Is Poverty a Myth – 19th June 2023

This was a hybrid meeting held at the well-appointed premises of the charity free@last and was preceded by a guided tour by some of the young workers at the centre.

Those who participated in the guided tours found out about the facilities offered to attendees at this centre to help them from basic cooking techniques to entrepreneurship and setting up their own business, besides mentorship, advice and guidance through life’s many problems in such a deprived area such as Nechells.

“Poverty here in the UK?,” you say; “with expensive mobile phones and iPads, and Wireless earphones. and Televisions, and Restaurants brimming with customers, and Expensive Cars driving and lining our streets?” What does this all mean? Are Birmingham and the West Midlands really poor in material goods and/or in spirit?”

John Street, the speaker is the Director of the charity organisation free@last which provides opportunities, activities, as well as mentoring and support for children and young people in Nechells, and to further their interests by working with their families, other agencies and the community as a whole.

John’s purpose in life is to eradicate child poverty in his home community of Nechells, Birmingham. He has worked with children, young people, and families in this neighbourhood for 35 years, as well as making it his home for 24 years – raising his 4 children in reduced circumstances – because his mantra is “If you want to understand the needs of the people you serve, they must become your own needs”.

John’s presentation described the issues of living in poverty where the daily challenges are not only physical but mental as well. John set the scene on the challenges of poverty in the UK as “imagine waking up every single day, without hope, knowing that your circumstances are not going to change; that you cannot pay your daily bills, feed the children or share your pain and despair with anyone; let alone worry that you are going to be possibly assaulted, physically, mentally or even sexually, by those who you love and are closest to you, possibly robbed by a stranger or controlled by the addiction you struggle with; is this the reality for people who are trapped by poverty”.

John Street discussed and described a strategy to reduce and eradicate poverty, supported by two younger members of the centre, who talked very openly and sincerely about their struggles and achievements, and the help that they have received from the centre.

A very lively discussion developed where participants, some of whom had been born or lived in Nechells and Saltley, emphasised the benefits of the centre such as free@last, and shared their own experiences, opinions and advice. This lead into a discussion on strategies to address the crucial issue of poverty and opportunity to reflect on our own personal responsibilities in this arena.

The Chair is sad, as this is the last formal open meeting that he will have chaired in his capacity as Chair of The Lunar Society, as he steps down in about a month’s time. He is extremely glad however, that this meeting was a very worthy one to have been his last – to evidence that The Lunar Society, among its many other attributes, does have a STRONG SOCIAL CONSCIENCE.