I’m proud of my estate. In various ways (some covered in previous posts here) the Government is doing its damnedest to turn our community into a basket case, but that’s not going to happen - and it’s first and foremost because of what Barton people are doing that it’s not going to happen.
I’d like to highlight a couple of projects on the Barton estate that are doing really good work. Both come, in different ways, from within the community rather than being good ideas delivered from outside.
The Thrive team of three social workers has been going since the beginning of last year. They’re currently helping about 80 children and young people in Barton. Getting a girl back to school who had not attended for a year and succeeding in getting a young lad who’d been causing trouble to stop doing that and apply to college are examples of the fruits of their individual mentoring of kids and young people from the estate.
They also run communal activities, above all their allotment. Last Saturday I attended the annual Thrive fundraising dinner, cooked and served by the kids themselves, with fruit and vegetables from the allotment and a lamb pie that wouldn’t have disgraced the Fishes in North Hinksey (for anyone who hasn’t eaten there recently, this is high praise). It was particularly good to hear from some of the kids themselves how Thrive was helping them and contributing to Barton.
What’s particularly good is that the team are based in Barton and have a house and of course an allotment that provide hubs for all kinds of activities. With the Tory County Council withdrawing youth services from the areas where they’re actually needed and concentrating their remaining youth workers in “hubs” where there is an appreciable risk that (despite their best effort and outreach plans) they’ll be massively overworked and desk-bound, this is very much needed.
Now the slightly controversial bit. The Thrive team are very successful youth workers, and there’s no disguising the fact that they’re Christians and strongly motivated by their faith. They work for a Christian charity, “Innovista” (please change the name, guys, it sounds like a double glazing installer).
This is where some people might get out the stoup of anti-holy water, if there is such a thing, and start to mutter “ne vas corrumpatis” under their breath. But would you object if your NHS nurse had decided to work in the NHS rather than a better-paid private hospital for reasons involving religious conviction? I see no problem, provided that evangelism isn’t part of what they do as youth workers, which it isn’t. They’re strongly committed to working with and for people of all faiths and none. What they’re doing should in my view be publicly provided as part of a comprehensive youth service, which no doubt would attract people motivated by faith to work for it. But the ConDems are moving as fast as their lipid feline Thatcherite legs can carry them in the opposite direction, the Thrive team are doing something there’s a desperate need for, and I for one am very thankful for that.
I was also delighted to have the opportunity, again last Saturday, to watch the karate club in action at a session for children and young people in Barton Neighbourhood Centre, which I was pleased that our excellent Labour MP also attended. Oxford Sport and Traditional Martial Arts, to give them their full name, are the best martial arts club in the region and have a number of members who compete at international level. What’s really good about them, though, is that they provide activities for kids – anti-bullying strategies, how to escape if a stranger grabs you, building confidence and fitness – in a variety of places and especially in Barton. Phil Patrick, who runs the club, lives on the estate and is very keen to get local children involved, and to go into schools and run classes and sessions. The club has remained active on the estate although it has better financial prospects elsewhere.Within its financial limits, it can waive fees for kids whose parentsa can’t afford them, and of course its anti-bullying and other one-off activities are free.
I had the opportunity to speak with teachers, parents and children and can see how the club has built confidence and health, and can do so with kids from difficult backgrounds who are otherwise quite withdrawn. I’ve also seen how it brings together kids from different backgrounds and origins in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual respect. It’s a very good thing for the estate and chronically short of cash. I’ll be giving it a grant from my ward budget to enable more of the basic stuff to be advertised and offered to local kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford anything of the kind.