MARK FRANKLAND

I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A TRULY HEARTWARMING UPDATE ON THE STORY OF FLORENCE AND HER CHILDREN

Three days have passed since I nervously tapped the 'Publish' button and launched the latest First Base funding appeal. Our goal was to try and secure the cash to keep a roof over the heads of Florence and her two children. The target was £2400 and at 2pm on Sunday it seemed a very distant target. I tried to persuade myself even £50 would represent an improvement for the family. £400 would buy them another month. £2400? To be honest it looked like an Everest.

How very wrong I was.

Again.

By the time my son and his girlfriend arrived just before four o clock for the Man United v Liverpool game, the page was up to £900. Two months rent and then some.

By half time it was £1300.

By full time it was £2000

We reached the target five hours after asking the question and by the end of the evening we had gone well beyond our wildest dreams. A donation of £1000 from a local trust took us through the £4000 barrier.

Almost a year's worth of rent.

The next morning I made my accustomed early morning drive through the quiet streets of Dumfries to collect our 50 loaves of donated bread from Greggs. I unloaded and fired up my laptop to find we now had 11 months of rent in the kitty.

The phone rang once at nine and once again at quarter past as reporters from our two local papers liked the idea of giving space to such a feel good local story.

Once again social media made the jump to the traditional media.

I sent a text to Florence.

"Hi Florence. Could you and Abigail call in to see us today? We have some good news you will be pleased about. Mark"

Florence texted back and we agreed on one o clock.

The world was dismal grey as I drove up the Nith valley to Kelloholm to pick up our weekly donation of 70 packs of sliced ham from Brown Brothers. I called up Moxy from Dumfries and Galloway Refugee Action to restore her faith in human nature. She told me the boffins claim January 16th is statistically the most depressing day of the year.

Well.

Not this one

Florence and Abigail arrived at one o clock on the dot. At first they received the news with complete disbelief. I hadn't told them of our fundraising plan in advance. To have raised their hopes would have been way too cruel.
Once their disbelief turned into astonished belief, there were a lot of tears from Florence. But the right kind of tears. And it is not so very often we get the right kind of tears in First Base.

They left with beaming smiles. They left with the knowledge they were not about to be tipped out onto the cold winter streets. It was a good day for First Base. One of the best.

So where are we at now?

Well, as I write this donations on our page sit at £3200 and the Gift Aid comes to £600.

£3800.

Then there was the £1000 from the local Trust.

A total of £4800

So we will be able to make sure Florence and her children have a roof over their heads for the next year. Surely that will be time enough for the Home Office to do their stuff. And if it isn't, we will have to find a way to keep helping them. This week I will have a chat with the landlord and arrange for First Base to pay the rent once a month for as long as the fund lasts: like I said, twelve months as things stand now.

I really need to say a truly massive thank you to each and every one of you who has helped to make this happen. Here is the text Florence sent to me which is also to every one of you.

'Dear Sir.

Oh!!!!!!

What a present. Help in a time of need and trouble. On behalf of myself and my children we say a million thanks. God bless you richly and we appreciate you always for your love and concern.

Florence.'

So feel good about yourself. Feel very good. You deserve to.

There is an awful lot of anti immigrant hate in the air right now. We see it on the front pages of the tabloids. We hear it in the words of Trump and Farage and Le Pen. Yesterday we saw our Prime Minister more than willing to put the UK economy on the line in exchange for the chance to be harder on immigrants.

Sometimes it feels like all over the world the same kind of storm that engulfed Germany in the 1930's is beginning to gather force.

On Monday afternoon things seemed different. Our Just Giving page was a window onto a better world where very many people hold a very different view.

Thank goodness.

Sadly the feel good moment didn't last all afternoon.

The phone rang.

A worker from a support agency out west in Stranraer. She had been reading the blog about Florence. Maybe I could advise a client of hers? I said if I could, I would. Would I mind speaking with him now? Sure. Put him on.

I'll call him Ron.

Ron and his family fled Mugabe's Zimbabwe in 1993. A pretty smart play. Anyone with white skin living in Zimbabwe in 1993 didn't exactly have the longest life expectancy.

Ron was 12. His sister was 14.

They went to school and settled in whilst their dad filled in the forms. In 1997 'leave to remain' was duly granted by the Home Office.

Ron left school and started work. For his first twenty years of adulthood he worked all the time. He drew not a penny of benefits and all of his taxes were paid in full.

He was a productive citizen.

For ten years he worked in a warehouse and he would still be there today if he hadn't fallen in love.

Love meant a move up to Dumfries and Galloway so his partner could be closer to her family. They set up home in a small village way out in the countryside and things slowly but surely went pear shaped. No matter how hard he tried, Ron couldn't find a job. So they made a joint claim and got under each other's feet. They had too much time and too little money.
They argued and split and Ben found himself in homeless accommodation in Stranraer eking out his days on Jobseekers. Eventually he was given a flat to live in.

He was unemployed for long enough to be a candidate for the Work Programme. They arranged an unpaid placement. He gave the trial his all and at the end of the placement period the manager was impressed enough to offer him a job.

Thank goodness. 

Maybe with a decent job he would be able to rebuild bridges with his partner?

Time for the paperwork.

Name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number, biometric ID....

Biometric ID?

Yes. We need that now. Don't worry. It won't affect the job offer. You just need to apply for it.

OK. No big problem.

So Ron completed an application form and his world suddenly fell apart.
No, he couldn't have any biometric ID. Why? Because he wasn't a citizen of the UK. When his dad had completed the paperwork back in 1997 he had cocked it up. He thought ticking the 'do you have children and if so how many?' box had been enough. It hadn't been enough. He screwed it up and was only granted 'leave to remain' for himself. Not for Ron. Not for his sister.

A can of worms had been opened.

His new boss said he could only keep the job offer open for a couple of weeks. Ron asked if he could take the job and not get paid. Just to keep it open. The manager said he would see what he could do.

The Job Centre were duly informed of his illegal status and all of his benefits were taken away. The Home Office said he would need to pay £1300 up front to fill in their forms.

And right now £1300 might as well be £130,000.

Was I able to advise him? Not as much as I would have liked. I told him I am no kind of expert. I'm learning on the job. Case by miserable case.
I explained how a lawyer was the absolute number one priority. Was he eligible for Legal Aid? He thought he was. A local solicitor was looking into it.

I told him about what Florence had told me about how proving 'deprivation' to the Home Office might mean a reduced fee. Could he prove it? He could. He has been surviving on food parcels for ten weeks and the Salvation Army are keeping his power on.

I heard some distant alarm bells.

Are the Council still paying housing benefit?

They are.

You need to be careful about that. Once they tell you in writing you are not entitled to any State Benefits they might well throw the book at you if you do.

So was the only way to keep on the right side of the Home Office to give up his flat and sleep on the street? I didn't know. You need a lawyer mate. You really need a lawyer.

I finished the call after half an hour or so and much of the feel good had drained away. Would the UK deport a penniless homeless guy to Zimbabwe? A penniless, homeless white guy?

No chance. Surely?

Instead Ron will be stuck in limboland for a while. Maybe for years. A non person. A non citizen. Like our esteemed Prime Minister has recently said

'A citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere.'

The walls are going up and the doors are being double locked. People are being dragged from their beds at 3 am and locked up in bleak detention centres whilst the media turns a blind eye. A 52 to 48 vote is being used as an excuse to dust down a playbook from 1930's Germany which should have been incinerated long ago. 

When the guns fell silent in 1945, the world took a collective breath and we knew we had to find a better way to make the world a safer place: a place where people were not dragged from their beds at three in the morning and driven through the night to detention camps. In 1948 this aspiration became a reality as countries across the continent signed off on the European Convention on Human Rights - EHCR. One man had been the driving force to make this great step forward for humanity become a reality.

Winston Churchill.

The EHCR was a towering British achievement. And now all kinds of hateful people want out of it. How Winston must be rolling in his grave.
Sadly it is becoming increasingly clear 52 to 48 is being used a licence to become a nasty xenophobic country. It is ugly in the headlines. It is even uglier at street level. At First Base level.

In my bones I can feel we will be seeing more and more Florences and Rons in the coming months and years.

And as with so many things in life right now, the only glimmer of hope lies with Nicola Sturgeon finding a way to get us out of this nightmare. Any Edinburgh Government will realise the staringly obvious. Scotland's problem is the same as it has been for hundreds of years – too many people leaving and not enough people coming. If our old folk are to be looked after in the decades to come, 120% of our young people will need to become carers.

That's right.

120%.

We need as many Florences as we can get and we need them in a hurry. We need to be allowed to make our own decisions about this.

We need out of Dodge.


Quick.  

If you want to see how the fundraising page is going follow the link below.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

LET'S TRY AND STOP THIS LOVELY FAMILY BEING THROWN OUT ONTO THE STREET.

To be honest, I have been putting off writing this. Blogging is a strange sort of thing in many ways. Sometimes a blog is nothing more than a means I use to get some thoughts off my chest and it really matters not a jot how many people take any notice. Why would it? 

But other times it is more than that. A few months ago our charity was on the brink of running out of cash, so I wrote a blog asking for help. That was a big one and if nobody had shown any interest, First Base might well have been dead and buried by now. Thankfully the response was spectacular. The response was more than £12,000 on our Just Giving Page. The response was enough for us to be taken off the life support machine and discharged to fight another day. 

Last month I asked if there were eighty folk out there in the ether willing to stump up a couple of quid each to help out a food parcel client I gave the name of Donald. Donald was man in his mid forties with learning difficulties who had been sentenced by the Job Centre to live in the cold and dark for three months thanks to a benefit sanction. I crossed my fingers and hoped to hell that maybe £50 would come in: enough to put the lights back on for Christmas. In the end over £8000 hit the Just Giving page and we were able to establish the Donald Fund which now puts the lights back on for at least two people a week.


Working in First Base can be hard at times. The whole point of being there is to try and help people out. Most of the time we can do this. The door opens and someone comes in who can't afford to buy any food to eat. So we give them a bag of food. We give it with respect and without judgement. We treat them like a human being. And if we can help out in other ways, then we help out in other ways. We don't pretend to be miracle workers who can transform every aspect of their lives, but we can make sure they leave our building feeling better about life than when they walked in.

That is how it is most of the time.

But not all of the time.

Sometimes we come to know really nice, decent people who are in a terrible situation and no matter how hard we try, we just can't solve their problems. I promise you, this is not easy to live with. These are the times when I would love to walk in Bill Gates's shoes and be able to write a cheque to make the nightmares go away. But I am umpteen million dollars shy of even polishing Bill Gates's shoes. Managing a charity and writing novels are not exactly up there with lawyering when it comes to filling up a bank account.

So there are days when I come home to my warm house and eat a meal in 
my warm living room and feel completely utterly helpless and useless because surely it should be possible to do more.

All of which brings me to Florence and her family. To her nineteen year old daughter Abigail and her ten year old son Thomas. These are not real names of course. I never use real names. I wonder why I have instinctively chosen such Victorian sounding names? Maybe it is because the family is from Nigeria and like all West Africans they have perfect old school manners.

Where to start? The bare bones, I guess. The facts. Things in Nigeria were going from bad to worse in the place where Florence was living. I won't go into all the details. Google 'Nigeria' and you will find plenty of these details. Boko Haram. Suicide Bombers in market places. Gun toting gangsters. Industrial levels of corruption. Starvation in the countryside. Murder and mayhem in the cities. Schoolgirls abducted...

Florence found herself all alone with no family to support her. And like mothers from the very dawn of time, her first instinct was to find a place where her two young children might be safe. So she sold everything she had to sell and came to the UK on a work visa. When she and the children arrived and made their way through password control they were entirely legal.

And then she did exactly what it said on her visa: she worked. She studied hard and soon had all the right certificates to spend her days providing care to the growing number of us who need all the care we can get. She did the job we are desperate for more people to do and her taxes were deducted at source.

After three years her work visa was renewed. Why wouldn't it be? If we are to make any kind of fist of looking after our growing number old old people, we need all the Florences we can get.

In the meantime Abigail and Thomas thrived at school. Abigail was forever at the top of her class and got an 'A' in every exam she sat. College was more of the same and she was offered a place at University to become a midwife. Isn't that another thing we are crying out for? I do believe it is.

So.

All was going well. A new future was being carved out. An excellent bargain had been struck. The UK offered the family a chance of a safe future and in return we received three outstanding citizens. No benefits were claimed. No laws were broken. Instead six years' worth of taxes were paid.

In full.

But when Florence applied for her work visa to be extended for a second time, the answer was a flat 'no'. Times had changed. The Government had made the rash promise to reduce the number of migrants to the tens of thousands. Now we didn't care so much about the millions of old people in need of help dressing and having a bath. Now the only thing that mattered was pandering to the angry headlines on the front pages of the tabloid press.
Now the Home Office was told to use every bit of small print at their disposal to get people out. Nobody cared if these were people who were working and contributing. Such things no no longer mattered. Only numbers mattered.

When Florence appealed the decision, her appeal was turned down.

And when she appealed for a final time, her appeal was turned down again.

This was when things started to get very dark.

The next straw to clutch at was an application to be granted 'leave to remain' in the UK.

OK. Fair enough. But not so easy. You see, if you apply for 'leave to remain' in the UK you are not entitled to any State benefits whatsoever whilst the Home Office grinds through the paperwork. Not even if you have paid six years worth of taxes? In you dreams.

Worse still, you are not allowed to do any paid work. Not so much as an hour's worth. And if you are caught doing so much as an hour's worth of paid work, it will ruin any chance you might have of being granted leave to remain.

In other words you find yourself bang slap in the middle of a Kafkaesque nightmare. You are expected to live on fresh air for months on end whilst your application crawls through the system. I guess there are are reasons for this. The Home Office wants to make the process as hard as possible. They want people to give up and accept the offer of a free plane ticket back to the place they ran from. There is always plenty of money in the pot to pay for plane tickets. Families are expected wire money into the UK to enable their loved ones to keep body and soul together whilst they wait.

And wait.

And wait.

But Florence had no family. So things started to become desperate. London can be a very cruel place when you have no money. She heard things were better up here in Scotland. People were kinder. There was less Brexit rage at those unlucky enough to have the wrong accent or the wrong skin colour.
So Florence spent what money she had left on a bus north to Dumfries and three months up front rent on a flat. Thomas settled into a primary school but Abigail's offer of a place at university was withdrawn.

And they waited.

And prayed.

And waited.

By the end of November they were on the brink. The rent was due and they had not a penny to their name.

This was when they came through our door.

Were we able to help? Of course. But only a little. We make sure they have plenty to eat. Thanks to the Donald Fund, we have been able to keep the heating and lighting on. D&G Refugee Action came up with a month's worth of rent. Enough to see the family through Christmas. Enough to see them into 2017.

But now the rent is once again due and if nothing happens the family will find themselves on the streets of Dumfries. In the winter. In the wet and the cold. A mum and two kids. At this point in the State will step in. The State will take Thomas into care. For Florence and Abigail there will only be the pavement.

A nightmare.

And of course it is just so utterly, sickening unfair. If Florence was only allowed to work, she would have a job as a carer within a matter of hours. And she would be a wonderful carer for anyone she cared for. She is that kind of person.

But she isn't allowed to work. If she is caught working, there is every chance the family will be woken by a hammering on their front door in the wee small hours of the morning. Awoken to find men in uniforms telling them to pack their things. Awoken to a van ride to a place of detention. A plane ride home to the place they ran away from.

So.

What is the road Florence and her children need to travel now? Well first they are required to prove to the Home Office they are indeed 'destitute'. To do this they will need letters from all the charities and community groups who are trying to keep their bodies and souls together. Once the Home Office is satisfied they don't have tuppence to rub together, they will be allowed to apply for 'leave to remain' without having to make the £4000 up front payment such an application normally costs.

Then they will apply. Will the application be successful? The good news is it almost certainly will be. Any child who has been in the UK for more than seven years has an automatic right to remain here. Thomas is twelve - a child - and he has been here for seven years. Thomas also has the legal right to have a mother in his life. Well Florence is his mother so she will also be allowed to stay.

Things are much more frightening for Abigail. She is nineteen. An adult. Her hope is the judge will listen to her younger brother when Thomas begs him not to take his sister away. I think there is every chance the judge will indeed listen. Thankfully judges are not quite so desperate to pander to the tabloid press. And why would any judge not allow this polite, intelligent young lady to stay?

But the thought of the judge not listening keeps Abigail awake at night. When she speaks, her voice has not a trace of a West African accent. She doesn't really remember Nigeria. She is understandably terrified of getting off a plane in Lagos with not a penny to her name and nobody to take her in. It is hard to imagine anyone finding themselves in a more desperately vulnerable position. 

Abigail is one of our volunteers now. She is coming in on Fridays to work with other volunteers. She is a part of our team. And the thought of one of our team being sent to such an utter nightmare will keep us all awake at nights.

But I don't think it will happen. I don't want to think it will happen. Despite everything, I retain some faith that the judge will show some humanity.

Surely.

All of which I guess brings me to heart of the matter. First Base would love to be in a position to cover the rent for the next six months whilst the Home Office keeps Florence and her children in limbo. We would love to allow them to feel safe for a little while.

But we are a tiny little charity and we can't afford it. So I am asking for your help. And yes, I know. The world seems to be falling apart all around us and millions upon millions of people need help. Well I am biased. Florence and Abigail and Thomas are not statistics to us. They are a lovely family in an absolutely hellish place. And none of us can solve the problems of the world. But we can make an absolute difference for one family. They are right here in Dumfries. They are here now. We have a genuine opportunity to make an actual difference. We can do something clear and tangible. And right.

Oh and by the way, every penny we raise will go straight to paying the rent. Not a single penny will go to paying for fat salaries and fancy offices. First Base isn't that kind of charity. Thank goodness.

I guess that is about that. There isn't a whole lot more I can say. The link below will take you to a Just Giving page I have set up. 


I have set a target of £2400 which is enough to provide a roof over the family's heads for the next six months. Is my target a pipe dream? I hope not. If a relatively small number of you donate a fiver each or so, we can get there.

Like I said, I put off writing this. And now I have been putting off the moment of truth when I hit the 'publish' button and pass the point of no return. I haven't told Florence about this blog. I couldn't stand to build up any hopes.

So I guess it's over to you. Here's the link again....


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

ISIS ARE USING OUR PLAYBOOK. THANKFULLY THEY ARE NOT NEARLY AS GOOD AT TERROR AS US. NOT YET AT LEAST.

The hideous ISIS attack on a Berlin Christmas market in many ways seems like an almost perfectly awful bookend to what has been a particularly awfully year. We will look back on 2016 as being the year when hate won hands down. It has been a dark year which opens up a dark and frightening future. We are entering a time of fingers crossed and hope for the best.

The crime ISIS committed in the capital of Germany is as bad as any crime can get. We shudder at the cold brutality. The complete and absolute lack of any kind of humanity. What they did was a long way beyond disgusting. It was plain evil.

And of course the crime has dominated the news. How could it not? And of course we have recoiled in instinctive horror. How could we not?
But is probably important to take a step back. To take a couple of breaths. To look at the horror with a measured eye. And once we do so, things get a little uncomfortable.

We don’t question such an event filling every corner of the news. It is huge. Of course it is. But we need to be clear about why it is so huge. The reason isn’t all that hard to find. Twelve completely innocent people were murdered in the coldest of cold blood. Why? For being white and Christian and European and Western. For being in the most liberal and tolerant city in the world. For being unwitting pawns in a ghastly game. These are all compelling reasons. But of course the biggest reason is easy to nail down. For these are people who are just like us. We go to Christmas markets. We are innocent Europeans who do no more than go about our daily business. We don’t deserve to be executed in the name of Jihad.

Had exactly the same atrocity been committed in the midst of the rubble of Aleppo, it wouldn’t have dominated the news. Had it happened in a market in a town in Northern Nigeria none of us have ever heard of, well, I guess it might not have made the news at all.

Some victims are just more newsworthy than other victims. White Christian Europeans are at the top of the newsworthy league table whilst Black African Muslims are way down at the bottom. Should we beat ourselves up about this? Not really. Human nature is human nature. It won’t change. We are the creatures of evolution and cannot be blamed for being so.

Next I guess we have to take a look at the 'Why?'. Obviously every politician who finds themselves in front of the cameras will spout the well worn party line. This is a wicked, senseless, cowardly attack on our way of life. This is an act of mindless cruelty.
But it isn’t of course and it is a shame our politicians are so incapable of being honest about the motives of ISIS. They are not so very hard to find. Germany is a problem for ISIS. The Jihadis rely on painting a very particular picture of us to their potential recruits. We are the wicked unbelievers who cheer the TV when American bombs rain down on Muslim civilians. We are the 'Kuffar' who want to see Muslims exterminated like cockroaches. So when Germany stepped up to the plate and showed such compassion and love to the victims of Assad’s war, it made things kind of hard for the bad lads with the long beards. Facebook was full of images of welcoming, smiling Germans handing out teddy bears to traumatised Syrian kids. This was a narrative they needed to change and to change quickly. They needed to make the German people be more like the British people and the American people. Angry and fearful and xenophobic and ready to vote for people promising drone strikes and carpet bombing and no Burkhas. The German people have been far too in touch with the better angels of their nature. ISIS need to bring out the worst in us. They need us to strike back with our cluster bombs. They need us to flatten Muslim schools and to disrespect Muslim women. In order for their people to learn to love ISIS, they need to be taught to hate us. They need to provoke us into doing things to make us hated. Nice, kind German people holding up ‘Refugees Welcome’ signs are the worst kind of nightmare for ISIS. Angry looking Germans marching to old Nazi tunes are absolutely perfect.

And the worst of it is the way our leaders dutifully dance to their tune. We never learn and we never will. The tabloids will bay for blood and the politicians will duly deliver it. We are so miserably predictable.

But we can take another step back and here is where it becomes very uncomfortable indeed. What exactly did ISIS say when they claimed responsibility for the attack? They said it was the work of one of their 'soldiers'. Yes. A 'soldier'. ISIS see this as a military operation with a clear goal. The mission was to brutally kill civilians in the heart of a German city? Why? To break the will and morale of the German people. To make the German people stop showing love and start demanding revenge. ISIS need us to be as bad as they say we are. They have a clear strategy. They are quite deliberately using maximum horror to make the German population change the way they are behaving. To break the policy of the German government.

Is this the first time such a strategy has been used? Of course it isn’t. And now an awfully uncomfortable truth edges out from the very deepest of shadows. It is a truth about as welcome as a despised uncle at a wedding.
Between 13 and 15 February 1945 the British Government ordered ‘Operation Thunderclap’. Hundreds of British bombers dropped 2500 tonnes of high explosive and 1500 tonnes of incendiary bombs on the German city of Dresden. We killed between 25,000 and 35,000 people. We will never know the exact number as many of the dead were quite literally melted in the firestorm we unleashed. It is worth noting that the death toll on day one of Hiroshima was 40,000. More, but not so very much more.
We knew full well there were barely any soldiers to be found in Dresden. We knew full well the streets were packed with desperate refugees running from the wholesale murder and rape being committed by the Red Army. We knew full well there was no strategic gain to be made by setting Dresden alight.

So why did we commit such an act of utter horror? Simple. It was a calculated act of brutality disegned to break the will of the German people. Here is what the Commander in Chief of Bomber Command had to say.

“I mention this because, for a long time, the Government, for excellent reasons, has preferred the world to think that we still held some scruples and attacked only what the humanitarians are pleased to call Military Targets. I can assure you, gentlemen, that we tolerate no scruples.”   

And my word, were we ever true to his words. We proved we could keep up with the Jones’s when it came to cold murderous brutality. And we did indeed break the will of the German people. Three months later we won and Trafalgar Square was one big party. No wonder ISIS are using our playbook. Thank goodness they cannot begin to really imitate what we did to Hamburg and Dresden. On Monday night they killed 12. On that shameful night in 1945 we killed more than 30,000. We burned them alive. We melted them.

Of course we don’t want to look at this. And of course we don’t want to dwell on the crimes we have committed in the past. But we cannot escape the fact that the mass civilian killing we once indulged in paved the way to our greatest victory. ISIS are obviously happy enough to study the history we choose to sweep under the carpet. They are using our playbook. Let’s hope they never get the same result.
Way back then we had a popular saying. We said 'The only good German is a dead German.' And it was deemed perfectly OK to say this. It was very politically correct indeed. And in February 1945 we made the words come true. Big time. I guess ISIS are saying much the same thing now. And on Monday night they also made their words come true. Just not on the same scale.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

THE FIRST BASE 'DONALD FUND' OPENS FOR BUSINESS

More or less exactly a week ago I bashed away at these very same keys and asked the online world for some help to give a client of ours some heat and light. I awarded him the made up name of Donald and laid out his story for the world to see. He is one of the millions of unnoticed people who have fallen victim of an increasingly vindictive and ruthless state. Donald's learning difficulties mean he finds it almost impossible to do what the Job Centre tells him to do. Hell, someone can tell me I am required to beat Usain Bolt in the hundred metres but let's face it, it ain't about to happen.

So he is guilty as charged of the crime of not being able do what they demand. Bang to rights. Deprived of all his disposable income for the next three months. Last week Donald was living in the cold and dark and he was sentenced to stay that way until February. So we asked if you guys out there could come up with £160 to get the lights back on.

Well, nearly 400 of you said OK, count me in. And not just for £160. Let's make it £7000. It's OK. Your eyes aren't playing any tricks. You read it right.

£7000.

So. We got our act together pretty quickly and by Wednesday we unveiled the new First Base 'Donald Fund'. It is there for anyone in our neck of the woods who is living in the cold and dark as a result of the cruelty or ineptitude of the British State. Our local paper splashed the news on the front page complete with a somewhat bizarre picture of me looking like a complete eejit. Tomorrow morning Donald's story and your response to it is the subject of a debate on radio Clyde. 

By Thursday, the three local Citizen's Advice offices had a referral process in place and all staff duly informed.

Well, yesterday the Donald Fund sprang to life. First up was Donald himself. Lesley walked up the road with him to stick £200 on his gas and electric and all the way he kept promising faithfully he would make sure he didn't waste any. Not a light would be left on unless it was absolutely required. And all the way Lesley tried to encourage him not to be too mean with the heating. It's winter Donald. It's cold Donald. So make sure you stay warm, OK. Aye. Well. But I'm definitely going to keep it switched down as low as....

Maybe she persuaded him to get his living room up to seventy degrees. Maybe not quite. We'll keep working at it as he comes in for his bi-weekly food parcels. And how was he when we told him we had come into some funds which meant we could get his lights back on? Bowled over, stunned, cautiously over the moon, wondering if there was a catch, not quite able to process the fact that some good news had come his way. The likes of Donald are used to getting kicked in the teeth all the time. They find it hard to get their heads around something going their way for once.

Next up was Ruby, another real person with a made up name. Ruby is from West Africa. Back home she was a successful professional woman but things were going bad. Gangsters were taking over the neighbourhood and every week somebody got very dead. The bad guys were up to their eyeballs in drugs and guns and all of a sudden life was as cheap as chips. The police were nowhere to be seen. She was a mum with two kids. Here son was two and her daughter was eleven. She was terrified they would become collateral damage in the growing mayhem. So she did like mums have done since the dawn of time. She protected her kids. She cashed in all her chips and flew north to the land which had once upon a time planted its flag on the soil of her land. The old Imperial Master.

London was tough. There was no point in asking for asylum because her country wasn't an official war zone. Drug crazed murdering gangsters with booming rap music and AK 47's don't count as a war zone. Nothing there to justify asylum. I mean, come on.... So instead she was deemed an economic migrant on a work visa. One of the ones everyone seems to want rid off.

Work in her given profession was not an option. So Ruby spent every spare penny on re-training for the kind of work she could find. The kind of work we don't seem able to persuade our own people to do. You know, the caring for the vulnerable thing. She collected up all the 'Social Care' certificates she needed and worked away and paid her taxes. Her son settled in primary school with English as a first language and West Africa as a fading memory. Her daughter got straight A's in all the sciences and got a place at university.

The time came to renew the work visa and this time the Home Office said thanks but no thanks. Oh of course we realise you are doing a job that absolutely needs doing. And of course we realise you are paying all your taxes. But I'm afraid all of that really doesn't come close to cutting the mustard. Not any more. We have a mandate you see. We promised to reduce the likes of you to the tens of thousands. Yeah? Watch the news do you? Ever heard of a thing called Brexit? Duh?

Can't you get it into your head, we don't want you here. Time to go home. To get lost. To bugger off. And if that means there will be nobody to wipe our old people's bottoms then our old people's bottoms will have to be left unwiped. Settled will of the people, right? We're all bigots now.

Ruby heard whispers about a place called Scotland where there was still some hope instead of hate. She cashed in all her chips and came north. Everything she owned was just enough to cover four months of rent. She was left to hope and pray four months would be long enough for the Home Office to say yes, we grant you leave to remain to continue wiping the bottoms of our old people and to pay our taxes.

But there has been no word. Not so much as a whisper. Which means Ruby and her kids are in the worst kind of limbo. She isn't eligible for any State support whatsoever and if she even thinks of applying for any it will be deemed a blot on her copy book. Worse still, she isn't allowed to do so much as an hour's worth of paid work and if she does and gets caught it will be an even bigger blot on her copy book. The offer of university has been withdrawn from her daughter, though thankfully her son is allowed to go to school.

Ruby came to us in November without a penny to her name with less than fortnight left on the rent she had paid. We told her we could guarantee to feed her and her kids come what may. For as long as was necessary. I gave the wonderful Moxy from DG Refugee Action a call and the wonderful Moxy whistled up a month's worth of rent. Enough to keep a roof over the family's head for Christmas. Enough to put off the moment of truth.

So food. Tick. Shelter. Tick. Heat and light …... Nothing doing. Christmas looked like being all about candles and cold. And then 400 people gave £7000 and the Donald Fund was able to do it's stuff. This is the text Ruby sent me yesterday. I am pretty sure it is also to every person who gave us the money to make the Donald Fund a reality.

'Good afternoon, sir. Thank you very much for your support and assistance. God will reward you richly and have a nice weekend. Best regards. Ruby.'

Will there be a happy ending or will the Home Office goon squad crash through Ruby's front door at four o'clock in the morning? I don't like to think about it much. The new hard line of immigration is way above our pay scale. All we can do is keep the family fed and warm and to pray for the day when an Independent Scotland has the right to offer a home to people like Ruby who will give us the care we hope for in our twilight years.

Yesterday we had our first referral from Citizen's Advice. This time it was all about cock up rather than deliberate nastiness. What shall we call the client? Why not Bernie. Bernie is disabled. He is disabled enough to make work a thing that is out of the question. For years he has been on DLA – Disability Allowance. Now he is required to 'migrate' to the new PIP – Personal Independence Payments. Seriously, that is how they call it. 'Migrate'! Like a Canada Goose. Like Ruby.

There is no argument about Bernie's PIP. They just haven't got their act together to make the payments continue seamlessly. The computer has buggered it up and Bernie has no money for a week and less than a couple of quid on the meter.

Well he has power now. £20's worth. Enough to see him through to the payment the DWP has promised to make next Thursday. And if the payment fails to materialise and the cock up continues, then we will will keep topping him up until the DWP eventually come through.

So there you are. Our first three Donald Fund clients. Different lives, different stories, very different people. But they were all living in the cold and dark. And now they are living in the warm and light because 400 good people gave a damn.

Yesterday Lesley smiled and said Christmas at First Base will be better this year. Because this year there is more we can do. Last Christmas all we could offer was food. This Christmas we can offer food and heat and light.


Progress, right? Oh, nearly forgot! If you fancy topping up the Donald Fund you can do so by following the link below. 

www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Mark-Frankland1

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

ON SATURDAY WE ASKED YOU TO HELP US TO RAISE £160 TO GIVE DONALD SOME HEAT AND LIGHT. 72 HOURS LATER WE LAUNCHED OUR NEW 'DONALD FUND' WITH £6000 IN THE KITTY TO HELP MANY OTHERS. AIN'T PEOPLE POWER JUST GREAT!

On Saturday morning I poured a coffee, lit up a smoke and looked for the right words to raise enough cash to put the lights back on for a client of ours who I awarded the fictional name of Donald. Maybe you have read all about him in the blog below this one. In a nutshell he is a nice middle aged guy with some learning difficulties. He came to us with 86 days of a benefit sanction to serve out and a house lacking all heat and light. There was only cold and darkness.

86 days worth.

80 still to go.

£160 was needed to make it go away. So I asked anyone reading the blog if they might consider stumping up £2. And I did some maths. We needed 80 readers to donate £2 each and the finish line would be reached. So I did all the usual. Choose a photo. Come up with a title. Check for typos. And to be honest I put off the moment of truth. You see, the thing with the social media is that you never, ever know. Having loads of folk looking at something is a whole lot different from people actually shelling out some cash.

Eventually I told myself not to be so bloody soft and hit the publish button. In for a penny in for a hundred and sixty pounds. I anonymously stuck £2 on the page to get the ball rolling and made the conscious decision not to sit around watching the screen. So I went outside, cranked up the chainsaw and attacked the log pile whilst a buzzard carved a few lazy circles in the blue sky above.

I gave it a couple of hours and then followed the same coffee/smoke routine. I told myself if we could by some chance get anywhere close to the £160 figure I would be well and truly made up. £60 would be enough to get the lights on for Christmas and New Year. Yeah. £60 would do. £60 would be fine and dandy.

And I all but fell off my chair. And I have been falling off my chair ever since. As I write this, the JustGiving page is over £6000 and it is still going up. Check it out via the link below and don't forget to add in the Gift Aid.


What can I say? Well as a person who has written 23 novels over the last decade and a half I really should be able to say something. Bloody hell. Not exactly Leo Tolstoy but yeah, bloody hell. Bloody amazing. Bloody fantastic.

If you are one of the three hundred plus people who has made this happen then, thank you. Your collective generosity is quite extra-ordinary. Humbling. Heart warming. And yes, it really does restore the faith in human nature.

So what happens next now we have collected £6000 more than we asked for? What happens next as far as this blog is concerned is an unashamed advert for small charities and how we go about our business. Being small means you can be quick on your feet. You can react to things. And that is exactly what First Base has done. Three days ago we asked for £160 to put Donald's lights on. Well things have moved on in a big way. 72 hours after asking the question we unveiled our brand new 'Donald Fund' which did its first bit of business yesterday.

Nuts and bolts.

The Donald Fund is available to help anyone in our area of work who has been royally screwed over by our beloved Department of Work and Pensions and left completely penniless. Maybe like Donald they might have had all of their benefits sanctioned. Or maybe there has been some kind of epic cock up meaning no money for quite a while. The criteria for asking for the help of the Donald Fund are clear and simple. Bring in your DWP paperwork showing how they have screwed you over and the Fund will get your heat and light back on for the duration. The fund will cover £3 a day of power costs from October to March and £2 a day April to September. We won't be handing out any cash. Lesley will go along with the client to a Paypoint to get the money loaded up. There will be one or two who have a go at scamming us of course. There always are. Well, best of luck with that one guys! First Base has two poachers turned gamekeepers at the front desk going by the names of Iain and Lesley. They are in all respects been there, done that people. Remember what they say about trying to kid a kidder?


We are not experts in the dark labyrinthine world of the DWP so all applicants will have to come along armed with a referral from the Citizens Advice Service.

How many people will we help? Hard to tell. We will find out soon enough. My gut feeling suggests the money will be enough to see people right for a year to eighteen months. But hopefully this will only be the start of the story. The more eagle eyed among you might have noticed I have raised the target on the JustGiving page from £160 to £10,000 to reflect the new reality. As we help people case by case, we will start to build up a clear body of evidence which will prove how much the help is needed and how many people need it. Once we have this under our belt, we will have what we need to start applying to other sources for top up funds. The good news is that we will not have the begging bowl out for great fortunes. If we can twist the arms of the the Councillors on the three Area Committees where our clients live for £1000 a piece, we will be well on the way.

If my optimism is proved not to be misplaced, the Donald Fund will soon enough start to make a difference. The first difference will be felt by the poor buggers made to love in the cold and dark by the cruelty and ineptitude of the DWP. We will then be able to tell their stories through these pages and the local media. We will also be able to hand over case studies to our excellent local MSP's and MP to help them kick up a fuss in Holyrood and Westminster. We will be able to do a lot.

The way so many people have been treated since 2010 stinks like a train load of rotten fish. Shining a light on this cruelty has been hard. How are two bit charities like First Base supposed to compete with the likes of the Daily Mail and Channel 5 and the others who have used their power to make people hate and blame the poor. This wall to wall anti poor people propaganda has seemed overwhelming at times. Maybe we are slowly starting to see the tide turn. Finally there are a few in the Westminster Tory party who are stepping forward to say enough is enough. Ken Loach has once again shot the lights out with his movie 'I Daniel Blake'. His achievements really do beggar belief. Fifty years ago he gave the public a no holds barred, close up look at the misery of homelessness with 'Cathy Come Home'. Now he's done it again with 'I Daniel Blake.' In our X Factor world, 15 minutes of fame is the daily bread of the tabloid press. Ken Loach has been doing what he does for half a century. Some man.

The impact of our Donald Fund won't reach anywhere near as far as the impact of 'I Daniel Blake.' But we will punch above our weight, I can promise you that. For me, what has happened over the last three days shows how much can be done when we all start thinking of what can happen when change comes from the bottom. 350 people chose not to ignore the outrageous way a single individual was being treated by an increasingly vicious State. 350 people put a small charity called First Base in a position to start to make a difference. To punch above our weight. None of this required any permission from any kind of government. This is the great beauty of trying to make change happen from the level of the street. It can happen quickly and it can happen without rooms filled with highly paid civil servants. At a time when distant governments and faceless corporations seem to be squeezing the life out of us all, maybe the birth of our Donald Fund offers a small sliver of hope. Maybe we are not so helpless after all.

I like to think so. Don't you just love people power.



Saturday, December 3, 2016

LET'S SEE IF WE CAN GIVE DONALD THE WHEREWITHAL TO HEAT HIMSELF A PAN OF SOUP.

At First Base we are all well enough accustomed to spending time with people whose lives are in a pretty bad place. Of course we are. After all, it's what we do. When your life is tip top, you don't tend to need emergency food. Instead you go to a shop and buy what you need. What takes your fancy. And this of course is the world most of us live in breathe in. In the UK, we are the 59 million. We are the ones with the wherewithal to fill up a Tesco basket and pay for it. The other million? Well they come to likes of First Base for their daily bread and each and every one of them brings along their very own a back story. Their reason. Their set of circumstances.

Are these sob stories or stories to make you sob? I guess that tends to be down to which newspaper you choose to read with the morning coffee. If you read the Daily Mail, you'll no doubt reckon these pathetic excuses for humanity need a good old boot up their over large backsides. A short sharp shock. A wake up call. Get a job. Get a life. Get over it. Grow up. Man up. 

Realistically, if you feel that way about the undeserving poor I guess it is pretty unlikely you'll be taking time out of your busy schedule to read this blog. Most of the people who land up on this page of mine tend to share the view that the way so many people have been treated since the Great Crash pretty well sucks.

Whatever. Thankfully I'm not a guy who is chasing votes. What I write here can be taken of left, and if the Daily Mail brigade choose to leave it then it's no skin of my nose.

So we see tough cases. And we see really tough cases. And then from time to time, we see cases which completely kick us in the teeth.

Like Donald.

Is Donald really called Donald? Of course he isn't. So why Donald? No prizes for guessing the answer!

So what's the thing about Donald? What sets him apart? What compels me to spend some time laying out his story for the online world to take a look at?

I guess it is the fact that everything about the way Donald is being treated is just so plain wrong. So unnecessary. So vicious.

I first met Donald the other day. The bell over the door announced his arrival and when I reached counter in reception I saw regular looking guy in his mid forties. He was dressed for a job interview. Smart clothes, brushed hair and fearful eyes. When he said “Hello”, his voice was small. Nervous. Worried about getting stuff wrong. 

I gave him my 'Don't worry mate, you're alright here' smile and in return he smiled back. A small smile. But a smile.

He handed over his piece of A4 paper which I duly scrutinised. It was from Citizen's Advice and whoever had written it had taken the time to make the story as full as possible. They were worried about this one. Determined to see him right.

Name. Address. Need for a 'Non Cooking' parcel. Background. Donald has been sanctioned. He doesn't know why. Neither do we. They haven't told him yet. All the paperwork says it that it will be 86 days before he sees any money.

86 days.

As in all the way through to the end of February. All the way through the coldest months of what the experts are predicting will be the coldest winter we have known in a while. All the way through Christmas and New Year and the sales and the post festive period gloom.

"You don't know why they sanctioned you mate?”

A frown. A shake of the head. A look of confusion. Regret. The small voice again.

No. They said they would send me a letter.”

It says you need a non-cooking parcel. Have you no power?”

No.”

We talked but I did most of the talking. Donald was more focused on being polite. I explained what the piece of paper he had brought to us actually meant. I explained there was no need for him to keep going into Citizen's Advice for a food parcel referral. Why? Because the piece of paper he had handed me covered him for 86 days. OK? You can come in twice a week for the next 86 days. OK?

But it wasn't OK. It took me ten minutes to explain something which was actually fairly simple. All the while Donald's face was creased in concentration as he tried to absorb what I was telling him. And by the time I went through it for the third time I knew Donald was a guy with reasonably severe learning difficulties. And the penny dropped.

What an easy mark he must have been for the person on the other side of the desk. Now Donald we need you to spend a minimum of 35 hours a week online and we need you to complete at least eight application forms and even if the job is shelf stacking in Aidrie you still need to complete the form because Aidrie is within 90 minutes commuting time.....

They might as well have talked to him in Mandarin. They had seen through the smart attire and polite face and they had set the bar a mile higher than Donald could even have dreamed of reaching. Donald had been correctly identified as low hanging fruit and they had duly picked him. Picked him off.

'Like flies to wanton boys, they kill us for their sport.' 

So sayeth Mr Shakespeare. And you know what Will? They're still doing it. After all these years. Every single lousy day.

It doesn't have to be like this of course. A Job Centre is allowed to see the likes of Donald for what they are. They are allowed to identify their weaknesses and to work around them. I am stone cold certain Donald would absolutely love a job. He would turn up on time every day looking as smart as paint and he would be polite to absolutely everyone he met. But it would have to be the right kind of job. A job where the bar was low enough enough for him. And fair enough there aren't so many of those jobs to be found. But there are a few. And the Job Centre could have done their level best to help the lad out. They could have made sure he had enough to get by on whilst they helped him to look.

But they didn't. Instead they chose to see him as easy meat. A soft touch. A way to hit their 'three a week' target. Yeah, the one they deny exists even though endless whistleblowers have leaked endless documents proving its godforsaken reality.

When the penny finally dropped, Donald's small smile grew a little. He nodded with appreciation. He told me he was pleased he didn't need to go into Citizen's Advice twice a week. The last time he had been in he had waited for three hours even though he had arrived dead on nine o'clock.

When he had gone I asked Lesley and Iain if they had seen Donald before. They had. Lots. This was his third sanction in the last two years. And yes, they agreed that he was a bit slow. An easy mark. A soft target. They told me how he is trying really hard to find a place to volunteer because it means a chance to get warm. A chance to spend some time in a heated room with the lights on. Because it is hard to get through twenty four hours when there is no light and no heat. Especially in December. And especially when you need to get through the same cold, dark 24 hours 86 times.

Well the world isn't great right now. Watching the news just makes you want to find a cave to hide in. And of course most of what is going down is completely overwhelming. It's all too big to get the head around. But I figure here is a relatively small problem which can actually be solved. At least I hope it can. For here we have one regular guy who is being treated appallingly. Unacceptably. Donald doesn't deserve this. He is a nice guy who just isn't wired right for the brutality of 2016. He is the victim of the vicious hatred we see peddled every day on the front pages of the tabloid press and the pathetic politicians who pander to those same pages. He has become the perfect victim and it is just plain wrong.

So what can be done? What can you do?

You can do this if you like. You can hover you mouse over the link below and then you can click. The click will take you to a JustGiving page I have just set up. Donald has 80 days of sanction to serve out. Donald has found a way to get by on £2 a day's worth of electricity. So Donald needs £160 to get the lights and the heaters back on and to keep them on until the end of February. And so we arrive at the doors of some basic maths. If 80 readers of this blog chip in two quid each, then Donald can sit in the light and cook his food and watch a bit of TV.


We are all just little people. We can't fix the big problems of the world. We can't make Aleppo whole again. We can't un-elect Trump. We can't re-freeze the Arctic.

But we can put Donald's lights back on until the end of February. We can warm his bones. We can give him the wherewithal to heat a pan of soup. We can make his life just that little bit more liveable.

So I have set the bar at £160. It doesn't seem like much and I guess it isn't much. Maybe this will work, maybe it won't. All you can do is ask the question and hope for the best.



So just in case you missed it the first time around, the link is here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

FIRST BASE HAS RECEIVED THREE DONATIONS THIS WEEK WHICH MAKE ALL OF US ALL FEEL TRULY HUMBLE



To state the screamingly obvious, a charity is entirely useless if it cannot attract the funds it needs to keep going. The best intentions in the world aren't worth a light if the phone gets cut off and the landlord issues an eviction order.

So we spend much of our time filling in forms. Tell us what you do in no more than 300 words..... Provide evidence of partnership working in less than 1000 characters.... Does your organisation have an equality policy.....? 

Boxes to tick and evidence to provide and jargon is absolutely mandatory. In the days when the New Labour bandwagon appeared to be an unstoppable juggernaut, these forms used to be a complete nightmare. One wrongly chosen piece of jargon in the midst of fifty pages of the very opposite to the Queen's English would guarantee yet another failure. Those were the days when the big charities splashed the cash on full time lobbyists to hang out in the Parliament tea rooms to whisper in the ears of junior ministers. The big guys wanted to make sure the big wigs set the funding bar way too high for any pesky little charity like First Base to reach. Those were the days when you had to talk with passion about having filing cabinets filled with policies covering everything under the sun.

One epic day I took a twenty quid return Ryannair flight to London with a fellow small charity manager. Were were headed for a one day conference designed to spell out how the little guy might extract a few quid from the bland suited minions who guarded the treasure chests of New Labour. I won't name the organisation who were the hosts for the day. Of course they had fancy offices with the kind of postcode usually only available to Russian oligarchs or Mafia guys on the run. They had taken great care to make sure anyone walking through their front door felt like they were walking into the home an up and coming hedge fund. It was all vibrant colours and uncomfortable arty furniture and mission statements on the walls. An ethnic themed carpet took us all the way to the carefully positioned reception desk which no doubt had been put in place after close consultation with a Feng Shui consultant.

And then there was the guy behind the desk waiting for us with a beaming smile dripping with inclusiveness. Oh my, where to begin! OK. Here goes. He was a man in women's clothing. Very flamboyant women's clothing. His skin colour and accent hinted at somewhere in the Middle East. His hair was a veritable rainbow of colours. His huge ear ring and Larry Grayson voice announced to the world how proud he was to be gay.

And to cap it all he was in a wheelchair.

Basically he was living, breathing evidence of this fine organisation's commitment to equality and general right on-ness and all things New Labour. How the hell we kept a straight face I will never know. Both of us were men of the North who cut our teeth in the rainy valleys of the East Lancastrian cotton towns. You don't tend to grow up politically correct in these places. Does your organisation have an up to date policy to train all of your staff and volunteers on how to interact with a transvestite, disabled, gay, asylum seeking person of colour?

Yeah mate. Course we have....

Can we see please.....

The big corporate charities loved all of this stuff. Of course they did. They had whole rooms filled with filing cabinets filled with policies on everything imaginable. Here is where they saw the way forward. If only they could persuade the New Labour chiefs to only splash the cash on outfits who had thoroughly trained their staff and volunteers on how to properly interface with the likes of the lad behind the reception desk. This of course was designed to squeeze little charities like ours right out of the funding equation.

Those were great days indeed for the 'uber' charities with the fancy London HQ's. Chief Execs awarded themselves six figure salaries and pension pots to rival the public sector. Those were the great days when you could attend a meeting every day where the buffet was fit for a Roman Emperor. If you had the right kind of jargon and a willingness to lie through your teeth, the money would be delivered by the truckload. On the flip side, basic places like First Base found it hard to raise the price of a cup of tea.

But everything changed the day those bemused Lehman Brothers traders found themselves out on the pavement clutching their cardboard boxes. Austerity has put paid to all of the jollies and the trainloads of public cash. In these very different times, having a perfectly penned policy on how to interact with a disabled, gay asylum seeking lad from Mosul will basically get you nowhere.

The 'uber' charities have been forced to move on. Now they take advantage of government schemes which dole out cash for job creation. How? Surely you must have noticed an upsurge in the number of tele sales calls you get urging you to pay a fiver month to some charity or another? Or door knockers on the same sort of gig? These are poor sods who have been press ganged by the Job Centre to take a job with one of the 'uber' charities who have been paid a few grand's worth of tax payer's cash to create soul destroying pretend jobs for people whose souls have already been pretty well destroyed.

We have never gone in for this kind of thing at First Base. Our walls are all peeling and the heating struggles when winter comes along. Our equality policy is the same as it has been for the last ten years. Anyone who walks up the stairs to the first floor passes under a giant poster of Dr Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Every word of his 'I have a dream' speech is there in black and white. We reckon if we follow those words we won't go so very far wrong.

And so we do like we always do. We treat people like human beings. With respect and manners. We don't judge and we don't means test. We don't pretend to have all the answers and we don't speak to people whose lives have turned to shit like they were five years old. Why on earth would we? And then we try to tell their stories as best as we can and wherever we can.

As the endless cash of the New Labour pipe dream becomes an increasingly distant memory, many of the charities who relied on it for their life blood have disappeared. Because the only way forward now is to seek the support of the local community and the local community tends to have little time for fancy offices in London and chief execs with second homes in Cornwall. The local community appreciates a more basic approach where people who need some help can get some help without being made to feel like they are pathetic and useless.

Knowing what jargon to use in a fifty page application form gets you nowhere with the local community. Instead, doing the basic hard yards tends to count for everything.

A couple of months ago we took to the social media to ask for some help with a £20,000 funding shortfall. It was the wing and prayer approach to fundraising and there was no mention of policies on interfacing with disabled, gay, asylum seeking transvestites from Mosul for the simple reason that interfacing with any such individual is well covered by the words of Dr King. They're human beings, right? So treat them like human beings. It ain't rocket science. Duh.

The response to our plea for help has been overwhelming. The local community gave us what we asked for and our short term future is now secure. The open hearted generosity we have been shown has been truly moving and humbling.

This week we are receiving three chunks of cash which I like to think offer proof positive that we must be doing something right. Poles apart doesn't even begin to describe the three donors. They come from different worlds. But we all live in the same world, right? Same sun, same moon. It is a world where people's lives can go down the pan in the blink of an eye and all of a sudden they can't afford the price of a tin of beans.

So who?

OK. I will tell. A few weeks ago I received a call out of the blue from a guy called James. James is a banker who heads up an outfit called RM Capital who trade our of the finery of Edinburgh's Melville crescent. After the call I took a tour through their website to try and work out what it is they do. Search me! They deal with big chunks of cash which goes under the all kinds of weird and wonderful names. You know the kind of thing. Hands up anyone out there who has the first clue about what Quantative Easing actually is. One hand probably. James's hand!

James told me they reckoned the time was right for their young business to try and give something back. Well he had read my blog and reckoned we might be the right kind of home for their generosity. He explained they were not in the Goldman Sachs league. They wanted their money to go to the local front line where it would make a genuine and marked difference. Thankfully I was able to promise First Base was exactly such a place. Yesterday they transferred £5000 into our account.

Wow.

Tomorrow I have a twelve o clock photo call. The snapper from the local paper is coming in to take a picture of Nicola handing over a cheque to First Base for over £3000. Who is Nicola? And why? 

Nicola's story is beyond harrowing. I met her a few years ago when we were doing our best to help her son James. James was a gentle giant to had served his country magnificently in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a Scottish warrior of the old school. Quiet, polite, and one of the most fundamentally decent human beings it has been my honour to know. His brain was all twisted and bent by the sights and sounds of the worst of human indecency. The close up horrors of what happens to a human body when modern weaponry is deployed. James left the army with a glowing report. They told him he had served with distinction. They told him he had done a superb professional job under the most brutal of circumstances. They told him he should be proud of himself. They told him he was a hero.

But when he attended his appointment at the Job Centre, they didn't tell him he was a hero. They treated him like a Ned. Like a Schemie. Like nothing. Like scum. And when he attended his appointment with the housing people they told him he was worth no points. No priority. No nothing. 

Thankfully we were able to help out. We got the support of local politicians of all colours and within months he had a house and furniture and a job. But every time I spent time with James he quizzed me about what we were doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And why? And was what we were doing right? And was what he had done right? And providing those kind of answers isn't the same as helping to find a house. The guilt was eating him from the inside out. Through the long empty hours of the night. Through the long walks in the Scottish rain. Through the grueling sessions on the weight bench. And in the end the guilt won and James took his own life.

It was one of my very blackest days. It was when I got to know James's mum Nicola and his sister Marley. It was when I felt as completely useless as I have ever felt in my whole life. It seemed like half the town turned out for his funeral.

Time passed and wounds barely healed. James was a big lad who left a huge hole. And then one day my phone rang and Nicola was on the other end telling me news so bad it was incomprehensible. Marley had followed James. Marley was gone. Marley had found the prospect of life as unbearable as her brother.

And I felt even more useless and for a while wondered if I should keep on doing what I do. After all, the whole point of First Base is to stop these kind of nightmares from coming to life.

I didn't stop. And unbelievably Nicola found the kind of strength I cannot really comprehend. She took on Marley's two young kids and found a way to carry on. And now she has been out and about fundraising and tomorrow she will be handing us a cheque for £3000 to do our best for all the other James's and all the other Marley's who might come through our door.

The word humbling doesn't begin to come close.

And then came news of another chunk of cash headed our way. Just over £200 from a local grime outfit who go by the name of 'Boyz From Da Border'. Scottish Grime is a million mile an hour version of HipHop where the dumped on generation vents its fury on us Baby Boomers for giving loathsome support to Better Together, Brexit and Trump. I can't abide the music but I couldn't agree more with the sentiment behind it. Hold the front page. Young people arrange a fund raising gig for the local foodbank. Not exactly what they say in the Daily Mail, is it? Well they did it and bloody good on them and it raises a truly tantalising possibility...... it kind of looks like First Base might well be 'down with the kids.' Bloody hell.

So. Three chunks of funding from three completely different sources. You really couldn't get any more different. And you know what? We didn't ask for any of it. We filled in no forms and we ticked no boxes. This was money given from people who can see the money is needed. The fact that these good people have decided First Base is a trusted home makes all of us feel truly honoured.


Truly, truly honoured. 

So thanks guys.