30 September 2014

The Closure of Clitheroe Job Centre

Back in May when Clitheroe Christians in Partnership hosted a conference called Feed a Friend, we were challenged by the speakers to get back to 'old fashioned' campaigning. The instant nature of the internet and the ubiquity of online petitions and so-called 'slacktivism' have brought about a reduction in direct contact with decision makers. People seem less likely to correspond directly with their MP or with other representatives and more likely to simply 'like' a Facebook page, or change their Social Media avatar in support of a campaign.

We were challenged, at the conference, to put some more effort into our campaigning. Of course, the theme of 'Feed a Friend' was food poverty, but the principle holds for all other areas of social justice. The challenge was to get back to direct contact: postcards, letters, emails and MP's surgeries. We came away from the conference fired up, and many of us have tried to be more active in our campaigning for matters like these.

One of the things that's getting me fired up at the moment is the proposed closure of the Clitheroe Job Centre. Clitheroe is a market town. It sits in the splendid countryside of the Ribble Valley. It draws people from a wide area to use its services, cultural venues and retail outlets. Clitheroe is an ideal place for a rural job centre - the current centre's footfall may be comparatively low, but it draws clients from a wide, rural area. Public transport into Clitheroe from the outlying villages of the valley is reasonable and not too arduous. So why, then, are we faced with the closure of this essential service in such an ideal location?

The answer, as always, is about financial cost. The existing building is poorly suited to the services it now provides, and is far too large. Fine. I understand the need to reduce expenditure. But surely that can be achieved by looking at an alternative site in the town, rather than withdrawing the service altogether!
If the Clitheroe Job Centre closes, clients will have to travel to Accrington or Blackburn. Although these aren't very far away, and both are served by public transport, the people who have to make the trek will lose half a day in the process. They will also have to fork out for bus or train fares which they can ill afford. Additionally, the extra travel time will increase the risk of missing appointments, which will, in turn, lead to benefit sanctions. Those people will then be beating a path to the door of the Ribble Valley Foodbank when they can't afford to feed their families.  
Clitheroe Christians in Partnership have today launched a coordinated postcard campaign to protest at the proposed closure. Churches across the town will receive a batch of postcards in time for this Sunday's services, and we are encouraging our congregations to sign the cards, which we'll then deliver to the person leading the consultation.
We don't know what the effect of our efforts might be, but I think back to the postcard campaigns urging supermarkets to stock fairtrade goods back in the 90s. They clearly worked, so perhaps our local postcard campaign will make people listen.

The Local papers, the Clitheroe Advertiser and Lancashire Telegraph, have given the situation good coverage. We now need people to get involved as individuals. So if you want to fill in one of our cards, head to a Clitheroe church on Sunday. Or better still, email the man running the consultation, Steve Johnson. And of course, don't forget our MP, Nigel Evans.

The main message is, don't assume everyone else will do this. If you believe this is an important issue, then you know what to do!