“We Fed The Ants Smarties”
Having been asked to write my very first “Blog” by Joe Doran, who according to a previous missive; “does not like blogs!” I find myself in a rather unusual predicament. Trying to achieve the impossible! So here we go. I’ll do my best. Bring it on!
I’m Christine Frazer. I work for the NHS in Teams and Dunston, a fine part of ‘God’s own Country’ The North of England. Gateshead to be specific. Famous for several interesting folk; John Barras — Founder of Newcastle Breweries, Marcus Bentley — Narrator of Big Brother, Thomas Bewick — Engraver, Eliezer Adler — Founder of Jewish Community in Gateshead, and Emily Davies — Educational reformer and feminist. (To name but a few)
My position is part-funded by Lankelly Chase. Over the next 18 months, I will be chatting to local people, listening to their stories and looking at ways in which funding for communities can work differently.
I am neither an academic nor am I a statistician. I hold no experience in working for The Charitable Sector and I have never worked with or for a funding provider.
“So”… I hear you say; “What on earth is she up to?”
At the beginning of lockdown, I started volunteering for Mutual Aid and Age UK. I delivered food parcels, visited the elderly, picked up prescriptions and generally got to know my neighbours. It was a tough time. However, the sense of community seemed to blossom.
On a Monday we, as a neighbourhood, baked. We swapped cheese scones with Battenberg, fish pie with chocolate cake, all the while standing at the bottom of a garden gate chatting and getting to know one another.
On a Tuesday I delivered prescriptions on my bike. I was Teams and Dunston’s very own legal drugs mule. I got to know local residents in need of not only medical support but also company, kindness and a listening ear.
During this time I met Kim. A carer, she worked all the way through the pandemic on night shifts, staying overnight in peoples homes, tending to their every need. She bathed, washed, cooked and cared for our most vulnerable.
One morning I found Kim having a cigarette at the top of the street. She had just come off a night shift. I asked her how she was doing. She replied with tears in her eyes;
“It’s not covid that is killing the people I work with. It’s loneliness Christine.”
On a Wednesday, I was often the keeper of ‘The Bat Phone.’ Myself, Kathryn and Em took it in turns to answer a mobile phone for local residents who were struggling through lockdown. We could write a book on the calls we processed during that time. Rat catching, domestic violence, homelessness and ‘What Time DIY SOS Was on the Telly’ were among the requests for help or information.
What started as a volunteer post turned into a full-time job for me in February 2021.
Thursdays now begin with a ‘zoom’ coffee morning with my colleagues; Anya, Abby, Andy and Mary. Each conversation I have with local people is written down and I share the rich tapestry of Teams and Dunston life with this motley crew. As time goes on we are slowly building links, creating maps and pockets of commonality and incongruity in Teams and Dunston.
On a Friday I now visit a Pop-up Shop, run by The Big Local Gateshead. Here volunteers give out food parcels provided by Fairshare and Marks and Spencers to local residents for a small donation.
It is called a Pop-up Shop, as people are welcome to give a donation, or not. The local people have immense pride in helping those less fortunate than themselves. A ‘food bank model’ has not worked, many residents don’t want anything for free. Terry, a local single father of two, living on Universal Credit told me;
“I don’t need charity. That’s for the poor. I’m not taking anything that I can’t pay my way for.”
This tiny ‘blog’ snapshot of the last 3 months that I have been working on this project does not do it justice. During this time I have been amazed and touched by the hard work, empathy and passion of local people. Swapping school uniform when families can’t pay for new, listening over the fence to those in mental health crisis, counselling those who have lost a loved one to suicide, murder, sex-trafficking, addiction, malnutrition, homelessness.
The importance of cohesion, communication, teamwork and sharing of resources is paramount in Teams and Dunston, as we slide slowly out of lockdown and emerge from a pandemic.
Council funding has been slashed and cut so much that more and more local people are working together with whatever they have to solve social, economic and environmental crises.
This is where system change models and funding practices can be reinvented, reimagined, rebooted and revitalised. The current models are not working. Lasting change, real longevity of support is not happening.
We need to start acting like Jess, Catherine and Tyler, three 3-year-olds. in my street who burst into my garden yesterday shouting; “ CHRISTINE WE FED THE ANTS SMARTIES.”
The sheer joy of these little humans helping the tiniest creatures who normally fend for themselves, ask for nothing and whatever the obstacle overcome it together really got me thinking…
What would it look like if we started to feed the ants smarties?