Former Argus journalist, Neil Vowles, in crystal meth row

Headlines are an art, aimed at attracting readers to an item. They can be clever, funny or informative. My current favourite, from the Stockport Express, is: “Dominatrix won’t go down without a fight”. The headline for this item has brought you here, not least if your name is Neil Vowles!

In an item by Neil, published in Friday’s Brighton Argus, relating to Richardson’s Yard, the Brighton Housing Trust shipping container homes project, it was wrongly suggested that £1,000 of crystal meth had been seized by police at the property ahead of this year’s Pride.

It was an unfortunate blip in Neil’s otherwise excellent standard of reporting. The crystal meth was not seized from any of the shipping container homes at Richardson’s Yard, nor were any of our residents involved. The police raid was at a neighbouring property, not a BHT one.

The error was understandable given that the photographs used by the Argus, which had a reporter on the raid, showed our distinctive shipping container homes in the background.

I am grateful to Neil and the Argus for correcting this in the online edition of the article, and for the correction published today (19th August 2017) in which they apologised to the residents of Richardson’s Yard and to BHT for this error.

It hasn’t, however, tempered the comments in the neanderthal world that is otherwise known as the Comments section on the Argus website.

Neil Vowles left the Argus this week. His departure is a huge loss for the paper. I have enjoyed working with him, and found him thoughtful and with integrity. Like many journalists at the Argus, he has come in for unfair criticism from time to time. There was even an ugly rumour several years ago that he might be the anonymous Brighton Politics Blogger, but I have it from an unimpeachable source that he never stooped that low.

I conclude by thanking Neil for the standard of his reporting, and wish him well in his new role at the University of Sussex. And if I may, one word of advice: keep clear of crystal meth.

BHT in landmark Court of Appeal case that protects children and vulnerable asylum seekers

When I arrived in England in my late teens, I was somewhat bewildered and a little bit afraid, to be honest. I was also extremely lonely. I didn’t know how to meet people and the culture was very different to what I enjoyed growing up in South Africa.

Yet I had everything going for me. I spoke English as my first language, my skin is white, and I had a UK passport thanks to my English-born parents. Nobody doubted my right to be in England. I was entitled to claim financial support for my housing and living costs, which I did. I hadn’t experience trauma. In fact I had just about everything going for me.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be an asylum seeker, traumatised by war, murder and rape, traumatised by being separated from ones family, traumatised by abuse on the journey to the UK.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to fear authority for every good reason, to have people disbelieving you, having to cope with a legal system which is totally alien which uses cultural references that are unfamiliar to you. You have to rely on charitable giving to eat. You are alone, sad, homesick notwithstanding the horrors you have escaped from.

And then the officials tell you that you are lying, that there is an inconsistency in your story, that you will be deported.
This can be the experience of children going through the UK asylum system.

But a judgement in the Court of Appeal in the case of a 15 year old boy fleeing persecution from the Taliban in Afghanistan, should mean that children, young people and other vulnerable persons, including those lacking capacity, have an effective right of access to the tribunal and a voice in the proceedings. The case was brought by BHT’s Immigration Legal Service, and argued by Stephanie Harrison QC and Raza Halim from the Garden Court Chambers.

In a nutshell, the Court stated that contradictory statements made by children should not always be fatal to a case, and that the child’s history should be taken in the context of the country material and the expert reports which should be given more weight than minor contradictions made by a child. The case also confirms that the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal have the power to appoint litigation friends in appropriate cases.

This case has established that “a child is foremost a child before he or she is a refugee”. The Court has provided new guidance to Tribunals to ensure that children and vulnerable persons have their voices heard in asylum proceedings.
Please take the time to read an account of the case and the ruling on the Garden Court Chambers website.

Nikki Homewood: 30 years at BHT

“It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper told the band to play”. Actually, the album was released 50 years ago, on June 1st to be precise.

But it was thirty years ago today, that Nikki Homewood came to play. Actually, she started work at BHT on this day in 1987. Originally a worker at First Base Day Centre, Nikki became the manager of the day centre in the early 1990’s – senior manager in BHT in 2003, and most recently she has been our Director of Advice and Support Services.

Nikki never seeks the spotlight, and will feel awkward about this post. But she provides the backbone for the majority of services provided by BHT. Most housing associations provide housing with a few other things tacked on. BHT does all the other things with some housing tacked on! While in Brighton and Hastings we are a landlord of significant size, the advice and support services represent a far larger proportion of our activities.

Nikki is responsible for almost four fifths of our staff, and for about two thirds of our turnover. In the last few years performance in the areas for which Nikki is responsible has reached new heights. There are some leaders who expect and demand compliance; Nikki inspires and motivates her colleagues.

Her management and leadership style is not conventional it is effective. Others could learn a lot from her because at the end of the day she should be judged by the quality of her services and the difference they make to the lives of our clients.

She is the first to praise the staff, operational and senior managers for their successes but she creates the culture in which they can flourish.

Nikki has the skills and attributes to lead an organisation of her own, and even though I have drawn her attention to such opportunities, I have always been delighted that her heart remains with BHT. As the person I have worked with for the longest period of time, I am grateful for her honesty, insight, passion, enthusiasm, professionalism, dedication, and support. Many hundreds of staff and many thousands of clients might not appreciate how much they owe to Nikki.

Here’s to our next thirty years, Nikki!

Welcoming the appointment of Baroness Hale as the New President of the Supreme Court

There are many things that have pleased me this week: the first woman Doctor, the Women’s World Cup Final this coming Sunday at Lords (although I am sorry that England pipped South Africa in the semi-final on Tuesday) and today’s news that Baroness Hale of Richmond has been appointed as President of the Supreme Court.

Baroness Hale of Richmond? Who is she?

Lady Hale was the UK’s first woman Law Lord in 2004 and later, in 2009, the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court.

She has been critical of the judicial appointments system for selecting from a pool of predominantly white men from similar economic and academic backgrounds.

Unusually for a Supreme Court judge, she has spoken out about cuts to legal aid. When the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (now an Act) was going through parliament, Lady Hale said that the government’s own equality impact statement accepts that the cuts will have a disproportionate impact upon women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

At BHT we have a special place in our heart for Lady Hale. When a Law Lord, she read part of the judgement of a case that our Immigration Legal Service took to the House of Lords that established the rights of women seeking asylum who were facing female genital mutilation. In that case, she criticised the lower courts, saying that the issues were “blindingly obvious” and that women facing such a fate were a particular group who would suffer harm because of their membership of that group, i.e. women. You can read more about the case here.

It was the most significant piece of casework that BHT has ever undertaken, one with the most widespread impact. It is something that we are very proud of and, therefore, it is with great pleasure we heard today that Lady Hale has achieved the ultimate recognition in her profession.

Thank you to Pete West for being a truly wonderful Mayor of Brighton and Hove

This is an Opinion item first published on 18th May 2017 in the Brighton Argus.  I forgot at the time to post the text on this blog.

Last year I wrote in this column: “The new mayor, Cllr. Peter West, is taking an interesting and novel approach to his charities. Rather than selecting two or three who would benefit from his fundraising efforts, he has decided to work with a total of 27 charities.

“While the Mayor’s Charity Committee traditionally organises events throughout the year, Mayor West will be supporting events organised by the charities themselves.

“Will this approach be better or worse? I think it is certainly worth a try even though it breaks, in some way, with tradition. If the 27 charities each raise £3,000 with the support of the Mayor, that would raise £81,000, itself beating Lynda Hyde’s record.

“As one of the twenty seven charities chosen by Cllr. West, BHT will use this opportunity to raise as much as possible.”

The approach taken by Pete West was questioned at the time. With the benefit of hindsight it can be seen as an unambiguous success.

Geraldine Keenan and Pete West

Cllr. West has attended almost 1,000 events, and supported so many initiatives organised by his charities. He has been very generous with his time in supporting Brighton Housing Trust, and with his support we have raised far more than the £3,000 mentioned above.

As Pete West hands over the chains of office this afternoon to his successor, Cllr. Mo Marsh, can I say he has been a truly wonderful Mayor of Brighton and Hove, and Geraldine Keenan has been a fantastic Mayoress. I am sure than others will follow his lead in years to come.

Around the World Cycle Challenge

One of the Stars of the Day, River Isaacs, who rode 15 laps of the Velodrome

The BHT Around the World Cycle Challenge took place last Sunday (25 June 2017) at the Preston Park Velodrome. It was a fantastic day.

On behalf of all staff and clients at BHT I would like to thank those who came along to cycle and support us. It was a fantastic day, and wonderful to see so many people jumping on their bikes to support such an important local cause. My legs (and bottom) are just about recovered!

The laps have now been collated and while we didn’t make it around the world, it was a great effort. Perhaps we will get closer next year.

Huge congratulations to all those who got involved, and especially to those who pushed themselves further with extra laps to support the challenge.

Please click here to view photos from the day.

The current total raised stands at just over £15,000 which is phenomenal. We are hopeful that we will reach £20,000 so if your friends and family haven’t yet sponsored anyone, there is still time. Every penny raised will help people who are sleeping rough to move off the streets and to make long-lasting positive changes in their lives.

We were generously supported by our sponsors, not least our main sponsor, G Saunders and Co. with whom BHT has been working for well over 30 years. Our thanks also to other sponsors, including Groundscapes, Robert Heath Heating, and Kemp Town Flooring.

Many, many thanks to all the riders, to their supporters, to the BHT tenants and clients who helped on the day, to the staff and Board members who volunteered, and a massive thanks to Sara Peskett who organised the whole thing so brilliantly well.

Once again, thank you so much for supporting BHT.

See you next year!

Daniel O’Connell, BHT’s Head of HR, Learning and Development, rode the equivalent distance from Tipperary to Brighton

Another successful year for BHT’s Intern Programme

In its manifesto, the Labour Party made a commitment to end unpaid internships. While in principle I would agree, not least where large multinationals or top fashion designers use unpaid interns as a source of free labour.

However, there can be exceptions, BHT being one of them. Of course I would love to pay our interns, but funding just isn’t there for this. If a future government provided the funding I would pay our interns in an instant. But until then, we will try to continue with our current arrangement. Interns in BHT are never used as a substitute for paid staff. They are provided real work experience and training, and that sets them up well to compete in the jobs market.

Last year we had 27 intern placements, 13 in BHT services, 14 in external organisations. Of the 22 placements successfully completed, 13 secured paid employment, two within BHT, 11 externally. Such outcomes massively exceeds the Work Programme set up by the Coalition government who funded large multinationals to deliver the programme, ignoring the contribution local organisations like BHT could make.

In my mind our outcomes speak for themselves.