Sunday, 23 September 2007

The Golden Rule

As a Chelsea supporter this last week has been depressing, though the departure of the Special One - the most successful manager in the club's history - has been coming for a while as tensions between him and the owner have increased. One report said this was the moment when Chelsea ceased to be a football club and became a rich man's plaything. Once again, in a fight for control, the bloke with the cash has the ultimate power.

When it comes to questions of funding for local social action projects I'm fond of quoting "The Golden Rule" as defined by the Wizard of Id cartoon: "He who has the gold makes the rules". I touched on this in my last sabblog entry... where money goes is dictated by the giver. Certainly a funder should not be coerced to donate where he doesn't want to, but it means for the situation here that the people best placed to work effectively in the community have least say in getting resources to where they are most needed. Worse, funding can be used to back up the latest government initiative or think-tank or knee-jerk reaction. These change frequently so it's not uncommon for a project to find its funding stopped as it is no longer in line with the current fad, or for organisations to have to try and tweak what they really want to do to fit criteria laid down by someone else somewhere else. Worst of all is this seeming obsession with 'innovation' which makes continuation funding for last year's new idea to help it get established long term is much harder to come by. Then there's the bureaucracy... It all means those who don't have the skills for subtly wording huge application forms, or the time, end up frustrated and dis-empowered.

In my limited experience the Church Urban Fund is better at listening to local voices, while the Seedbed fund is unique in giving money straight to the cutting edge of community action with very few if any strings attached. Anyone know of any others?

Still, at the end of the day Brian, football is only a game, seemingly now even more a rich man's one. Trouble is funding is a game too, biased to those who know how to play and excluding those who don't, or won't. In both, he who has the gold makes the rules. Can that be changed?

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Thursday, 20 September 2007

Gold Braid and Jerk Chicken

Nothing for ages then several at once...!

Last night was the official presentation of Carisma's Queen's Award for, um, hang on (checks photo) Voluntary Service. The Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff beamed down in their gold braided uniforms and we also had the Lord Mayor and some senior Police people. I had to dig out the wedding suit again - that's twice in a week - and give the acceptance speech. Another new experience in this eventful few weeks. Actually, despite my implication that these guys are from another planet - I mean you don't actually see them every week in Asda - I had a good chat with them beforehand. One was a bit Home Counties, using words like 'churlish', but they were both nice blokes with a track record in community stuff, albeit (now who's Home Counties?) on a different level. And I now know what the difference is between the two (todays quiz question folks).

So, to the accompaniment of reggae music and followed by a superb meal of Jerk Chicken, rice and curried mutton, and with loads of friends, helpers, supporters and other activists and a TV crew in attendance, we got presented with the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service by HRH's gold-braided rep in Greater Manchester. It was a bizarre but very British mix of old and new culture which actually worked well together to make a very successful event!

The award is a nice recognition of what Carisma has achieved so far, though the experience of another community group we work closely with who got one of these a couple of years back but still mostly fund themselves makes me a bit wary of such pats on the back. I said as much (nicely I hope) in my speech, and that we'd barely started on the problem and needed more resources - money, skills, (local) people - to take it to the next stage... whatever that is. We're still a fairly chaotic, make-it-up-as-you-go-along outfit, but totally grass-roots and local with a good grasp of the issues and what needs to be done.

It's one of the things I've done a lot of thinking about during my sabbatical - all the talk of the community having the answers and empowering local people needs to get way beyond where it currently is in practice (i.e. well controlled on a fairly short leash - short-term, safe, bureaucratic, distant and subject to the whims of the latest bit of think-tank, vote-catching must-be-seen-to-be-doing-something policy. Cynical? Moi?). A culture-change is needed so provision is community-led. Or... Trust the Community. Easier said than done. Maybe this award will give us a bit more leverage and credibility to build that trust and relationship. Maybe the local churches could be the first to show that trust of community by being more willing to work WITH rather than for... and being in control of what they do. "True incarnation is when I go out and get involved in a local project where I don't run the show and I don't pull all the strings" Steve Chalke. Selah.

P.S. I was very aware that as we arrived for the presentation yesterday my mum was going into surgery in Belfast. News so far is good - the op went well and as of about 4pm today she was up and walking round the ward! Thanks for the prayers.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2007


Oh dear. Over a month since my last scribble. Well, since August 7...

- A lovely family holiday in Barcelona. Judith and I, plus Holly and Alannah (who decided to come this year - could it have been the choice of destination?), our niece Emma, and Grandad had 8 days in an amazing city. It was our first visit, at the recommendation of Daniel, who had spent New Year there, and who turned up en route between Romania and Madrid to stay with us for several days. Photos here.

This photo is of the Tibidabo amusement park on the hills behind the city. This being Barcelona it features antique rides, and behind it there is a double-decker church (as in one built on top on another) on top of which is a statue of Jesus, arms outstretched, almost as if he was blessing the park! Well, he did invent fun.

- Greenbelt at the end of August. Again I was on the crew at one of the venues (a throwback to my rock 'n' roll days) and also took part in a session looking at grassroots responses in Manchester to the gang violence issue. This went well, as did the whole weekend. The last night of August saw us in Stratford watching 'Twelfth Night'. Nice.

- Then, a busy two weeks leading up to Daniel's wedding (busy as in creating and printing the Service Booklets from scratch, organising PA and music, cake-baking and transport for people from Brunswick to Sheffield... and... and... and...). The day was brilliant - in the immortal words of the bloke from the A Team: "I love it when a plan comes together." Virtually everything worked out well. Family, friends, a service that was both reverent and fun, then tea and cake and photographs and a surprise "Dan & Tess - The Story" video, then the reception and speeches (including both sets of parents, and PowerPoint), then a Ceilidh. We got home Sunday evening, absolutely Wiped Out, but happy. Photos here.

About ten days before the wedding my mum - Daniel's grandma - was diagnosed with breast cancer. They wanted to operate straight away but she bumped it as she didn't want to miss the wedding. And she did not want anyone else to know about her condition until afterwards. She went in today and the op is tomorrow. You may pray.

Then, on October 2, Alannah heads off to India with Oasis for her gap-year trip...

Judith is back at work, having had to re-apply for her job (along with all the other staff), but still expected to work while the bosses made up their minds whether to re-employ her or not. Puzzled? Do the words 'Education Service' and 'City Council' help? Thought so. The uncertainty, confusion and the simple fact of tasks not getting done due to posts being left unfilled (e.g. Team Leader!) means the whole thing is in a state of some chaos at the moment. More stress.

As for the sabbatical... Well, part of the idea was to prioritise family, so in the last few weeks all other aspects have been mostly on hold. It's due to finish on September 30... I've just booked a flight to Belfast that day to visit mum for a few days (I think I'll be more useful after she comes out of hospital). I'm still hoping to get a few days away next week on solo retreat (same place as where I started - see 'Sabblog, week 1') to try and gather it all together.

Not unsurprisingly, the words 'emotional' and 'roller-coaster' have come to mind recently. Which reminds me of the amusement park in Barcelona with the statue of Jesus looking over it. Today in my email I got someone's newsletter. The opening paragraph contained these words: "As I write this letter the Father is showing me that somebody who is reading it has just discovered that somebody very close to you has been diagnosed with cancer. But don't be afraid! Your loving Father is in control." I'm sometimes a bit suspicious of these sorts of statements which can be like a Christian horoscope, but have experienced enough genuine examples of God speaking in remarkable ways to think this might be another. Impeccable timing. Your prayers would be much valued just now.

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