The other night we watched Benefits Street. It made us feel really very sad.
Our first reason to feel sad was those tiny folk who are living in this way. The child being put in the porch made us wince. Rice crispies at 1 am, no sleep until 5 am gave us a HUGE pang of sadness. Small people being sworn at – wrong and awful. Small people biking around at 10 pm – a huge concern. This was not easy viewing. We felt sadness and anger.
The young parents, the guy getting a job and the change that occurred – they were really trying. We then felt sad for them. The job looked hard and so awful to not raise even one penny. Then the job went. Desperately sad!
Watching this took Becksie back to her former working life. What Becksie used to do is not really discussed here as it seems a world away from now. Right now she could not return to it as her energy must go to Lizzie but watching this has saddened her. Becksie did a community work degree and after a brief stint doing admin work on a delivery suite (she’s always sort of wanted to be a midwife) she set out on a career journey working with people who were homeless in Birmingham. Becksie knows for certain that homeless can mean so much more than the lack of a physical home. After a few years in a drop-in centre offering ‘social support’ Becksie started working for The Big Issue helping vendors to reach their life goals.
Becksie is always somewhat reluctant to mention that she used to work for The Big Issue as The Big Issue is like marmite – you either love it or you hate it. Becksie wanted to work for them as she was fed up of simply ‘handing out goodies’ in a drop in centre and The Big Issue is ‘a hand up not a hand out’. After moving from Birmingham to Oxford Big Issue Becksie left to work for a mental health charity. In hindsight this was a wrong move but it did teach her a lot that does help her on a daily basis. So…… maybe it wasn’t.
So whats all this musings on Becksie career? Hardly that interesting unless you have particularly strong opinions. But……what Becksie has seen and experienced in her working life has shaped who she now tries to be. There are five things that drop-in centre, The Big Issue and a stint in mental health taught her, we share them now as a reminder to ourselves:
1. Try very very hard not to judge and try to see situations from many angles. This is why watching Benefits Street has sparked this post. This piece of advice is very hard to do. Becksie admits that watching this programme made her angry and think ‘I would never let Lizzie do x, y or z’. But watching it also made her feel desperately sad for those parents as well as those children. If situations can be approached from a non-judgemental starting point things are just better. This is hard as in order to form one’s opinions one has to make judgements based on one’s own experience. Just try. An example: Once Becksie was chatting to a man on the street whose clothes were wet and ripped (in fact she was trying to encourage him to stop begging and start selling The Big Issue). His worldly possessions stashed in a well know supermarket carrier, he smelled of strong, cheap cider. She made an assumption as to how he ended up there. He went on to tell his story and his words still ring in Becksie’s ears. She can still see his face, that bag! In a previous life he was married, he had children, he had an extremely nice house, two cars and he was a very senior manager at the shop ‘who give away these handy luggage bags’! It went wrong. He moved out in order to keep his kids in their own house. He got a flat – the money wasn’t enough, he gave it up to save money. He spent his first night on a bench and washed in Macdonalds. This lifestyle didn’t match his job and quickly it was gone. The street is a cold place, drink became his medicine. Becksie writes this here not for you but for her. Her life now is far from this and she has pushed this to the corners of her mind. But she wants to remember so she can be as non-judgemental as possible – if only to them folks on the television.
2. Be grateful for what you have. To quote Forrest Gump ‘that’s all I have to say about that’.
3. See the beauty in everything. A hot cup of coffee, a hot shower, clean socks, the food in your cupboards.
4. Where you can help do so. This is not a plea to buy a Big Issue or even buy a homeless person coffee, this is not even to do with homeless people. It is to do with everyone! Where you can help do so. Small tiny things. A smile, a nod, a wave, a kind word. Anything. And….. don’t forget to apply this to yourself. Yes sometimes you have got to help yourself.
5. Do your best in everything you do and always (without exception) be yourself. This is very very very hard.
As we said this list is for us but feel free to use it.
And apart from the carrier bag reference above what does this have to do with being supermarket free or even our year with less? The answer? Everything! You see taking time to step back and think and do things our own way has enabled us to process the thoughts above so we can use our past experiences to shape our future. Ok it’s over – we promise our next post will be light and fluffy and contain food!