Poverty Truth Commission Update

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Here is the latest in our series of posts written by PCVS Poverty Truth Commission Community Facilitator, James Farson.

A few weeks ago, we had the chance to attend the annual Poverty Truth Network (PTN) gathering at the Hayes Conference Centre in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

‘Conference Centre’ does not sound very exciting, but it was beautiful, and a perfect space for us to connect and make friends with people from the Network, funders, wider charity members, and commissioners and facilitators from other Poverty Truth Commission’s (PTC) across the country.

Sharing the Struggle, Holding the Hope

The strapline for the gathering was ‘sharing the struggle, holding the hope.’ The word ‘hope’ is very important; a PTC is a process where people come together and imagine how things might improve, but the process is important, rather than setting specific outcomes. Creating a space to hold hope and share the struggle is what Poverty Truth is.

We spent most of the three days (apart from the meals, because there is no meeting without eating) in a large circle of about fifty people. The PTN never does anything without demonstrating their values. Our first exercise together was to write down what our hope for the next few days was and what we wanted to get out of it. I will tell you what mine was at the end.

We took those hopes, and things that were going well, and put them into a newspaper front-page all about our commission. We included a snazzy picture of a rocket ship (or shark, depending on how you look at it) that symbolised our upcoming launch on the 23rd of November.

Participants spent the rest of that day and the next two in conversation, demonstrating the relational approach to the project. We made many good friends and heard about the good work other commissions were doing and learnt a few key things the PTN was developing.

Amplify Groups

The Amplify groups explained their role in amplifying people’s voices.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked when I talk to people in the community as a facilitator is, ‘It’s all well and good to change things in Peterborough, but there are bigger national and global problems.’

That is where the Amplify groups come in.  When issues crop up in multiple locations, the Network takes notice and draws people in from those commissions to form working groups and feed those issues back at a national policy level. One of the Amplify groups developed a teaching resource highlighting people’s lived experiences of poverty; it will become a pilot for first year medical students to widen their understanding of the issue. The PTN screened an incredibly powerful early sample film from that resource.

Discussions around diversity all took place. Participants spoke in smaller groups about the challenges relating to poverty that might disproportionately affect certain minority ethnic groups, and the work undertaken to make sure that commissions are as diverse as they need to be, to represent as many lived experiences as possible.

Finally, we took part in a debate. The PTN are keen to evaluate outcomes from different commissions and highlight the changes that we are all making, although it is tricky to evaluate just what those changes mean. We had a list of outcomes from different commissions and evaluated whether they constituted

  1. a treatment of the symptoms of poverty, or
  2. a change to the underlying systems that make poverty worse

One outcome, concerning an issue highlighted by a few PTC’s was that some local authorities rip all the soft furnishings, such as carpets and curtains, out of temporary accommodation between tenants. Multiple commissions have lobbied local authorities to leave soft furnishings in, preventing new tenants from unnecessarily facing the costs of replacing them or from having to wait for financial assistance to do so. The question is does this approach: ‘only’ treat a symptom of poverty?; address the root, systemic causes; or is it somewhere in the middle?

Let us know in the comments.

On the last night, we had a talent show, where people bought along things that they had created for their launches. It was inspiring, and I cannot wait to see what our Peterborough empowerer’s do.

Our last morning together, we designed a breaking news headline to add to our front-page from the first day. Ours was a special new slow cooker recipe for the food supplement inside our imaginary newspaper, because a good PTC is like a slow-cooked meal!

Finally, we reflected individually on whether we still had the hope we bought with us on that first day. We summed up our responses onto sticky notes to put together in one big display.

I had hoped that Sara, the empowerer who came with me, would come away from the experience enthused to bring inspiration back to our commission in Peterborough. It is safe to say that we both came away from the gathering buzzing, and full of ideas.

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