Thursday, 13 December 2007

Oh no you didn't!

Oh yes we did.
Last night St John's Centre hosted our very own Pantomime. 'I'm Aladdin, Get Me Out of Here' starred an internationally famous cast of acting talent.
Oh no it didn't.
Oh yes it did.
Well, maybe not exactly. But it did have a load of SJC & OTN staff and management committee members making fools of ourselves to no apparent purpose. Well, I say no apparent purpose - we did sell out over 120 tickets, had to turn away a whole load more at the door, and made (at the latest count) somewhere around £400 for the Meningitis Trust, in honour of Joshua Spencer, one of our young neighbours and playscheme regulars, who sadly died from the disease last year.
Hopefully we may get some video excerpts online soon for maximum public humiliation, but in the meantime, here are the stars of the show.

Feckless, handsome and just a little dim. That's Aladdin, obviously - not Christine.

Can anyone tell me where to find Princess Pah Kway?
Straight down Stretford Road and left at the lights!

Aladdin: Mum, I'm going to marry Princess Pah Kway!
Widow Twanky: And I'm the Vicar. Pull the other one.

My loyal subjects... it's King Zarode.

Wishy Washy: Oh hello boys and girls... has anyone seen my cat?

It's behind you!


Widow Twanky's laundrette is not averse to a bit of child labour.... and neither is SJC.

There isn't actually a Fairy Godmother in Aladdin. But she turned up anyway.

A crack team of highly skilled technicians and artists worked behind the scenes.

And finally, every Panto needs a villain. Someone unimaginably greedy, brutally cunning, merciless, malicious and mean. The personification of pure evil. I know just the man for the job.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Oh dear oh dear, I've been neglecting this something rotten.

I know. Terrible isn't it?

Anyway, in case you're wondering what's going on, the web address has gone into meltdown for reasons that still elude me. Our crack team of IT squirrels hope to have it back online soon, but in the meantime we're hosted over at

Similarly, the email address for me at is defunkt for the time being too. If you'd like to get in touch with me, please use the hotmail address, which is (cunningly disguised to beat the spam bots) otn(AT)hotmail(DOT)co(DOT)uk

And just in case you've been missing my rent-a-gob opinions, I have been making the occasional contribution to the Guardian's Comment Is Free site. I even have my own little profile page which puts me on a par with such esteemed personages as him, him and him.

Currently up there are my comments on funding projects to build community cohesion; proposals to downgrade Christmas and a rant about the sacking of Union Rep Karen Reissmann

Right then, back to the grindstone.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Photo loveliness

Just a quick one to pay tribute to the photography in the new edition of Old Trafford News.

We're very lucky to have several talented snappers in the team. See what I mean?

top - Gillian Drayton
All others - Caroline Edge

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Remember me?

Dontcha just hate it when someone starts a new blog, posts something vaguely interesting for a few weeks and then disappears, never to be seen again?

Yeah, me too. That's why you won't catch me disappearing for months at a time. Oh no. Ahem.

Anyway, the short explanation of where I have been is that we were having some problems updating the website for a while, but it is all sorted now. Our new edition is out now, and a fair hunk of it is online too.

We have the cutest cover in the history of publishing, as you can see above. It's taken from our visit to the local PDSA PetAid clinic. They were happy to let us visit so that we could urge people to get their pets microchipped and vaccinated. We were happy to oblige, particularly as it enabled us to get some really cute pictures of small furry dogs wearing an expression that says: 'please, please, please give me back my dignity.'

On more serious matters, our lead news story revisits a police operation that happened on our doorsteps back on March 1st. Operation Jug (where do they get these names?) was billed as an urgent response to immediate intelligence that local gangsters had been hiding firearms in yards and gardens of local residents. What seemed like the entire massed ranks of Greater Manchester Police turned up one morning and proceeded to dig holes in our gardens and parks, break into our sheds and garages and turn a fair few residents out of bed to search their houses. Had the operation succeeded in finding large arsenals and catching the bad guys, there would be no objections from us. Unfortunately it didn't quite turn out that way. We put in a Freedom of Information request and the basic facts we turned up were as follows.

  • Search warrants exercised: 278

  • Police staff involved: 369

  • Vehicles involved: 56

  • Number of firearms seized: 2

Although five people were initially arrested in connection with gang-related offences and attempted murder following the raids, only one man from Moss Side was prosecuted for possession of ammunition. He was subsequently given 80 hours of community service and ordered to pay £45 costs. That won't go far in recouping the costs of the operation, which were a phenomenal £63,740

Gun crime is a massive concern for us in Old Trafford. On the day we went to print, one man was sent down for 28 years for an attempted murder that happened last December in a local park. There will be no tears from us about the length of term.

But we have to ask whether Operation Jug was worth the cost. We don't just mean the financial cost, we are talking about the impact on relations with the community, on the faith that we have in the intelligence which the police are using, and crucially, the trust we have when the police ask for our co-operation. We were slightly disappointed that the reaction to our inquiries about Jug were defensive and unapologetic. Police continue to insist that the operation was an unmitigated success. Which leads us to wonder what an unsuccessful operation would look like.

At OTN we're not in the habit of nitpicking and whingeing at police or other service providers, and we fully acknowledge that the police have an enormously difficult task on their hands to tackle gang-related violence in the area, and we recognise their achievements when we see them. But we would be failing in our responsibility to our community if we didn't also acknowledge such high-profile and potentially damaging failures.

Anyway, that is only the first few pages of the new OTN. Have a look around the site and you will find much more. Meet the Old Trafford women's football club; learn about the new drugs service in the area; discover the Women of Substance; or check out what residents reckon are the hottest looks in fashion.

And keep an eye on this blog too, because I've got much more to tell you in the near future.

No really, I promise.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

OK OK, I'm sorry

As soon as I solve the problem with the Old Trafford News site, I will post the long-promised update. It's a long story which I may or may not tell. All is OK though, in case you're worrying!

In the meantime, can I please direct you towards a new blog out of Old Trafford. Revelations of a Subconscious Mind is deeply moving, deeply troubling and often very funny. It is also 100% true. I've been privileged to get a sneak preview of the next few posts as well and there are some stunning Revelations to come.

I'll be back very soon. No really, I will.

Monday, 26 March 2007

I'm back

I've been unusually quiet for the last three weeks - always a sure sign that there's a deadline looming. Sure enough the new edition of Old Trafford News will be returning from the printers tomorrow. These few days are always a nervous time as we await the new batches - half expecting them to return with the cover printed upside down or some such. But in a day or two we'll be getting the new content up on line and I'll post some more about some of the excellent articles our volunteers have conjured up later this week.

In the few days of downtime between the demands of printing and distribution, I've turned my thoughts back to community radio. This weekend I've been at Radio Regen's Community FM conference at MANCAT, just up the road in Openshaw. It was a great couple of days, not least because the practicalities of running a community radio station are 90% compatible with those of running a community magazine - so the event was a goldmine of useful tips and refreshers on everything from recruiting and developing volunteers to selling advertising. The networking opportunities were invaluable too - not least a friendly lunch with Jacqui and Bill from the Community Media Association. I won't bore you with the details, but in the past there have been some obstacles to community magazines joining the CMA. It appears that over a couple of crab salad sandwiches they may have been resolved. Such is the power of seafood.

But the most enjoyable aspect of community radio gatherings is the opportunity to chat to community media professionals and enthusiasts from around the country and around the world. It is always a privilege to meet up with Zane Ibrahim of Bush Radio, Cape Town - perhaps the most inspirational figure in community media in the world today. I was also delighted to meet Henry Loeser, not least because he was full of compliments for the Community Radio Toolkit - "in years to come this book will be seen as a benchmark for community radio in the UK - everything else can grow from this foundation." I think those were his words, but I was so busy modestly dissembling that I may have misheard him. (Come to think of it, he may have been talking about a completely different book altogether.)

At the other end of the experience spectrum: a well-deserved award at the end of the conference went to a group of youngsters from East London, Streetlife FM. Their enthusiasm and energy bubbled across the workshops and the conference hall, and the top-notch broadcast microphone they won could not have gone to a better home. Here's to a long and glittering future for them.

Community FM was host to innumerable success stories and countless admirable characters from community radio stations as far apart as Aberdeen and Cornwall. These projects are often inspirational, inventive and incredibly effective. Of course you won't see many reports in the national newspapers about them. But it only takes one downright idiot to send an unforgivable, shameful email and lo and behold, we're in the nation's favourite.

It's none of my business really, but suffice to say that I understand the gentleman in question is still in his job, and personally I'm very, very surprised about that.

Ho hum.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Gordon's Tonic

OK, so we all know that it's not really going to happen - but Gordon Brown's suggestion that new immigrants should undertake community work is worthy of discussion.

The thinking is that voluntary work helps to embed people in their wider community; that it is a swift route to a better understanding of our society; that it is good for someone's social life, welfare and mental health. It can also be an approach to improved language and communication skills, to improved career prospects and to personal development across the board.

All of this is unquestionably true. It is true if you are a recently arrived bride from Bangladesh, and no less true if you are an unemployed steelworker from Barnsley or a moderately successful history graduate from Fife. So of course new immigrants, like everyone else, should do some voluntary work. But it is patently absurd that they should have to.

The first flaw with the idea is that becoming a British citizen should make an immigrant more like the rest of us. Placing obligations on one section of society that are not placed on the rest of it has to be divisive. Unless Gordon Brown is going to suggest compulsory community service for everyone in the country, this would quickly become a marker between 'us' and 'them.'

Secondly, there is only one section of the community who currently can be obliged to undertake community service, and that is the criminals. Community service is a form of punishment, underpinned by the principles of reparation - those who have damaged society can be expected to repair the damage they have caused. What message does it send to our new citizens, asking them to repair the damage they have caused simply by arriving in the country? As any economist with a brain will tell you, Britain should be thanking our new immigrants, not punishing them.

Thirdly, the scheme (as described yesterday) draws no divide between people who may have been here for a decade, working in the health service, industry, commerce or even the community and voluntary sector itself; and those who have arrived this month, with no English language skills, no sense of belonging and no security. The truth is that many (maybe the majority) of new British citizens have already immersed themselves deeply in British society and their residential neighbourhoods long before they applied for naturalization.

It also needs to be said that the benefits to the individual of community service often dissolve when he or she stops being a volunteer and becomes a conscript. If you have been sent somewhere you don't want to be, you are unlikely to attain many benefits - the inevitable emotional reaction is to put your head down, shut your mouth and serve your time.

Finally, and most importantly, this suggestion fundamentally misjudges the needs and the problems of the voluntary sector. I have no doubt that when Gordon Brown and his team dreamt up this headlin... sorry, this scheme, they imagined new citizens immersing themselves in the spectacularly varied and inspiring community and voluntary sector. Politicians love visiting imaginative, innovative projects where they see volunteers turning around their own lives and brightening their communities with activism or sport, arts and media programmes. What they usually fail to notice is the extensive (and expensive) work behind the scenes in volunteer support and development. Working with volunteers - especially those with language restrictions or emotional and physical health requirements - is demanding and time-consuming work. Volunteers do not train themselves, do not appraise themselves, do not monitor their own development. Unless you can offer that type of back-up support, all we could do with these citizen-conscripts would be get them to scrub graffiti off walls and clear away shopping trolleys from grotspots. This would deliver none of the intended benefits, while breeding resentment or perhaps outright hostility. Immigrants must not become a convenient army of slave labour.

Politicians (and to be fair, their electorate) often think that all the voluntary sector needs is volunteers - and that if they sent us another million bodies every year we would be eternally grateful. In fact we wouldn't - we'd be overladen, overworked and unable to offer the services that we exist to provide. Around 90% of community and voluntary sector groups are currently desperately short of core funding to pay for the activities they are either committed to or desperate to deliver. Gordon Brown's proposal - unless held up by an unfeasibly large cash injection - would be a disaster for the voluntary sector.

So assuming Gordon Brown is not stupid (whatever else he may be) we can assume this idea will never get further than the flagpole. However it is brutally revealing of current political thinking. Want to solve a problem or make a political gesture without spending money? Shunt it across to the third sector. Want to deliver mental health care or social services on the cheap? Give the contract to a social enterprise. Want to deliver probation services without employing probation workers? Call for the charities The implications of this major trasformation in the British welfare state are only just starting to be discussed.

And I've barely got started yet...