Launching the 3rd Leeds Poverty Truth Commission

‘My biggest accomplishment in life will never be money, it will be who I raised.’ – Christine

An accident in the family set off the dominos in Christine’s life that led to her struggles against poverty. Taken into care at 3 years old, having her name and identity taken away, and made to feel hopeless and helpless, Christine’s early experiences had a large part to play in her later struggles against poverty. Now with grown-up children and 5 grandchildren, (of whom she is immensely proud), Christine was one of the Community Commissioners sharing her story of the stacked-up dominos in her life at the launch of the 3rd Leeds Poverty Truth Commission last week.

Nick, Christine and Shaun sharing their domino stories

With 12 Community Commissioners and 12 Civic and Business Commissioners, the 3rd Leeds Poverty Truth Commission started on Friday with a creative sharing of experiences; an opportunity for commissioners to meet and eat together; and much attentive listening and brave telling of stories about the struggle against poverty.

Using visual props such as 3ft high dominos to represent the conditions stacked up against people, flipchart thermometers to show the frustration levels experienced by both customers and staff in ‘system’ interactions, and a beautifully crafted quilt to explain the difficulties of transitioning from benefits to setting up a small business, Community Commissioners told their stories with honesty, courage and imagination.

We began with a reminder of the Humanifesto developed out of the 2nd Leeds Poverty Truth Commission which challenged the city to re-humanise it’s systems, practices and relationships. Jaimes then led us into an exploration of the labels people face through sharing a specially written poem. Nick, Christine and Shaun were up next telling some of their stories of the labels they faced, the impacts this has had in their lives, and how in various ways how relationships have been at the heart of creating change for them. Ben, Brian and Stewart then helped us explore the frustrations of poor communications, before Lou and Dawn shared some of their experiences of being misunderstood. Finally Kidy and Joy brought testimony of their very different but intrinsically linked stories of struggle for financial inclusion in setting up their own businesses against the barriers of being on benefits and being a refugee.

Everyone then had the chance to reflect their hopes for the 3rd Commission and a design a material patch which Joy will be sewing together into Leeds Poverty Truth Commission’s very own quilt of hope!

We are very fortunate to have Civic and Business Commissioners join us from many of the organisations and institutions that our Community Commissioners need to interact with day-to-day including Leeds City Council, DWP, First Bus, the health sector, the education sector, and the media. The full Commission will now be meeting monthly as we begin to build relationships between all Commissioners; explore the stories and experiences of struggles against poverty further; start to look at the themes and issues that emerge; and finally step into opportunities to experiment in changes that we together have the ability to make in our city.

Commissioners were busy swapping contacts on Friday and will hopefully be beginning the building of relationships over a cuppa or two in the coming weeks, so watch this space for updates and developments over the next few months.

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