Me and Nicola in 2017

Why I’m giving up writing. For now.

Hi to everyone reading this.

Further to a discussion with the Canary leadership team I have an announcement to make.

From Friday 8 February I am formally not writing on a regular basis for The Canary anymore. I will be continuing to do the podcast weekly and accompanying music features.

The reasons for this are complicated – but actually very simple. My partner Nicola is chronically ill, as many of you know. Before we got together she had previously been told her illnesses were ‘all in her head’ and mental health-related, even to the point that professionals sectioned her under the Mental Health Act when she was desperate for support. She was not living with any mental health issues. When we met she had been given a Fibromyalgia diagnosis (which, in my opinion, doesn’t exist – it’s a parking diagnosis/bullshit illness when there’s actually other things going on).

Since we met, and pushed the medical profession to take her seriously, she’d now living with:

►Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos/Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder.
►Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).
►Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).
►Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
►Non-epileptic tonic clonic seizures.
►Deformities in her left foot and leg.
►Suspected Craniocervical Instability.

There has been a noticeable worsening in her overall health over the past year, and the time for pussy-footing around this has ended.

The long and the short of it is we have taken steps, many through the private health route because the NHS is essentially useless, to begin trying to improve these conditions. Some of these have treatment options if you ignore the politically and corporate-motivated mainstream medical profession. Because essentially under the NHS, Nicola has already exhausted NICE recommended treatments, all having proved ineffective.

She has given up parental responsibility for her son for a period of time, as she is too unwell to give him the support he needs. Plus he has witnessed her ill-health from a young age and it will give him some much needed respite.

But for me, the current situation with my writing for The Canary and Nicola’s health is unsustainable. I cannot write the amount I need/want and give her the support she needs to try and improve her health. One thing had to give – and if push comes to shove it will be work.

So, to that end, I am stopping writing for a period of time.

Nicola needs my full support, and that’s what she is going to get, regardless of my ‘career’ (which many of you know was never a planned move by me, it just fell into my lap by accident, so I’m not precious about it). I have essentially been performing the role of a full time carer for over a year. I have to cook every meal, do the housework, arrange Nicola’s appointments, support her travelling to them, speak on her behalf at them, manage our finances, supervise her with a complex range of tablets – all of this while also writing around 15 articles a week, recording and editing a podcast on my own, recording the Topple Galloway show, caring for a 12-year-old child and supporting my mother who has dementia.

I am confident in both mine and her strength and abilities, but also those of the medical professionals we are now dealing with, that we now have some of the right diagnoses. But I’m also now focused on trying to improve her health if possible.

If this does happen, she can start to live her life properly for the first time. As I think with all impairments and illnesses, she has the right to do whatever she wants with her life without any pressure or anyone telling her what to do. To that end, once her health is improved, I’ll be returning full time to allow her to follow whatever paths she chooses in this world, without the pressure of the system and state telling her she has to find work. She has sacrificed enough, and been appallingly treated over the years, that she deserves to be as free as she wishes from the shackles of this disgusting system we live under.

So, that’s it. If you have story ideas please email but I’ll still be about on social media, so feel free to tag me in things/DM/whatever.

There are a few people who I’d like to thank for the support – but they’ll know who they are. There are others who I’d like to extend a ‘fuck you’ to, as many people and groups have essentially dropped Nicola like a hot potato or betrayed her when she needed them most. As Mariah Carey said in the song Petals:

So many I considered closest to me

Turned on a dime and sold me

Out dutifully

Although that knife was chipping away at me

They turned their eyes away

And went home to sleep…

Please feel free to donate so I can continue to maintain this site.

Sending love and solidarity to those that deserve it.

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‘Food Bank As It Is’: Mr Topple meets writer Tara Osman

My full interview with Tara Osman, writer of the critically acclaimed play Food Bank As It Is. You can see the play on 5 March at the Chelsea Theatre, south west London

What drove you to take your experience as a food bank manager and turn it into an educational performance piece?

I was extremely disturbed by what I saw at the food bank pretty much from the first day I started working there. I was initially employed as a support worker and had ample opportunity to talk with people about the reasons they were using the food bank. What I realised was that many people were there as a direct result of policies and decisions made by the government and relating to the welfare benefits system, for example the use of sanctions, the long delays in receiving benefits payments when switching from one type of benefit to another (way before Universal Credit was rolled out), the re-assessment of many Employment and Support Allowance claims resulting in people’s claims being suspended and their payments being stopped. I was particularly appalled at the number of children and disabled people we were helping. And I witnessed many people in states of distress, crying and expressing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, even talking about wanting to kill themselves. I felt as though these stories were not being told and that in general the public had no idea how bad things were and how much the welfare benefits safety net had been eroded. So, I found myself getting more and more angry and letting off steam at the end of the day to anyone that would listen. At a certain point I began to feel a moral imperative to speak out and the idea of writing something for theatre came to me.

What I really wanted was to convey to others what it is like to hear someone’s story of going without food, to witness her breaking down in tears or to be with him while he eats his first meal in five days. I wanted to bring the food bank to life for those who don’t know what it’s like to be in one with the aim of galvanising audiences to take some kind of action after seeing the play.

I had already started writing the play when Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake came out. I found the film to be a very accurate and sensitive portrayal of one man’s treatment by the state, and was incensed when I watched news reports of comments in the House of Commons to the effect that the film is a work of fiction and represents an extreme case. After this it seemed even more important to get the play out there as it is based on real stories and no-one can say it’s fiction.

Parallel with the startling rise in food bank use since 2010 has been the rise in media coverage of them; often mixed but at least pushed into the public psyche. Do you think this has had a positive or negative effect on the public perception of food banks and the wider issues surrounding their purpose and use?

I find that whilst there is more awareness that food banks exist, there is still a huge lack of awareness about who they serve, what exactly they do, and what underlying factors drive their use.

I think people often confuse food banks with soup kitchens and assume that we help mainly homeless people. When I talk with people who are volunteering at the food bank for the first time, they often express surprise at the diversity of our clientele, and it’s true that there is no ‘typical’ person who uses a food bank. Despite this the myth of the ‘scrounger’ still persists, from what I can tell, and is incredibly hurtful for people who use food banks, many of whom talk of the shame of stepping through the food bank door. It’s as though they have internalised the negative view of themselves peddled by certain elements of the press. If there is one thing I would like to ask for from the media it would be to change and challenge the narrative that people have somehow brought their troubles on themselves, or aren’t trying hard enough to manage, because this stigma really hurts people.

In terms of why food banks are needed there is some excellent coverage in the left-wing press but I’m not sure that media coverage on the whole has really got the message across. For example, one of our clients at the food bank recently gave an interview to a London newspaper. The article was poorly written in my opinion and the crucial details of exactly what had happened to bring this client to the food bank were omitted. The comments underneath the online article ranged from supportive to abusive, and I felt that the article had let our client down by not being specific about her situation. For example, it’s not that she was budgeting her money poorly; she actually had no money at all with which to budget as her husband is too ill to work yet has not been granted ESA, and she herself does not have a work permit for this country. People make all sorts of assumptions about food bank clients and they can only be challenged by accurate and detailed reporting. The reality is that there are often very specific and preventable reasons why people need food banks, and there is well-researched evidence available to the media if they choose to look at it.

There is also a specific issue with media coverage of food banks in that almost all the images and statistics cited are provided by the Trussell Trust, which represents about two thirds of food banks in the UK and has a particular model for delivery of its service. The other third are independent food banks who at present do not collate their data as a group. Any figures given on food bank use in the UK are therefore an underestimate. Independent food banks operate in many different ways, for example they don’t always require their clients to have a voucher for each visit, and may be linked to other projects such as community gardens, food co-operatives etc – this view of food banks is not one that is generally reported.

Having said all this, there are clearly many people who are well-informed about food banks and extremely generous in their support of them. Sometimes when we are collecting food for the food bank people will buy a whole basket of food, not just one or two items. I noticed a clear increase in donations and offers of help to the food bank after I, Daniel Blake came out, with many people specifically mentioning the film as an incentivising factor. We have never been short of sanitary towels since that film! (There is a scene in which the female lead has to shoplift sanitary towels as she can’t afford to pay for them).

The Conservative government often argue that the rise in food bank use is due to increased awareness and improved referral services. Do you think this is the case?

The rise in food bank use is a very rough and ready indicator of levels of poverty. We can see in research from many other reliable sources that levels of poverty, deprivation and destitution are increasing in the UK – it would be very strange indeed if none of this increase was reflected in increased food bank use. What we know from research is that people turn to food banks as a last resort and that there are many people who could benefit from food banks but do not use them, either due to lack of awareness or reluctance to use them.

Of course, when any new service is set up and advertises itself, more people will hear about it and more people will refer to it. So, a percentage of the increase in food bank use will be due to increased awareness. This does not mean that demand for food banks is ‘created’ by their very existence, rather that more of the people who are going without adequate food are able to access a food bank.

At the moment we do not measure food insecurity in the UK, unlike in some other countries such as the US. If the Conservative government seriously want to find out whether food bank use is going up due to increased need or just increased awareness, they might do well to sign up to Emma Lewell-Buck MP’s 10-minute bill to measure food insecurity, which is due for it’s second reading in October, and start to measure the extent of the problem.

So, how hard was it to turn something very personal to you into a piece of art?

To be honest, it doesn’t feel like something that’s particularly personal to me, it’s just something that I’ve been in a position to witness and write about, and feel a responsibility to bring to public consciousness. It would actually have felt harder to not write about it, I think I would have resigned rather than continually confront things I felt furious about and yet powerless to change. I’ve written myself into the play as a narrator figure and character as I think it helps to elucidate the issues, to see my journey from someone who thinks she’ll take it all in her stride to a person who is outraged and shattered by what she sees. I would say that working at the food bank has politicised me to a large degree, and this probably shows in the play.

And I have had the honour of working with a group of actors and crew who came to the project as they were drawn to the subject matter and are as committed as I am to promoting social change through theatre. There have been times for all of us, I think, when we have been challenged by the work but we have always supported and encouraged each other. Any difficulties that we might experience are nothing relative to the hardships that hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country are facing every day.

How much do you think art can be used as a force of good within politics? And do you think we are seeing a renaissance of this, or has any politically-motivated art been consumed now by commercial interests?

I absolutely believe in the power of art as a force for good in politics. Human beings react so strongly to the use of imagery, music and story and we can use art in all its forms to help us understand the world around us in ways that we can’t through use of the intellect alone. How much more powerful is it to hear words spoken directly to you by another human being from a stage, who is looking out to the audience, about what happened when his money was cut off than simply to read that such a thing has happened? Art in general, and stories in particular, enable us to empathise with the experience of others, and surely empathy should lie at the centre of political life? Otherwise we end up dividing people into ‘them’ and ‘us’, and that can only end badly. I have found theatre to be a hugely powerful tool in speaking directly to people’s hearts, and I think it is very much under-utilised in politics and education.

One thing I have noticed as a newcomer to the world of theatre is how much it is a world unto itself, like many other disciplines. I like to imagine a society in which practitioners from professions such as medicine, law, social work, teaching, and yes even politics collaborate with theatre makers to produce exciting, relevant and current work that can inform the practice of all concerned. There has to be a way to bring theatre more into daily life, as well as bringing daily life into theatre.

I can’t really comment on whether or not there is a renaissance of political art at the moment, I haven’t been observing that world for long enough to judge. I have seen some very good pieces of theatre over the last year which examine social issues such as housing and misogyny, and I think the increasing use of verbatim testimony indicates an engagement with real world issues. One thing I can say is that the time is ripe for political art, there is so much that we need to fix. I worry that we are sleepwalking into a future that none of us want, lulled into indifference by social media, Netflix and gaming. We need to wake up and take action if we want things to change.

What do you hope the audience will take from the play?

The aim of the play really is to show the often-devastating impact of policy decisions on the lives of real people, to break through the rational defences that people put up when they want to justify ‘tough decisions’. I hope that our audiences will come away with the sense that something is happening under our collective noses that we really shouldn’t be tolerating, that somehow, we have been sold the story that what’s happening is OK when it isn’t.

We always follow the play with an invitation to the audience to give an immediate one-word response to what they have just seen, followed by a discussion with a panel and / or the cast and myself. This is because we want the audience to go away not just with a sense of how difficult things are at the moment, but also a sense of what they can do to help. And by help, I mean to help address the issues underlying food bank use and ultimately make food banks a thing of the past. Quite often people ask afterwards how they can support their local food bank. Obviously in the short-term food banks are a necessary band aid. But really, we want people to focus on the longer term, we want to see a society in which food banks are no longer necessary. So, the discussion is an integral part of the play, and we are currently looking at ways to make it as open and honest as possible so that people feel they can voice anything at all that they are thinking. The strapline of the play is There is no them, only us, and we extend this to political affiliation too – we’re not there to bash the government or people who voted for them, we just want to point out that there are some policies that are really hurting people at the moment, and that surely it is in all of our interests to honour the human right to food. In my view simply attacking one side will only result in defensiveness and mean that we are less likely to attract audiences who could learn from what we have to say. One of my proudest moments so far since performing the play has been when an audience member stood up at the end and said ‘I’m probably more right-wing than most other people here, but I don’t want to live in a society where this happens’.

For anyone in the audience who has used a food bank or experienced food insecurity, I hope that they will feel supported and less alone. Sometimes people have stood up after the play and said, ‘Yes, that was my experience’.

Do you think there is a quick fix to the food bank crisis? Or do we need to see a paradigm shift as a society?

We managed largely without food banks prior to 2010 (there were a few prior to this but they really started to burgeon in 2010). Then came austerity and major cuts to the welfare benefits system, including the loss of easily accessible emergency funds for people in crisis. Does reinstating the welfare safety net (at an adequate level that enables people to live above the poverty line) count as a ‘quick fix’? Or have we as a society moved so far away from embracing the welfare state that this would count as a paradigm shift? The Trussell Trust’s June 2017 report ‘Financial Insecurity, food insecurity and disability’ is a must-read document for those wishing to understand food bank use and gives many clues as to how to fix the crisis; for example, fully one third of households using food banks during the period surveyed were waiting on a benefit application or benefit payment they had recently applied for. Most had been waiting between two and six weeks for a payment. Quick fix: speed up the process, or provide an easily accessible and well-publicised emergency fund to support people while they are waiting.

We need the political will to come up with an ‘exit plan’ for food bank Britain, and we need food banks to focus their efforts on planning for a future in which they are not needed. This may mean that individual food banks look at transforming their services from emergency food aid to a more positive and proactive food-hub model, which all local residents can make the choice to attend (but don’t have to depend on) if they would like to access cheap, locally-grown produce, community meals, school holiday schemes etc (these are just examples).

In my view it is crucial that we nip in the bud any further institutionalisation of food banks and in particular that we don’t go down the route trodden in the US where food manufacturers and retailers are intimately involved in the food bank business and food poverty has become something that provides commercial benefits.

But most of all we need to confront what is happening in the UK head on, look it in the eye and make a decision as a society – do we or do we not think it is OK that so many of our fellow citizens (children as well as adults) are regularly going hungry, sometimes going without food for days? Is this really acceptable? If it’s not then we need to do something about it, and fast.

With thanks to Paula Peters for the image.

A miner from the Hatfield Brigade explains the group’s Christmas single

Joe Solo and the Hatfield Brigade have released a Christmas single, with all sales going to struggling communities in South Yorkshire.

Leslie Moore, a former Hatfield Miner and member of the Hatfield Brigade, said of They Could Not Break Us, which is out to buy now:

When we decided to record this song (which is going to be one of many planned each year until we have enough to fill a full album) we were mindful of the punitive measures continuing in many mining communities. We decided to sing about the fact that for all the deprivation, the poverty & punishment meted out across the coalfields as a result of our communities daring to stand and fight against the full might of the state for a decent future, we are still here. Our spirit was never broken fully – our pockets were emptied, our future stolen, our children cast into the wilderness, yet we are here in defiance singing, as it’s in the most part all we can do to get our voice heard. But it’s a gesture to show our children and grandchildren they must never give up just like mine & your grandparents fought on. We will not sink into the history books as cowed & beaten people. They stole our jobs, our community cohesion and our pensions that we paid for. So we fight on for justice and fair play from politicians that, in the main, do not understand the meaning of those words. This song, although recorded in Stainforth, South Yorkshire (the home of ‘Hatfield Main Colliery’) could be the history of any community in the UK’s coal fields, from Kent to the valleys of Wales, to our brothers homelands in Scotland. And make no mistake – we are a brotherhood of miners, who respect & have defended each other throughout the generations. Make this song your own; this is your village, your town, your community. And wherever working men defend their rights you will find the miners at your side.

You can read about They Could Not Break Us in The Canary’s coverage of the track. And make sure you buy the single here.

Stop Killing Londoners: the campaign group’s demands

Air pollution campaign group Stop Killing Londoners has written to both the government and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, urging them to listen or their peaceful civil disobedience will continue.

Open Letter to Sadiq Khan and the UK government:

Stop Killing Londoners: Cut Air Pollution is continuing our campaign of peaceful civil disobedience, blocking the most polluted streets in the capital until you agree to a meeting to seriously consider the following demands.

Immediate Demands:
The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) should be extended from the congestion charge zone to the north and south circular roads.
ULEZ should be introduced by the end of 2018.
ULEZ should introduce a robust particulate matter standard for diesel vehicles.

Strategic Demands:
A zero carbon and ultra low pollution vehicle fleet for London. This means an electric vehicle fleet for the capital. The London Mayor and the UK Government to design a comprehensive diesel and petrol to electric scrappage scheme. Subsidies to be provided to individuals where appropriate to hasten the transition. A London plan for a supportive infrastructure for an electric fleet to be conceived and implemented.

An expanded integrated 100% renewable, ultra low pollution public transport system for London.
A pay per mile pollution scheme for residual fossil fuel vehicles.

A hypothecated producer tax for car companies still producing fossil fuel vehicles – the money to be spent within the NHS treating the victims of vehicular petrol and diesel air pollution.
We are also firmly against the expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick airport.

These policy changes have to be seen in the context of not only the avoidable deaths of thousands of Londoners each year from pollution but also the looming prospect of climate breakdown, due to lack of emergency action on reducing carbon emissions. Failure to act is leading to the complete summer melting of the arctic ice within the next decade – an event which the science predicts will rapidly accelerate the increase in sea level rise and extreme weather events. We therefore face an international emergency to prevent the flooding of coastal cities, including London in the coming decades and the catastrophic destruction of our food supplies. Air Pollution is just part of this wider emergency. We therefore ask that you respond to this fundamental crisis and show some leadership and urgency on removing fossil fuel use in our city. To this end, we will escalate our civil disobedience campaign until you agree to meet with us to discuss these vital issues.

One letter details the fierce opposition to another of Theresa May’s government appointments


Over 65 Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations, campaigners and mental health professionals have signed a letter opposing the appointment of Professor Sir Simon Wessely to lead the independent review of the Mental Health Act as announced in Theresa May’s speech at this year’s Conservative party conference:

“Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to urge a reconsideration of the decision to appoint Professor Simon Wessely to lead the independent review of the Mental Health Act as announced at the Conservative Party conference on 4 October 2017.

A review is needed to address mental health injustice, yet Wessely’s body of work on ME (or “chronic fatigue syndrome”) demonstrates his lack of honesty, care and compassion for patients. His unsubstantiated claim that ME is driven by “false illness beliefs” has led to patients being labelled as hypochondriacs, treated with contempt by some in the medical profession and stigmatised by society. His recommended treatment regime of Graded Exercise Therapy caused deterioration in function for nearly 50% of ME patients surveyed, yet he dismisses their evidence as unreliable and labels all critics of this work as irrational and extremist.

He continues to defend the notorious PACE trial, a study into treatment for ME/CFS part-funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and widely condemned by academics for misuse of statistical methods in order to produce positive-looking results.

Wessely’s work on ME led him to play an active role, alongside insurance industry professionals, in devising the theories of “malingering and illness deception” which underpinned the Work Capability Assessment. The WCA has had a catastrophic impact on the lives of disabled people. Wessely is resoundingly unfit to lead an inquiry into mental health injustice.

The appointment of Wessely underlines our fears that under the wrong leadership, the review and any subsequent changes to the Mental Health Act will worsen rather than alleviate the current mental health crisis. We urge you to rethink this decision.

Yours sincerely,

Linda Burnip

Co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts

Denise McKenna

Mental Health Resistance Network

Andrew Samuels

Professor Andrew Samuels. Former Chair, UK Council for Psychotherapy.

Anne Novis

Chair, Inclusion London

Rich Moth

Social Work Action Network national steering committee

Caroline Collier

CEO, Inclusion Barnet

Simon Duffy

Centre for Welfare Reform

Tara Flood

CEO, Alliance for Inclusive Education

Cathy Maker

Director, RUILS

Kamran Mallick

CEO, Disability Rights UK

Emily Morton

Chief Executive, Disability Sheffield

Kathy Bole

Chair, Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People

Caron Blake

Manager, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People

Dr Jay Watts

Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist

Bea Millar

Person-Centred Therapist

Richard House

Chartered Psychologist and Mental Health Activist

Paul Atkinson

UKCP Psychotherapist

Joyce Kallevik

Director, Women in Secure Hospitals

Eamon Andrews

Communications and Project Officer, Shaping Our Lives

Ellen Morrison

Branch Secretary South East London Unite Community

Andrew Lee

Director, People First

Phil Gosling

Secretary, Regard

Ian Parker

Psychoanalyst, Manchester

Helen Ridett

Nurse and GMB workplace organiser

Alec McFadden

Press Officer Salford TUC

Claire Glasman

WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities)

Ariane Sacco


Rev. Dianne Scott-Fowler

Chairperson, Stockport User Friendly Forum

John Pearson

Solidarity Drop-in Stockport

Ron Alexander

Life President, Dial Southend / Southend shop mobility

Christina Young

Mental health activist, Liverpool

Ellen Clifford

Croydon DPAC

Miriam Binder

Chair, Brighton DPAC

Paula Peters

Chair, Bromley DPAC

Nicola Jeffery

National Steering Group, DPAC

Andy Greene

National Steering Group, DPAC

Anita Bellows

National Steering Group, DPAC

Andy Metcalf

Mental Health Activist Alliance

Michael Harrison

Branch Secretary North East Wales Unite Community

Andy Mitchell

Branch Secretary Somerset Unite Community

Trevor Bark

Branch Secretary Durham Unite Community

Bernie Stock

Branch Chair Durham Unite Community

Zarria Phillips

Branch Chair Bristol Area Unite Community

Rachel Holmes

Branch Secretary Herts & Beds Unite Community

Kate Hyndley

Industrial Liaison Officer South East London Unite Community

Hillel Friedman

Treasurer Norfolk Unite Community

Joan Twelves

Co-chair Lambeth & Southwark Unite Community

Geraldine Murray

Norfolk Unite Community

Ian Nottage

Herts & Beds Unite Community

Carl Backland

Camden Unite Community

Amy Broad

Branch Chair, Peterborough, Chair Fenland & Kings Lynn Unite Community

Susan Pashkoff

Branch Chair East London Unite Community

Amina Mangera

Branch Chair South East London Unite Community

Jacqui Burnett

Diversity Officer Herts & Beds Unite Community

Bernard Miller

Co-Secretary Camden Unite Community

Claudia Dias Ferreira

Co-Secretary Camden Unite Community

Rebecca Rocket

Essex Unite Community

Susan Hagley

Suffolk Unite Community

Rob Lugg

Branch Secretary South West London Unite Community

Robin Sivapalan

Branch Secretary Brent Unite Community

Fred Coford

Islington Unite Community

Sarah Matthews

Branch Secretary Suffolk Unite Community

Martin Beverich

Herts & Beds Unite Community

Steve Ballard

Equalities Officer Haringey Unite Community

Kate Hodgson

Islington Unite Community”


Domestic violence and South Yorkshire Women’s Aid: the council’s response

South Yorkshire Women’s Aid is facing closure, due to a lack of local authority funding. I spoke to Doncaster Cabinet Member for Communities and the Voluntary Sector, Cllr Chris McGuinness, about the centre’s plight. Here’s his response in full.

In April 2016 Doncaster Women’s Aid closed following the loss of its primary funding from Big Lottery. The organisation was not funded by Doncaster Council and the Council did not withdraw funding from the organisation. However, following an approach from the organisation the Council provided wide-ranging advice and support to its trustees, including the offer of potential funding to enable it to remain open whilst seeking new grants and income generation opportunities. Unfortunately the trustees of the organisation decided that it was unable to continue and chose to cease operating.

Following closure of the organisation, a group of people wished to set up a new independent charity to replace the organisation, called South Yorkshire Women’s Aid (Doncaster). Doncaster Council supported the new trustees to achieve this, including providing a one-off start up grant of £30,000 with a view to the organisation applying for new funds and generating operating revenue in order to become financially sustainable. Earlier this month (August 2017), the Council agreed to extend the timescales for spending this grant from June 2017 until December 2017, as the grant had not been fully utilised. It also agreed to vary the funding requirements to allow the organisation greater flexibility to provide services.

The grant funding for South Yorkshire Women’s Aid was provided through the Mayor’s Voluntary and Community Sector Grant scheme, itself a one-off £500,000 fund intended to support local charities, community groups and voluntary organisations, which were able to apply for funding of up to £30,000. As the funding was from one-off resources, the Council made clear the need for organisations to plan their future funding strategy, where required, and ensure the independent sustainability of any associated projects. The fund proved to be very popular and was oversubscribed, with all of the funding now allocated. Throughout the process the Council was clear that it was providing South Yorkshire Women’s Aid with a fixed term grant and that the organisation should not expect further grant funding for these reasons.

On 25th August 2017, the trustees of the new organisation wrote to the Council requesting a further small grant until March 2018 and stated that it viewed the Council as its primary funder to meet the aims and objectives of the charity, indicating that it wished the Council to continue providing funding in future years.

This week, the Council became aware that one of the organisation’s trustees recently resigned and a further trustee had no knowledge of the recent media activity and protest. The Council intends to meet trustees of the organisation in the near future to further understand the organisation’s situation, discuss the current grant and ascertain what measures it has taken to secure additional funding and make itself sustainable according to its operating model.

Since 2010, Doncaster Council has already been forced to cut more than £200m from its annual revenue budget and like other Councils faces further significant funding cuts in the coming years. Notwithstanding this, the Council has prioritised tackling Domestic Violence as a key issue and spends in excess of £1m per year on related services, including:

• An Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy (IDVA) service and coordination of Doncaster’s Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference
• A Women’s Refuge and dispersed homes with support services
• A Floating support service, helping people in their own homes
• Domestic Violence Helpline

In addition, the government funded Growing Futures project operated by Doncaster Children’s Services Trust focuses on therapeutic support for children and young people, finds new and better ways to keep them safe and help them recover from the impact of Domestic Violence – since the Government funding stream ended, the Council has supported Doncaster Children’s Services Trust to maintain this service. The Council has also funded the delivery of non-criminal justice based perpetrator programmes aimed at men who commit domestic violence in order to reduce the number of repeat incidents. Where delivered by external providers, services are commissioned through an open and transparent process in line with the Council’s legal obligations.

Domestic Violence is wholly unacceptable and can have a devastating impact on victims and their children. The Council will continue to prioritise these services within the resources available to it. However, as with all independent charities, South Yorkshire Women’s Aid must plan to exist without reliance on funding from Doncaster Council, which unfortunately is simply not in a position to provide financial assistance to every VCS organisation facing financial pressures. However, the Council will continue to offer support to these groups in order to help them to secure funding from the wide range of charitable trust funds in existence, and the potential for generating income through charitable activities.

Domestic violence, South Yorkshire Women’s Aid and healing: one survivor’s story

South Yorkshire Women’s Aid is facing closure, due to a lack of local authority funding. One survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me her story. It demonstrates why this vital service is so important. And why it must be saved.


You can donate to the South Yorkshire Women’s Aid crowdfunder here.

When I was pregnant with my son, my partner who had previously been kind and caring boyfriend, changed his behaviour towards me.

He began, in more ways than one, belittling me: snapping at me; putting down how I looked; increasingly seeming to forget his wallet when we went places; mistreating me, and it even escalated to him physically pushing me and shouting at me in public places.

Before I’d had a chance or even a free minute to realise what a sad and serious situation me, my daughter and my unborn child were in, I found myself under the complete control of this man.

He had PIN numbers to all of my bank cards.

He would shout, and scream, and scream, and shout, until I applied for another store card or another credit card. He had bad credit and couldn’t get any of his own

But he would insist that the things he needed were so important, and that he’d be happier if he had certain things and if he could go certain places.

My life was incredibly miserable.

Near to the end, when I was close to leaving him, the first time he pushed me over I had to run into a shop and hide to try and escape him.

By the time I was six months pregnant I got strong enough to leave him. I simply walked away with my daughter

I sought help from my health visitor and I opened up to my parents.

Trying to rebuild

But I had to rebuild from scratch: new furniture, new home. However I was denied a Maternity Grant because I already had a child. So had to scrimp and save as much as I could, and sell possessions in order to provide such basic things as a cot and nappies for my unborn baby.

I was being punished by the state for leaving this violent man.

The situation I was forced into, by both his behaviour and the lack of care from the coalition government at that time, put me in a predicament – because I couldn’t keep everything a float.

Heartbroken, I gave birth to my son. A friend was with me in the hospital, but all around me were women with husbands, or boyfriends, or partners.

When my friend went home at the end of visiting time there were all these families and all these babies; but just me and my little boy. In the whole world all we had was each other, and my daughter.

Looking back, it was probably the hormones and also a sense of decency that led me to let my ex-partner know that his son had been born

Wheedling back in

I was incredibly vulnerable at the time. I was in hospital for a week after my son’s birth.

But when I returned home I invited my ex-partner to come and meet his son, although my mum was there to make sure that he behaved civilly towards me, while he met his baby.

After a couple of months he wheedled his way back into my life, at first convincing me that he’d changed and that he was so sorry. But this time, the horrendous, abusive behaviour returned more quickly; and with more venom.

He emotionally and psychologically abused me. He forced me to relinquish control over every aspect of my life, from social media, to passwords, to PIN numbers and bank cards.

Whenever I went to see somebody, like a friend for a cup of coffee, he would phone me relentlessly or physically turn up.

I couldn’t breathe. I was being suffocated and I had no way to escape.

Walking on eggshells

We carried on living apart. But he had a key to my house and would let himself in and out, unannounced, whenever the fancy took him.

I was constantly walking on eggshells. I remember I used to go to sleep each night thinking ‘I’ll try harder tomorrow not to upset him’; that ‘I’ll be better for him, I’ll be the best girlfriend and the best mummy so he can’t possibly be mad with me’.

I used to have to wear my hair a certain way, wear certain clothes – even certain shoes.

Once, he made me do an experiment with socks to see which ones where the best value for money. He said it was to help me learn about the ‘false economy’. So, he made me put one sock from Primark and one for one stock from Next, and walk 50,000 steps wearing a pedometer; up and down the stairs in my house – and I wasn’t allowed to stop. I knew if I’d have tried to even go to the toilet he would have screamed at me.

The things he did to me were so degrading. By this time he was acting completely removed from what anyone could call reasonable or usual, acceptable behaviour in a relationship


He had sex with me when he felt like it. If the children were at home he would force me, even if they were in the next room. He would force me if I was asleep. And he let himself into my house, very often drunk, and if he wanted to have sex with me then he simply did. He would push my face into the pillow so hard I sometimes thought I would die.

I don’t know how I didn’t die. But there was no way I could hide trying to get help: I couldn’t call the police because social services would come round, and he never hurt the children; he only ever hurt me.

I thought that if I shouldered all the abuse then they would be safe. But I never realised that all the while they were hearing me being screamed at, and slammed against walls was a form of abuse from him onto them.

I just knew I had to do all I could do to keep them safe. And if that meant being hurt, then so be it.

A light in a dark tunnel 

I heard about South Yorkshire Women’s Aid (SYWA) which at the time was called Doncaster Women’s Aid, through a friend. I first contacted them by using the excuse to go to the supermarket, where I used the telephone box.

I was so frightened; frightened that he was following me. He always checked my phone history, so I couldn’t use my own telephone. I couldn’t even send an email without him knowing – he read everything. But I called them and they said I needed to talk to somebody.

I was so scared. I told them I was really frightened, and the woman on the end of the phone asked if I was safe. I told her my children were, and I told her what was happening. She said “I believe you”.

You can’t imagine what it feels like to hear those three words. I had never imagined I would hear them, because he was such a skilled manipulator. Anybody outside of our home thought he was a devoted dad and charming.

But he was a monster, and he had granted himself access to every element of my life – to the point where I felt I didn’t have long left to live.

Breaking through

I made an appointment to go in and speak to somebody at SYWA about my situation, to see what kind of support they could offer me. I used the excuse with him that I was going to my college course.

So, I put my son in the nursery and I told the nursery staff where I was going. I trusted them, and they knew there were some problems at home. Because by this time, our little boy who was then two, was quoting his father at nursery and hitting stuff. It was very disturbing for both me and the staff.

I got a lift from a trusted friend who I had verbally arranged to meet, and she drove me to SYWA where I spoke to a support worker. I don’t think I even cried, I think I was just numb.

The support worker listened and asked me some gentle questions; nothing that made me feel under any pressure.

It was made completely clear that I didn’t have to do or say anything that I wasn’t comfortable with; that I had control over everything that would happen next.

It was so nice to be listened to, in that room. It was like being in a parallel universe to the life that I was living.

I didn’t go back straight away to SYWA at first. But I knew that they were there and I felt stronger for that.

Breaking point

A week or so later, I was sitting with my son, both in pyjamas, ready for bed, when my partner came in. He had an open bottle of beer in his hand and was clearly drunk. He was shouting as he came through the door and stumbled into the hallway. He then crashed through the living room door and dented it, and carried on shouting and swearing.

My daughter was upstairs as she had come home early from after school club. He must have thought there was only me and my son in the house. Because when I asked him gently to stop shouting, he paused briefly… and I can’t tell you what happened next because I don’t remember.

But the next thing I knew, I was on the floor in the kitchen and could hear my son screaming; crying like he was very far away.

I’ve been thrown into the kitchen and punched. I woke up with my partner on top of me, pinning down both my arms and my legs. He had a hand around my throat, and he was lifting up my head and smacking it against the floor. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t see clearly.

He suddenly stopped. At first, I didn’t know why. Then I heard my daughter scream and he jumped up and went to grab her, but she ran upstairs.

I grabbed his legs somehow. I honestly don’t know how I managed it; it can only have been pure adrenaline. “Fight or flight” – I’d heard of it, but it never really made sense before that moment.

My daughter who was 11 at the time then had to do a very brave thing. She had to call 999 and tell the operator the her stepdad was beating up her mum.

She had to leave her young brother alone in a room with this violence. I think she still feels guilty about that to this day, no matter how much we reassure her that she did the right thing to protect herself, and that she did a brave thing to protect her family.

As soon as my partner realised that she’d gotten through to somebody on the phone he ran out of the house leaving one shoe behind, as he drunkenly stumbled and fled.

Breaking free

What followed was a subsequent court case where the police pressed charges against my ex-partner. I had to have my injuries photographed by the police photographer, and documented by my GP. Being measured with rulers, standing in my underwear, I felt like I was not connected with reality. It was like I was watching a film.

It was too horrific to believe that it was all really happening, and not only that -that it was happening to me.

My ex-partner was charged with assault, which he admitted to. He got a one year suspended sentence, with conditions that he had to stick to the terms of a non-molestation order that I had obtained in the weeks leading up to the court case.

But then, he took me to a family court, applying for joint custody of the children.

He denied he had been convicted of beating me to the family court judge, which didn’t go favourably against him. He also tried to prove that I was mentally unstable and an unfit mother.

He tried a number of cruel and frankly unbelievable methods of prolonging the court case, like saying he couldn’t get the time off work to attend. It went on for over a year.

But in the end he just made the judge very angry, by lying about his conviction and laughing when the police described my assault and the state I was in when they turned up at my house that day.

The judge said that he was “found to have committed” a further 15 acts of abuse on my person, some of which were when I was pregnant with our son.

The judge used the Children’s Act to decide the rights of my son would be violated, if he was to be put in even the limited, supervised care of his father. And this applied to my son even being sent post by his father, such is the severity of the trauma he’s been left with.

Because of the ridiculous and cruel rules of the judicial system, despite not being allowed near to me outside of the courtroom, he was allowed to cross examine me inside.

I was behind a screen, and security kept him away from me, even in the waiting area during the intervening period.

Breaking out

Prior to, and during the family and the assault court cases I went back to SYWA.

I was supported in getting the locks changed with the local council, and getting a special letter box fitted.

I didn’t have to hide my phone calls anymore!

I called them from my own phone and made appointments. I got a place on a course called the Freedom program, which quite frankly changed my life. It set me on the path to healing and protected me from entering into a relationship with another abusive man. It educated to look out for the characteristics of an abuser.

The SYWA staff had advised me to get to the non-molestation order, so I visited a trusted solicitor and obtained it, with their support.

I could call SYWA at any time and just speak to somebody, for a shoulder to lean on if I needed it – and I did.

When my emotions started to flood my mind, everything I’d locked away and everything I’d been through came back. Especially when I was educated enough to understand that although the children weren’t physically hurt, they were subject to emotional and psychological abuse due to the trauma of hearing them mum being assaulted verbally and physically on so many occasions. I then had a massive breakdown, but SYWA was there for me.

A broken service?

I honestly believe that without SYWA, without going on the course, without having someone there that I could trust to talk to and to listen to me, without the real practical advice, and without the support to get the education I needed to protect my family and myself – I would not be alive today.

I’m completely devastated that the council seem to see this service as a useless, unnecessary drain on their budget. If anything, it saves them money in the long run by helping put an end to, and preventing, abuse in many cases, for many families.

There are still so many thousands of women and children who desperately need the support of this service.

Those people are going to need that support. And if SYWA isn’t there, then these poor, innocent people are simply going to end up as the part of the statistics of the number of beaten women. And ultimately, the number who are killed.

How can that be right? How can that ever be the correct decision for someone, who’s charged with the care of their constituents, to make?

It’s terrifying.

I’d like to thank this brave, remarkable lady for allowing me to share her story with you. Much respect.

2016: where do I begin?

I’m currently sat on a train from London to Suffolk, a journey which I never envisaged I’d be doing so regularly at the beginning of the year, trying to write my review of 2016.

It really was one of those years for which only “where do I begin” seems an accurate appraisal. The EU referendum, the ‘Chicken Coup’, slaughter in the Middle East and sustained attacks by the Conservative government on disabled people and society’s most vulnerable all feature at the forefront of my mind. But my own life does also, this year, and the (get ready to cringe) ‘journey’ that I’ve been on.

So, here’s my take on 2016.

Mother: if you’re reading, I apologise in advance for the language…

Chaos at home

The EU referendum has to have been one of the greatest mistakes ever made by a sitting government – intentional or not. Simple as.

As I previously wrote for The CommonSpace, the British public were essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side, the European establishment propped up by banking giants like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, all garnering succour off the Military Industrial Complex and big oil. On the other side? Essentially the same. But with a lesser veil of democracy and attempted egalitarianism.

If the UK had voted Remain, then the EU project would have been safe; Britain would have gone further down the rabbit hole of corporatocracy; it would have lost all veto powers in 2017, and the union would have continued on a path to monolithic, greed-driven totalitarianism.

But we voted to Leave. So instead, we have the most right wing government in living memory controlling our future. As I have frequently commented, I spoiled my ballot. The question the public were being asked was wrong, and the referendum itself an utter stitch-up.

Politicians, however, have struggled to get their pretty little heads around the result. The precious snowflakes can’t understand why so many working-class communities didn’t vote in the way the blatant propaganda was telling them to. The Tories put it down to Nigel Farage’s magic UKIP wand casting a spell over the public, and the public being too stupid to understand what they were voting for. Labour put it down to the Tories leaving so many communities financially and socially behind, and the public being too stupid etc etc. Neither are wholly correct. The rot started with Margaret Thatcher’s scorched earth industrial and social agenda in the 1980s; continued with Tony Blair in the 1990s and 2000s, and, this decade, was compounded by David Cameron. People no longer feel society works for them, and made their anger at the establishment felt via the referendum.

We’ve seen a revolt like no other in modern history. Sadly, it was only at the ballot box – and true revolution never happens there. The public voted to kick the establishment where it hurts. But now, predictably, the same establishment, clutching its blisteringly-red bollocks, are tasked with shaping our future outside the EU. See the stitch-up, yet? We’ve been sold a pup; and are going to pay a heavy price for the privilege. The establishment: One. The public: Nil.

Chaos in the Labour Party

Meanwhile, in the Labour Party, chaos ruled supreme. I don’t think anyone ever believed that Jeremy Corbyn would have an easy ride as party leader. But, as a non-Labour supporter, even I was shocked at the sustained attacks, hatred and vitriol displayed by both the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), Constituency Parties and certain elements of the grassroots.

Let’s not beat around the bush, though. This was always going to happen. While Corbyn is by no means the anti-establishment, radical socialist Messiah many would have him be, he is a threat to the order of things. I’m not, and probably will never be, a Labour voter. But Corbyn could be the catalyst to lasting political change in the UK. And such was (and still is) the threat to the established order, that an appallingly-timed ‘coup’ was attempted, the mainstream media have been harshly biased against him, and many in the party will not accept him as leader.

In part, this hostility is down to a fear of upsetting the corporatist apple cart. The ‘right wing’ in Labour cannot believe that the consensus that has reigned for over thirty years can be broken. They are more concerned with winning elections than actually serving the best interests of the country. And yes, many will cry that only by winning can you change things. But what’s the point in a victory, when the ensuing lap of honour is merely danced out in a similar fashion to your opponent? By that I mean there’s no point Labour winning, if they go on to simply water-down Tory values. Blair and Gordon Brown are evidence of that. And that is all the Progress/Labour First/Blue Labour elements in the party will do.

But for many in the PLP, the problem runs deeper than this. Corbyn wants to change the way policy is made. He aims to put control of the process in the hands of members. And this has literally scared the shit out of certain MPs. Historically, Labour Party policy has been designed by representatives of big corporations, in the form of consultations. Then, these are presented to Labour’s Executive Committee, policy forum and conference, to decide upon.

If corporations no longer had this power over decision-making within Labour, many MPs would be thrown off the gravy train that is the Westminster system. And the revolving door between politics and business careers would be slammed in their pious faces. The bottom line is Corbyn is a threat to self-serving, careerist MPs like Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Jess Phillips and their contemptible ilk. And 2016 showed that these cowardly, greedy, nauseating pissants would stop at nothing to try and preserve their own shameful interests. And I’m not even a Labour voter.

Chaos in the Middle East

For me, 2016 had to be one of the most horrific years in the Middle East in recent memory. Not just because of the bloodshed, although this is tragically still incomparable to many periods in modern history. But because of the disgraceful propaganda, the selective reporting by the mainstream media, and the naivety of so many campaign groups, political parties and individuals over what’s really going on.

We are witnessing the first global war of the 21st century in Syria. There are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ in the almighty mess that was once one of the most successful, secular countries in the region. Both Russia, the West and their respective allies are playing a game of geopolitical chess. And the winners are corporations, big oil and some of the richest individuals on the planet.

But so many people would have you believe that one side is in the right, here. Whether it be Western powers, with their bullshit veil of humanitarianism barely masking the craven greed that’s driving them to fund terrorists and repeatedly lie to the public. Or Russia, with its relentless spinning of propaganda, nefarious military campaign and disregard for human life – also under a bullshit veil, which is of the same hue as the West’s. And the charities and non-governmental organisations (NGO), acting as blatant proxies for whichever side is the highest bidder.

It’s not fucking difficult. No one is in the right, in Syria. Except the millions of innocent civilians caught up in the despicable games of those who have money to make. How do we end this relentless carnage? I don’t know; short of toppling every imperialist power, in both the East and the West, in one fell swoop. But I do know that no one can be trusted. Except those whose lives have been devastated by the conflict .

But for me, 2016 was also all about Yemen. I first wrote about the situation in January, before every Guardianista, their silver-grey cat and YouTube channel woke up and jumped on the bandwagon, seeing the career-miles that could be made.

Yemen appears just as complex as Syria. Countless warring tribes with uneasy truces; the Bab-el-Mandeb strait; Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-dominated Eastern Province, where all its oil is to be found; the Kingdom’s terminal decline and its fear of losing control, and Western geopolitical games in the region. But in reality, it boils down to the same, disgusting greed that we see manifest itself in Syria. And while the public, and certain politicians, are seemingly more aware of the devastating situation, which is on a humanitarian scale that dwarfs that in Syria, Western corporatist powers care not. They simply carry on, regardless; aided and abetted by campaigners and politicians who condemn Western intervention in Yemen but blindly support it, albeit often mutedly, in Syria.

In 2016 we created one, almighty, fucking mess in the Middle East. And such is the nature of the chaos, that most don’t seem to know, or care, what is right or wrong anymore.

Chaos in British society

This year, I felt like I was constantly repeating myself on one subject in particular. That of the Tories’ sustained attacks on disabled people, the poor and society’s most vulnerable. A week didn’t pass where I wasn’t writing or being interviewed about yet another shocking piece of analysis; another buried assault on a marginalised group disguised as a money-saving, life-improving Tory policy, or a protest by people, sick of protesting, but with little else left in their artillery.

There would be too much to write about if I wanted to detail every vile policy, every staggering statistic and every campaign group fighting for life’s most basic rights. But for me, two incidences sum up the year. The two occasions that the UN have condemned the Tories for their attacks on those of us on the lower rungs of British life.

Essentially, the UN has twice accused the Tories, and their shitheels Lib Dem former partners in countless crimes, of breaching people’s basic human rights. “Grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights accompanied “deep” and “serious” concerns of the UN over the attacks on the poor, working families, single parents, homeless people and the elderly. This, of course, was all in the name of ‘austerity’.

The first report, which covered all marginalised groups, was published in June. And it was unprecedented in its criticisms of the Tory government and its predecessor. It was, in fact, only comparable to Honduras in its severity – a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, and one which is subject to travel warnings from most governments.

The second, published in November, was specifically about violations of disabled people’s rights. And it was even more severe, saying the Tories had contributed to creating a society where disabled people were viewed as ‘benefit fraudsters’, ‘lazy’ and a ‘burden’, and that countless international conventions had been breached.

But, as is always the way with the flaccid, impotent and highly compromised UN, there wasn’t anything in these reports that was legally binding. Essentially, the Tories just shrugged their shoulders and said “And? Just WTF are you going to do about it?”

And the public? Essentially, they have done the same. Years of neoliberal, race-to-the-bottom, ‘envy thy neighbour’ conditioning from Tory and Labour governments has left us socially bankrupt. No longer are people valued for what they contribute to society; merely what they can contribute to the economy, and therefore, ultimately, rich people’s bank balances. But it’s the contribution to the last bit that most people don’t seem to think about. We, as a society, have become all-consumed by what we can ‘aspire’ to in life. Anyone who is seemingly getting a free ride, regardless of whether they have fibromyalgia, MS, cancer, mental health issues, addiction problems, or any manner of other reasons, are not worth as much as those who go to work. Remember Eugenics? It seems that many of today’s politicians have a fondness for that most despicable of pseudo-sciences. We really are regressing to a time last seen over a century ago.

Chaos in my own life. But with a happier ending

I’m a big fan of soundtracks to life. Anyone who has ever seen Ally McBeal will remember Tracey (Ullman), McBeal’s therapist, telling her to get a ‘theme song’. Well, art is indeed imitating life, there, as my therapist says the same thing. And on a personal level, for me, two songs sum up 2016 most accurately.

Sarah McLachlan wrote the song Angel in 1997. It is about heroin addiction, and how the illness holds a person’s life to ransom; more often than not playing a game of Russian Roulette with them. And it’s wholly applicable to alcoholism, as well. Something which I had the hardest battle of my life with, this year.

Having been an addict for over a decade, everything came to a head in 2016. I severely relapsed in May, and was at a crossroads between life and death. Literally, if I gave in again and drank, I knew, in no uncertain terms, that I would die.

McLachlan wrote:

I need some distraction; oh, a beautiful release.

Memories seep from my veins.

Let me be empty, oh and weightless and maybe, I’ll find some peace, tonight.

It’s the “endlessness that you fear”, that engulfs an addict. Learned behaviours, childhood trauma, anxiety and self-esteem issues – all are given a “distraction”, a “beautiful release” when you pour alcohol into your body, in excess. Something which I kept doing, and doing, and doing.

But this year was different. Staring drunkenly into oblivion early one morning, I had just spent all night writing about Amy Winehouse’s tragic story. It was my beautiful Amy that gave me the wake-up call that I needed, as I could see so much of my behaviour in hers. And as I wrote for The Canary, I could see her tragic death, at the end of a spiraling chaos that got out of control, being mine, too.

I cannot thank the NHS enough. I know it’s not perfect; I know it’s a postcode lottery; I know some people have horror stories and I know many do not get the help they need. But for me, my psychiatrist, my therapist and my GP have literally saved my life. I’ve had the most amazing help and support from them, and I’ve been “pulled from the wreckage of my silent reverie”. And, I’m now over six months dry. Something I have never managed to be, before.

McLachlan also said in Angel:

Spend all your time waiting for that second chance.

For a break that would make it OK.

There’s always some reason to feel not good enough.

And it’s hard at the end of the day.

Even being dry, those words still resonated with me. While therapy has helped me to understand why I drank, and begin to deal with the very negative core beliefs I hold about myself, I was still waiting for that “second chance”.

The second song that will always make me think of 2016 is Yours, by Ella Henderson.

I made a (what I thought was) humorous post on Facebook in September. I said that:

If a woman can put up with a bisexual alcoholic who has mental health issues, then I’d make a great house husband.

I had resigned myself to the fact that the likelihood of me having a relationship with a female was greater than Jess Philips coming out in support of Corbyn. And you know those odds aren’t good. I never, ever thought for a second that I would find a woman that could actually put up with my tarnished life.

But, remarkably, I have. I cannot begin to describe how articulate, beautiful, charismatic, inspirational, intelligent, loving and perfect she is. Neither can I use any more adjectives, as that would seem borderline obsessive. But, she is.

Henderson sings:

And I will find the strength to untape my mouth, when I used to be afraid of the words.

But with you I’ve learned just to let it out, now my heart is ready to burst.

Cause I, I feel like I’m ready for love. And I want to be your everything, and more.

I used to be afraid of getting too close to someone. There were always aspects of my personality and soul that I would keep hidden. But, for the first time in my life, I finally feel nearly at peace with myself. I feel I can be myself. Wholly. And that is, in no small measure, thanks to her and her amazing son. I’ve just had the most wonderful Christmas of my life with them, and am looking forward to 2017 in a way which I have never felt about a new year, before. Excited and hopeful.


I have so many people to thank this year, I’m not sure where to begin. So, as any writer should do when they are trying to save on the word count, I’ll bullet point them:

  • Kerry-Anne, and everyone at The Canary. I never, ever, ever would have believed this time last year I would be writing for a living, full time. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity, and love every single minute of it. And the support has been humbling. May The Canary sing, and fly, even higher in 2017.
  • William (he knows who he is). One of my dearest friends, who has been with me through the really good, and the really bad times, this year. I love you dearly, ‘playah’…
  • To the amazing team at Scisco Media. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to be part of the development of something so exciting. Here’s to 2017!
  • Everyone at Consented, The CommonSpace, Russia Today (especially Bouchra), Al Jazeera, Red Pepper, The Independent, Occupy, talkRadio, Talk Radio Europe and anywhere else that has given me a platform this year. Thank you.
  • My friends on Facebook, some of the nicest social media people going. You’ve seen it all from me, this year, and have been so generous, kind and supportive. Thank you.
  • Everyone who has read, shared and commented on my work, on Twitter and in the amazing Facebook groups I’m part of. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your support has been overwhelming, during what was a really hard year.
  • All the people who have contacted me with their stories. I pride myself on writing about subjects other people wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, and letting voices be heard that usually are forced to remain silent. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write everything everyone asked me to. And I also apologise for not always responding to messages as quickly as I should. I’ll try and improve on that in 2017.
  • Finally, my darling, beautiful partner. I love you so much, it hurts sometimes. “And I know every day I say it, but I just want you to be sure – that I am yours”.

Last year, I said that in 2016:

No one, old media or new, will be telling me what to think. I will research, ponder, question and criticise, even if it goes against what the majority are saying. Finding my own truth is going to be a fundamental component of my year, because without it I will be nothing more than a cog in the ever-growing wheel. Ain’t happening.

I hope I stuck to that. And I certainly found my own truth this year, in so many ways.

There’s a particular quote that will be at the forefront of my mind, during 2017. I’m a bit of a Marvel fan, something that along with my love of Mariah Carey, may surprise people. The quote, originally from an edition of Amazing Spider-Man penned by J. Michael Straczynski in 2007, then revamped for the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War, it is simply:

Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong, is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say “No. You move”.

This will be my mantra for 2017. And I think, maybe, it should be yours too.

With lots of love and hopeful, peaceful and warm wishes for 2017.



Robbie Powell: a story of a systematic institutional cover-up, a quarter of a century in the making

The tragic death of 10-year-old Robbie Powell more than 26 years ago is a story without an ending. Allegations of gross negligence manslaughter, forgery, perverting the course of justice and conspiracy hang over numerous medical professionals. And the NHS, police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Welsh Office, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the General Medical Council (GMC), Conservative Cabinet Ministers and other public bodies were involved.

Robbie died from what should have been a treatable illness that only needed a daily intake of tablets. But, what history shows is that not only did doctors fail him, but almost everyone involved in the boy’s case repeatedly did as well – and are still doing so right up until this day.

Below are the links to my investigations into the story, so far. Please read and share widely; more articles are to follow.

Robbie: an overview of the case: 

The failings of the CPS [Part One]:

The failings of the CPS, [Part Two]:

The medical professionals who could have saved his life:

The “institutionally incompetent” police who failed Robbie:

The failure of UK legal and political systems to bring justice for Robbie [Part One]:

The failure of UK legal and political systems to bring justice for Robbie [Part Two]:

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part One]:

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part Two]:

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part Three]:

How every institution of the State has failed Robbie Powell [Part One]:

How every institution of the State has failed Robbie Powell [Part Two]: