Friday, 22 February 2013

New Muslims at BMCC

Recent converts to Islam, or "New Muslims" face a number of challenges in their lives. These range from dealing with sometimes negative reactions from friends and family to finding accessible information sources to the difficulties caused by mosques that refuse to hold sermons in English.

Unsurprisingly, many New Muslims soon leave the faith, often feeling that they have not had any support from the local Muslim community. The same commmunity, incidentally, that appeared to congratulate them when they first embraced Islam.

To try and help the New Muslim community find their feet, Bobbers Mill Ccommunity Centre has been running a monthly social event where New Muslims (and indeed Old Muslims) can meet, chat and enjoy a meal together.

BFTF attended one of these events recently and has to say that it was one of the warmest and most welcoming occasions that BFTF has been to in some considerable time. Aside from the friendly company, and great food, BFTF (who is an "Old Muslim") learnt a lot from the wisdom, tolerance and humbleness that the recent and not so recent converts showed.

It seems that rather than New Muslims learning from the existing Muslim community, the truth - at least in some respects - is perhaps the other way round...

Highlights for BFTF included...

* A beautiful, and unexpectedly short, poem entitled "I don't know" that reassured New Muslims that they did not need to know everything about their new faith right from the outset and the community needed to understand that a New Muslim was like a new born baby who deserved the attention and care of the whole community.

* Egyptian food.


Not Egyption Food, but rather lovely nonetheless


* A testimony from a Sister who described the importance of events like this so that New Muslims could "come and feel comfortable"

* Comments from a Brother who pointed out that, generally, the biggest problem the Muslim community had in providing help to New Muslim was that services were provided in a "top-down" fashion from people who had been life-long Muslims and did not really understand the problems that New Muslims faced.

* A rather delicious desert called Kunafa


Kunafa - its rather delish !


* A chance chat with a (multi-talented) New Muslim who helped BFTF understand the computer networking was often based on the OSI layering model

* Young children running around

* Possibly the most perfect side dish of potatoes and carrots that BFTF has seen for some time.


Potatoes, Carrots and ..er...green things


The New Muslim event at BMCC, held the last Friday of every month - you are all welcome to attend !

Sunday, 17 February 2013

BFTF loves cycling 2013

Without wishing to get all "when I were a lad", BFTF's childhood was proudly working class - but one thing that BFTF was never without was a bicycle.

And BFTF ran these into the ground when a youngster.

But for the last couple of years's the bike that BFTF has was a rather cheap affair from ASDA, and that cheapness showed in the way it eventually became rather hard work to ride, with the bearings in particular becoming worn out.

So, in late 2012, BFTF bit the bullet and bought a new bicycle with the aim of using it for excercise, cycling with the kds and, occasionally, actually as a means of transport. This post contains various cycling related bloggage. Oldest at the bottom.

Update : Nov 2013: Stop The Killing
Huge and very impressive "Stop the Killing" event in London on 29th Nov, in which around a 1,000 cyclists converged on the Transport For London HQ and stages a mass "die-in" to highlight the fact that several cyclists have been killed in London in recent months. HGV's have been involved in half of the recent fatal collisions - but represent only 5% of traffic.
The "Stop The Killing" "Die-in". TfL HQ
Image by kind permission of Benjamin Lester
http://throughbenslens.co.uk
The campaign has a series of asks off TfL:

1.The Mayor and Boroughs to spend at least the same per person on cycling provision as The Netherlands (the UK spends about £1.25 per person – The Netherlands spends about £33 per person);

2.A ban on vehicles whose drivers cannot see adjacent road-users; and,

3.A full London-wide segregated network to be built urgently.

Incredible pictures at a number of places, including here

. Media Coverage in The Evening Standard and London24.

Particularly interesting coverage at this cycling site which looks at whether the cyclists demands are realistic, with Andrew Gilligan, the mayor of London’s cycling commissioner commenting that:
“The problem, I suppose, for the diers-in is that we have a highly ambitious cycling programme. What can they ask us to do that we’re not doing already? ... We promise to do a huge network of cycle routes by 2016 – so the demand becomes for an even bigger network, to be finished even sooner.”

Also, as background, worth reading this pretty concise and comprehensive article in the Guardian, which notes that Boris Johnson does "walk the walk" by actually cycling around, that he sometimes doesn't check facts and that there are hugely impressive plans for largely segregated north-south and east-west cycleways across London.

An interesting and impressively comprehensive TfL report investigating the dangers posed by construction traffic to cyclists can be found here.

Update : Sep 2013
A rare picture of BFTF on his bike (worth mentioning that while BFTF is no lightweight, he is substantially slimmer than the picture below implies)...

A rare picture of BFTF cycling.

And BFTF wonders whether Bramcote Council realise that there is a reason all the cyclists below have ignored the cycle stand and, instead, chained their bikes to the railings...
Dear Bramcote Council. Can you see the problem here?

Update : Sep 2013
As part of the GCC challenge (which which hopefully be posted about in due course) BFTF had been gobsmacked to find that he has cycled around 1225miles since late May.

Crikey, and double crikey.

A fair bit of this has been on the Victoria Embankment, which has the multiple attractions of being flat, well surfaced, reasonably sheltered and largely free of traffic (especially as one end has been closed off due to the tram works), while a lot has been cycling a few times a week to and from work (about 25miles round trip).

BFTF has seen some interesting stuff while pedalling along the Embankment, including some lovely sunsets, many very fast cyclists and the lovely River Trent in a variety of lights.

Four things particularly stand out though...

McDonalds Litter Pickers
While cycling along the embankment one fine day, BFTF noticed a bunch of people picking litter and stopped to ask them who they were, as it is great to see such civic mindedness. It turned out that they were staff from the Trent Bridge branch of McDonalds who got together once a month to do some litter picking and then have a bit of a picnic.

Good effort Trent Bridge McDonalds !

Trent Bridge McDonalds, out litter picking !

BFTF also learned the valuable lesson that flash photography and hi-vis jackets to not play well together...

Flash + Hi-vis = Doh!

The bagpipes, aye, the bagpipes
One (Satuday?) morning, BFTF was cycling along the Embankment and heard the unmistakable sounds of bagpipes. The music was coming from this chap, who can apparantly be found/heard on the Embankment most Saturday mornings. He was pretty good, and (wearing a NottinghamScience hat for a second) the doppler effect as BFTF approached and then passed the piper was rather groovy.

Bagpipes on the Embankment

Hard drivin' on the river
The Trent is, of course, used by many river users. One example is these canoeists paddling away on a Tuesday evening. It looked like pretty hard work, they can't stop even for a moment!

Hard Working paddlers

Youth of today
BFTF was having a few laps of the Embankments one evening and noticed there were some teenage, (East?)African heritage, youngsters at one playing football across the Embankemnt road. BFTF has to say he was impressed with the way they stopped playing every time BFTF approached and let BFTF cycle straight through. Given that the black community gets such a bad press, its great to be able to highlight such an example of good manners and courtesy

Respect.

Update : May 2013
With the clocks going forward in late March, it was now possible to cycle to and from work in daylight, so BFTF took the plunge and cycled in to work, alongside a couple of colleagues who are regular cyclists.

The journey was about 11 miles each way. BFTF has made the run on a few times over the years on the old bike, each time arriving at work/home as a physical wreck. With BFTF's workplace being in Derbyshire THERE ARE HILLS on the journey...

But on the Voodoo, it was do-able!

Most surprisingly, and encouragingly, BFTF made the journey three times over a two week period, and found that it got significantly easier and faster, each time.

BFTF has set a target of cycling to work every day for a whole week - and hopes to be able to achive this sooner rather than later!!

Incidentally. it is worth mentioning that that this whole cycling to work thing only works because there is a shower at work - a definite must in the equation.

And you may also wish to visit this post which challenges Halfords to pay their workers in Cambodia a living wage.

Pictures


BFTF's bike - it is a thing of beauty


One thing that BFTF has, rather unexpectedly, discovered, is that cycling around is a great way of seeing parts of Nottingham that one would not normally see. For example....


Cycling along the path next to the Trent, north bank just after the ring road



The Trent, within a few hundred metres of the Boots works, not that you would know it



Beeston Weir - it's impressive



The future, here today, at the University of Nottinghams Jubilee Campus


Update:Mar2013 : Saw this rather groovy creature (which I believe to be a Mongolian Ringneck-type Common Pheasant) at the Park and Ride by the Trent.

A pheasant, looking cool

Friday, 15 February 2013

"Beyond the Final Boss" and Bullying

One of the areas BFTF is very keen to "big-up" is instances where Muslims are working for the betterment of the wider society, and not just focussing solely on issues that are specfici to the Muslim community.

So it will not be a surprise to find that BFTF was very touched by the efforts of Shahid Kamal Ahmad, a London based computer games designer, who has got together with industry colleagues Mike Bithell and Byron Atkinson-Jones to detail examples of people in the computer games industry who have overcome bullying in their school days to find success, friends and a wide social circle in adulthood.

Shahid and friends put the stories on a website called "Beyond the Final Boss". There are some very touching stories on the site, and it no doubt has relevance for many yougsters who are facing bullying.

It would be easy to try and distill some common themes from the accounts of the people who gave their testimony on the site, but that would be to ignore the fact that evertyones experience is different. You really need to read it for yourself..

The site has received coverage elsewhere in gaming circles, most notably Kill Screen , The Penny Arcade Report and (rather awesomely) NBC news.

One aspect of this project that is worth noting is the speed with which the site was put together. As the Penny Arcade Report describes:
"Once Shahid joined the conversation, events didn’t so much snowball as they were fired from a rail gun. “It was very quick, Shahid doesn’t like to wait around,” Atkinson-Jones said. “He, like me, is a grab it and run with it kind of person so in all took less than a couple of hours before it was up on the blog for everybody to read. All it took was a relatively quick email where I poured out the story.”"

But perhaps the last word should go to Sam Hulick, now a widely respected composer in the video game industry, who was bullied as a youngster and comments that:
"In so many cases, the unique qualities that make you a target when you’re young are the very same traits that are appreciated as an adult: thinking differently than others, dancing to the beat of your own drum. Focus on what’s positive. Focus on your hobbies and interests, and think about how great the future will be. You are not worthless, you are not undeserving of respect, and there ARE people out there in the world who will love you and appreciate you. "


Some other resources
BFTF was also touched by this homily from an anti-bullying Facebook page
A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty is was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. Now even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. That is what happens when a child bully’s another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home. Pass it on or better yet, if you're a parent or a teacher, do it with your child/children.

And Childline also has some relevant resources.

Nottingham Architecture and Urban Design

BFTF has long been fascinated by the architecture of Nottingham, and has a (no doubt annoying) tendency to point out any buildings that have date plaques on them to the kids, "Hey look, that building was built in 1902! being a typical refrain.

Given that BFTF has approximately zero knowledge of urban planning, architecture or any related subjects it was wonderful to find a treasure trove of architectural blogs on the Internet (intially via a link on the Nottingham section of Reddit) and really wanted to share them, together with pictures from around the cit ...

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Dec 2016
New Lighting along Castle Boulevard, Nottingham, Dec 2016

BFTF often takes a walk of an evening and finds the new streetlighting on Castle Boulevard - with separate lamps to direct light towards the pavement - does a great job in making previously dark places much better lit. Very reassuring.

New Night Lighting, Castle Blvd, Dec 2016

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Extraordinarily beautiful brickwork on the Hyson Green Community Centre.

Hyson Green Community Centre
(formerly Hyson Green Methodist Free Church, built 1985)

Window Detail

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Aug 2016
Love this Mural - Map in Forest Fields 

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Aug 2016
Sweet resurfacing on Caulton Street

Impressed with the very smooth and neat resurfacing on Caulton Street, just off Radford Road. Asked the council how they choose between the various available resurfacing options and got a response from the "Infrastructure Asset Manager" commenting that a good reference guide could be found here and explaining that :

"When formulating the forward maintenance programme we typically reference customer enquiries and comments from our team of highway maintenance inspectors. Caulton Street was highlighted by Ward Councillors in the Arboretum ward and was paid for by their Area Based Budget (which is also known as the Area Capital programme)."

See also here for info from Kent CC.
Very nice resurfacing - bravo Nottingham  Council !

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May 2016
Been reading up about the Big Belly bins that have been installed in Nottingham for a while now. Turns out that their combination of compaction and "empty on demand" is claimed to reduce the number of waste collections by up to 80% and largely eliminate the problem of overflowing bins, especially by fast food outlets. You can read more here.


A Big Belly bin, yesterday

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Nov 2015
Cobbles, Thoresby Street, NG1 (Nov 2015)


Nottingham - a town of many architectures


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Oct 2014
The detailing on the houses of Radford Road (built in 1879) caught the eye of BFTF a while back...

Radford Road

Lovely details at the top of the houses

BFTF likes the intricate tiling, and wonders who this bloke is!


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Feb 2014
Rather wonderful list of events in Nottinghams history at MumblingNerds Blog
And there is some great material at Nottingham Archives

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Dec 13
Worth mentioning that this report on a talk about the Hyson Green Eco House covers some important issues regarding how those most in need of energy efficient housing are often those least able to access eco-grants.

And also that there are some very charming photo-essays on the nooks and hidden corners of Nottingham city centre at Thom's Blog

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There is a wonderful post at Internet Curtains on how Nottingham dodged a bullet in the 50s and 60s by being late to redevelop its town centre and clear nearby slums - a delay that allowed it to escape having motorways carving up the heart of the city, as was the case in Birmingham. BFTF would like to talk about this post more but , to be honest the original author has done such a good job, and included so much interesting information, that I beseech you to go directly there right now!

But there is a lot, lot more Nottingham related content at Internet Curtains :
A History of the Trent Lane Depot
A car-free route from Bulwell to Basford
The architecture and desing of Mapperley Top
The Industrial Heritage of Colwick Industrial Estate
The history of the site now occupied by Nottingham Contemporary


A rather arty view of the Ring Road


Meanwhile, at Jones the Planner, there is a great post on Nottingham Contemporary (BFTF is gobsmacked to find that it had not noticed the lace effect exterior panels when visiting) and also a post giving a general overview of Nottinghams urban design.


A rainy day in Radford


And Jonathan Clarkes blog called Landscape Ping! has a post that considers, in some detail, the architecture of the University of Nottingham's Jubilee Campus.


One of Nottingham's rather wonderful trams


And lastly (for now), and also somewhat more tangentially, the Pathetic Motorways site provides a wonderful insight into the thinking behind, and development of, the UK's arterial road network.

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Oct 2015
Not related to Nottingham, but loved this wall of coloured glass at Washington Dulles Airport

Lovely colours

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Related Content
New York Architecture,
Tour of Notts Central Fire Station
Water Exhibition
Coal Mining in the East Midlands
Coal Mining in Nottingham
Mining meories

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Image Sources Images all BFTF's own

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Nottingham Decent Homes Impact Study

The "Decent Homes" programme is a project being run by Nottingham City Homes that aims to improve the quality of its rented and leased housing stock. You can find out more about the programme here.

But what has really caught the attention of BFTF is the impact study on the project, which comments that :

The Secure Warm Modern programme in Nottingham Nottingham City Homes’ Secure, Warm, Modern programme aims to bring Nottingham’s 28,300 council homes up to and above the national Decent Homes standard.

The work began in 2008, with a total planned investment of £187 million between 2008 and 2015, delivered under the following streams:

• Nottingham Secure – replacing all single-glazed windows with ‘Secured by Design’ double-glazed units in around 15,300 properties

• Warmth for Nottingham – improving heating systems for 19,700 properties

• Modern Living – making internal improvements including new kitchens for 17,000 homes and new bathrooms in 12,700 homes.

The Decent Homes Impact Study provides an evaluation of the wider social impacts of Nottingham City Homes’ Decent Homes programme, known locally as ‘Secure Warm Modern’. While the initial vision for the Decent Homes programme emphasised the wider social benefi ts that such a programme would deliver, there has been little systematic data collection or analysis of these benefits to date. This research aims to fill that gap, by providing evidence of impact of the Secure, Warm, Modern programme on NCH’s tenants and communities, covering the impact on crime and security, health and wellbeing, the environment and fuel poverty, and on the local economy and employment.

Many of NCH’s tenants are affected by multiple factors of deprivation, with some estates within the most deprived areas in England. NCH is therefore a key partner in Nottingham’s Sustainable Community Strategy,

The research has shown that the improvements to the physical condition of the property have led to improved outcomes for tenants in terms of their security, health and comfort, as well as wider impacts on the community such as carbon reduction, employment opportunities and neighbourhood improvement. These changes were measured using relevant indicators as well as qualitative information from tenants and stakeholders, giving a measurable indication of the size and scope of changes resulting from the Secure, Warm, Modern programme.

Burglary to domestic properties has decreased by 42 percent between 2007 and 2010 on two sample estates after all single glazed windows were replaced with new Secured by Design double glazed windows; this is compared to a 21 percent decrease in burglary across the city over the same period.

The new double glazed windows, central heating systems and loft insulation fitted through SWM between 2008 and 2011 have increased the average energy efficiency (SAP) rating of NCH homes that have received the work from 60 to 68 points. This equates to...15 per cent decrease in emissions from NCH properties [and a significnat reductions in fuel bills].

However, the detailed case study carried out with tenants living in properties receiving SWM work highlighted that the choices and behaviour of tenants make a signifi cant difference in the actual energy effi ciency gains seen.

It is estimated Secure Warm Modern could potentially:
• Save two lives a year by protecting vulnerable tenants from the cold

• Improve the respiratory health (e.g., asthma) of over 1000 children

• Improve the mental health of over 1,400 tenants by relieving excess cold and fuel poverty

• Avoid 12 hospital admissions a year as a result of falls

• Prevent 144 accidents requiring medical attention

It is worth hearing a couple of comments from the tenants, which gives some feel for the impact that the changes have had on their daily lives :

“I had been burgled, and every night I checked everything, it was like an obsessive thing… So from the day I had my windows I felt 100 percent safe”

“You’d have to be putting more money in just to keep it warm… so obviously you’re trying to save as much as you can, so that was like a big hole in my pocket… “The [gas payment] reduced down from £30 to £15, so I just top up every week and it has saved me a lot of money”

But don't take BFTF's word for it, have a look at the report and decide for yourself !

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Foodbanks are a waste of time

Bear with me for a minute, before you get all angry.

A Hypothetical Scenario
Imagine, if you will, that your local counil had, as a cost cutting excercise, suddenly reduced the number of ambulances by 80%, resulting in many people not being able to get to hospital, or arriving in a much worse condition than might otherwise have been the case.

Would you and your neighbours get together and organise your own ad-hoc ambulance service, maybe using Dave's Ford Galaxy from up the road? Perhaps a fundraiser to cover expenses? And a rota of volunteers?

Or would you get really angry and challenge the council very strongly on why it was not performing its duty effectively? And to ask where, exactly, your taxes were going as they didn't seem to be going on provding services?

Or perhaps both of the above?

A Very Real Situation Right Now
The current economic downturn, combined with severe cuts in public services have put many people in dire economic need, and the general public has responded to this by forming foodbanks to provide the support that the state seems unwilling, or unable, to.

According to the Trussell Trust, who support the largest network of foodbanks in the UK, the number of people fed by the foodbanks in their network has grown as follows:

2005-06 : 2,814
2007-08 : 13,849
2009-10 : 40,898
2011-12 : 128,697

Typcially foodbanks will help a variety of people such as those who have had chnages in their benefits leaving them without money for a period of time, or asylum seekers who have "fallen through the cracks" during their appeal process and are destitute, or families who have had sudden expences to deal with.

It’s worth taking a moment to hear the testimonies of some of the people these foodbanks aim to support, with the following coming from the Trussell Trust, who work with communities across the UK in this area:


“When temperatures plummeted in January 2010 foodbank clients across the UK were forced to choose between eating and heating. For Anne-Marie and Danny, 22, a delay in benefits hit at the same time as Danny was off work with flu. He received no sick pay and finances got so tight that they were faced with eviction as well as having no money for food. The couple and their 18-month-old daughter, Tia, were living and sleeping in one room to reduce heating bills. They resorted to borrowing a tin of soup from their neighbours to stop little Tia going hungry...I don’t know what we would have done next if it wasn’t for the foodbank’, says Danny.”


“A primary school boy from Gloucester stopped attending school recently because he could not face the embarrassment of having no money for lunch. The mother of two explained that her husband had left her and that the benefits were in his name. He had not been contributing towards child care since leaving and when she informed the Benefits Agency all benefits were stopped, including child benefit, because of her ‘change in circumstances’. The support worker estimated that it would take two to four months for the benefits to be re-assessed...Fortunately, the foodbank was able to step in to help, enabling the boy to return to school.

Benefit delay and benefit re-assessment cause people across the UK to go hungry. Almost 40% of foodbank clients last year experienced benefit delay.”


And here in Nottingham, a typical story is that of Sue and her 5 children were referred to the Food Bank after fleeing from another city due to domestic violence. Despite intervention and support from Children’s Services and other agencies. The DWP took 6 weeks to process Sue’s benefit claims. When asked what she would have done if she had not been able to access the food bank Sue said had no idea. “I have no family in Nottingham and I don’t know anyone who could help me. I don’t want to think about what I would have done if the food bank not helped me”.

Or the case of Jane who has a 5 year old son and was referred to the food bank on a 3 week referral. Jane had missed her appointment to sign on due to an appointment with her social worker. Realising the appointment clashed she notified the DWP. However when she returned to sign on she was informed that her benefits would be sanctioned for 3 weeks as she had missed her appointment.

Or the case of John who was referred to the food bank following a 3 week benefit sanction. He went to sign on and has part of his job search his benefit advisor gave him 2 jobs to apply for. The companies were to send the job application forms directly to John. However both forms arrived after the closing date for the job, meaning John couldn’t apply. When John returned to the benefits office to sign on and explained what happened he was informed his benefits had been sanctioned for 3 weeks because he failed to apply for the 2 jobs.

Now, BFTF is fully supportive of foodbanks, as you can see here - but these are not an activity that people should have to spend their time on. In the case of BFTF, every moment spent supporting local foodbanks is a moment of precious "spare" time that BFTF would much rather spend transcribing interviews, or bigging up local high-tech companies, or walking, or helping the kids with their homework.

And BFTF gets the feeling that the conservative mindset is happy for the more caring in society to busy themselves with Foodbanks as it means they aren't able to challenge the social policies that caused the need for them in the first place.

George Lakoff describes the (US) conservative mindset as being one that “it is immoral to give people things they have not earned, because they will then not develop discipline and will become dependent and immoral" and that conservatives believe that "what you have to do is to reward the good [i.e. propserous] people with a tax cut, and make it big enough so that there is not enough money left for social programmes. By this logic, the [budget] deficit is a good thing. As Grover Norquist says “It starves the beast”’

Also, Olivier de Schutter, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has commented to the Independent that "...what I shall commence upon in the UK is the idea that governments have a responsibility in ensuring adequate diets.” and also "pointed to the rise of food banks in developed countries as evidence that governments had shirked their “responsibility not to leave the poorest behind""

So what should be done?
BFTF has emailed the local MP, relevant council portfolio holder and Conservative Party with this :

I have been shocked to see increasing numbers of Foodbanks being set up in Nottingham and have been further shocked to find that, according to the Trussel Trust, around 40% of foodbank clients experienced benefit delay. I pay my taxes specifically so that the government can ensure the most vulnerable in society are taken care of and helped to find their feet. Why am I now having to spend my post-tax income on buying food and helping volunteers to do the job the government and local council should have done in the first place? I note that the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has pointed to the rise of food banks in developed countries as evidence that governments had shirked their “responsibility not to leave the poorest behind""

Here are three examples of what is happening right here in Nottingham:

Sue and her 5 children who were referred to the Food Bank after fleeing from another city due to domestic violence. Arriving in Nottingham they faced a 6 week wait for their benefit claims to be processed. Sue commented that "I have no family in Nottingham and I don’t know anyone who could help me. I don’t want to think about what I would have done if the food bank not helped me”.

Jane has a 5 year old son and was referred to the Food Bank by Nottingham Law Centre and given a 3 week referral. She missed a DWP appointment as itclashed with a meeting with here her social worker. She notified the DWP informing that her appointment with her social worker clashed with her signing on date/time and explained she would attend later that day to sign on. However when she returned to sign on she was informed that her benefits would be sanctioned for 3 weeks as she had missed her appointment to sign on.

John was referred to the food bank following a 3 week benefit sanction. He went to sign on and has part of his job search his benefit advisor gave him 2 jobs to apply for. The companies were to send the job application forms directly to John. However both forms arrived after the closing date for the job, meaning John couldn’t apply. When John returned to the benefits office to sign on and explained what happened he was informed his benefits had been sanctioned for 3 weeks because he failed to apply for the 2 jobs.

These kinds of delays (which I have no doubt also existed under the Labour overnment) are unacceptable in one of the richest countries on earth.

I have two questions.

Firstly, what steps - and with what timscale - are local and national government working to redcue the processing time for "changes in circumstances" to below 1 week?

Secondly, when will DWP practices change so that stories such as those from Jane and John stop happening?


Response from Cllr Liversidge : Received sympathetic response from the Councillor on 7th March saying "In terms of processing time for change of circumstances being too long, I agree but we are having to work within an environment where local government are having to make cuts in service also. However I will contact the relevant department and portfolio holder to ascertain how we can bring down this change of circumstance time." BFTF chased the Cllr on this on the 29th March and 19th April

Response from MP : After chasing on the 5th April, received a sympathetic response that said the MP would challenge the government on this issue.

Response from Local Conservative Party : Chased on 5th April and on 19th April. Received the following, rather sympathetic, response from Councillor Georgina Culley, Conservative Group Leader, Nottingham City Council

"The Trussell Trust set up its first food bank in 2000 and is a very important and successful charity that in many ways is a fine example of the ‘Big Society’, although I understand it has been argued to the contrary. Charitable community organisations are well placed to provide help to people in crisis and I believe the rise in the number of food banks is a positive thing for our society, showing that not-for-profit organisations and local groups can deliver services responsibly, quickly and in a non bureaucratic way.

That peoples need for food banks has risen is, however, not cause for celebration. We remain in troubled economic times and you are absolutely right that where people are entitled to help, they should receive it in a timely fashion. While the government looks to make sure that the benefits system works for all and is as cost effective as it can be, it is crazy that the situations you describe exist where late payment or over zealous bureaucracy from benefits staff leads to a person in crisis falling in to further trouble, increasing the eventual burden on the state in the long run. This needs to be got right and I would hope that the individual cases you have raised have been flagged up with the appropriate bodies for further investigation.

With regards to your comments about what DWP are doing to reduce the processing times for ‘changes in circumstances’ to below one week, I will happily contact the relevant ministers for a detailed answer for you. Nottingham City Council currently aims to deal with change of circumstance notifications within two weeks, I have asked why this is the target and what could be done to improve this, but I appreciate that certainly during the next few months with the changes in the benefits system and the move to Universal Credit, the benefits service will be under some inevitable pressure.

Regards your second query, without the complete detail of the cases you have raised I can not comment further on how DWP practices might improve these outcomes, but I agree with you that if the government is keen to make the benefits system more efficient and fairer for all, then it needs to ensure it is treating those it supports with due diligence and respect."

BFTF emailed back thanking Cllr Culley for this genuinely helpful response, that BFTF looked forward to a response from govenment on the issue of "changes in circumstances" but that BFTF did not agree that Foodbanks were an example of the "Big Society". BFTF pays its taxes specifically so that the government can ensure people do not starve in this country. It is one thing for the government to subcontract services to charities, it is quite another for government to expect taxpayers to fork out a second time to do the governments job for them (and this is not an invitation for lower taxes, this is an encouragement for the government to do its job)

BFTF also contacted some foodbanks to tell them that they needed to challenge local government if their users were facing "change in circumstances" delays longer than two weeks.

Response from Central Government : Received a response (via local MP) on 28th May from Mark Hoban MP (Minister for Employment). The, broadly sympathetic, response included the following :

"...The DWP handles 93.7 percent of all notified change of circumstances within 6 days. The average time taken to deal with a change of circumstances for Jobseekers Allowance is 2.74 days. While this is encouraging generally, any delays are regrettable and I recognise the difficulties this can cause, especially in the circumstances described in [BFTF's] first example. Without more detail I am unable to comment specifically, but typically a six week delay would be unusual and unacceptable...."

"...I know Jobcentre Plus staff within Nottinghmam hold regular meetings with key local partners, for example Citizens Advice Bureau, the Nottingham Law Centre and local community groups, to discuss issues of interest and concern. For example, there has been a meeting recently with Nottingham City Council's welfare rights team leader to discuss isssues and concerns raised by councillors about benefit sanctions...."

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Double Standards in Halal certification?

Having been had cause to think about Halal meat certification in the UK, BFTF thought it a good time to put down on paper, as it were, thoughts on this and a number of a number of related issues…

A good place to start is an excellent (and remarkably objective) paper by Ramon “Ibrahim” Harvey entitled “Certification of Halal Meat in the UK”, published by the Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies.

Ibrahim points out that “the injunction to eat that which is halal (and indeed tayyib, or wholesome) is a fundamental aspect of the Islamic way of life” and that there is a “lack of a universal and authoritative standard or legal definition of halal.”

This in turn means that there is no legal sanction that can be employed against businesses that say they are selling halal meat but are not actually doing so.

In response to this, organisations such as HFA (Halal Food Authority) and HMC (Halal Monitoring Committee) have been formed to certify meat and poultry as being halal.

These two main certifying bodies have taken different views on what constitutes halal, particularly with regards to the two issues of pre-stunning and mechanical slaughter

Regarding pre-stunning, the Jewish and Muslim communities have exception from the EU legislation making this mandatory. Whilst the HMC do not allow pre-stunning, the HFA do allow electric pre-stunning (so long as it does not kill) for poultry, lambs, sheep and goats - but not for cows, possibly because no effective epecric method is available for these large animals

In the case of mechanical slaughter, this is a practice that is not allowed by the HMC. but is allowed by the HFA, so long as Muslim slaughtermen are present and saying the “Tasmiyah” at the same rate that the animals (usually poultry) are being killed.

These differences have caused a significant amount of disagreement and argument within the Muslim community regarding which of the bodies is acceptable. This debate also has cultural dimensions, with Ibrahim noting that whereas there are 37 butchers in the East of London, but none in the West of London (despite their being significant numbers of Muslim in both halves of the city. Ibrahim explains that this may well be because “the East is dominated by a broadly Deobandi influenced Bengali community, the West has a high proportion of Arab and Somali residents, who have seemingly ignored the growth of the HMC within the capital”

Ibrahim concludes by recommending that :

a) the certifying bodies should implement a system of labelling that states that “all relevant EU laws had been met, whether that particular meat had been stunned pre-slaughter, and whether it had been mechanically slaughtered.”

b) There should be “an agreement to mutual tolerance over diverse scholarly opinions, whether they are the majority opinion or not, and a serious effort to avoid the language of ‘nothalal’ in regard to such labelled products, as this is incredibly damaging and confusing to the community at large”

c) Thinking of the long term, the UK halal industry could take great strides in terms of its quality and accountability if “the HMC’s excellent grassroots work and rigorous monitoring procedures could be combined with the HFA’s impressive record of working with government and corporate entities, both nationally and internationally,”

Further comments by BFTF
Two issues related to Halal meat have troubled BFTF in recent years, as described below.

KFC
Back in 2010, KFC began selling halal chicken products in some of their stores, including at least one in Nottingham. As KFC were using poultry certificated by the HFA, this predictably led to comments by some Muslim organisations that Muslims should not buy these KFC products as they were not really halal. For example, BFTF received an email circular (from a local mosque ) that had a statement from the Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) attached in which following a meeting with KFC, they stated that :
“…the KFC chickens are stunned and mechanically slaughtered. The [LCM] Sub Group presented the LCM Halal criteria to the KFC representatives, which stipulates a condition of Halal to be slaughtered manually by a Muslim invoking the name of God. The Sub Group expressed concerns about mechanical slaughter and informed KFC that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the largest umbrella organisation in the UK, supports LCM’s position. . . the conclusion of the Sub Group is that the KFC Halal Supply Chain does not fulfil the LCM Halal criteria and therefore cannot be termed as Halal.”
BFTF wondered why KFC was being singled out for this treatment when Muslim owned fast food eateries and grocery shops were selling HFA certified products, or meat products with similar certifications. It felt like the Muslim community was insisting that KFC meet a very high standard whilst holding businesses in the Muslim community to a lower standard. To look at this a bit further, BFTF contacted Tahira Foods, one of the largest producers of processed meat products such as frozen burgers, and asked them about the way the animals in their products were slaughtered. (Tahira use the World Islamic Foundation Standard for Halal Certification).
Tahira responded that:
“Please note that the Tahira products using lamb and/or beef come from animals which have not been stunned. Products using chicken meat however come from animals which have been passed through a mild "bain marie" with an inspector on hand to ensure that they are still alive afterwards. In doing so we have relied on fatwas from al marhoum Dr Zaki Badawi as well as Sheikh Yussef Al Qaradawi mufti of Qatar and Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein fadhlallah”
And that, regarding the performing of the prayer at the time of slaughter:
“Inasmuch as chicken are concerned this is done by machine with an inspector on hand to invoke the name of Allah (SWT) and ensure the animal is not dead after going through the bain marie. Whereas in the case of beef and lamb this is done by a Muslim hand.”

So it seemed that, if the KFC products were not halal, then neither were the Tahira poultry products (which were widely available in virtually all Muslim food stores). So should Muslims be avoiding Tahira (and similar) products too?

BFTF asked, on a number of occasions, Jammat Alhe Sunnat, an organisation representing many of Nottingham’s mosques, whether they felt that the Tahira products were not halal - but did not receive a reply.

BFTF also asked, on a number of occasions, Nottingham Councils Muslim Communities Facilitator (a post that has since been discontinued), if they could raise this issue at their next committee meeting - but did not receive a response.

Nor did BFTF get a response on this issue from the local mosque that had sent out the original email.

Tayyib
As Ibrahim mentions in his paper, the concept of “Tayyib”, or wholesomeness, should go hand in hand with Halal slaughter.

“Tayyib” would include the animal being humanely raised and not undergoing suffering during its life. Yet this is something that both the HFA and HMC appear to ignore completely. They simply do not seem to have made the slightest effort to incorporate any animal welfare standards (relating to the life of the animal prior to slaughter) into their codes.

BFTF finds this very sad and very difficult to understand.

Star Wars, Pallets, Physics and Music at Light Night 2013

BFTF and No3 son happened to spend a little time at the “Light Night” event in Nottingham City Centre recently and have to say that it was a rather wonderful event.

There were numerous outdoor and indoor events, of which BFTF was only able to visit very few (in particular, BFTF was gutted that he did not catch the Daleks in front of the Theatre Royal). You can get a flavour of the full extent of what was available here,

No3 son was chuffed to see Star Wars characters by the Robin Hood Statue and even more chuffed that Darth Maul agreed to his challenge for a light sabre fight…


No3 Son vs Darth Maul, the Force was with the young Padawan...


Another installation that BFTF caught was the “Physics Buskers” crew on the front of the Council House. These volunteers from the Physics department of the University of Nottingham were demonstrating, amongst other things, how light sources differ spectroscopically and why the sky is blue.


Magic, by Phyics...



No3 Son, entranced by the spectrum of a lightbulb



Physics Buskers was popular, could this be a Jim Al-Khalili effect?


The Architecture department at the University of Nottingham had brought along their “Fleeting Retreat” installation that was made from pallets and binding, which you can read more about here.


The Fleeting Retreat


And, lastly, BFTF and No3 son were also at the, surprisingly good, school band performances at St Peters Church…


The School Bands played material ranging from O Fortuna to a song by Iggy Pop!


BFTF will defo be looking to be at Night Light 2014 !

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Nottingham University Mayfest 2011
The Snow Art of Simon Beck
Kings of Pastry
Himmah Eid Festival 2012

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Great Sciency Stories from East Midlands Universities

BFTF has spent quite a bit of time recently going through the 2012 news archives of the Universities of Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield and Loughborough to see what interesting sciency stuff they were up to in 2012.

It was a revelation.

From research on how black holes form (Leicester), to creating petrol from thin air (Loughborough), to reserach on the development of plant roots (Sheffield) and producionisation of a novel nano-particle production route (Nottingham), the research going on in the East Midlands is jaw-droppingly impressive.

Why not check it out for yourself at the links below :

Great Sciency Stories from the University of Nottingham in 2012
Great Sciency Stories from Loughborough University in 2012
Great Sciency Stories from the University of Sheffield in 2012
Great Sciency Stories from the University of Leicester in 2012


The University of Sheffield have been working on the SCT detector at CERN(ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN)