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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

what happened to April and May?

So what did happen to April and May, first we went away for two weeks. Then there was the General Election, I delivered leaflets for my local Green candidate and for a few, carefully selected Lib Dem local candidates in another town and for one LD parliamentary candidate in another place entirely. Then the aftermath, plunged into gloom about continuing austerity, always hitting the poorest hardest and now almost only them, Human Rights and Europe and of course renewable energy (or not, under the current regime).

Now the sun is out, the garden needs attention and the lovely long northern evenings weigh against spending the time on my computer.

However life in my small society has continued.

the front group coming
up the hill
the Alzheimer's van
I had a most successful two days during the Tour de Yorkshire. First at Sledgate, or Cote de Robin Hood's Bay, with the National Park, and here is one to prove it. As well as the National Park presence the local Alzheimer's society were raising awareness with this pink decorated van,

If you're wondering about the
horse, well horse racing is
a big part of the local economy
The next day our local Fairtrade group,, had a stall in Norton library, we sold lots of cycling related items, like bike earrings and pin badges. The library and our stall were especially decorated for the day. The knitted jumpers were from the local knit and natter group, thanks to them for lending us some of their art work.

The Fairtrade group also had a stall at the Folk Festival and at St Michael's Church (many thanks) during the Food Lovers' Festival. Flying the flag for Fairtrade food as often as we can.

the dreaded stuff!
Coasties, also North York Moors, has had its usual variety of tasks and weather. Cutting back, clearing thickets to reveal a long lost path, cleaning wooden framed steps (quite easy) and stone pitching (not at all easy). One day we were clearing a way through almost impenetrable gorse so that local researchers could try out a new treatment to try to weaken the invasive Himalayan Balsam.
And then, out for a walk, one lovely late afternoon, a sign I had been waiting for, on the right, at the new length of the Cleveland Way through the alum works at Ravenscar. On the left you can see part of the 'project'., and
Thanks to the Park staff who organised and erected this sign, and one the other end of the new section.

Meanwhile over in Leeds my new role as a Trustee of LASSN,, has proved to be busy and sad. Because funds are now less than they were we have had to make two members of staff redundant. I have been involved in helping to transfer their work to other members of staff and to volunteers. Some services have had to be closed down, hopefully only temporarily. Such essential work, helping some very vulnerable people in our society. Volunteers will only be able to keep things ticking over, no new people can be helped, once again it shows how some paid staff are essential for any charity or community organisation.  I have also been visiting my two 'befriendees', chatting, making phone calls and simply being a friend.

Sadly too the need for a Food Bank continues in Ryedale (friends in the big cities cannot believe it, nor can I), the sooner they can all close through lack of need, the better. I have taken donated food to the local warehouse and then required food to the distribution, and once again, you can't just walk in and pick up a bag of goodies, you HAVE to be referred by a specific agency.

Finally, just to show that my demonstrating days are not over, here is a picture of people outside
Yarlswood detention centre, Bedfordshire, showing solidarity for the detainees and asking that this appalling place be closed down., you can find out more here or just google Yarlswood.

OK, signing off, and I will try to post in July, but no promises.

Monday, 16 March 2015

job replacement or volunteers can do it just as well?

Since I last posted the topic of volunteers replacing paid staff has come up several times.

My local library is about to close, unless it can be run entirely by volunteers; apparently there will be a paid member of staff a phone call away, but what if they are on leave or just at lunch? Apart from the obvious that being a librarian is a lot more than stamping books, there is the problem that I have referred to time and again; if a family crisis or even a minor illness happens a volunteer may have different priorities to those of a paid member of staff. if a library is deemed to be a necessary part of a civilised society then people should be paid to run it. Volunteers can perform many tasks, taking books selected by library staff to housebound people is one, but actually running front line services should not be one.

Another example came at the AGM of the Voluntary Ranger service of the North York Moors National Park, . In a presentation on the Public Rights of Way network, footpaths and bridleways to most of us, it was made quite clear that volunteers would have to do far more than they had before. No longer just cutting back, cleaning steps, unblocking drains and sorting out board walks, now it is to be hanging gates, building stiles, all jobs previously done by redundant field staff. Some of us will not do this, but enough will that the jobs will get done and no one will notice that some people are now looking for jobs whilst others with pensions do their jobs for them. In another National Park, quite ridiculously, some people are now doing work as self employed contractors that could probably be done more cheaply if they were still to be employed! Will the same happen here?

However my small society has carried on, trying to distinguish between genuine voluntary things and job replacement. I have been to Leeds several times, for Several phone calls, the first to the housing provider of one of my clients to a problem she had already reported. Water pouring down the side of the bath into the kitchen below, not just a nuisance for her, but not good for their property. My call resulted in a repair within six hours, why? what was different about my phone call? My other call for my friend was about the long running saga of the gas bill, this time they have agreed to increase the time that her debt (caused by their inability to bill) can suddenly be spread over many more months, again why?

glug glug

Coasties has also carried on, one of the best tasks was drain clearing on a lovely sunny day at Ravenscar for the National Trust, Huge satisfaction when I found and cleared the entrance to a culvert under a field entrance, what a lovely glug glug as the muddy water drained away. 

storing the gravel half way down
the start of the chute

Last Wednesday we were on the Cleveland Way south of Scarborough. More sunshine in the morning and an ingenious way of getting the gravel we use for steps and in muddy areas to the site; many, many steep steps from the road. Two lengths of culvert as an improvised chute, then the gravel was stored in a temporary area, the sections moved down and the gravel moved further down. Although this section is close to a large town access for materials is very hard, steep slopes and crumbling woodland means every thing has to be brought in by hand. 

Our Fairtrade, and local craft fair was a big success, the Fairtrade stall of international crafts did well as did the local crafts, from wood turning to shawls knitted from dog hair,
the Noddies, popular
with all ages.
everyone was pleased and will come again. I was so busy I forgot to take any photos, so here is one from a previous year! Thanks again to the Friends for making us so welcome at their Meeting House.

During Fairtrade fortnight I also spoke to several local schools about Fairtrade, led a workshop on how a village might decide to use their FT premium and helped two schools with their stalls of FT goods. If anyone out there wants to do the same please let me know.

Sadly the Foodbank, continues, I help by moving donated food to our warehouse and then take some bags of selected good to various distribution places. Thanks to those who donate and shame on those in power that have made them necessary. 

The end of a mixed bag, some good, some sad and some bad.


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

much of the same

One Saturday I am off to Helmsley for a first aid course, it is just a short one to renew my certificate, I am supposed to have one as a Voluntary Ranger,, I actually manage to do the chest compressions fast enough. The course leader seems to live in an unreal world though, just a few days ago the news was about waits for ambulances, but she seems to think one would arrive in minutes, when ever or where ever we called them. Heh hoh!

Monday morning is my food bank run, from one of the main collection points to the 'warehouse'; I gather that one of the shortages is of toilet paper. I have a supermarket voucher that will offer me cheaper petrol if I spend so much on paper goods, so I make a note to buy extra for the food bank and get cheaper petrol Have a chat about how this in my only voluntary activity that I wish didn't exist.

That evening I speak to an anti-fracking motion that I have asked my local Town Council to debate, I am delighted that it is passed unanimously., thank you to the Town councillors. We should be looking to use less carbon fuels not more, reducing the need for power and generating far more from renewables.

this is not a hedge, it's the
stuff we've cut back

'sweeping' up the gorse
with a gorse broom

Coasties has been out and about, cutting back a totally overgrown path in the north of the Park and then helping the National Trust cut back and move a mountain of gorse.

Over in Leeds I take my new 'befriendee' to a drop in with Manuel Bravo, to see if they can help her find a solicitor for her new asylum claim. They listen carefully and agree that they can! I ring the befriending manager at LASSN, with the good news and race to the bus station to get my bus home.

One evening we go to a meeting locally about our local library becoming a 'community' library, they pretend this is a good idea, no it's not, it's about pretending that essential local services can be run by volunteers. I refuse to take part, it is applying a small sticking plaster to the unnecessary and appalling cuts to public services, a blood transfusion is needed. People need to see the effect of the cuts to public services, not let them be propped up this way. I am even more shocked that a service that is often used by vulnerable people will be staffed by people who will not have had any sort of back ground check.

On a more cheerful note here is a picture of a still snowy landscape on a very sunny day near Stape. Even this peaceful rural scene has been spoiled over the last few days by a motor bike roaring across the woodland, the tyre tracks are still plain to see.

Friday, 16 January 2015

back after a solstice break

Some may call it Christmas and the New Year, some may call it the winter solstice and the feast of Saturnalia; whatever your choice we volunteers take a break. None of my activities are involved with the emergency services so I stop for a while, huddle indoors in the dark and feed and water my family. My last activity was a food bank run, hopefully with supplies to last whilst even the food bank was closed, Just before the break I met a friend in Leeds who said to me in disbelief, "you're telling me you have a food bank in Ryedale!" Indeed we do, we would rather not, but that is the reality of life in the apparent prosperity of my home town.

lunch break
the view back as we left
First back were the Coasties, but on a Thursday and with all the rest of the North York Moors volunteers, , it was our annual Supertask. We were planting oak trees on a slope cleared from its previous cover of conifers. Or rather not completely cleared; we dug and stumbled amongst the brash left by the felling contractors, but the sun shone and we chatted and planted. By the end of the day we had planted over 1000 trees. If you travel on the North York Moors Railway you can see the hill side between Pickering and Levisham stations 

an old privy?
Then I did a Ranger patrol between Thornton Dale and Dalby forest, does anyone know what this curious brick structure is just south of Sand Dale? The forest may seem rather dull in the winter, but then this amazing lichen comes along to liven it up, the picture on the right. 

Next up was the AGM of LASSN, Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network, I have ?rashly? agreed to become a Trustee, a member of a committee, how mad am I? After years of committee work I had said never again, but it is very good cause and only six meetings a year, we go. Before the meeting I meet a new person to befriend, she is lonely as she has been sent here from London where all her friends are. We chat for an hour and I agree to come back next week. I also manage to see my 'leave to remain' friend, who is still having the most bizarre struggles with her gas provider. They want her to pay less each month to pay off the debt that their incompetence led her into. I persuade them that she can, just, afford to go on paying the higher amount and wants to. Words fail me.

At one of the social evenings that are our local Fairtrade meetings, in a pub, of course, we sort out our now annual local and Fairtrade Craft Fair. We are also excited that very soon we will have our very own website, watch this space. Meanwhile here is the snazzy poster for our craft fair. We also plan our activities and displays for Fairtrade Fortnight, end of February and beginning of March.

my long shadow in
the winter sun
packing up, job done
Lastly another day in the sun for Coasties, but very cold. We are cutting back overgrowing hedges on the Cleveland Way north of Cloughton, However the work makes me warm enough to have to take off my hat and scarf. We even find a sheltered place for lunch, the views are stupendous, all the way to Flamborough head.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Lots of Fairtrade stalls and a goodbye

A very hectic few weeks with Fairtrade stalls at two local schools, West Heslerton and St Mary's in Malton, lots of pocket money priced toys and gifts for parents. Both schools excelled themselves and raised more in previous years, both for Fairtrade producers and in a small way for their own funds. We also had stalls at the local council offices and at a concert at Saville Street Methodist church, where over £100 worth of goods was sold in about half an hour. A lot of hard work, but in the end a success. Thanks again to Fairer World shop in York,

I said 'goodbye' to one of our National Park rangers, once at lunch after a hard morning's work at Hayburn Wyke, then a smarter occasion when the Voluntary Rangers had a 'posh' meal. Both sad, particularly so as it should never have happened. Maintenance of the footpath and bridleway network will inevitably suffer, so fewer people will visit the Park which will then mean less income for local small businesses etc, and so we go on.

On a cold, but sunny morning we 'dressed' the trees in Malton Castle Garden, . Local Brownie groups came along and using biodegradable coloured rice paper, kindly donated by our local Scoops shop, coloured and cut and made these lovely decorations. We agreed to do it again next year and one of the Guide leaders offered to do hot drinks, an excellent idea. The children had a wonderful time, running about in the open space and scuffling through the leaves.

I did my first 'run' taking food for the local food bank to the distribution centre; very timely as it was the week that the national press featured an important report on the dreadful fact that food banks are now a feature of life in almost every town in the country. I used my winter fuel allowance to add my own contribution, really this nonsense of pensioners being treated with kid gloves whilst younger people in work have all their benefits effectively cut, has to

building the frame of
the board walk
Coasties,, seems to have been in the far north for several weeks, first building a board walk across an incredibly boggy area north of Scaling Dam, then repairing steps and cutting back gorse on the Cleveland Way, at Skinningrove.
the sun on pigeon lofts
 above Skinningrove


 Earlier in the month we
 had been in these magical woods at Hayburn Wyke (left).

This is the season for parties and volunteers are no exception. LASSN,, had theirs on a very wet evening in Leeds. However the atmosphere was cheerful as we shared a meal and exchanged tips and stories about our friends who are either seeking refuge or have gained the right to stay in this country.

So a happy end to this post, the last of 2014. I will share more thoughts with you next year.


Sunday, 30 November 2014

some additions to my small society

Before I come on to the item in the title I thought you might like to see the audience for a recent Coasties task Whilst we cut back the trees encroaching on a bridleway next to their field they watched and watched and watched. They say cattle are curious, well these certainly were. It was earlier this month, when there were still some sunny days and I took this picture on the right on the way home. Not for the first time I thought how lucky I am to be able to volunteer in such a beautiful area. It seems to have been a month for bridleways, until last week when we had the most wonderful bonfire, working with the National Trust at Ravenscar, alas I forgot my camera, so you will have to take my word for it.

The addition is a truly shocking fact, that here in a comparatively wealthy part of the country we have a food bank, And no you can't just get a parcel if you feel like it, or don't want to go shopping. You have to fulfil strict criteria and then be referred by someone like a health visitor or a doctor. I am going to be helping by moving donated food from the collecting places to the 'warehouse' where it is checked for dates, sorted and packed into suitable packs for families, single people etc. I had a long chat with the organiser, whose dearest aim is not to have a job, but we both thought that, sadly, that might be a long term aim. I have slight issues with the fact, that, like most food banks, it is part of the Trussell Trust, which is a Christian based organisation, but as they are happy to have Humanists like me involved I won't moan any more. What a disgrace it is that one of the richest countries in the world has reduced some of its citizens to having to rely on food parcels.

I had a good evening at the LASSN offices; after meeting my friend and once again spending time on the phone trying to sort out the endless saga of her fuel bill. I gave  up trying to understand when a helpful young man told me that, despite the bill showing an increased amount, actually she could now pay less each month. Later several of the volunteers had a useful hour discussing how we could meet up more often and share ideas and good practice. I have agreed to become a Trustee (if I am elected at the AGM), in the New Year, having said no committees when I retired, we shall see how long I last!

There have been several Fairtrade stalls since I last blogged. At this time of the year the crafts always sell well; people still surprised that Fairtrade now goes well beyond the original coffee, tea and chocolate. Our latest venture was at a craft fair in the Milton Rooms in Malton A bigger picture than usual so you can see some of the crafts available. Tomorrow I will be taking some of these and other pocket money items to two local schools so that their pupils can buy presents for their families and help families in developing countries at the same time. Thank you to West Heslerton and St Mary's Malton. Trade is better than Aid. thanks to Fairer World in York for providing the goods

A bit of a sad week ahead as Coasties says goodbye to one of our Rangers; a victim of the wholly unnecessary cuts that are decimating out public services for vindictive political reasons that have nothing to do with any sensible economic policies.