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An alternative Christmas message
Sometime in October stores start putting out Christmas decorations, in November they slowly begin to play festive music and by December people organise office parties and exchange festive cards. For the best part of the last few decades these festive conventions seem to play a pivotal role in the lead up to Christmas. There are jumpers with messages, boxes of chocolates and sweets all designed to spread some festivity around. For those working, studying, or both, their December calendar is also a reminder of the first real break for some since summer.
The lead up to Christmas with the music, stories and wishes continues all the way to the New Year when people seem to share their goodwill around. Families have all sorts of traditions, putting up the Xmas tree on this day, ordering food from the grocers on that day, sending cards to friends and family by that day. An arrangement of dates and activities. On average every person starts in early December recounting their festive schedule. Lunch at mum’s, dinner at my brother’s, nan on Boxing Day with the doilies on the plates, New Years Eve at the Smiths where Mr Smith gets hilariously drunk and starts telling inappropriate jokes and New Year’s at the in-laws with their sour-faced neighbour.
People arrange festivities to please people around them; families reunite, friends are invited, meaningful gifts are bought for significant others and of course buy we gifts for children. Oh, the children love Christmas! The lights, the festive arrangements, the delightful activities, and the gifts! The newest trends, the must have toys, all shiny and new, wrapped up in beautiful papers with ribbons and bows. In the festive season, we must not forget the kind words we exchange, the messages send by local communities, politicians and even royalty. Words full of warmth, well-meaning, perspective and reflection. Almost magical the sights and sounds wrapped around us for over a month to make us feel festive.
It is all too beautiful, so you can be forgiven to hardly notice the lumbering shadow, at the door of an abandoned shop. Homelessness is not a lifestyle as despicably declared by a Conservative councillor/newspapers decades ago. It is the human casualty of those who have been priced out in the war of life. Even since the world went into a deep freeze due to the recession over a decade ago and the world is still in the clutches of that freeze. More people read about Christmas stories in books and in movies, because an even increasing number of people do not share the experience. Homelessness is the result of years of criminal indifference and social neglect that leads more people to live and experience poverty. A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of homelessness. There is no goodwill at the inn whilst the sins of the “father” are now returning in the continent! Centuries of colonial oppression across the world lead to a wave of refugees fleeing exploitation, persecution, and crippling poverty. Unlike the inn-keeper and his daughter, the roads are closed, and the passages are blocked. Clearly, they don’t fit with the atmosphere… nor do the homeless. Come to think of it, neither do the old people who live alone in their cold homes. None of these fit with the festive narrative.
As I walked down a street I passed a homeless guy is curled up in a shop door. A combination of cardboard, sleeping bag and newspapers all jumbled together. Next to him a dog on the cardboard and around them fairy lights. This man I do not know, his face I have not seen, his identity I ignore; but I imagine that when he was born, there was someone who congratulated his mother for having a healthy boy. Now he is alone, fortunate to have a canine companion, as so many do not have anyone. What stands out is that this person, who our festive plans had excluded, is there with his fairy lights, maybe the most festive of all people, without a burgundy coat, I hear some people like these days.
It is so difficult to say Merry Christmas this year. In a previous entry the world cup and its aftermath left a bitter taste in those who believe in making a better world. The economic gap between whose who have and those who do not, increases; the social inequalities deepen but I feel that we can be like that man with the fairy lights, fight back, rise up and end the party for those who like to wear burgundy, or those who like to speak for world events, at a price.
Merry Christmas, my dear criminologists, the world can change, when we become the agents of change.
The Ever Rolling Stream Rolls On
Professor Nick Petford is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Northampton.
As we gear up to leave Park Campus for Waterside it is only natural to feel a sense of loss. Park has been a great place to work and play and will hold a special place in many hearts, as summarised nicely by Bethany Davies from the Criminology team in a recent Blog.
When I took up post as VC in September 2010 I inherited a draft master plan for the University Estate. It was clear that the split campus was a concern to the previous management team and that both estates were starting to look tired. There were several options on the table. One was to move Avenue to Park. The other was expansion of Avenue and closer physical integration with Newton. The showcase element was a huge glass dome, bigger than the one at the British Museum, enclosing most of the courtyard space at Avenue under one roof. Both were impractical. Building Avenue on Park would have consumed most of the sports fields and greenery that makes it what it is. And the disruption of turning Park into a building site for 36 months would do little to improve the student or staff experience. But it would have achieved a single university site, unlike the Avenue plan that would have entrenched the status quo (with a big window cleaning bill to boot!). Not long after my arrival, and with a change in the way government wanted to drive the regional growth agenda, the newly established SEMLEP created in Northampton a 16 mile stretch of brownfield land bordering the River Nene as an Enterprise Zone. The rest, as they say, is history.
An enduring aspect of higher educational institutions is change. Depending on timing, from a personal viewpoint it can be a slow, almost glacial process. For others, caught up in periods of rapid transition, as we are now, the hurly burley can feel almost overwhelming. But change is always there. And Northampton is no exception. For those suspicious this is more spin than substance I can recommend The Ever Rolling Stream, a book compiled and printed in 1989 by the 567th Mayor of Northampton, David Walmsley, that charts the history of Higher Education in Northampton. In short, the key events culminating in the present University are:
1260: Ancient University
1867: Mechanics Institute
1932: Northampton Technical College (St George’s Avenue)
1967: University of Leicester University Centre, Northampton
1972: Northampton College of Education (Park Campus)
1975: Nene College of Higher Education
1978: The National Leathersellers Centre
1982: Sunley Management Centre
1989: Release from local authority control
1999: University College Northampton
2005: The University of Northampton
The picture is one of periods of relative stability (including a c. 700 year sabbatical!), punctuated by mergers and consolidation. Our most rapid phase of change took place in the six years between 1972 and 1978 and involved the relocation, merger and subsequent closure of four separate educational establishments that ultimately comprise Park Campus as we know it today. Each of these phases would have been a unique cause of excitement, stress, resignations, hope and probable despair! But together they have two things in common – they happened mostly outside our working experience, and (ancient university excepted), ended in success. In our history of relocations and mergers, the inevitable conversations between doubters and advocates are lost in time, one exception being the amalgamation in 1937 of the School of Art in Abington Street, with the Technical College, which seems particularly vexed. Against this backdrop we see Waterside simply as the next stage in our evolution.
The title for Ever Rolling Stream comes from the hymn ‘O God our Help in Ages Past’. It sums up brilliantly the feeling of loss and the inevitability of change:
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
Yes, think kindly of Park, and Avenue, mourn even as others will have done over those antecedents that culminated in our present estate. But don’t think you are the first to do so. Who knows, at some time in the future, staff and students not yet born will be contemplating a move from Waterside to a new horizon, as the ever rolling stream rolls on.
Out early on good behaviour
Dr Stephen O’Brien is the Dean for the Faculty of Health and Society at the University of Northampton
The other week I had the opportunity to visit one of our local prisons with academic colleagues from our Criminology team within the Faculty of Health and Society at the University of Northampton. The prison in question is a category C closed facility and it was my very first visit to such an institution. The context for my visit was to follow up and review the work completed by students, prisoners and staff in the joint delivery of an academic module which forms part of our undergraduate Criminology course. The module entitled “Beyond Justice” explores key philosophical, social and political issues associated with the concept of justice and the journeys that individuals travel within the criminal justice system in the UK. This innovative approach to collaborative education involving the delivery of the module to students of the university and prisoners was long in its gestation. The module itself had been delivered over several weeks in the Autumn term of 2017. What was very apparent from the start of this planned visit was how successful the venture had been; ground-breaking in many respects with clear impact for all involved. Indeed, it has been way more successful than anyone could have imagined when the staff embarked on the planning process. The project is an excellent example of the University’s Changemaker agenda with its emphasis upon mobilising University assets to address real life social challenges.
My particular visit was more than a simple review and celebration of good Changemaker work well done. It was to advance the working relationship with the Prison in the signing of a memorandum of understanding which outlined further work that would be developed on the back of this successful project. This will include; future classes for university/prison students, academic advancement of prison staff, the use of prison staff expertise in the university, research and consultancy. My visit was therefore a fruitful one. In the run up to the visit I had to endure all the usual jokes one would expect. Would they let me in? More importantly would they let me out? Clearly there was an absolute need to be on my best behaviour, keep my nose clean and certainly mind my Ps and Qs especially if I was to be “released”. Despite this ribbing I approached the visit with anticipation and an open mind. To be honest I was unsure what to expect. My only previous conceptual experience of this aspect of the criminal justice system was many years ago when I was working as a mental health nurse in a traditional NHS psychiatric hospital. This was in the early 1980s with its throwback to a period of mental health care based on primarily protecting the public from the mad in society. Whilst there had been some shifts in thinking there was still a strong element of the “custodial” in the treatment and care regimen adopted. Public safety was paramount and many patients had been in the hospital for tens of years with an ensuing sense of incarceration and institutionalisation. These concepts are well described in the seminal work of Barton (1976) who described the consequences of long term incarceration as a form of neurosis; a psychiatric disorder in which a person confined for a long period in a hospital, mental hospital, or prison assumes a dependent role, passively accepts the paternalist approach of those in charge, and develops symptoms and signs associated with restricted horizons, such as increasing passivity and lack of motivation. To be fair mental health services had been transitioning slowly since the 1960s with a move from the custodial to the therapeutic. The associated strategy of rehabilitation and the decant of patients from what was an old asylum to a more community based services were well underway. In many respects the speed of this change was proving problematic with community support struggling to catch up and cope with the numbers moving out of the institutions.
My only other personal experience was when I spent a night in the cells of my local police station following an “incident” in the town centre. This was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (I know everyone says that, but in this case it is a genuine explanation). However, this did give me a sense of what being locked up felt like albeit for a few hours one night. When being shown one of the single occupancy cells at the prison those feelings came flooding back. However, the thought of being there for several months or years would have considerably more impact. The accommodation was in fact worse than I had imagined. I reflected on this afterwards in light of what can sometimes be the prevailing narrative that prison is in some way a cushy number. The roof over your head, access to a TV and a warm bed along with three square meals a day is often dressed up as a comfortable daily life. The reality of incarceration is far from this view. A few days later I watched Trevor MacDonald report from Indiana State Prison in the USA as part of ITV’s crime and punishment season. In comparison to that you could argue the UK version is comfortable but I have no doubt either experience would be, for me, an extreme challenge.
There were further echoes of my mental health experiences as I was shown the rehabilitation facilities with opportunities for prisoners to experience real world work as part of their transition back into society. I was impressed with the community engagement and the foresight of some big high street companies to get involved in retraining and education. This aspect of the visit was much better than I imagined and there is evidence that this is working. It is a strict rehabilitation regime where any poor behaviour or departure from the planned activity results in failure and loss of the opportunity. This did make me reflect on our own project and its contribution to prisoner rehabilitation. In education, success and failure are norms and the process engenders much more tolerance of what we see as mistakes along the way. The great thing about this project is the achievement of all in terms of both the learning process and outcome. Those outcomes will be celebrated later this month when we return to the prison for a special celebration event. That will be the moment not only to celebrate success but to look to the future and the further work the University and the Prison can do together. On that occasion as on this I do expect to be released early for good behaviour.
Barton, R., (1976) Institutional Neurosis: 3rd edition, Butterworth-Heinemann, London.