2017 review

Personally, 2017 was a year of successes. I graduated with a 2:1 from Anglia Ruskin’s uni, I achieved a 1 hour 30 half marathon and I managed to get a job! But that stuff aside what actually mattered from 2017 – well, I became an Uncle and our little family will never be the same!

The annoying bit:

The election further proved we are a nation divided, as if Brexit didn’t prove that already. It proved that there is a huge degree of separation between Politician’s at a local and national level and the people they supposedly serve. (This isn’t news) There is on the one hand despair for those people suffering due to continued austerity. Despair being shouted about by teachers, NHS staff (or whatever private company like Virgin HealthCare the government have helped snake their ways in), social services, police (if they are allowed) charities, voluntary agencies and food-banks. And they want and need change to help people unlike politicians, especially Tories, whose snobbery and lack of ability to empathise are as blatant as their empty words or often total ignorance to death and misery caused by budget cuts. Terrorism is still happening and our capitalism and self-centred, single minded attitude as a nation on the world stage, needs addressing so that we are not a target.

BUT, on the other hand, this negativity and uncaring form of governing is producing a huge wave of people, who go out of their ways to help others because their eyes and minds are open and quite simply, they like people. People who have good hearts and volunteer at hospices, food-banks, homeless shelters and soup kitchens and of course people who do Goodgym and help the community and isolated older people in their droves. Those who discover the huge oppression and discrimination that the Tories have created are doing something about it. Events like comic relief and children in need show how caring this country is and when people realise that many children they are helping are so affected by funding cuts, then maybe the government will have to stop breaking it’s own laws (Child Poverty Act, Equality Act 2010, Human Rights Act 1998, Children Act 1989, Chronically SIck and Disabled Act 1970 which all say that local authorities must safeguard and provide for those in need and not discriminate on the grounds of race, sex, disability or gender). Those who care are entitled to stick a big middle finger up at the government. WE KNOW BETTER THAN YOU.

Now having done a degree in social work , the fact that communities are helping each other is something that the Tories love for one simple fact – it “saves” them money. But this will bite them in the bum when it comes to the next election I am sure. People are curious and if they do not know why there is huge increases in homelessness, crime, gang involvement, abuse, child poverty and food-bank usage (whilst at the same time more millionaires than ever) they will ask and investigate. Naturally. And free media and social media means that manipulated figures and lies that politicians tell (Grenfell tragedy as an example) are SO easily spotted.

Locally we have a total wally of an MP. Voted in by the silent Tories – those who live happily in their bubbles, work, have kids, do their own thing and do not really get involved with politics or community issues but still vote – he struts around Westminster more than he does his home town, makes nice speeches about caring and homelessness sleep outs but never, ever will admit that it is his party that is to blame for many terrible situations happening on his door step and in his town. How can a public school boy with no real life experience of poverty, disability or social exclusion empathise with the poor and vulnerable? Well I would hope a bit better than the Etonnians who sit on top of the Tory austerity tree but time and again the Will Quince Twitter feed proves me wrong.

A lot of Tory bashing here and I am not suggesting Mr Corbyn is the answer but at least he cares. Would much rather a government who helps it’s own people before deciding to spending multi-billion pounds on warships!

Sport was huge in 2017 and I was so privileged to see Mo Farah win his last major Gold medal at the World Championships. That is the passion and spirit I associate with the Great Britain and with the people who passionately stand up for the less fortunate. LONDON leads the way in equality and the people lead by example without the need for politicians. Tottenham beat Real Madrid too by the way, although football is still an example of how money is blinding many industries to their roles in the community. Anthony Joshua is a chap worth mentioning, especially as his mum is a social worker, which means he is a superstar tuned into real life. Mo and AJ get my vote!

Friends – I have made great new friends and this is always a buzz for me. Learning from people is great and that is why I love travel and culture. But importantly this year has been so important to see my best friends and their children flourish and grow. Such a privilege to have such a tight, long term group of friends with amazing families. In 2018 more important friends will be having babies and getting married – big up Millhouse crew!

2018 will see many things that I love continue. Exercise, volunteering, helping people, sporting events and travel – all with amazing friends. Singapore/South Korea/winter Olympics with the legendary Claire Tweed, Bucharest with the Goodgym family and many races and bootcamps which always bring a smile to my face.

Maybe a PB or 2 over 5km, 10km and Half-marathon distance are achievable next year.




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Poverty, politics and stigma. A loony left wing rant called truth.

So the election and over and as a few of my friends say, it is time to “just get on with it.” Politics for me is not about myself, I have completed my degree and I am setting about a good career with good pay looking after myself. I am a fully bodied, white, middle class man without a learning disability so therefore perhaps the Tory idea that people should just work hard and achieve and if they don’t it is their own fault, applies to me. But this election was won on the back of ignorance (no offence) , stereotypes and stigma about people where this pathological ideology does not exist, people who can not work or do not fit into this simplistic Tory ideal, and historically never have since capitalism was invented. This is why people have been charitable, helpful, understanding and nice when they noticed that for capitalism did not work and why the welfare state was set up. To include these people in a society, because it is only capitalist ideology and the obsession with profit, money and looking after number 1 that prevents it, is a must because now more than ever we understand our society have access to hoards of information if we want it and of course there is nothing to stop people from talking to the very people they feel are a threat or are wasting tax money and becoming a more community minded, more informed and generally making Colchester and beyond a nicer place.  It easy for a trained social worker to know that each individual on this planet is a product of their upbringing (the aspirations of parents and guardians), is affected by the ‘system’ and structure of society and forms there opinions based on the bubble they live in. And so stereotyping and stigma occur – especially if you read certain right wing, scaremongering, biased newspapers.This is why in my opinion:
Rich families, poor families, middle class families – presuming they are healthy and have no mental, emotional or physical health issues or learning disabilities produce their offspring and they may succeed in life (depending on your definition of success) or they may fail. They may earn a little, a lot or nothing at all…they may be on benefits. Now notice how you may be agreeing and now ask yourself why it is that only poor families are stigmatised as lazy, sponges on society. Look at your friends – do they claim benefits, do they rely on the NHS, do they know someone elderly or disabled who needs care? Do you stigmatise them? Single mums on councils estates have to put up with societies judgements or a families in social housing who have a big TV is blamed for being irresponsible. BUT WAIT – little do you know you ‘judgemental people of the world who often vote Tory’, but in social work studies, academic research, expert opinion and numerous text books used to study society and poverty, YOU ARE THE STEREOTYPE. People who openly argue that poor people shouldn’t have large TV’s are a phenomena in the political and social work worlds. You are a Tories wet dream. Squeaky clean people who have never overspent, never got a pay cheque and splurged all their money on a luxury item… EVER. I mock but on a serious note it is time to question your information. For example: as a social worker (or a nurse, teacher, doctor, therapist, support worker – public servant) see’s two, or three different versions of the UK first hand through contact with poor people, disabled people, neglected and abused children. I read the Guardian but that is a supplement to academic studies and first hand experiences. So we know the stories of people on benefits with large TV’s that force people into voting Tory. And it is not pretty. Often the aspirations of children match that of their parents and this goes on for generations. This is the reason that austerity and cuts will cost the state more in the long run. Poverty is linked to crime, to homelessness, to smoking, drinking and drug taking but obviously each individual has a different story. It is also linked to sexual, emotional and physical abuse as well as neglect. So austerity through the conservative governments choice to implement austerity and victimise the poor is in my eyes a huge crime. The increasing thresholds for abuse in children, the lack of options is child and adult care services, the privatisation of care which leaves care staff underpaid and under-trained and so many more factors make the future of the UK…meaning us the voters, the ageing population will be in a terrible state when it is our turn to need help. Intelligent, helpful, caring societies must take notice and look deeper, talk to people before judging them and vote to make the UK as good as it can be….not as judgemental, uncaring, stigmatising and degenerative and split as it is and will continue to be. Be bold and challenge austerity…it has become a taboo word but for 7 years it has been happening and it is still happening. The benefits system is badly under staffed and inhumane…it needs investment but simultaneously by voting Tory’s in this increases the likelihood that only certain people can access it…that is a very vicious cycle that people need to realise. The damage is already deeply done and getting worse. The UK is developed and embraces some aspects of life but there is another side less advertised but that is in the vast majority of hard working people using foodbanks, huge swaths of homelessness and all the people who need help due to age, disability, mental health, abuse…they are the ones who suffer and lose out the most.


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Goodgym – not a gym..WE RUN

Goodgym is awesome.

We run. We do tasks. We run back. Community love and getting fit with a very qualified coach.

Cleaning Colchester Foodbank. Litter picking along the beautiful RIver Colne in Castle Park. Learning to save people from rivers! Sweeping leaves in Church Yards. Clearing paths. Sorting clothes for a homeless charity.Setting up movie nights at care homes.

https://www.goodgym.org/ Have a look


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Love Support Unite – a charity that truly follows their philosophy

Love Support Unite is a charity that operates in Malawi. They have an orphanage on the outskirts of Lilongwe, the capital city, and a school called Mkunku which is around 45 minutes from Lilongwe, off the beaten track into rural Malawi. The charity was founded by Alice and Nina Pulford (award winning volunteers) and they operate in a simple but effective way. They saw a need and they did something about it and they continue to do so. The charity is much more than an orphanage and a school, everything they do is sustainable: growing sustainable crops around the school to feed and educate local people, digging bore holes so there is access to water, regularly testing and treating malaria and forming links to local organisations.

I met Nina (and Alice I think) in Colombia and became friends on social media. I followed as their charity grew and saw the amazing projects they started. I was determined to save money and go to help and take some social work skills with me! So I did…with some very welcome but unexpected support from the Anglia Trust Scholarship.

My task in Malawi was to report on the issues that affect children at the orphanage and the school. I did my research and looked into Malawian culture before I travelled and a lot of what I read was confirmed. There are dangers which are not addressed by the police or Malawian government…in short it is common for young girls to be sold for marriage, prostitution exists and sexual abuse of children happens. Love Support Unite aim to highlight these issues, gather information and evidence and work hard to protect children.  One of the most interesting and eye opening experiences was a meeting with 21 local chiefs. This, in social work terms, was a big test when thinking of cultural differences balanced with international human rights. Essentially the men (and one woman) were polite and interested but also they were involved themselves in what in our ours is serious crime.

I also undertook direct work/counselling with the children and young people at Tilinanu Orphanage. The girls at Tilinanu really were bright, hard-working, intelligent people who were a pleasure to work with. Essentially the benefits of ongoing counselling would give them an amazing platform to succeed in whatever they want to do. I learnt a lot from them as so often is the case when working with young people. An amazing group of girls with heaps of potential! I miss them and will go back as soon as I can.

Across Malawi the big issues are prevalent: hunger and famine if the maize crop fails, diseases such as malaria and HIV as well as abuse of children (especially girls) and women. However, Malawi is a country without civil war, with good natured people, safer roads than many places I have been and after the rains, a lush green backdrop. Not to mention Lake Malawi! WOW!

There is so much that is relevant to social work. Understanding a culture that is different to our own whilst being clear on what is internationally recognised as abuse. Seeing first hand the differences between relative and absolute poverty and using communication skills and theory to a very willing and attentive group of young people…no stigma or preconceptions at all! Britain is diverse and I certainly feel more confident in my ability to adapt and understand people regardless of their background.

I took a relationship based approach and by the end of the two weeks was able to set tasks and let the girls come to me if they so wished. With one counsellor the impact was limited a little due to the numbers of girls but the benefits of having a team of social workers would be incredible! Love Support Unite is a charity that loves passion and skill…they listen to ideas and they make things happen for the children. They design volunteering around your skills and they also appreciate you and treat you to some amazing experiences along the way…riding a horse bareback into Lake Malawi #justsaying.

There is no hidden agenda here, I do want you, if you are reading, to look into this charity, to see for yourself and have an unbelievable experience with immeasurable benefits to people Love Support Unite help. It takes some hard work, fundraising, passion and determination but student social workers in my experience have that in abundance.

You can contact me for any questions and to be put in touch with the charity: james.taverner@student.anglia.ac.uk

Visit: http://www.lovesupportunite.org or https://www.facebook.com/LoveSupportAndUniteFoundationlsu/?fref=ts


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Means to an ends.

This week is the start of the last university year of my social work degree. Social work is a funny world and I am set to see a new aspect of it in the statutory sector. It is funny in the sense that not only qualified social workers but also ex-social workers and lecturers are fully aware that so many of the aspirations and theory of social work disappears once work begins. The reasons – that will be something I will perhaps find out first hand.

My expectations are defined from what I have been told. More time in the office, more time in front of a screen and more attention to assessments and processes. But hopefully still a sense that people are getting help! So far I have only got experience in the voluntary sector, with a relative amount of freedom to work directly with children. I have volunteered, in which the direct work and meeting people is by far the best bit. I have worked in schools and again the work with the staff and kids is rewarding.

But I also like that feeling of stepping into the unknown…a bit like the buzz of travel I suppose.

Patience is also key. It sounds odd but I have done a fair bit of writing for my dissertation but resisted the temptation to smash out more words until I have had a second opinion. The countdown until all uni work is done…forever….has began. Dissertation. Placement work. Two semesters with assignments. Patience is needed but hopefully I will read this blog in July and think how fast it went by.

Patience as well for the chance to earn money…yes social work placements are free labour and unpaid! NHS bursary helps but money = travel and work should = money!

This time next year who knows where I will be and what I will be doing but so many things to look forward to with my family and friends and combining my exercise with fundraising for Love Support Unite and BCCS. Bring it on. Doing life is not easy but I am trying to do it in a way that has a positive effect on society.

This little boat made me think: it may not do what it was originally intended for but with some work it could do once again. Metaphor for social work…it is not ideal but things change.


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Ibiza, Ecuador and Bogota – Part 2

Ibiza was relaxation, party and food. DC10..fun. Good paella. Great little apartment in Ibiza town thanks to sis!

Ecuador – This was an entirely new experiences of life in Ecuador. I used the bus to get to ‘work’ and was lucky to stay with in a normal house in El Inca. Great – and free. I had a few spanish lessons with a slightly crazy guy and also had a sonography! Typical trip! I had a great free tour and met some cool people. Pretended to be a doctor at a conference and got a free dinner! 😛

The highlights of the trip included Quilotoa – a lake set in a volcano. Stunning to look at and even better to kayak on…but do not drop your hat in! The walk down was nice the walk up was slightly more challenging! It is about a 3 hour drive from Quito and great scenery the whole way.

The Teleferico is another vista panorama. The cable car goes up to 4100 metres and the the views and breathtaking…like the thin air!

I was also lucky enough to have an adventure of a drive to Cuenca and back. Cuenca, unlike Quito seems far more relaxed. It is another great colonial city with architecture and mountains. The villages of Gualaceo and Chorduleg nearby also had relaxed vibes and great culture…bingo nights, shoe shoe shops and jewelery! Cajas national park is also gorgeous.

Let’s talk food. You are never going to beat Asia but the pork was very good. A whole pig and a blow torch! Pig skin was like thin crackling. Yum.

Coy or guinea pig…ok flavour but a bit skinny and odd!

The highlight of Bogota was being shown a crazy bar. No signs and down a residential alleyway…dusty, dingy…crazy toilet. But utterly unique!!!

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Calais – The Jungle – my experience


A day in The Jungle in Calais is something everyone needs to do in order to form an opinion…especially right wing rag readers!

No one in Calais or any volunteers deny that some migrants are desperate and there is crime, disruption and tension on occasion. I mean, if you have made a huge journey via many countries and been rejected by many of them you too would be frustrated.

I had the pleasure of meeting some brilliant children, teenagers, men and a few women.

Walking around the camp to organise some sports was the first impression. Donated tents, caravans, portaloos – an area to wash plates, clothes and bodies but no long term drainage. Some tired people, some injured people (head injuries from french Police batons and pepper spray) some shy children and some very cheeky children (ranging under a year to 15 year olds) ! There are make shift community shops and restaurants and small donation shacks and information shacks that volunteers try to help as many people as possible in. People where interested in the events and in where we were from…a smile went a long way.

The camp is half what it used to be. A private company destroyed half the camp…they had ten days but completed the destruction in 7 days and had a party…the company employed french police and there were facist elements to it according to volunteer accounts.

They were able to negotiate that the makeshift church and school (Jungle books) remain along with a little meeting room. We played volleyball, football and cricket amongst dead rats in the sand. The young men had a great time, showing great unity and team spirit towards volunteers from all around and themselves (Sudanese, Iranian, Syrian and Afghan  mainly).

At the school on the weekend people learn french and english and during the week volunteers teach the children. There were two girls (5 and 7) in the school when I went as well as a french class and a staff room full of volunteer teachers and others. SUCH LOVE AND KINDNESS. The little girls were Syrian and very cheeky, fun and full of life and attitude. With them there was a Spanish social worker who had no chance to work in Spain so came to volunteer. What a legend along with all the volunteers. Pure awesome.

Finally the story of Husain, he is an atheist Iranian. His family escaped Iran and the brutal regime in which people with alternative views are at a very real risk of death. He paid to be smuggled in trucks through Russia to Norway where he was deported. He went to Sweden and couldn’t stay there either. Eventually he ended up in Calais at The Jungle. His desperation to look after his family and get french ‘papers’ or in fact any chance to start his life as a welder and look after his family, in ANY country, forced him to go on hunger strike. He sewed his own lips shut so that he could only drink…28 days! His story was in the media and a french official came to see him…his simple demands were met…or so he thought. That official and the promises never materialised. Hussain and his friend offered us all tea and I listened to him (through a volunteer interpreter) and at the end his small son came into the room for a cuddle!

That is my little story about Calais.


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