The view over Nottingham as seen from the hilly terrain of St Ann’s is something many University of Nottingham (UoN) students won’t have seen; the district lies on the opposite side of city to the university. Within St Ann’s vista from Blue Bell Hill you see its buildings, ageing residences of a low market value, and the city’s central professional and residential developments. It’s a point that The Guardian noted in an article about the city ward’s view back in 2012, and which is relevant still – “all human life lies below”. There’s a distinction between the foreground and the city centre in the distance, both visually and socially.
The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) ranks of areas within St Ann’s put it collectively within the bottom 10% nationally on issues of health, crime and income deprivation. Additionally, a large proportion of the city ward scores extremely low in regards to education and skills training, posing significant threats to upward social mobility.
Social mobility for people here is stagnated by a variety of issues including social prejudice and educational shortcomings
Cherry Underwood, chief executive of local charity The Renewal Trust explains that “not only are people economically less mobile and subsequently less able to navigate a way out of their position of poverty, but there is also lack of hope, a vulnerability that makes it so much more challenging socially”.
In St Ann’s there are hundreds living in domestic poverty. Social mobility for people here is stagnated by a variety of issues including social prejudice and educational shortcomings. But the struggle has heated up in recent years as local people; groups, students and charities across the area are leading what could be seen as a grassroots attempt to bring about change in response to recent central government decisions.
Cherry believes that such decisions have caused damage locally: “The far reaching consequences of the welfare reform are yet to be felt. We have seen the growth in the use of food banks, the Bedroom Tax, the employment sanctions and welfare advice services, but what isn’t so visible is the effect this has on relationships, health and family/community structures”.
The Trussell Trust, a community project tackling poverty and exclusion in the UK, has alone reported a usage increase from 25,899 people in 2008-2009 to 913,138 in 2013-2014
She went on to state: “Stress, depression, low self-esteem and lack of hope are the ‘hidden’ impacts of austerity. Over the medium and longer term these will do even greater damage and gradually erode a family’s structure and relationships and this will be affecting their neighbours and their friends”.
It’s become increasingly relevant to talk about issues of poverty in recent years, as more people are forced to the extremes within our own cities and suburbs. Food bank usage has increased dramatically; The Trussell Trust, a community project tackling poverty and exclusion in the UK, has alone reported a usage increase from 25,899 people in 2008-2009 to 913,138 in 2013-2014.
In Nottingham, the St Ann’s and Sneinton Food Store feeds about 40 people on zero income every Thursday. They don’t call themselves a ‘food bank’ because they don’t want to be associated in any way with financial ‘banks’. “Banks caused this issue”, Steph Hagen, who manages the Food Store on behalf of St Ann’s Advice Centre, tells Impact.
“If the food store didn’t exist, many of the adults and their children who come here would very literally go hungry”
The financial crisis of 2008 has been widely accredited deregulation of banking and a culture of over-leveraging. Since then, St Ann’s has been feeling the increased pinch of austerity, causing an increase in domestic poverty.
James Goodman*, one of the food store users, said that he has been forced to claim food parcels for almost a year now in order to feed himself and his two children. He tells Impact: “I’ve been unable to find work as of yet, and the benefits I applied for to keep me and my children going until I can find work have been ‘processing’ for a year”. During this time he has been living on zero income.
“The woman who owns the chip shop, she shouts at me when I’m walking here with my kids”
The food store staff explain to Impact: “If the food store didn’t exist, many of the adults and their children who come here would very literally go hungry”, which has left people like James in a disquieting situation. When asked if there was a message he wanted the world to know, James said that he wanted people to understand: “No one wants to be in this situation. This is not my choice. No one would choose this”.
James also tells Impact about the abuse that he has received. “It’s happened a few times now. The woman who owns the chip shop, she shouts at me when I’m walking here with my kids. She calls us scrounging bastards and scum”. James’ experience here is not unique, in fact it is disconcertingly routine.
This September The Mirror published figures from a YouGov survey that shows up to 212,000 claimants have been physically attacked specifically because they are on benefits. Furthermore, 6% say that their children have been bullied at school because their family receives benefits.
The recent passing of David Clapson, who died after having his Job Seekers’ Allowance stopped when he was unable to attend one meeting, highlights the cracks within the current system. In his final week he was unable to afford food or put credit onto his electricity card, meaning that his fridge where he kept his insulin stopped working.
“The government’s own figures revealed that 1,300 people had died after being told they should start preparing to go back to work”
Another food store user, Sarah Nightingale*, tells Impact about her situation: “I’ve been unable to work for a while now due to health reasons. I should be getting ESA (ESA is the Employment and Support Allowance; it was introduced in 2008 to replace incapacity benefit) but they stopped it 22 weeks ago because I was unable to attend a medical appointment. I have been to the medical appointment since then but they haven’t processed it yet, so I’ve not been getting anything”.
In the UK, the Work Capability Assessment is administered by a UK subsidiary of Atos, a transnational private corporation based in France, who is contracted by the government to carry out the assessments, for the price of £100 million per year. A person’s GP or consultant cannot make the assessments. Atos have been widely criticised; one article in The Guardian last year reported: “The government’s own figures revealed that 1,300 people had died after being told they should start preparing to go back to work”.
Sarah continued telling Impact: “If the food store didn’t exist I’d be starving. I’d have nothing. I want people to understand just how bad it can get”.
One of the main issues facing residents of St Ann’s is that of stereotyping. Not only has the area been criticised in the media over recent years due to its crime rate, and specifically its history of gun and knife crime, but also St Ann’s in general is seen as a ‘benefits area’ in Nottingham. The Telegraph published an article in 2005 describing Nottingham as the “city of drugs and murder”, noting cases from the St Ann’s ward, and more recently in 2013 the BBC wrote an article targeting one individual in St Ann’s who was running a “munitions factory”.
Crime and benefit stereotyping are two separate and yet comparable issues; both increased numbers of benefit claimants and levels of crime are indicators of a lack of social mobility, and stereotyping of these issues in relation to an area usually deters mobility aiding investment within that area, causing a cycle from which it is difficult to escape.
“It is unjustified and unfair that society’s blame for these issues should be placed entirely upon the population that has been victimised”
Mary O’Hara’s 2014 publication Austerity Bites discusses in an academic depth with statistical analysis how “long-term cycles of unemployment, poverty and racism [are] being exacerbated by austerity”. Her work talks about the decrease in real value of the minimum wage and increased debt among the poor in her chapter “Welcome to WongaLand”.
The Renewal Trust’s Director of Media and Communications comments: “It is unjustified and unfair that society’s blame for these issues should be placed entirely upon the population that has been victimised, and not upon the governance and media that enforces social segregation and serves to diminish social mobility”.
But the struggle to socially renew the area is making ground in recent years. Help is coming on a local level, largely from charities and volunteers and St Ann’s has started to gain a greater degree of positive focus.
“We offer disadvantaged young people aged 7-18 the support often taken for granted in better-off homes”
Across the square from St Ann’s Food Bank, IntoUniversity, a scheme set up to help those living in disadvantaged areas access Higher Education, have their East Nottingham base. Dr Rachel Carr, Chief Executive of IntoUniversity, says: “IntoUniversity runs 18 local learning centres across the UK, including one in St Ann’s in Nottingham.
“We offer disadvantaged young people aged 7-18 the support often taken for granted in better-off homes, providing an integrated programme of after-school academic support, mentoring and aspiration-raising FOCUS schemes to help young people to achieve their academic potential and build their self-esteem and confidence”. She adds: “We support students over the long term, with provision beginning at primary school in order to give students the best chance of progressing to Higher Education”.
Local charity, The Renewal Trust, is also making waves within the area, taking a holistic approach to social improvement. Cherry Underwood tells Impact: “The Trust provides support for people not only getting back into employment but also in starting their own business, as we advocate local jobs for local people. We are also firmly committed to getting local people into skilled jobs and ensuring that there are accessible training opportunities.
“These experiences create confidence, hope, pride, aspiration and relationships that cannot easily be quantified, but deliver a real improvement to the lives of people locally”
“But employment is only one of our approaches; through taking part in our top quality sports activities residents can be more active, healthier, build new relationships and be more confident with others. More recently, our Rankin4Notts project made St Ann’s allotments hit the news for all the right reasons, as a prime location for arts and culture within the city”.
The Rankin4Notts project brought world renowned photographer Rankin to St Ann’s Allotments, the oldest and largest area of Victorian detached town gardens in the world. During his visit, Rankin photographed thirty local allotment holders on their plots, bringing national media attention to the area, including the BBC Two special Museums at Night and in print in the BBC’s Gardeners’ World Magazine. “These experiences create confidence, hope, pride, aspiration and relationships that cannot easily be quantified, but deliver a real improvement to the lives of people locally”, Cherry explains.
Students from the University of Nottingham are also now getting involved, with two student run groups focusing on food poverty, providing a ‘soup run’ service in the city centre. Martine Hesketh, Volunteering Manager at the Student Volunteer Centre tells us: “Over 3,000 students took part in a variety of volunteering roles last year, and that is just the ones we know about, I have no doubt there are many more students who volunteer through links they have made themselves.
“UoN students’ involvement in volunteering to support tackling local, national and international issues differs from: Taking part once in a short one off volunteering role, to committing to an organisation weekly for a year, to running their own ‘mini charity’ (Student Led Projects). We have had students collect for local food banks at key times such as festive periods and at the end of the academic year”, Martine adds.
As local charities continue in their missions and search on for funding, local residents who have the most to lose have equally taken on the duty of care for St Ann’s and their own futures
With plans in place for further austerity measures, the work of local people could soon get much harder. Social mobility and normal ways of life in St Ann’s have become largely reliant upon the free labour of volunteers. The Renewal Trust claims: “While the willingness and commitment of local people in volunteering is one of the most vital and uplifting features of St Ann’s, and one which we are proud to promote, we are keen to highlight the ways in which it is being rigorously exploited by central government, used as a safety net for poorly considered policy, and been ignorantly branded as ‘the big society’ in governmental discourse”.
As local charities continue in their missions and search on for funding, local residents who have the most to lose have equally taken on the duty of care for St Ann’s and their own futures.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality