who were talked about at the event.
After the songs, play, poetry and presentations, people went upstairs to view the excellent paintings. The feedback from those attending was excellent and I was delighted with the way it went. My thanks to all those who attended, especially the Lord Mayor and councillors, Paul Piercy, whose paintings were much appreciated and Lewis Cuthbertson who ably assisted me by acting with me in the short play.
New year is often a busy time and 2016 has been no exception for myself and A Living Tradition. The first major event I was involved in was part of the excellent Under the Fields of Heaton commemoration of the Heaton Pit Disaster of 1815. On Friday January 29th I was proud to do my bit at an evening dedicated to the links between the mining industry and the coal trade, particularly with London. Although very poorly, I was able to get through a power-point presentation about the history of the mining industry and coal trade with London and further afield, which was then followed by a play reading of a play I have written entitled The Price of Coal. Ably assisted by Lewis Cuthbertson, the short play examining the links between the mining industry and the coal trade and reflecting on how much things have really changed over the last 200 years. The end of my slot was the song also called The Price of Coal, specially written for the event and found on the music/writing page of this website. In this I was again ably assisted, this time by Ken Patterson on accordion. All in all, my slot seemed to go down well with the audience of about 100 people at the North of England Mining Institute and the adrenaline from performing even meant that I felt a little better while I was busy on stage. I managed to get a restful weekend afterwards, which was much needed!
The following Tuesday I was feeling a little better, which was just as well as another important event was due to take place; a Holocaust Memorial Event at the Millin Centre in Benwell, organised by A Living Tradition and featuring the plight of the Roma, both in the Holocaust and sadly the suffering they are still experiencing in parts of Europe today. Again the evening began with a presentation, about the persecution suffered by the Roma since their arrival in Europe about 1 000 years ago, the appalling events of the Holocaust, or Porajmos (Devouring) as it is known in the Romani language and the discrimination they still suffer today across parts of Europe and which has seen 6 000 settle in West Newcastle and another 200 families settle in Gateshead. The point was well made that the Porajmos was in some ways still going on. The presentation was followed by a song called Searching, which can also be found on the music/writing page of this website and then a song written specially for the event by myself and Karen Underhill, who sang and played with me and who was a great help in putting the event together. Karen then introduced four young people she had been working with at North Benwell Youth Project, who sang very well, singing about the need to look after the environment. Karen then showcased the excellent work she had done at North Benwell Youth Project and at CHAT, with young Roma, showing just how much they have to offer Newcastle and Tyneside. there were then short talks by Musa Hassan Ali, who lost much of his family in the terrible genocide of Rwanda in 1994 and from Deanna van der Velde, whose mother had been a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Irma Karchnakova, a Czech Roma inhabitant of Gateshead, who works at the Riverside Health Project, completed a successful evening, talking about life for Czech Roma in the Czech Republic and in Newcastle. All that was left was for the attendees, who numbered about 30, to enjoy the excellent refreshments provided in house by the Millin Centre's own women's enterprise scheme.
Then on Saturday 13th February, A Living Tradition collaborated with Amnesty International and The Black Portraits exhibition at the Discovery Museum. A presentation by myself about our wonderful heritage of human rights' work in Norheast England was followed by very moving presentations by human rights defenders from Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Papua New Guinea, currently working and studying at York University. all in all the event was deemed a success by those who attended.
So on to the next event this coming Saturday, 20th February; a celebration of Northeast Human rights and the contribution made by Newcastle City Council. Perhaps more about that in the next blog.....
The news last week that the government is considering cutting asylum support for children by as much as £16.00 to as little as £36.95 has made me reflect again on how we treat asylum seekers in our society. I am also able to reflect after taking part in a special football tournament last month.
On Saturday 13th June, I had the privilege of taking part in the annual justice First five-a-side football tournament at the Goal football complex in Middlesbrough. This excellent and uplifting tournament has been taking place since 2010 and again the day saw a wonderful mixture of people from many different backgrounds coming together to enjoy the beautiful game and forge new friendships.
Justice First are based in Stockton and do a great job of helping asylum seekers to get their cases together. This is a process often fraught with difficulties, as the asylum seekers have often had to flee at very short notice, without time to gather the relevant documents, whilst ever more stringent rules from the Home Office make it harder and harder for genuine asylum seekers to be given the chance of safety they so desperately need. When you add to that the difficulties of living on a very low income, the frustration of being not allowed to use their often very considerable skills to help both our economy and society, whilst often having to learn a new language, then it is fair to say that, despite what some might think, the life of an asylum seeker in Northeast England today is not an easy one.
The great thing about the Justice First football tournament is that football is again able to prove that it can be such a positive feature of society. on the pitch all are equal and the result depends on the skill and energy of those in either team, not to any unfair advantages.
Perhaps the most important part of the tournament is that asylum seekers and locals can get together and interact as fellow humans and friends. This is so important because it seems that so rare that asylum seekers are represented as simply human beings like the rest of us. More commonly they seem to be viewed as some sort of existential threat. In many cases in the media, we never learn their names, merely that we are being swamped or flooded by unnamed members of the human race.
The Justice First tournament is a very timely reminder that asylum seekers are our fellow humans, who have often been through terribly traumatic experiences we wouldn't wish on our own worst enemies and who deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.
After all that is exactly what our great traditions of solidarity, fairness and tolerance have led so many of our predecessors in our great region to do, in so many different circumstances in the past, from opposing the slave trade, to supporting refugees from the Spanish Civil war, to the great work of organisation such as Justice First, the West End Refugee Service in Newcastle, the Star and Shadow Conversation Group in Newcastle and so many other great NGOs throughout the region today.
Long may the proud traditions of solidarity, fairness and tolerance in Northeast England continue!
It was a great honour to be again be a steward at the Durham Miners' Gala and still find time to march in with my union banner, in time to hear the speeches.
The incredible turnout, estimated at 150 000 proved yet again just how important the heritage of solidarity and social justice is to the people of Northeast England.
Let's hope funding can continue to be found and the Friends of the Durham Miners Gala gain many more adherents. Long may the Gala prosper!
Last Friday, the Tyneside Irish Centre was packed out as about 120 people attended the celebration event commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Pitmen's Great Stand. This pivotal moment in the development of a Northeast English regional consciousness based on values of solidarity, fairness and social justice, was remembered through speeches and song.
Peter Sagar told the story of how the Northeast coalfield developed over the centuries and how the mine owners had developed into a cartel, who used the infamous bond system to tie miners down to one pit for a whole year as a way of ensuring that wages could be kept down. Peter then explained how it was this system that the miners were striking against and how, although they couldn't get rid of it in 1765, the strike did start the process whereby the bond system was removed in the 19th century. Peter also outlined the way that a radical identity developed in Northeast England over the 150 years after the Pitmen's Great Stand.
Peter then performed the song We Are Strong, specially written for the occasion, which can be found at the page of music and writing on this website.
David Hopper, secretary of the Durham Miners' Association then spoke forcefully of the challenges facing ordinary working people, especially young people today. In a well-received speech David spoke of his fears and remembered miner's struggles of the last 35 years.
The final speaker was Shane Enright, Trade Union Campaign Manager from Amnesty International UK. Shane skilfully linked the struggle of the miners in Northeast England 250 years ago with struggles of trade unionists across the world today, including a moving section about the teachers' union in Bahrain.
The speeches were followed by food and a great performance by the Smokin' Spitfires, which got many people up and dancing. Their performance began with a short, poignant snatch of Gresford, the miners' hymn, written in the 1930's by Jarrow pitman Robert Saint.
Everybody seemed to have a great time and it was a great start to the weekend!