Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Chip Spice. Hull's Marmite. Discuss

I remember it well. Before Ronald McDonald came to Hull, Yankee Burger was the only proper burger bar in the city.( I don't count the Bun in the Oven - though it had by far the better name.)

I never cared about the burgers, but my god the chips! The seasoning was like nothing I'd tasted before. Who'd have thought the subtle blend of paprika, tomato, garlic and salt would be so popular.

I personally think there's a direct correlation to the increase in childhood obestity in Hull and Yankee Burger's introduction of chip spice in the early 80s.
You can't buy it down in London - requests are met with quizzical and somewhat pitying looks.

The reason I mention chip spice is that it's the subject of a very amusing thread on Facebook in the group "It's Never Dull in Hull" which now has 1,840 members.

It's amazing how the little things provoke the biggest response - a thread on axing the Humber Bridge debt has only had one posting whilst "Chip spice - the Hull equivelent of Marmite: Love it, or hate it?" has had 77!

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Back to schools of the future

I defy anyone not to want to give up the day job and become a teacher after meeting Anna Hassan.

Anna's been the head teacher of Millfields Community School in Hackney, East London for more than ten years.

It's a challenged area - more than 40 languages are spoken by the pupils and almost three quarters speak English as their second language.

The school was run down and dirty, staff morale was low and kids badly behaved. So she started doing small things that eventually made a bigger impact - cleaning up the staff room started to raise morale amongst teachers.

Then she tackled pupil behaviour by suggesting that teachers own negative attitude was a contributory factor. It caused a lot of arguements, but slowly the mood changed at the school with teachers and pupil behaviour improving. This then raised standards and pupil achievement. From being a school that some parents wouldn't touch with a barge pole, Millfields now has a 100 strong waiting list.

Millfields has pioneered the principle of the extended school - putting the school at the heart of the community.

Instead of just using the school for pupils between 8.30 and 3.30pm, everyone can use it. Mums can attend post natal classes, the toddlers go to the on-site children's centre and when they reach four, move to the nursery in the next room. Then at five, it's through anotehr door into the primary. This makes the transition between each absolutely seemless and a lot less stressful.

But it doesn't stop there - children can go to breakfast clubs and attend cheap after-school clubs where the can get a meal, have fun with art and more importantly, get looked after while their parents are away at work. Even the adults get a look in, using the schools rooms for everything from computer skills to help with numeracy and literacy. It's really a school for the community.

As you walk through Millfields, you see the difference that Anna's ethos of putting kids and learning at the heart of all decisions makes. The pupils are full of life but respectful, crying out "Hiya Anna" whenever she enters the room. One pupil loved Anna so much, she brought in a present - a lump of cannabis.

All schools will eventually be extended schools. But to make them work will mean dealing with three key challenges: assessing the really needs in the community, finding the inspriational heads and teachers to run them and giving them the freedom to run the schools the best way they can, allowing them to do what they do best - teach.

If we really want social mobility, raise the aspirations of our kids and provide REAL ladders of opportunity, we need more heads like Anna.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The return from Rovers

Went to Craven Park on Sunday. Rovers really needed two points against Warrington. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Warrington's attack just seemed to cut through Rovers defence, there were handling errors a plenty and the tackling was pretty poor.
The ramifications of Rovers getting relegated don't bare thinking of.

Though I'm loathe to say it - as I've never been a lover of Murdoch (Kinnock's tirade against the Dirty Digger in Campbell's diaries is hilarious) - Sky's money has helped Rovers to finally compete against the black and whites. The return of the ONLY true derby has been a shot in the arm for the game.

Sport and pride in your local team is a social glue that helps to bond the community. You should read a book by Robert Putnam called Bowling Alone. He talks of the importance of building social capital - the networks of friendship, neighbourhood and trust in our community.

Sport and Rovers help to create a lot of social captial. KR does great work in the community - its Playing for Success programme provides an out-of-hours study centre for kids, getting them excited about learning by teaching core subjects through workshops linked to Rugby League.Relegation could really impact on all this good work.

That's why it's so important to get behind the team because if they lose, East Hull does too.
The talk in Crown after the match was that mentally the players aren't at the races. That's why the Salford match is a real four pointer and could decide the season.
It's been some years since I played second row for Greatfield A, but I'm free if you're desparate Justin - and I've heard Cloutie's just as keen...and at 6ft 5ins and built like the proverbial, you'd better have a good resason not to pick him!

Friday, 20 July 2007

The Blair Peach Project

Had a fantastic time in Ealing Southall last night.
Managed to get a couple of hours in getting out the vote.
I'd campaigned there the previous week and couldn't get over the fact that some shops were displaying posters of all three main candidates.

Arrived at our campaign HQ in Southall - a fantastic Indian restaurant.
Our aim was to get as many Labour supporters out to vote at their nearest polling station - in my area this was Blair Peach School.

I got paired with Sen from Surbiton, a member of Tamils for Labour. I ran the book as Sen knocked up the houses that had indicated they might vote Labour. The reaction was very positive on the doorstep. One man - almost in indignation - told me: "I've voted for Labour for 30 years - who else would I vote for."
The reported turn-out was a worry - we'd heard figures of 38% - so we were fighting for every vote.

As it was, it wasn't close. The Bollywood Glamour of Tony Lit failed to convince voters. They chose the person they felt would best serve them - a decent and hard-working local candidate.

Well done to Joan Ryan, Tom Watson and Keith Vaz. A difficult campaign but a fantastic result. Seeing Tory strategist Grant Shapps trying to justify a 0.9% increase in the Tory share of the vote as a good result on Sky News has just become one of my highlights of the year so far.

Monday, 16 July 2007

'The Forgotten City'

So why was Hull 'forgotten' during the floods?

Though not forgotten by the Government or the three Labour MPs (who kept ministers fully briefed about the unfurling drama) it's fair to say the media missed out.

Although we suffered the most, the media demanded a watery backdrop for their lives, pre-records and photos.

Rolling news now defines which locations become the story. Toll Bar was still flooded days the initial delugue so it enabled the BBC and ITV to wade around in galoshers and commandeer dinghies.

Unfortunately, Hull lost its water too quickly. But that didn't mean Government wasn't aware of the problem and the extent of Hull's suffering.

But the Lib Dems decided to turn it to their political advantage. Lib Dem leader Carl Minns used London-based ING Media (a PR firm that promotes Walt Disney) to spin the line that 17,000 houses had been affected and that the council would need £350 million.

This 'Forgotten City' line and the inflated figures were swallowed hook, line and sinker by the media and used as stick to beat the Government. Minns stoked it up by saying MPs weren't doing enough and were working against the council by 'playing it down.'

These fluctuating figures - one minute £350 million, then £200m - looked like we were just making it up as we were going along.

Since then, Minns has had to admit that the damage figure is closer to £131 million and that streets with 16,000 properties were effected. A crucial difference.

You might not think that matters - at least Hull's story was told. But the inflated figures of damage could lead to a drop in house prices across Hull and drive up insurance premiums for hard-working families.

The fact is that one house affected was one too much. What we need to do now is to work together - the Lib Dems, the Labour group, local MPs, Government and the city - to ensure we secure the right funding and see what lessons can learn to ensure this doesn't happen again.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Hello again..


First, a confession.

This isn't my first blog. I did keep a record of my time training for the London Marathon earlier this year. Looking back I'm glad I did - it was a snapshot of a man in training who'd never run a mile before let alone 26 (If you're interested, I did it in 5hrs 20mins and raised £1,200 for the Spinal Injuries Association.)

But with this blog I wanted to give vent to my thoughts and opinions as a thirtysomething PR director and Labour Party activist living in London.

I hope you enjoy it.