They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and so its great to know that in less than a year since it opened there are plans to replicate in the North East the joint Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) and Unite Community support centre. Teesside as a venue is looking promising, Blyth too and Hartlepool. Anyone reading this and who would like to get involved should get in touch.
One trade unionist who has recently volunteered to assist in providing benefits and welfare rights advice at the support centre at Redhills in Durham City is Angela Appleby, who recently retired from her job at the local Land Registry Office. As a PCS union representative, Angela did a lot of work with disabled members on access to work and providing reasonable adjustments. Amongst others she helped were low paid women who needed to claim benefits.
Angered by the huge numbers being forced to rely on food banks and outraged by the current media portrayal of the poor, disabled and unemployed as scroungers and feckless she has joined Unite Community. Angela is being provided with training so that the advice she can offer is accurate and up-to-date.
The centre is open for advice on Wednesday and Thursday between 10am and 3pm. In addition the location has been the launchpad for a series of campaigning initiatives in the North East. With thousands having been cruelly hit by benefit sanctions, Unite Community has responded by distributing countless numbers of its (anti) sanctions leaflet outside numerous Department for Work and Pensions buildings. According to Trevor Bark, who has been involved since the idea of a support centre was discussed, the effect can be “uplifting” for many people for whom it offers an opportunity to challenge unfair decisions.
The DMA/Unite support centre is packed with a range of leaflets providing information to claimants on their rights.
Meanwhile, the support centre has plans to provide work with local people to share the skills to re-use old computers. In a radical move, trade unionists are collaborating with Green group Transition Durham and the North East Linux User Group, in a grass-roots project known as DFS3. Another former PCS activist, Robbie Faulds, is on of the participants: “Essentially it is about bringing old computers to life and providing IT access to people who may not be able to afford it.” With a background in benefits advice, Robbie has also been able to help claimants who have sought welfare rights assistance.
Anyone who is not working is entitled to become a Unite Community member at just 50 pence a week. For those who can’t afford the fee there is help. New members can be sponsored by local Unite industrial branches who understand that we – the employed and unemployed, retired and working, able-bodied and disabled – really all are in this together and that we cannot afford to be divided as then it is easier for the Tories and big business to ensure wages and benefit levels are pushed even further down.
Durham DH1 4BE