fashion fail

ASOS is a huge success story. With over 13 million registered users, the online fashion outlet is set to turn over £1billion by 2015.

But my investigation into working conditions at the factory told a very different picture to the glossy, trendy image the company portrays.

To read my Big Issue in the North piece, click here. This piece also appears in Equal Times.

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| 11:42 18/12/2013 No Comments |

north yorkshire

The final piece in my austerity series for the Big Issue in the North – this time, on North Yorkshire.

To read the full article, click here.

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| 13:43 19/11/2013 No Comments |

‘this is a tsunami of need’

Nearly three years after I first visited Goldthorpe, and my Big Issue in the North update on how austerity is impacting on the former mining community can be read here.

On another note, Eve Robertson, an actress whose father worked in the Cortonwood pit, got in touch.

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She is planning a series of outdoor theatre events in the town on March 1, 2014. The aim of the project- called ‘Digging up Black Gold’ – will be to celebrate the area’s heritage, and bring back a sense of pride to Goldthorpe.

Here is some more information from Eve below:

“We aim to re-create a sense of community pride and spirit that The Dearne Valley area had during the dispute and acknowledge the strength and collective achievement of the community.

We are to reflect on the positives and aim to re-invigorate that sense of pride.

The group are to work with myself and four professional actors to collect memoirs from that period and present them as pop up theatre on the event day (Sat 1st March) at carefully selected locations in Goldthorpe.

Also as part of the event and to support the theatre pieces there will be a soup kitchen, exhibition where memorabilia will be on view, home footage shown of that time, youth brass band and involvement from the local schools.

I am originally from Broomhill, Wombwell in Barnsley and my father was a miner at Cortonwood pit (Dearne valley area).

This project is incredibly close to my heart as it is the participants and we are looking forward to showing the community images and stories of their collective achievements during the dispute. This event is sourced from the community, presented by the community and will be enjoyed by the community. An achievement Goldthorpe can be proud of.

We are holding two drop in days on Thursday 28th Nov and Thursday 5th Dec to ask residents of the Dearne valley area to come and chat to us. You are more than welcome to visit us between 2-6pm at the Union Jack Club to discuss the project further.”

I read a quote the other day that called the miner’s strike the most significant cultural event in the history of post-war Britain. Anyway, I’ll be attending the events – they sound interesting.

| 20:47 08/11/2013 No Comments |


To read my Big Issue in the North piece about the impact of austerity on Stoke, click here.


| 17:24 04/11/2013 No Comments |

‘it’s a constant worry’


Some pictures from a recent trip to North Yorkshire for the final piece in my Big Issue in the North series on austerity, to run over the next three weeks.

I’ve revisited three areas – the others being Stoke and Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire – for an update on how they have fared since I first visited to see the impact of cuts in 2011.

North Yorkshire is richer and more resilient. Yet a growing elderly and increasingly vulnerable population will sadly bear the brunt of cuts, which are focusing on care services and rural transport. Services have already disappeared.

I first met Christine Harker, above, on a bus in 2011. She epitomises the flinty spirit of the Dales. But without her weekly link to the outside world, she would be lost.

“We have never been without a service – but now we don’t know whether we will have a service. It’s a worrying thing for old people. The majority of them don’t have families, while some of them have families that live a long way away.”


Sheila Robinson, 87, still lives in the picturesque rented row of cottages she did when I first met her  in 2011. She is a full-time carer for her daughter, who has learning difficulties and mental health problems.

She, too, is concerned about what the future brings. “When you are told that things are going to change it’s a constant worry.”

Volunteers are rallying around to preserve services. But when you are dealing with the most vulnerable people, living in some of the most remote areas of England, it feels like a real risk to run services on goodwill.

| 22:05 22/10/2013 No Comments |

you matter


Really pleased with progress on the final report for The Good Society – a research project I’ve been working on since 2011.

The black and white images look really strong, and fit well with the text. It’s often difficult to envisage whether something will work, but the designers Fieldwork have done a good job.


It’s a first draft, so there’s some work to be done; especially on editing the text down so that it fits into a format that is easy to read. Rather than create a stuffy, text-heavy report that no-one will read, the plan is to create a newspaper filled with the images and stories gathered on my visits to community development projects across the UK.

As it nears the final stage, I’m really excited to see how it will look.


| 17:23 16/10/2013 No Comments |

pay day poverty


I’ve neglected my blog – for which I can only apologise.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on the ‘Drowning in Debt’ report for Church Action on Poverty (CAP).

The report brings together years of research from the charity’s work with sister organisation Thrive, based in Middlesbrough, and the Centre for Responsible Credit in London.

The work focuses on the little known buy-as-you-rent sector, whose shops sell white goods and appliances with interest rates of almost 70 per cent. Bright House, the market leader, is by far the worst culprit – but PerfectHome and Buy As You View also sell goods with huge mark-ups on normal retail prices.

They are, however, increasingly dominating some of poorest high streets in the UK. Almost 80 per cent of BrightHouse’s 271 shops are in the top 30 per cent most deprived areas of the UK. 80 per cent of PerfectHomes’s 64 shops are in the 20 per cent most deprived areas of the UK.

People buy into them because the weekly repayments are so low – a washing machine from BrightHouse costs just £6 a week for 156 weeks. But at a final cost of £936, this hardly represents a bargain.

Many on the outside would like to see the whole sector disappear.

Yet as pernicious and predatory (a brilliant description from Niall Cooper of CAP there) as we all agree the sector is, it’s very hard for people who are on benefits, a low-income salary, or who have a poor credit rating to get access to the bank loans and credit cards many of us take for granted.

Like it or not, credit is necessary. So what the report outlines is what the sector needs to do to change – offer lower interest rates, better rates for better payers, transparent costings, free debt advice, no default charges, and share credit data – so that their customers can eventually get themselves out of debt and wean themselves back on to normal credit.

The Observer covered the report well here, using much of my research in an infographic.

Drowning in Debt was followed this week by the launch of the Charter to Stop the Pay Day Loan Rip Off, which demands that pay day loans (you know, the ones who charge up to 7,000% representative APR for their loans…..) immediately reform. The Charter has been widely covered, in the Independent, Financial Times,(£) Sheffield Star, Guardian, Ekklesia, etc.

It’s great to see Church Action on Poverty getting well-deserved coverage. They really do work at a grassroots level, and have the credibility of conviction and experience behind them.

Their dogged determination has put the scandal of modern-day poverty, foodbanks, and debt at the top of the political agenda. The Government are finding these issues increasingly difficult to ignore.

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| 17:03 16/10/2013 No Comments |

sudan images

In other news…..all my pieces about the trip to Sudan with the British Council’s Active Citizens programme are gradually being uploaded onto their website.

My images have been used for the website and the Active Citizens annual report, as well as an impact report outlining the progression of the Sudan programme. A selection below.


| 14:47 29/07/2013 No Comments |

goldthorpe update

Again, some more images from the forthcoming series on the impact of austerity for the Big Issue in the North – this time from Goldthorpe.

I met Cllr May Noble two and a half years ago to talk about exactly the same issue. Sadly, although time has moved on, Goldthorpe hasn’t. Apart from a very well-publicised and somewhat tragic mock funeral for Thatcher – for many, a sad way to celebrate this once-proud mining community’s industrial heritage – the town has stood still.

The apathy of increasing deprivation seems to have stopped people from being able to fight back. And although the long boarded-up houses of the town centre are due to be demolished, what replaces them – a new school and supermarket – will be a drop in the ocean compared to the huge job creation and training schemes the area needs.

The only growth industry is the foodbank.

| 13:09 29/07/2013 No Comments |

linking learning

Spent the day in sunny Norfolk two weeks ago gathering material for a case study for the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme, which supports teacher exchanges between the UK and the developing world.

Pictured above are partnership coordinator and St Mary’s Primary teacher Laura Hodgetts, Gambian teacher Mustapha Ceesay, Ugandan teacher Mukasa Kaweesi Mathias, and St Mary’s headteacher Vicki Long.

| 12:24 29/07/2013 No Comments |


some images from last week’s trip to stoke to find out how cuts are impacting on the city – an update from my visit two and a half years ago.

to be used for a piece in the big issue in the north, part of a series on austerity.


| 18:33 18/07/2013 No Comments |

self-build in burton-on-trent

| 17:54 18/07/2013 No Comments |

harder and harder times

Piece from this week’s Big Issue in the North about the sorry case of the closure of Salford’s Narrowgate shelter; a confusion over whether night shelters should receive housing benefits led to a tragic situation where dozens of rough sleepers were left with nowhere to go. Thankfully a public outcry has led to a semi-reprieve – more in next week’s Big Issue in the North.

The ruling that led to the Narrowgate closure may have implications nationally; already hostels in London are closing as local authorities there review whether shelters should receive housing benefit. More local authorities are in the process of making a decision.

The situation for Greater Manchester’s homeless population is bad enough.

Many are facing eviction as a result of the bedroom tax, and a recent reclassification of those eligible for sheltered housing in Salford means only those with a local link can get accommodation in council-run hostels.

The No Second Night Out (NSNO) initiative – which this year funded housing association Riverside ECHG £200,000 to stop homelessness in Greater Manchester – has been criticised by many, including Narrowgate manager Phil Brown, who say shelters like theirs are crucial to house men and women Manchester’s No Second Night Out scheme cannot.

These include, according to Brown, failed asylum seekers, anyone found sleeping rough more than once, and many with drink and drug problems evicted from NSNO accommodation. Nor can people self-refer through NSNO.

Added to this depressing mix is the recent demolition of Manchester’s centrally located 113-bed Wilmott Street Salvation Army men’s hostel -  replaced by four houses with a maximum of 60 beds – a loss of 53 hostel beds for some of the city’s most vulnerable men. I’m not clear what facilities exist for homeless women.

Yet it is not just Greater Manchester. Leeds is now facing a shortage of beds as hostels are closed in favour of ‘self-contained’ accommodation.

Which sounds great – but the anecdotal evidence is that there isn’t nearly enough of this to go round.

Homeless projects tell me that they are increasingly having to rely on private accommodation, but their clients just don’t have the money required for deposits.

Certainly, it’s difficult to ignore the growing number of people begging on the streets of Manchester.

| 13:32 22/05/2013 No Comments |

sudan’s agenda for change

How the British Council aims to empower ordinary people in Sudan – some words from my recent trip to the country to see the work of the Active Citizens programme.

| 19:43 14/05/2013 No Comments |

small steps

Active Citizens, the British Council programme I’ve been documenting, recently took me to Gedaref and Kassala, in the east of Sudan.

There, Active Citizens has been used to train communities on how to design and implement their own ‘social action’ projects.

These include tree planting programmes; gas canister rental schemes; renovation of youth centres; installation of improved water tank technology; and health and FGM (female genital mutilation) awareness classes.

If approved by the British Council, all projects will receive €2,000 seed funding.

The idea is that by engaging people in changing where they live, development becomes more sustainable, participation increases, and civil society is strengthened.

We visited Aroma, a town on the outskirts of the eastern state of Kassala, where 30 people have received Active Citizens training.

There I interviewed participant Fatma Mohamed Ali, 27, a widowed mother-of-two and student.

So if we can just start by asking you how old you are and what your name is and what you do?

Fatma Mohamed Ali, 27 years old. I studied until high school, the third grade, then got married…. have two children, Mohamed and Rayan, their dad died and I went back to university. I actually went back before he died. I started the first year but right now I’m doing my fourth level, studying education, at the chemistry and biology department, the University of Kassala.

What motivated you to get involved in Active Citizens?

I want to help the society…know more about its problems and be able to solve some of those problems.

What do you feel are the major issues facing young women in Aroma?

Well, education is a very important issue…most mothers are illiterate….some children do not go to schools because of customs and traditions. The first solution I suggest is to make people aware of the importance of education so we have more schools and that will help solve two problems: the unemployment of the graduates so they can get jobs and the problem of education in general.

What would you really like to be able to use? What are the real important changes you’d like to see happen?

The first thing is the social solidarity…I mean we have known each other before but not closely. People need to learn a way to communicate and understand each other. We need to connect the international citizenship with the local one, for example, by visiting each other so we know about each others customs and traditions and then take the best from each other.

Have you faced any problems participating in the Active Citizens programme?

No, I haven’t faced any problems.

How do you feel that it has benefited you personally in terms of the future?

Well, I will be able to offer something to society and be effective, and know how to run small projects and search for projects that would develop the whole society.

| 20:29 13/05/2013 No Comments |

equal exchange

Spent the day photographing and interviewing children and staff at Hambleton Primary School as they welcomed two teachers from Zambia.

The event was part of a Connecting Classrooms exchange, run by the British Council to encourage greater cultural awareness and understanding between schools in the UK and the rest of the world.

Pictured is Muwa Malale, a 29-year-old primary school teacher from Mongu, in Zambia’s Western Province.

| 15:03 03/05/2013 No Comments |

making ends meet

Heartened by the comments on my latest piece for the Guardian Northerner about benefits sanctions….click here to read.

Another version was also published in the Big Issue in the North.



| 14:34 01/05/2013 No Comments |

serbia stories

Some pictures (out of the hundreds taken) from my week spent documenting a group of participants visiting Serbia with the British Council’s Active Citizens leadership scheme in February.

This trip was different to the previous months’ visit to the Outer Hebrides; the group were mostly British and Serbian, and all were significantly younger.

Many had already invested much of their time in setting up social enterprises – some are working with care leavers, some are using informal education and drama to teach marginalised youngsters in schools, whiles others are encouraging healthy eating and sustainable food production in their communities.


| 13:38 01/05/2013 No Comments |

‘all this shows what can be done if we own our own assets’

The Outer Hebrides are three hours by ferry from the Scottish west coast.

They undeservedly have a reputation for being bleak and unforgiving; but when I was there in January with the British Council, the weather was cold, but beautifully sunny and still. The many sea lochs dotting the rust-coloured landscape were as still as mirrors.


| 16:29 28/03/2013 No Comments |

citizen exchange

Some pictures from my week spent with the British Council documenting an Active Citizens event held in Croydon.

As well as meeting activists, students, and community development workers from nine countries, I later visited the Outer Hebrides to see the revolution in social enterprise happening in one of the most remote parts of the UK.


| 15:26 12/03/2013 No Comments |

a home from home

Click here to read my latest piece from Inside Housing – about a beautifully converted former convent in Liverpool turned eco-hostel for homeless families.

One of the residents, a single mum-of-three, said the facility gave her confidence as it showed the authorities cared about her future. “It feels like whoever conceived this project has actually experienced being homeless themselves. And I think people can see that and they appreciate it. They are investing in people. This is not like having your own home, but it’s the next best thing.”

| 12:54 01/03/2013 No Comments |

old trafford community garden

A little late; some pictures from the launch of the Old Trafford Community Garden on January 12th.

A brilliant example of a very simple idea that will make a huge difference to a community blighted by fly-tipping. I should know – the garden is situated at the end of the street I used to live on. Which once had six mattresses piled up in the alley. For weeks.

Over in nearby Moss Side, community gardens and allotments have done untold good. I’m convinced that the same movement is possible in OT.

Here’s a film made by the lovely Kerry of OT News – and of course, we’ll be tracking the garden’s progress on 

| 12:53 22/02/2013 No Comments |

other writing

I’ve written Manchester A-Z guides for airline magazines; spent a night on the beat in Liverpool to see how their police work for Specials magazine; covered the latest issues in journalism for The Journalist magazine; and written about regeneration in Manchester for Gay Times.

I’ve also provided housing content for youth information site The Site, covered labour issues for Equal Times, written about the development of children’s apps, and explored the new Roma community of Manchester for the Black Health Agency.

I’ve written for the professional magazines of the Royal Photographic Society, Shelter, and the Canal and River Trust.

I’ve done syndication news, editing and writing shifts at all Manchester local papers, written features and a series of health-related articles for the Manchester Evening News, and news for Manchester Confidential.

I also worked as a researcher on a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Exit Strategy: Choosing A Time to Die. I do shifts as a broadcast journalist at BBC Radio 5 Live.

I’ve carried out media relations for Church Action on Poverty, securing coverage in the Guardian, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Manchester and all the major church press.

I’ve also completed a series of copywriting projects for the British Council’s Connecting Classrooms schools project, architecture firms, and Manchester City Council.





special apps





| 21:54 21/02/2013 No Comments |

inside housing

I have been a freelance contributor to respected social housing weekly Inside Housing since 2010.

I have written on subjects as diverse as housing advice for sex workers; tenants’ rights; social enterprise support; tower blocks for the elderly; social housing-funded academies; safety standards, youth exchanges, job swaps, and the protection of the welsh language.

| 20:50 21/02/2013 No Comments |

the kibbutz

I visited Kibbutz Ein Harod in Israel in May 2012 – I also revisited the nearby Kibbutz Massada, where I had spent two months as an 18-year-old volunteer in 1995.

The kibbutz I had such fond memories of is now semi-derelict. The international volunteers had been replaced by Thai guest workers.

While in Ein Harod, I was very struck by how the Israeli mentality is shaped by their own definition of freedom; what it means to be free, what price is worth paying for that freedom, and how important freedom is to one’s sense of identity.

The kibbutz is still a very potent symbol of that definition of freedom; and both are unique to Israel.

Yet the kibbutz are changing; out of step with a modern, increasingly consumerist society, their collective ideals have been abandoned – and their political role of settling the land has been taken over by more fundamentalist settler communities in the occupied territories.

Perhaps in some way their position reflects the majority of Israelis; tired of the fight, yet defined by their circumstances, they are aware that the future is uncertain, but they continue as they are – because, well, what is the alternative?

Gil Becker is an electrician on Ein Harod kibbutz.

Here he talks about what the kibbutz means to him and his country.

| 17:28 21/02/2013 No Comments |

albion high school

Teaching four classes of various ages across five weeks, this project worked with Albion High School, Salford, and Curriculum Plus to use journalism to enrich learning.

Based on the constraint of conducting a five-minute interview, one group questioned staff across the school community on a number of issues, editing them into audio interviews.

Another developed review skills, using the film Kes to broaden their understanding of what films can and should be.

One group wrote news articles based on the John Steinbeck novel ‘Of Mice and Men’, using their position as journalists to understand the contemporary issues of the time; another produced feature articles and vox pops on a variety of subjects, from building a spaceship to the presence of CCTV in the school.

“Our all boys group have benefited massively. For lads who have been in Salford, in several cases, for less than a year to feel confident enough to conduct and record interviews with key professionals in our school and to take photographs too is a big achievement. I have watched them grow in stature.” Lee Reid, Head of English, Albion High


| 11:38 21/02/2013 No Comments |

kingsley primary school

As part of the Good Society project run by CTBI, I taught a group of 30 Year 5 pupils at Kingsley Primary School, Toxteth, Liverpool in April 2012.

The project was designed to help the pupils learn basic journalism skills to enable them to report on what is ‘good’ about Toxteth, thereby overturning some of the negative stereotypes about their neighbourhood.

They visited a local allotment project, Growing Granby, and learned about the geographical history of the area.

The went to the local Unity Youth Club, and saw the free activities they provide for local children. They also visited Granby Care Home, and met Maria, who helped change some of their perceptions around old people.In addition, they interviewed each other about what is good – and what needs to change – in Toxteth.

Their work was gathered into a newspaper, the Kingsley Kanga News. To download a copy of the paper, click here

“Thank you ever so much for coming to my school. I had so much fun! I hope you can come in again and see us soon I really had fun interviewing people. I hope you have also missed me and my class. That was the most fun week of my life when you came to see us. Keep up the good journalism. And what I most liked was listening to quotes, because the quotes nearly made me cry.” Hannan Mussa Husayn, 11


| 15:29 20/02/2013 No Comments |

cravenwood primary school

In February 2011, I was commissioned to teach journalism skills to a group of Year 6 pupils at Cravenwood Primary School, in Cheetham Hill, Manchester.

The school was being redeveloped, and the idea was to support children to report on their school community and the new building.

In addition, the paper was also designed to celebrate the creation of a new artwork which formed the centrepiece of the new building.

We created a newspaper, the Cravenwood Chronicle. To download a copy, click here  – and to read a blog about its progress, here.

Children learnt the difference between features and news; how to write shorthand; how to take effective and accurate notes and quotes; and how to structure a news article.

They went out and about in their community, interviewing local shopkeepers, and vox popping members of the community about fashion.

They also wrote about their latest school trip; the diversity of the school community, the importance of picking litter; and interviewed members of staff about what motivates them. The newspaper also featured a section commemorating the opening of the school building.

Working with a filmmaker, I also made a documentary film about the role of creativity within the school, interviewing staff, pupils, and parents.


| 14:04 20/02/2013 No Comments |

powered by people UK

In August 2012, Church Action on Poverty asked me to produce a short book that would inspire people to start community organising.

The document, funded by the Young Foundation’s Building Local Activism programme, featured case studies, photographs and personal testimonies about the impact of community organising from across the UK.

Focusing on the work of four organisations – Birmingham Citizens, Together Creating Communities Wrexham, Thrive Teesside and Thrive Manchester – the resource illustrated how community organising has been used to tackle a huge range of issues, including school exclusions, mental health, and debt.

To download the complete book, click here


Pages from Brum-Citizens Pages from TCC-Wrexham-2 Pages from Thrive-Teesside-1




| 17:05 18/01/2013 No Comments |

a fair voice

In 2010, mum-of-one Sarah Whitehead, 27, of Weaste, Salford, completed the Salford Apprentice course.

The initiative, which teaches participants about politics, local government, and funding, is designed to empower people with the knowledge they need to make positive changes to their lives and communities.

Inspired by what she learnt, Sarah subsequently established the BCD Community Gardens Association and transformed her rubbish-filled alley into a community garden. Surrounding streets have since been inspired to create their own gardens.

In March 2011, Sarah set up the Weaste Area Forum. As well as providing a democratic voice for local people, the forum have also created a jobs centre, community gym, and cafe in their local social club.

Sarah is now a mentor for other Salford Apprentices.

This case study was commissioned by Church Action on Poverty, whose Community Pride Unit runs the Salford Apprentice course in partnership with Salford University.

To read my Big Issue in the North story about Sarah’s journey and the Community Pride Unit, click here; to read about an article about her work with ex-offenders published in Mule newspaper, click here

| 15:11 16/01/2013 No Comments |