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by Tracey Herrington
12th July 2021

Thrive Teesside is a voluntary and community organisation based in Stockton, Teesside.

Thrive’s mission is to reduce inequalities in the local area, working with low-income community members to enact long-term, sustainable change. It takes a multidisciplinary approach, tackling local inequalities by carrying out and advocating collaborative, coproduced research, offering mentoring support and providing opportunities for local activism.

This local activism works in partnership with local people and institutions, developing relationships and merging areas of expertise to meaningfully address the issues that are of importance in our community. Thrive as an organisation is made up of paid staff and volunteers and works to the principle that it will ‘never do for others what they can do for themselves’. This principle of empowerment is embedded within Thrive’s practice and results in people with lived experience of social and financial hardship speaking out and making positive changes in their community.

Thrive was keen to contribute to the collective piece of work Socially Distanced Activism and felt that a reflective piece around its project ‘Thriving Women’ would help to shed light on the issues faced by women living in a deprived post-industrial society.

Widening gaps of inequality, poor life chances and rising child poverty often form the narrative of articles associated with Teesside, and the collective piece ‘The Spirit of Teesside’ thoughtfully brings to life contributors’ perceptions and their reality of living in a forgotten deindustrialised community:

 

A parade of ghosts of the past, over an uncertain future shadows cast.

They reach into every corner banishing light, turning the High Street into endless night

The former workers look towards tomorrow with fear,

Sadly saying I used to work here.

What does the future have in store for our children?

A changing community steeped in history…

Teesside is a place for me, but not for everyone,

It is sturdy and industrial, yet fragile and changing

The Spirit of Teesside, Thrive Collective, cited in Thriving Teesside

 

Activism can take many forms – speaking out, lobbying, boycotting, demonstrating, to name but a few. Thriving Women chose the power of words, reflection and insight. The contributions within the book are a collection of unique insights into the experiences of women living and working in Teesside and it is felt that these narratives can have the power to truly inform policy and lead to positive social change.

In order to effectively address the issues that are of concern in our Teesside community, it is imperative to involve and work with the expertise that comes from lived experience. Denying the voice of lived experience and expertise would be a missed opportunity to fully develop transformative policies to progress our core goal of a fairer and more equal society, in which everyone has the opportunity to realise their full potential.

Policy and decision makers all too often have little or no comprehension of the precarious nature of the lives of those in low-income, disadvantaged and left-behind communities. Members of Thrive have talked about how they feel that their voice has, many a time, been ignored. Their skills, knowledge and expertise has been disregarded and deemed inadequate. Barriers to participation have denied access to mainstream debates, and consequently, insight that could prove to be the key to unlocking change has been missing.

Paying tribute to the knowledge and skills of women from Teesside, Thriving Women continually reflects the contributors’ perceived roles, aspirations and commitment to having their voice heard. Their inner conflict between adhering to traditional roles ascribed to them and wanting their voice to be instrumental in affecting change through activism is visibly reflected within the book.

In a number of articles within the book, there is evidence of conflicting expectations in relation to being a ‘carer for their family’ and working towards realising their own potential through the opportunities work and education may offer. Speaking out was seen as key in order to address the issues they deem important.

Thriving Women was a medium whereby women were able to articulate their thoughts, opinions and ideas. They were able to openly talk about their hopes for the future and convey messages of insight and wisdom. No longer wanting to be seen as part of the problem, Thriving Women contributors hope that this insight is debated, acted upon and used for a vehicle for change:

 

I hope I make a difference in this world, to help the children of the future succeed

I hope they do not know the feeling of hunger, damp and suffering

I hope their parents shall not have to make a choice between food in the fridge or the heating on

I hope that people stop dying due to government’s poor decisions

I hope

I hope that society wakes up

I hope they fight

For the wellbeing of our country and our people

I hope

Sarah Crutwell, cited in Thriving Women

 

Tracey Herrington is Project Manager for Thrive Teeside.

 

Researching Happiness cover

Socially Distanced Activism: Voices of Lived Experience of Poverty During COVID-19 by Katy Goldstraw, Tracey Herrington, Thomas Croft, Darren Murrinas, Nicola Gratton and Diana Skelton is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £5.59.

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