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Wednesday 18th April

I’ve two dolls finished so far, many more to do.

I took them to a meeting this morning at the request of a friend who wanted to see them in person.

The question came up about making and selling dolls. I’ve long believed, as many crafters do, that people don’t want to pay for the time it takes to hand make items. My dolls can take up to 3 days to make, that’s 3 days non stop. Even at minimum wage the dolls would be out of the price range of most folk.

I also believe that the fun in doll making would soon disappear if I had to make dolls constantly. It’s something I enjoy, but I could go insane if I had to make them day in, day out!

Plus I’d miss the fun of hearing from people trying to make their own doll. I sell the doll pattern on Etsy and Ravelry (search for my little crochet doll), it’s not the cheapest doll pattern, but my website (www.bettyvirago.com) and Ravelry have several free outfit patterns for additional outfits.

I enjoy sharing the techniques of doll making and even though not every doll made is the same as mine, they’re all lovely.

The dolls are based around Yorkshire people, so another part of my research has been drawing people in public. That’s quite an achievement for me, since I’m a little shy at getting out my drawing book in public!

Today I found an Italian cafe opposite a very busy bus stop and spent some time drawing people waiting for the bus. It gave me a little bit longer than I’ve usually had when I’ve been trying to catch passers by.

One guy took my attention partly because of how he was standing.

Legs wide apart, arms in pockets, shoulder length shaggy hair. Knee length boots and trousers, no not trousers. What are they called? They stopped at the top of his boots.

He wore a flat cap on his head. It got me thinking. For him, the flat cap was a fashion statement. I noted that it was like the gentrification of the working mans clothing. Making the poor look fashionable.

This evening I spent some time on YouTube, looking at how other people draw and paint people. I found this interesting video on drawing people in different perspectives.

Drawing people

Tonight was also my weekly knitting group. I knitted the skirt for my third doll, the knitter, then measured it against a doll only to find it was too tight and I had to start knitting it all over again. Skirt done, but so much more to do if I’m going to have the number of dolls that I’d like.

I’m heading to Scarborough this weekend to take photos of the fisherman doll ‘on location’. Each doll will have a charity or business that they represent, I’m hoping it will highlight some of the smaller, lesser advertised places on the map.

I’m wanting to link the fisherman to the Scarborough Maritime heritage centre.

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The price of a coffee

Today, in the Salvation Army we observe Human Trafficking Sunday. It’s a day when, as a whole church we talk about and pray about human trafficking.

It’s one of those difficult Sundays for me, with all my openness about homelessness and poverty, there are still some things I don’t talk about. I sit through these services and listen to people talk about trafficking. Some are talking as volunteers for the Army and how they work with the police and move rescued people to safe locations. Others talk from fact sheets and show videos on slavery, while others read prayers written by some church member in the London office.

When we, as a church, talk about trafficking its about people from other countries, brought here with hope of work and travel, promised the world and yet stuck in an inescapable prison. Human Trafficking is the illegal movement of people, typically with the aim of forced labour or sexual exploitation. You think it can’t happen to nice people, that it must be only the desperately poor and vulnerable families that this kind of thing happens to, but it happens to nice families, educated women, men with learning difficulties and people from the UK.

I don’t know what it’s like to be taken from this country with the hope of an adventure and a job, to be caught by a scam that leaves me trapped in a country I do not know. Where I don’t know the language, or the culture, or the law. Where I don’t know the difference between the people who can help and the people who are trapping me further.

But I know what it’s like to be imprisoned, to have no escape. To have no choice in who you sleep with and know the beating a refusal can bring. This Salvation Army officers daughter, who attended church every Sunday, did ok in school and didn’t really get into trouble knows the despair and devastation of having no hope.

My church is a short walk from the red light area, where women charge the price of a basic restaurant meal for sex, but where I’ve heard of some women, those who don’t know the language or the UK currency charge the price of a coffee, not through choice, but because the man who owns her values her life as nothing.

The rest of today I spent with a heavy heart. 

William Booth once talked of a vision of the lost, this video is a little bit corny, but it tells the vision…

https://youtu.be/ky0DDwYzak8  

I grew up believing that you are saved to serve, you became free and instead of running you turn around to help free someone else. 

I’ve been feeling a little lost recently, the setting up my business thing is going great, I’m not struggling to survive like I was a few months ago, but something is off-kilter. I think, for the first time in years I am not doing something for the benefit of others.

Before university I volunteered for the joanna project, before that I volunteered for Inkwell Arts, before that I worked for The Salvation Army… during my whole non-messed up life I have spent part of it benefiting others and now my whole life is about me. And it hurts.

This evening, after church, I found myself in a cafe having a text message conversation with a friend, and I realised the problem. I need to do something for others, it’s what keeps me functioning, it’s one of the things that keeps me turning up to the Army every week, this need to be in a church that thrives on serving others. It’s what keeps me valuing my own freedom.

In my first year at University I came up with an idea for a quilt of hope. It was a simple idea of a handmade quilt that contained little messages of hope within the squares. I was thinking of the women who come to the joanna project house. Some of the women have been so demoralised, so inhumanised, that the thought of being hugged is too much. My idea was to make a quilted blanket that a woman can wrap herself in. Filled with messages and prayers from people who are praying for her, even though they might never meet her. 

It was a nice idea and one I somehow keep coming back to.

Then at the end of last year we had a project handmaking a quilt. I spent several hours sat around a simple wooden frame, hand-stitching a simple pattern into a quilt with a small group of young students. There was something magical about it. Something disarming about the simple stitch and our heads bowed looking at the quilt that allowed people to open up in a way two years of uni had never done. In those hours I became to understand my fellow students, to learn fears and experiences they normally wouldn’t share. 

I later thought again of the deep communication that group quilting created and imagined what it would be like to have a quilting group in church, where we made banners and quilts as a group, sharing with fellow Christians and non-Christians.

Tonight again, as I text messaged my friend I thought of my quilting ideas, my need to be doing something for others and decided it might be time to think seriously about the quilt project.

There are things to work out, things to organise, I need a place we could meet and sew, I need materials, but most importantly, I need volunteers.

In January I appealed for people to stand with me for Daria, and again I’m asking for help. I want to make a quilt of hope, first for the Joanna project, then perhaps quilts of hope for the Salvation Army human trafficking unit. To be used by those who need to be wrapped in arms of love, hope and prayers, but are too fragile to allow human touch.

I’m going to be putting together simple sewing kits (It might take me a little while to make them) which I will sell to raise money for the materials, but the kits will be the squares to make the quilt. I’m hoping people will buy a kit, sew a simple (or detailed) message or image of hope and send them back to be included in the quilt.

But I’m also looking for local people, folks who live in Leeds or close enough to meet regularly to make the quilt. Experience not needed, but just a love for others.

If that’s you, then get in touch. My email is bettyvirago@gmail.com. If you need some more convincing, here’s a video of the Salvation Army’s human trafficking unit at work.

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The Poverty of Self Worth

I’ve just come home from one of the most frustrating evenings.

I’ve been in London for the launch of the Joseph Rountree Foundation strategy for solving poverty in the UK. An important event which I urge you to search the hashtag #solveukpoverty and find the video of the event.

At 4pm we (20 of us) arrived for our train home to find all trains to Leeds from Kings Cross cancelled, we headed to St Pancras to catch a train to Sheffield with a plan of a further train home from there. But, so did hundreds of other rush hour commuters.

I was fortunate to get a seat and slept all the way to Derby (I didn’t sleep much the night before) where we were told to get off the train and wait for the Edinburgh train which went through Leeds. We followed the advice and found ourselves crammed onto a train with no chance of a seat. Eventually, with sore feet and a sore back I got to Leeds, several hours late and beginning to feel hungry. 

I went to McDonald’s only to get to the counter and my purse wasn’t in the pocket it usually is, neither was it in any other pockets I checked. I stood at the counter with most of my belongings spread out in front of me and the heavy feeling of loss came over me.

Thankfully some of my friends were still in the station and they had the level headedness to make me take everything out of my bag. There, right at the bottom of the main pocket – where I never normally put it, was the tiny thing I call a purse.

Relief.

I remembered that my student travel card had run out and I headed to the ticket office to renew it for tomorrow, only to be told the pass I use was discontinued this month and I couldn’t buy my monthly ticket. I was at that point, one nerve away from destruction and I stood my ground, rather I stood at the counter and refused to move until my discontinued pass was issued. It was a hairy ten minutes, but eventually they relented and a pass was bought.

Now, desperate for a sit down and food I staggered to the counter at McDonalds and tried a second time to place an order.

It was about half way through my meal that I noticed a man sitting at the table next to me, I say man, but really I’d put his age around 20. A young lad. He wasn’t sat exactly at the table, more beside it, hunched over. In his hands was a small burger, no chips, no coke. He was eating as though this was the first meal in days.

I’ve been around homeless people most of my life, but not in a long time have I seen someone who’s clothes were covered in that much dirt, his face was so caked in street life that the only expression I saw was despair.

It was at this point I remembered why my purse was in the pocket it was. I’d bought a bottle of Coke and a bag of mints in London and in a bit of a rush I’d just thrown everything in the bag. I took out the drink and mints and put them beside him, “something for later” I told him.

A few moments later I looked up and saw a man sitting at a table with friends, he’d seen what I’d given the young lad and smiled at me. I smiled back but my heart was heavy.

The JRF event I’d been to just that morning was about introducing long thought out strategies to help reduce the UK poverty epidemic. I’d sat amongst council leaders, politicians, financial advisors and charity leaders. We heard about the poverty in families, how a child born in a poor area on average will die nine years before a child born in a wealthy area.

The never ending poverty caused by zero hour contracts and low pay employment that will see many people leading a life of low wage work.

Then my friend, Mary, stood and spoke about her part of Leeds and the struggle of men in HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy), where the negative effects of living in a tiny room with a bed in one corner and a cooker in the other leaves many of our men (and women) unable to buy enough food for the week.

A new poverty was mentioned, spiritual poverty, self worth poverty, where a person has been beaten down so low emotionally that they don’t have the belief that they can escape. The loneliness of living in a tiny room, not knowing your neighbours, not having enough food, having to choose between food and warmth, little things like having to remember to take toilet paper with you everytime you need the loo, trying to sleep with the sound of the fridge a few feet from your bed, not having the money or room for a washing machine and having no laundromat nearby. Each little bit of decency and hope being chipped away until you feel so unloved, so worthless that there seems no answer except death. This isn’t some third world country or some communist state, this is the UK, this is Leeds, Sheffield, London…

And here I am, sitting next to a young lad, the government could give him more money, but his addiction to the bottle of spirits hanging out of his pocket has too much of a grip on his finances. The council could (and should) build more homes so he can have his own bathroom to keep himself clean, but I suspect he isn’t yet stable enough to regularly pay the bills. We could even find a sympathetic employer but I think he’s a long way off keeping to a timetable. He needs something else. 

Some will laugh at my feeble attempt of giving, others will smirk and consider it wasteful suggesting he will sell the snacks for money for alcohol. Y’know, I don’t care. Perhaps, when the alcohol has gone and the pains for more are beginning he will find a bag of mints in his pocket, most likely he won’t remember me, but perhaps he’ll think to himself, someone cared and perhaps a tiny spark will stir in his soul. Maybe, just maybe, if enough people do small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness, the sparks will grow and he’ll find the belief that maybe, just maybe he is worth more than this.

The young lad gets up and thanks me, then staggers out the door, a little while later I’m outside the train station, waiting for my taxi to arrive. I see a man walking to the station, sniggering, as he comes nearer he mutters something and looks towards the row of luggage trolleys. There on the concrete is the young lad, asleep on the cold ground, thankfully it’s not raining. Already a station staff member is on his radio and the sniggering man joins the staff member, then a third man joins in the joke that is homelessness.

As my taxi pulls up I see a police officer arrive and know already this young lad faces the possibility of a night in a cell.

Every so often I come back to an old photo of me, a grainy image of a girl about the age of the young lad who sat next to me. I’ve not thought of the image for a while, but I remember it now.

 When I talk about the spark in the lads soul I speak as someone who once had no spark. I once was that young lad. 

Maybe I’m just so tired that emotions are getting the better of me, or maybe what is on my heart needs to be said. 

If I hadn’t had small acts of kindness, people who became friends despite my unfriendliness, people who never saw me as worthless, I may never have made it this far.

We will always have people who snigger, people who tweet about about ‘benefit wasters’, TV programmes about so called scroungers, Loud and foul mouthed celebrities wanting to stir hatred. 

But we must, always, have more people willing to stir the sparks of hope, and perhaps in 20 years time a man in his 40s, will be sitting in a suit in McDonalds, after a stressful and long train journey. Maybe he’ll sit down with his meal and put his briefcase beside him and look across the room and see a young lad with no spark. 

And maybe, just maybe, this university educated business man will remember a night twenty years earlier when some stranger showed an act of kindness with a packet of mints.

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Communicating Poverty

This is a post I have written for the Leeds Poverty Truth commission, which I post here for others to read and ponder. 

Over the past seven years I’ve gone from being hospitalised every couple months to getting a place at University. I didn’t do it alone and although it was hard work it also came about through support.Family, friends, people at poverty truth who accepted me warts an’ all, Inkwell arts (Leeds MIND) who helped me see my skills as a crafts person and helped me with my Uni interview.

But just as important was my disability payments.

I don’t drink, smoke, use drugs. I don’t go clubbing, haven’t had a holiday in years and am not a fashionista. I didn’t waste money as many people on benefits are accused of doing.

Yes, I had a TV, and I had Internet, but my TV was a bulky second hand thing that stopped working when we went digital so yes, I had a BT box as well.

The disability payments helped me fight my agoraphobia by paying for a taxi when I felt I couldn’t walk on the street. It paid for a cleaner once a month who helped me keep my flat in order, It gave me enough money to attend the weekly knitting group, which in turn gave me confidence to start a regular knitting group of my own.

Most importantly it gave me my life back.

Sometime in November I received a letter from the benefits office informing me that I needed to change from DLA (Disability Living Allowance) to PIP (Personal Independence Payment). An assessor arranged to visit my home and assess me to see whether I qualified.
Now, I want to pause here…
Apart from the paranoia, voices, agoraphobia and all the other symptoms with my diagnosis I have an additional difficulty – I’m Articulate.

You might not see it as a problem, but mixed with a mental illness it can be a nightmare. You see, many people associate mental capability with the loss of speech. My ability to string a sentence together doesn’t affect whether I feel able to open my front door or curtains and get myself to the bus stop. However, as many articulate people with a mental health diagnosis will tell you, it can be your downfall.

And I think that’s what happened to my PIP application.

As the rejection letter stated, I was able to communicate. 0 points.

Forget that the assessor saw how I lived in a flat that could be on a Hoarders TV show. Forget that I am afraid of opening mail, or I forget my medication, or in times of extreme stress I can forget where I am and wander off. Forget that I haven’t opened my curtains in over six months because I don’t like the thought of people being able to see me. Forget that I have difficulty with basic living skills. Because I can talk about it, I can do it.

I needed 7 points to qualify, I got 6.

What began next was an immediate downfall and relapse of years of hard work. Eight months later it’s almost over, but I wanted to share what it was like, those eight months trying to survive on the basic benefit of £106 a week.

Mentally I thought my world had ended and started to think about how I would survive, I considered leaving my flat and living on the streets where my bills wouldn’t be so many. I even considered prostitution, seriously considered prostitution. I volunteered for a charity that worked with street prostitutes, but overnight I went from valued volunteer to client. Even though I didn’t return to the streets, there was a shift of connection between me and the other staff/volunteers. Even if they didn’t knowingly change, the change in who I was to them had changed.

After the initial shock came a long period of cutting back. I had to get rid of my cleaner, my visits to the knitting group disappeared because it was held in a pub and I couldn’t afford to eat there, couldn’t even afford a Diet Coke. I couldn’t afford a taxi in emergency, so I spent more time indoors which saw a return to my agoraphobia.

The benefit I am entitled to doesn’t include free prescriptions and my GP wouldn’t trust me with more than a fortnights worth of medication, so I cut down my medication, cutting each tablet in half.

Half of the medication led to me being more emotionally unstable and I began crying at every difficult situation. 

When I could manage to be practical I began cutting back on bills, my TV was the first thing to go, but I need the Internet, I have a dream of running my own business and the Internet was needed for study, but the Internet needs a landline to work so I also need a phone. The phone is also my call for help when I am unwell, my only way to ask for help when the black dog of depression makes leaving the house impossible.

Because I am at University I get a grant, somehow this was a lot less than the previous year and since I’m on a textile course a lot of the grant went on materials I need for the course. My results went down and I had a few occasions where I found myself hiding in the toilets to cry. I even had to consider whether I could afford to go to University, but knowing if I quit I still had to pay off the debt was the one thing that kept me attending – I was screwed whether I stayed or quit.

Food at University is expensive, so I missed meals, I tried taking sandwiches, but I have a two hour commute to uni and since I find looking after myself difficult at the best of times, getting things together enough to make a lunch everyday was virtually impossible.

I remember one lesson where we had to make our own paints. We were asked to bring in organic, free range eggs. I cried in the middle of the supermarket because I had to buy eggs that I couldn’t afford knowing it was going to be turned into paint when I really needed food.

The university has a hardship fund, it has to be asked for at the main reception which is manned by young students. I felt devastated having to ask someone over twenty years younger than me for a hardship fund form. The shame that at my age I couldn’t handle money. The form itself doesn’t allow you to hide the shame though as there in bold letters blazoned across the front are the words HARDSHIP FUND. Thankfully no one from my course saw what I was carrying. Filling it in was a nightmare, I had to get help. I’m not stupid, but I found the form almost impossible to complete.

Despite the hours it took to complete and the pages of evidence I had to photocopy, I didn’t qualify.

My grant ran out very fast, and university finished far too early, and I found myself in May, with endless days of emptiness. I start my intern year in September, but placement after placement was unpaid. One milliner wanted someone to work five days a week, no travel expenses paid, but she’ll make a sandwich for your lunch. A lot of students had given up and gone straight to their final year, it was unadvised by staff, but you can’t live on fresh air and companies seem to want free labour. 

I remember the first time I ran out of food. Where do you find a food bank? Thankfully I had the Internet, but if I didn’t have that I’d be totally without connection to the outside world. Another shame, having to ask for food. I was an emotional wreck as I turned up at the food bank, crying far too hard to make my needs known. I’ll never forget the Christian couple who sat me down and gave me a cup of tea, allowing me to gather what little self esteem I still had. They gave me food, some essentials and when I got home I found a small box of maltesers. I sat there with this box of chocolate, wondering why I deserved this? I can’t afford a pint of milk, so why should I have a luxury like chocolates? 

But the food parcel contained other things, a tin of unknown meat I smelled and decided I couldn’t face, a tin of hotdogs I didn’t know what to do with. Pasta, more pasta than I knew what to do with (Pasta is fine, but you can’t eat it on it’s own). Knowing food bank parcels are limited to three I also knew I could only get one in extreme emergencies. I’d have to be at deaths door to get another one.

My local church does a three course meal every day, £3 for three courses. I was in the church one morning when a man came in and asked if he could only have the soup and main meal and pay £2. He was refused. 

“It’s £3 for three courses. If you don’t want the pudding you don’t have to have it, but it’s still £3”

Another annoyance was the realisation that a lot of Christian people had no idea how desperate things are for those on benefits. I knew this mans willingness to forego pudding had nothing to do with not being hungry, but the opposite. He simply didn’t have £3. I remember helping out at the messy church and being told since I was helping I could turn up early and have the meal for half price, if only they knew, even half price was out of my reach.

My rent remained at £45 a week because I was a student, you can start doing the maths if you want (£106 benefit minus £45 rent, minus £10 Internet, minus £5 mobile, minus £10 gas and electricity, minus £5 prescription payments, a £5 weekly repayment of tax from a job long since lost, £5 water rates £5 for the computer design programmes I needed for my degree…) A cat that had to have flea medication stopped led to a flea bite that came infectious and an ulcerated leg still being treated on the NHS over six months later. 

The appeal process is hard, getting someone to help you appeal is tough enough, but getting the benefit service to give you the correct information is the worst frustration. I was warned by a benefit advice service (who simply couldn’t take on anymore clients) that ‘they’ (the benefit phone line) would try and give me the wrong information. When I phoned to make my appeal I asked several times whether I had made an appeal and had the right information, yet a few months later a follow up call informed me I hadn’t even started an appeal. The wrong information had been given me and I was past the deadline to appeal. What saved me is that I wrote the details of my initial appeal phone calls down.

The appeal itself consisted of a medical form about my illness. I had a NHS mental health worker and contacted her to help me complete the form. She informed me that she wasn’t trained in filling in forms and couldn’t help. Thankfully my switch from volunteer to client at the sexworker charity filled it in for me and the long appeal process started. It also led to me realising my mental health worker wasn’t helping and we decided to part company.

At some point you start to consider the cost of it all. I don’t mean life, I mean the cost of all this to the government. Yes, they stopped paying me £100 a week, but how much did it cost to get four police officers to pull me from the roof of a multi-storey car park when I felt so desperate I didn’t know what else to do? How much has it cost in emergency mental health workers? GP and nurse appointments for an ulcer? I remember feeling so faint a few weeks ago that I considered calling the emergency services, telling them I fainted and hoping they would take me to hospital and give me a meal. 

How much has it cost me personally, to go from the person who was getting strong enough that when I finished university I would be ready to go back to full time employment, to the person who wonders whether they will make the next week? 

It’s the food that bothered me the most, food and the collection plate at church. It’s the evenings when I felt light headed, or tried to believe Bovril made an evening meal (Hey, I hear it’s becoming all the rage in posh places). Going through the supermarket looking for any packet of rice or noodles that cost around 50p, that’s how much I could afford for a meal.

It’s not being able to go to church because I didn’t have the taxi money and there isn’t a direct bus, knowing that there were members of the church with empty car seats, yet no thought of sharing their luxury, and it’s wanting desperately to tell them exactly why you missed a Sunday, but knowing if they consider £3 a meal as affordable then they simply wouldn’t ‘get it’.

It’s the pretending to my mum that everything is fine, and the phone calls asking her if she wants to go out somewhere, knowing she might pay for a hot meal, my first in a few days. It’s the mixed blessing of finding a £20 note in your pocket that a friend has put in there as a gift. Knowing you are so lucky to have wonderful friends, yet feeling so broken that friends are feeling sorry for you.

A few weeks ago my appeal went before a judge (How much has that cost?) he decided I earned 13 points.

Last week I got a letter from the benefit office saying they have now decided I qualify for PIP

“No” I thought, “You didn’t decide, the LAW spoke out for me”.

When I heard I was getting that small amount of money back (£85 a week) I cried, it’s over for now, they will assess me again in 2018. For the next two years though I have a chance to build up what confidence they couldn’t destroy, gather my self-esteem from the recycling bin and try and move forward again.

Anyway now I get some money, back pay from the time my money first stopped, what am I going to do with that money? I’m going to stock my cupboard because I never again want to go without a meal to the point of fainting. The government hadn’t saved a penny in the end, but they’ve spent a fortune, in NHS, Police, legal bills, far more than if they had left me to work my way back to health. Far more than if they had accepted the word of my GP, and realised that being able to communicate isn’t a gauge for well-being.  

Being able to articulate what that period of difficulty has done though, might turn out to be in my favour. 

Starving people into work, shaming people to beg for food, cutting single people off from social activity, pushing disabled people off support before they are ready will never succeed.

Imagine if the payments were raised just a little, I know many working people would be in outrage, thinking yet again that we are getting something for nothing.

However, I worked for years putting into the system so that, should I get ill, I would be supported. But the truth is far from what you believe. With just a little more money, being able to provide enough food to feel emotionally healthier, being able to be socially active, to be well mentally enough to succeed as a human, that’s how it should be. If we can move away from shaming and starving people into work, and move towards supporting people to thrive enough and build confidence enough that they are desperate to give back. That will create a benefit system that works.

I leave you with an image of that time, my fridge.

A small note:

It seems a lot of people like this blog, perhaps this post will make you smile and nod too.

https://bettyvirago.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/embarrassing-things-churches-do-to-people-in-poverty/

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Artwork is Work

This morning I received an email
Hello Joy, 

This morning during Social Services prayers I took the opportunity to ask my colleagues to judge the entries in the logo competition. 

I am delighted to be able to let you know that one of your designs has been chosen and will be the logo for the SAFE Summer School of Arts. 

Unfortunately there is no prize but we will make sure that your name is mentioned. 

Congratulations, 

With best wishes,

NAME REMOVED!, 

Learning Disability Inclusion Development Manager.

The Salvation Army, Social Services


The Salvation Army have a large group of members with disabilities who choose to become SAFE members (Salvation Army Fellowship of Endeavour) and as a member of the Salvation Army with a disability I paid my yearly £5 to be a member of this group.

Recently a call was put out for someone to design their logo for the SAFE summer school of arts, where SAFE members do arty things like play a brass instrument or sing in a choir (maybe other arty things are included, but I’m not sure).

No prize or reward was mentioned, but since I’m always moaning that church doesn’t include non-music arts I felt obliged to enter. Hooray I won and here is the design which had to be based on the theme, “I am found”.


See! All that debt I’m occurring at Uni is paying off.

I’m glad I won, but it brings me back to the age old question, Is it right for an artist to work for free?

Yes, I know in my last post I spoke about an embroiderers gift to the church in the form of altar cloths, but you only need to type a Google search for Bible and fair wage to see what God thinks. A job well done is deserving of a fair wage.

It’s one of those difficult questions, when is it right to work for free and work for money?

Back in May, Sainsubury’s in Camden got into bother for putting an advert in the paper asking for a budding artist to design and paint their staff canteen. The reward? Getting your work recognised, (by Who, the staff at the checkout?), something to start off your career and build your reputation.

Artists responded with a similar advert asking for a well-stocked supermarket to volunteer to stock artists kitchens with food to build their reputations.


Two years earlier a similar story circled the Internet of a big bucks company asking artists to apply for a ‘competition’ and at least the winner got a flight to Vegas.


Now, before any of you get cross with me, I know the competition didn’t offer a prize, I know it wasn’t a paid job and I know that I didn’t have to enter if I didn’t want to.

All valid points, but hear me out.

Do you think a Christian composer of worship music works for free? No, that’s why every church has to pay for a music license. Worship composers get commissions on their work.

Our church regularly plays short videos made by visual artists during their services, some I expect are ‘borrowed’ from the Internet, but the creator of the video won’t be seeing credit or commission for their work. They won’t be receiving a little cheque at the end of the year because yet again we’ve watched the little heart logo video on Sunday.

Even a preacher gets a fair wage, and rightly so.

What really bugs me is that I spent several hours designing a logo for free, to be used by a Christian charity that has a bit of money, for a weeks holiday which I can’t afford. 

Maybe I should talk more on this blog about living in poverty. About having the government take away my disability payments (although I went to court Tuesday and have won my disability payments back without the judge even needing to see me). 

I should talk about what it’s like to not even have enough money to pay for the meal at church (which is made for the poor of the community) or how hard I laughed when watching a documentary three nights ago on how Londoners are paying for expensive bone broth (bovril to you and me) as a snack, when I’m having a mug of chicken bovril as my evening meal. 

Or how I spent most of yesterday afternoon in bed because hunger is easier to manage when your asleep.

But don’t worry, because the folks who can pay for a holiday will be able to be more blessed because I’ve worked for free.

I feel like sending a photo of my empty fridge and cupboards as a thank you response.

But you’re right, no prize was offered… Because visual arts isn’t valued in the church.

Last week, whilst designing a future pattern I was in the Leeds Parish Church, it was a nice visit and I had a free cup of tea, which they had no idea how much that was needed and appreciated. More about that visit in another post I think.

There are some beautiful textiles in the church but as I walked around I caught an image which just sums up how I often feel the church, especially the Salvation Army, considers designers and artists. Opposite the huge organ, which is one of the first things I noticed when I walked in the door, was a large wooden cabinet and behind that was a piece of artwork, well, let me just show you the photo…


I’m sure the people who spent time painting whatever is behind the cabinet are feeling very proud that their offering to the church has been so well received.
1. Artists advert to supermarkets. http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/sainsburys-asked-artists-free-work-so-artists-asked-sainsburys-free-food-171529
2. Artists response to call out for free work because they dig his style. http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/meet-hero-designer-who-publicly-shamed-showtime-asking-him-work-free-159579

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Of the Cloth – A meeting with the Reverend

My first impressions, when I think about the Anglican Church and cloth is one of extravagance.  I imagine gold worked embroidered headwear, lavishly designed altar cloths and endless men in long dresses. I realise, I know little about the Anglican Church.

So with my perceived image of the church I went to visit the Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons, currently a Vicar in Gipton, Leeds. 

One of the first things I noticed is actually how little fancy wear there was. On the whole Kathryn wears plain long robes, made from good quality fabrics with well thought out details like double inner pockets and fringes not for religious reasons, but the simple need to make the robe last as long as possible. 


The robes could be made cheaper with less expensive fabrics, but the saying “buy cheap, buy twice” could be a mantra for the church. Kathryn’s own surplice, bought in 1999, is still worn today and looking good for years to come.  

I asked about the idea of Sunday best, where did it come from? 

This idea that we turn up at church looking as though we lead perfect lavish lives, then the rest of the week we (at least I do) wander around in scruffy jeans and t-shirts.

I’ve always seen the Sunday best idea as a false image. Would God really be impressed if I turn up on Sunday in my party frock when he sees me the other 6 days of the week pulling on my almost worn out grey M&S knickers?

Kathryn explains that the Sunday best goes back to a time when we only had two sets of clothing, one for workdays and one for special occasions and Sunday. It also has roots in a Biblical sense of giving our best to God, going back to Cain and Abel’s offerings, but I’m not convinced God is that excited about my fashion sense as much as He is about my offering and sacrifice.

The robes are designed to cover her everyday clothing underneath and are plain in design. Kathryn explained that this helps take the focus away from her and towards God. This is especially important as a woman. Female actors will often be asked questions on how they dieted for a role, where their male counterparts will be asked how they mentally prepared, or their fitness regime. The same is true of the church, women will be judged on their hair, make-up (or lack of) and dress sense.

The robe takes away the ability to judge Kathryn on her personal dress sense and makes people see her simply as a woman of God.


Although the everyday robes are plain, they are decorated with simple stoles, like a scarf around the neck, these decorated items turn the plain robe into a fancy garment of celebration. Kathryn has a box of them, each with it’s own story and personally made or inherited with her in mind. These hand made one off pieces must have taken time and expertise to make, they look expensive and probably would be out of many people’s price range. 

In truth, the church pays very little for it’s textiles. Kathryn owns her own everyday robes and stoles, and the church own a small quantity of special occasion chasubles which have been made to last long enough to cover the costs. 

Kathryn takes me into the church, a simple building with little decoration, just a plain altar cloth at the front in green, the colour of the season. As Kathryn shows me around the church I begin to see the value of the cloth. Her stoles each hold a personal story for her, but each also tell a story.  

Illiteracy is still around but many years ago it was the poor who were often lacking in schooling. Like church windows telling bible stories, these stoles each tell their own simple tale. The journey bringing Kathryn to work in Leeds amongst the poor (I first met Kathryn through Leeds Poverty Truth), flames hinting at the Holy Spirit and Pentecost, Bread and Wine reminding us of communion.

Kathryn leads me to a smaller, side room with a smaller altar. The cloth on this altar is her favourite. Made by people in the church it tells the tale of the communities darker moments, when poverty and crime were high. The people on the cloth seem to flee from a broken home to the peace and hope of God. In the middle of the home split in two is a cross, reminding everyone that in the middle of the brokenness is the church. It’s not just a nice story and a nice image, it’s a re-telling of the church and community’s history. 

Kathryn explains that the majority of textiles in the church and her own property were made as an offering to the church or to Kathryn to honour the work she is doing. Kathryn explained that an embroiderers gift to the church is as important as the choirs singing. 

That, for me, sums up my own feelings in church, as a member of the Salvation Army. Some might question the cost of an altar cloth or wall hangings, yet have unlimited resources when providing for the church musicians. It often seems as though church participation is best served through music and the non-musical have no option but to sit back and watch. Yet if we believe that Christianity is for the whosoever then we need to consider all contributors, all gifts as equally valued in his house. 
If we valued other gifts in our worship would our services change? Would we see artists bringing in their easels to paint what God shows them through the service?  

Rather than a craft table at the back of the hall to keep kids quiet, will we ever see creative gifts other than the musical ones being equally valued in all the churches?

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On being Shoddy

shoddy adjective: shoddy; comparative adjective: shoddier; superlative adjective: shoddiest

1. badly made or done.

synonyms: poor-quality, inferior, second-rate, third-rate, low-grade, cheap, cheapjack, tawdry, rubbishy, trashy, gimcrack, jerry-built, crude, tinny, tacky, tatty, junky, ropy, duff, rubbish, grotty, careless, slapdash, sloppy, slipshod, scrappy, untidy, messy, hasty, hurried, negligent, lacking moral principle, sordid

“we’re not paying good money for shoddy goods”

“shoddy workmanship”

“a shoddy misuse of the honours system”

2. an inferior quality yarn or fabric made from the shredded fibre of waste woollen cloth or clippings.

the production of shoddy and mattress
Some time ago I wrote a post on Grayson Perry’s tapestries that were being exhibited in Temple Newsam house in Leeds. What I didn’t say about the tapestries is that even though the exhibition was in my home city, I didn’t go and see them. The building they were displayed in was an old country mansion a bit off the beaten track and inaccessible without your own transport.

There was other people though who boycotted the exhibition for a different access reason, the mansion wasn’t fully wheelchair accessible. 

Leeds has a fantastic network for disabled artists and craftspeople so you would think a venue we could all visit could be found, but the size of the tapestries and perhaps other ideas of having an old style craft in an old mansion won over. In protest several disabled artists decided to boycott the exhibition and hold an alternative exhibition at Leeds Inkwell Arts, a Leeds MIND project that runs art and craft groups for people with mental health needs.

http://www.inkwellarts.org.uk/the-reality-of-small-differences-exhibition-launch/

I was in two minds of the boycott. On one hand I can understand the need for a large space with high security and no one knows what other factors were considered. The alternative exhibition, campaigning about the lack of wheelchair access was held in a building that also didn’t have full wheelchair access and although a chair could access the main exhibit the gardens and lower section of the building isn’t accessible, it sort of defeated the object a little.

A little voice mutters to me that the Henry Moore institute, next to Leeds Art gallery also doesn’t have wheelchair access throughout, as I found to my cost when I broke my ankle last year. I doubt though we can fight every art centre.

Following from that exhibition a second exhibition took place and opened last week in the centre of Leeds.

https://shoddyexhibition.wordpress.com

I know, I seem to have an air of a negative view so far, I don’t mean to have. Perhaps I’m tired. 

Sandy Holden created these stunning pieces using freeform embroidery on recycled plastics.

  

Natalie Sauvignon (who runs a weekly needle felting class in Leeds) created this stunning sea creature from left over wool and found objects.

  

Both artists responded to shoddy as a way of using waste materials and throwaway plastics.

Katy White created a holitic piece that asked you to involve yourself in the whole process of knitting. Wearing headphones you listened to the rhythmic sound of knitting and considered the piece before you as though looking at a music score.

  
Other artists considered the effects their disability has had on their lives.

Aoife O’Rourke created a piece hinting at two personalities, the hard outer frame we show the world and the fragile inner self we often keep hidden.

  
The exhibition exceeded my expectations, I suppose to my shame. Each artist was asked to present a piece inspired by one of a three issues:

The shoddy as a manufacturing process

Recycling 

The Shoddy treatment of disabled people

I left the treatment of disabled people to the end.

   
 
Lesley Illingworth created this stunning Story Telling coat with the intent to tell the truth and confront the lies. I passed the coat a few times and thought it was interesting, then overheard Lesley talking to someone about the coat.

Opening it wide she revealed the lining filled with names, some I recognised as MP’s, other unknown to me.

The MP names were those who voted for further cuts to disabled benefit cuts and each name was paired with a person from Calum’s list (http://calumslist.org) a growing list of people who have lost their lives due to recent government cuts to disabled benefit cuts.

  
I went to the exhibition a little bitter. I too have a disability and have had my weekly income halved over the past few months. With my own hurts of fighting to get what my years as a hardworking taxpayer assured me I would receive if I fell ill. The never ending decisions of whether to heat my home or heat a meal. But I carry on with the hope that one day, I will get through my Uni course, start getting paid, and not be in a position where an uncaring government can stop my money with no reason, whenever they want.

I didn’t want to face anymore stories of despair, and I want to be known as a crafts person without having the word ‘disabled’ in front of it. That, to me, would be pure equality.

But we must fight. Take a moment to visit Calum’s list, read a couple stories and know that there are thousands more to be told. One life not lived to it’s fullest is one too many.

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Daria Pionko Memorial Service – Updated


A short memorial service is going to be held at 2.30pm on Sunday 3rd January 2016. SPRINGWELL ROAD, Leeds. Not Holbeck lane as previously said.

Please come if you can, bring a candle, flowers, something to let the world know she was valuable.

Instead of starting another post about this I’ll just respond to comments and things here:

The police would like me to point out that a memorial service was held on 24th December on Springwell Road, I’m so pleased about that and almost decided not to continue planning the Sunday memorial, but I am still going ahead. I know the majority of us didn’t know Daria and I like to think that this isn’t about knowing someone, It’s about being given the chance to remember a life, to stand in the place of her family and treat her as though she were one of our own.

I’ve also been asked if I have invited the press along. No is the simple answer. For me, this isn’t a press opportunity. Apart from one or two friends who have said they will come with me and Kathryn Fitzsimons, the wonderful vicar who has offered to lead the service I don’t know if anyone else will turn up. I’m prepared to stand alone in the rain, but thankfully a few friends are standing with me.

I was asked whether Yorkshire Evening Post could advertise the service and I said yes, so I’m hoping others who feel they too would like to stand with me will come. Anyone turning up will be welcome, I can’t stop people taking photographs, but hope people accept this as a memorial and respect the reason why we are there. I’m still thinking it’ll be me and a few friends, so feel all this is rather unnecessary.
For those who couldn’t be there, this is the report from the Yorkshire Evening Post.

http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/memorial-service-in-south-leeds-street-after-death-of-woman-21-1-7653766

Thanks to those who turned up, it was very cold and pouring, but perhaps some comfort to those who knew her.

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Daria Pionko and the Christmas message

I was in Northampton over Christmas, so I missed the floods in Leeds. I was also in a place where mobile phone and internet reception was low. By the time I heard about the floods it was almost over.

Coming home though I could see the remains of it, puddles and mud over the streets. My friend, Alison, posted this photo of her mosaic studio.  21479_10153827405082152_4500203021069400234_n

People show their community love and spirit in tough times though and her post today shows the help that came from a Facebook plea.

1110_10156469477440235_4291435115201081432_n

People are good and in darkest times light can always be found, so said Albus Dumbledore and the Bible. So no matter what you believe, the message should resound for everyone.

That’s almost what the Christmas message is about. The light that came in darkness. Help in times of trouble. Love and light overcoming the world of darkness.

So that sums up Christmas week.

Floods came, disaster struck, signs of the disaster were left, a cry for help was heard and help came.

Then another story got my attention. A less publicised story only really in local news.

Daria Pionko, a Polish woman living in Leeds, was found beaten up in a car park and died in hospital.

Daria was brutally murdered while she worked in the managed red light area in Leeds. She was a prostitute, but she was also a beautiful woman who made Leeds her home.

I went to the scene of the crime on my way home last night, it was dark, but I wanted to see.

When disaster strikes images are left, but there were no flowers, no candles, no outpouring of emotion. There’s no image of Daria in the papers so we can’t put a face to the name, and apart from the police car on the street you wouldn’t even notice she was ever there.

Disaster struck, but no sign has been left and it feels crap.

It’s almost a week since Daria lost her life and I want to do something, no life should end this way. Forget that she was a prostitute, because some might find that justification or just a downside to a job she chose. Those of us in the know however, know that nobody chooses this life.

This is my plea for help.

Is anyone challenged enough to come with me on Sunday afternoon and hold a memorial service at the scene?

This is my plea for Daria.

Will anyone come and light a candle in the darkness of the red light area?

This is my plea for Daria’s family

Is anyone prepared to join me and grieve for a young woman while her family are not around to grieve for her?

If you are, email me bettyvirago@gmail.com

Like I said, I don’t have a photo of Daria, so here are photos of women who were killed this year at the hands of violent men.

112-women

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Leeds Waterfront Festival

A few weeks ago I went to the Leeds Waterfront festival, a free yearly event over several locations along the canal and river.DSC00004

It’s a good festival, and the many locations seem to spread people out enough to not feel too crowded.DSC00011

I started near the Leeds Armouries, at the Leeds Dock.

This was one of three main sites, the one I didn’t get to was at Granary Wharf and had a boat-building event on.DSC00017

Anyway, at the Leeds Dock event there was a craft market, a bit small, but some good stuff there. They also had dragon boat racing, street entertainers, and free transport to the other venues.DSC00028

From there I walked to Brewery Wharf which had lots of food stalls (far too many to choose). I felt there were far too many food stalls, I mean, once you’ve bought your food from one, that’s pretty much it for spending money.DSC00033

Then onto the Leeds Minster…

I want to have a wee rant about the Minster here, so bare with me a moment.DSC00036

I’ve been to the Minster three times in my lifetime.

the first was when I was a kid and my mum was preaching there. Inside the minster is very different to any church I’ve been to before where people sit in rows. At the minster, well I can’t really explain it, but it seemed as a child you sat facing other people and couldn’t see who was speaking. Very strange.DSC00039

The second visit was a few years ago when I was with a group walking around Leeds, we decided to pop into the church because it had a cafe. As we were leaving the cafe we were in the entrance of the church and I was telling someone about my first visit, how funny I found it. An older lady who was arranging flowers started shouting at me, really shouting, because I was being disrespectful about her church.

The third visit was for during the waterfront festival. The leaflet for the festival said the Minster had the cafe open and rather than stand eating from a food van I figured I’d go to the cafe and sit down.

I got there only to find the cafe wasn’t open. Well, I decided to walk aroound the church and take some photos. I have one of those large fancy looking cameras and it was hung around my neck like a tourist. I was obviously up for taking photos.

I walked into the church and passed a woman who greeted me and let me go into the church. I checked for signs saying whether we could take photos and saw none. So I began, taking a few snaps.

After a few photos had been taken the same woman who had welcomed me came up to me and informed me I was welcome to take photos… then said, we expect you to donate in the box though. Now that’s sneaky.

So, Leeds Minster, not a place I recommend.

I stopped taking photos and left, heading back to the Leeds Bank and hoping to get the free taxi boat to the Granary Wharf. no such luck, the queue was long and the boat couldn’t carry more than a handful of passengers.

An alternative was the free coach to the third location, Thwaite Mill. This is a great mill, but unless you have a car it’s very difficult to visit, so the free coach ride was wonderful.

One other problem I found with the festival (the first being events advertised that didn’t happen) was lack of mobility access. You may disagree, but few buses link the events. the river taxi didn’t seem accessible and the coach certainly wasn’t. Places like Thwaite Mill are at the end of an incredible long, narrow road, with no public transport. It was good that free transport was available, but none of it was suitable for people who found walking difficult.

Thwaite Mill is an incredible place, not valued enough by Leeds. It holds regular events that seem to be almost unheard of like the regular steampunk market that was happening on the same day as the festival.DSC00044

Amongst all the steampunk stalls was a charity stall which had lots of painting equipment. I was pretty much brassic (skint) and figured the huge watercolour pad and boxes of expensive paints were well out of my funds so walked by… twice. the third time I asked out of curiosity how much the pad cost. £1, wow, that’s a bargain. How much for the used paints? £1… How much for the brand new watercolour set (which I know is £40 in the shop) £1. In the end I spent a fiver and reckon I came away with £80 worth of stuff.

I took one video on the day, which is below. It was supposed to be a demonstration of how to dress a horse for pulling canal boats, but after all the walking my back was in agony (you can hear my heavy-painful breathing in the video) and ten minutes in she still hadn’t got to the horse, so I stopped filming. But what she does say is interesting.