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Meet the dolls 4 – The Coal Miner

The final doll in my final university project. I planned on seven, but really, when it came down to it, my obsession to the little details just took the time and I think I’d rather do four dolls really well, than rush seven.

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The coal miner is more modern and I’ve named him not after a Yorkshire coal miner, but one from Spennymoor in County Durham. Norman Cornish, a coal miner from the age of 14, who took advantage of art classes for miners and became an artist in his 40s. (www.normancornish.com)

I’ve even used some modern technologies, sewable electronics to make a working head lamp.

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I’m sure many folk are thinking why have I made a coal miner when I’m making dolls that represent traditional crafts, and at first the coal miner was the doll I was going to leave until last. Then a few weeks ago I was with my parents and a programme was on the TV which showed a clip about the Lofthouse colliery disaster from 1973, I’d have been 1 years old (yep, I’m sticking with 35 being my current age). My mum looked up and said, ‘oh, your dad was there’.

No, my dad wasn’t a coal miner, although he was a Bevin boy in the war. He was a Salvation Army officer and spent a lot of time providing support to the men during the search for survivors. It reminded me also of a time when years later, as a young Salvation Army member I was collecting money door to door in a nice middle class Lancashire area. It was during the time of the miners strikes. I remember one door opening and a man telling me he wouldn’t give to the Army because we gave to the miners. I didn’t get it being so young, but as I remember the story I decided the miner had to be made.

The dolls represent traditions that are dying out or how I sometimes feel about knitting, becoming only for the privileged. When I was young, people made their own clothes because they couldn’t afford to buy ready made. Now we’re in a place where poorer folk shop at Primark and the wealthy go on sewing classes or extravagant knitting holidays.

I was talking to a lady in the cafe at the National Coal Mining museum a few days ago about crafting. She told me she was a quilter and began quilting to use up all the scraps that she had left over from dress making. But then her husband spoke – describing what she does. He said she buys a yard of fabric, cuts it into pieces and sews the pieces back together to make a quilt. Quilting was once, using up your left over fabric, doll making was using up your left over wool. Now though, there is a worry that crafting is moving from the working classes to an expensive and privileged hobby.

It’s not wrong though (to be a wealthy crafter) and perhaps my gripes should be for another post.

The coal mining industry is another craft (because it is incredibly skilled) that has been lost and although the dolls have been made as a celebration of Yorkshire life and craftsmanship, I wonder if, in the future they’ll be seen as a look into a forgotten past.

 

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Finding your Social mission

Why do you do what you do?

What makes you tick? What is at the very heart of your passion?

These are the questions I’ve been asking in order to find my Social Mission, the deepest Why? Of my business.

Keep asking “Why?”

Recently I was told if I want to get to the root of why I’m here I need to keep asking Why?

I’m looking at a business where my profits go towards running craft and art classes for homeless people

Why?

Because I want to build confidence in homeless people

Why?

Because I don’t think they see their value. I don’t think others see that they have a value.

Why?

Because living on the streets makes you feel worthless

(Some Whys can be more specific – you might need a critical friend for this)

Why homeless people?

Because everyone else has something of their own

(If you hit a wall try backtracking)

Why art and craft?

Because it’s what I know…

…because everyone can draw or make something…

Why?

Because people appreciate art & crafts
When you’ve been beaten down its hard to accept love for yourself, it’s easier to accept appreciation for what you do rather than who you are.

Maybe learning to be appreciated for what you make is the first step towards accepting appreciation for who you are. 

Why is it important to accept appreciation?

Because maybe, if you can accept that others love and appreciate you, the next step is loving and appreciating yourself.

Why is that important?

Because, can we really change for the better if we don’t love ourselves?

Because I know what damage hating yourself can do.

I believe change comes from a belief in self worth.

I believe that art & crafts can be learnt by everyone.

I believe that creating space for arts and crafts can be the starting point.

In my own situation, life started to change when I met people who believed in me, but it was only when I learned to believe in myself that life changed permanently.

I believe if I can create an art space where everyone is accepted then lives can begin to change.

If I can show people who feel worthless, their value, I can begin to turn the tide of lives wasted.

If I can begin to change a few lives, we can change the world.

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How the Salvation Army changed the world.

I grew up in the Salvation Army (have I mentioned that before?) listening to the stories of the Army before I was born.

I heard how the ‘Army’ produced the first safety matches. Taking on the UK match companies that left poor workers with the awful occupational disease Phossy Jaw.

Or how we began the employment agencies over 100 years ago, well of course we did. Suddenly we have a church that is saving alcoholics and the newly sober people needed steady work, how else would we respond?

Or how we helped bring about changes in the law of underage sex and child slavery by our part in rescuing a girl sold by her parents for £5.

This week alone, I’ve had two conversations with people who’ve mentioned how older folk give money to the Army because of what we did for their husbands in the war.

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It’s all wonderful… and yet…

It feels as though, the last couple days, the UK has suddenly woke to the scandal of our Government and it’s abusive benefit cuts.

How did this happen? How did they manage to, overnight, put parents in the position of losing £120 a week, receiving just 50p a week from the Government in housing benefit support?

But this isn’t an overnight thing, the government have been bullying the poor for several years.

The country have, over the past few years, been enjoying the ever growing number of TV shows about benefit cheats, scroungers, “too lazy to work” streets and the huge number of kids everyone on benefits have. I’ve watched people’s attitudes harden as they sit around their TV’s shaking their heads at the seeming audacity of scroungers claiming something they’ve never worked for.

At this point in my rant/post I need to add a Disclaimer:

I apologise in advance to my mum, nephew and anyone else who I name in this post. I love you all, but I’m so annoyed that I can’t be bothered to change names today.

Okay, that’s done.

I sat in the car with my retired Salvation Army officer mother a few weeks ago and she started telling me about a woman she had seen on TV. The shame that this woman received so much benefit and was on TV saying it wasn’t enough… that is, until I spent time with my mum breaking down the woman’s likely weekly expenses and mum realised it didn’t leave her with money for food.

My mum, who spent decades of active officership working with homeless and mentally unwell people had somehow lost her ability to recognise the situation of the poor.

Anyway, I wasn’t writing this post about benefit cuts…

My church has recently started asking for more people in the congregation to attend the weekly lunch club it runs. I went a few weeks ago and for £3.50, me, and 12 elderly people, enjoyed a three course basic meal.

My church (or Corps to those Army folk who don’t like to think of us as a church) is situated in a large and poorer part of South Leeds, surrounded by HMO’s (Houses of Multiple Occupancy). Drugs, addiction and prostitution is rife in the area, so a perfect location for an Army hall.

We have a lunch for anyone to enjoy, four times a week, for a mere £3.50. You’d think we would be packing the place with hungry locals, but in fact, lunch club is dying.

Yes, there are patches of nice housing in the area, and patches of elderly housing, but there’s a lot of single people, young single people on benefits living in HMO’s. (I’ve written about HMO’s in the past too)

A single young person on benefits gets £57.90 a week. If we imagine a situation where all his/her rent is paid by housing benefit (hopefully, this is the case), how much is left for that person if they live in a HMO?

Gas/electricity/water  £10-15 perhaps

Weekly bus pass  £15

Basic food (tea bags, bread, milk etc..)  £5-10

Mobile phone*  £15

Even with just these four essential bills it leaves just over £10 for main meals, TV licence, clothing, taking a girl on a date, a drink in a pub to talk to another human, basic toiletries.

Imagine too, the mental strain of living in a room smaller than some peoples bathrooms, having your cooker a few feet from your bed. Having to remember to take loo roll every time you need to go to the shared toilet, neighbours fighting through thin walls, and the stench of marijuana from the guy below.

How wonderful it would be for that single person to be able to escape the confines of the HMO and have a hot meal at my church in it’s spacious dinning room with access to free wifi. To be able to sit with others and talk to someone rather than feel imprisoned in the cell-like place they call home.

But as I pointed out in another blog post, £3.50 is too expensive for the most desperate people in my churches area.

I think we have a situation where our Army folk have forgotten what it’s like to be poor.

Again, this post wasn’t about the shame of the HMO’s…

This week I saw a new Lap dance club given permission to be set up in Leeds.

“What do you mean by another one” I hear you say, “How many do we have?”

Well enough that one website has a top 5 list of the best ones. One of which is within walking distance of my church I might add.

Do I need to explain what’s wrong with treating women as sexual objects? or how I’ve seen women in our legalised prostitution area charge less than a Costas coffee for sex?

And, yet, this blog isn’t about prostitution either…

Yesterday my nephew took me out for my birthday, (yeah, thanks, it was a nice day).

I’ve had a few chats recently with him about life, the Army, God and romance.

A couple of years ago he gave up two years and a lot of money to train as a youth worker in the Salvation Army, and yet, I was sitting with him asking why his bible had a light covering of dust and he didn’t seem happy at his church, so much that he seems to have stopped going.

I recognised myself in him, as a young person, attending youth events and getting fired up by stories of the old Army. How, as a young person in the Army, he has the ability of changing the world for good and for God. I’ve seen his room filled with postcards and tokens from music schools and youth events that are supposed to remind him of his power to change the world.

Yet, yesterday I saw a young man with no outlet for his vision. I recognise myself, as a young woman, wanting to work with homeless people and being fired up by big church youth meetings, then coming home to my local church and being told there was nothing for me to do. I sat there, talking to this young man, trained by the church as a youth worker, but given no youth to work with, and so, he has an air of giving up about him.

Earlier that day he’d dropped off his money for another week of music school in the Summer and I worry how many young people feel hurt after a week of being built up, only to return to their church and find no part for them to play. I know it was one of the reasons I gave up church as a young person, and I see him in a similar way. I wonder too, how many vacant chairs in our churches were once filled by someone wanting to do ‘something’, but not given a chance.

Our young people are sent to camp to have the fire in their belly ignited, but then sent home and not given fuel for the fire.

“But they’re just young people”, I hear some of you older folk say,

You should come sometime, to the office where I get my university business support from. They’re you’ll see dozens of young people starting and running successful businesses, making a living and a difference despite having a lack of years.

And again, I say this blog post wasn’t about the lack of opportunity in our churches…

This blog is about how the Salvation Army in the UK once changed the world. I would have liked to have said How the Salvation Army in the UK is changing the world, but I’m not sure I can say that at the moment.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, we are doing many amazing things, it’s just, well…

Going back to the conversations I’ve had this week, you would think the public only think we worked in the war.

Our recent public face makes us appear that we’re more concerned with how a gay celebrity can have a uniform made that won’t cause us offence rather than the growing poverty concerns.

Last weeks Salvationist newspaper seemed more concerned with playing April Fools than speaking of the fire we should have for human rights.

I’ve heard more about people upset that they’re not bringing back the bonnet than upset that our neighbours are in need. I heard of a band master outraged about the joke including woodwind instruments in the ISB, so outraged that he was about to request a refund on a concert ticket because he didn’t want to hear woodwind. (Incidentally, this band master is the only one who allowed my flute into his band, so I don’t know why it’s such a problem). Is that his passion? His righteous anger is focused on buying a brass band concert ticket and the disgraceful possibility of having to listen to a few violins?

In a few years time, when those who fought in the world wars are gone, will we have people to replace those who give because of what we did 70 years ago?

We seem obsessed by asking our people for money, making sure our members buy fair trade, having matching church outfits, and driving our fancy cars to our fancy homes outside of the rough area of our church location.

I don’t have a fancy car or house and I live in one of those poorer areas, but I speak to myself as much as to the richer members of church.

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not doing anything about the hundreds of mostly men living within walking distance of church and living in poverty, loneliness and hunger?

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not picketing outside government buildings with placards stating that “the Army does not approve” of their cuts to the disabled and poor?

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not in the local public and committee meetings demanding the local council stop allowing more places of sexual exploitation?

Why are we content to play our music on quiet streets, playing songs people no longer know the words to, when we should be playing a battle cry outside parliament?

I hear you groaning at me, mumbling that the last TV series about the Army also showed us washing the feet of the homeless. Brilliant, and important to do, but so are many other Christian churches.

And yes, I recognise the number of soup kitchens we run, but again, standard church requirement these days.

We were called to be an Army though, not an average church. We were supposed to be at the front showing how it’s done, but we’re just another face in the crowd now. The early Salvation Army paved the way and left us a legacy that makes people and governments sit up and listen when we speak, but we’re wasting away and keeping far too silent on the war time issues.

Okay, okay, I’m ranting.

I’m angry, but as guilty as the next salvationist.

So why the rant?

I feel at a cross roads. I am in the Army, not because I was brought up in it, but because Christianity, for me, is also about action. I can’t talk about a God of Love and walk past my downtrodden fellow man and I want a church who feels the same way.

I also accept that I am about to start my final year at university and, well, time right now just isn’t a luxury for me.

I might be getting a degree in textiles, but my heart is for the homeless, if I was to choose between a job in a fashion house and less paid work with homeless people I’d choose the homeless person every time.

Being so close to the end of uni I keep thinking about life when it ends and I admit, I don’t quite see a place for me in an Army not in action. I wasn’t made for the wealthy lifestyle or the 9-5 office job, I was raised amongst the homeless, raised to fight for the needy and I’ve sat idle for far too long.

I have friends, in a church, who give everything they have so they can help others, and I look at my friends church and it appeals to me… it appeals to me very much.

And yet, I’m very much aware that I’m here, as a member of the Salvation Army, by no accident. Even my textile degree projects seems to have the Army running through them.

How has it come to the point where a non-uniform wearing salvationist has to say what the leaders should have been saying?

…6…7…8…9…10, okay deep breath.

I don’t know where this rant is taking me, I don’t know whether anyone will feel the passion I feel in this, but well, as another birthday passes, and I adjust my year of birth to fit my alleged age again, I just felt something on my heart that I needed to speak.

I worry about our world, whether my neighbours will manage with the next round of benefit cuts and difficulties. I recognise a hurt people taking their anger out in the voting booths and I worry for where this will lead us.

A quote often used these days is this:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if, one only remembers to turn on the light”  – Albus Dumbledore, a great wizard, and perhaps in another life, a Salvationist.

We are supposed to be the lights that point to Jesus, truth and righteousness, we’re part of an Army that grew from poverty and the slums that sadly are returning, but without ignition, we’re just dull, grey bulbs.

Rant over.

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Links for more reading:

https://glynnharrison.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/when-william-booth-took-on-the-big-manufacturers-of-safety-matches-and-won/  Also read the link to the article this was written about talking about the Church of England and the dreadful Wonga.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39484897

http://michaelgallagherwrites.com/lizzie-blaylock-books/bridge-of-dead-things/eliza-armstrong.html

*I know many wealthier people think a mobile is a luxury, but try job searching without a phone and you’ll realise how vital it is. You can’t even claim benefits without making a lengthy phone call and having internet access.

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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.