New Internationalist

Small battles, big victories

Residents celebrate at the New Bradley Hall care home in Kingswinford.

An old mate of mine, Phil Vanes, was – on his own admission – a bit of a fence-sitter. He never got involved in politics or anything remotely controversial. He kept his head down, as most people do, and just got on with his life. The struggle for a better, fairer world was for others.

Then about six months ago, all that changed. The care home where his mother-in-law had been staying for years– New Bradley Hall in Kingswinford, near Dudley in the West Midlands – was condemned to closure by the local council. Phil, and his wife Rita, decided to fight this reckless and damaging decision and embarked on a campaign that has dominated, and changed, their lives.

They helped form an action group and set about raising a petition. The council had only given the home three weeks notice before the closure decision would be rubber stamped and in that short space of time the action group raised 5000 signatures, which meant that the council was obliged to hear one of the group address them at the council meeting. And so the fight back began.

Others joined in. The group lobbied, demonstrated, wrote letters to the press, MPs, local councillors, appeared on local TV… anything that would highlight the insanity of closing down the home. On and on they went, refusing to give up, despite it looking like a lost cause on many occasions.

Then a few days ago the local council announced they would keep the home open. It was brilliant news. All the hard work and persistence had paid off. Still, Phil is under no illusions. He says he is keeping his eye on the ball. After all it has been know for politicians to lie. But for now the home is safe.

It might not seem much in the grand scheme of things, a small care home in Dudley being saved from closure, but it is a huge thing in the lives of all those concerned.

I’m proud of my mate Phil. And what he and the others involved have shown is that by refusing to give up small battles can become big victories.

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  1. #1 Phil Vanes 30 Apr 12

    Thank you for that Alan,

    I first got involved when Rita told me to attend a meeting that the residents of the home had called following the shock announcement of closure in the Express & Star.

    Rita couldn’t get time off from school so she told me to go along and make sure I say something.

    So I duly attended and listened to a council official basically reading out pre-prepared answers with the bottom line being that the home was going to close. They had already closed three homes down and this one was the last in line.

    I asked a few questions, the main one being “If the closure of the home is not about money as we have been told, then what will be the benefits to the residents if they are forced to leave their home bearing in mind some of them have lived here for several years and others have been forced to move several times already” (I have to say that I am still waiting for an answer to that one)

    Anyway, at the end of the meeting I shrugged my shoulders and thought that was that.

    As I was going around all the oldies saying my goodbyes, a very old and frail white haired lady grabbed my hand and said “You won’t let em close our home will you luv”

    So I said “Don’t worry, you’ll be OK” and to my shame, I basically ran off. I couldn’t get out of that home fast enough.

    But when I got in the car, I put my head in my hands and just sat there and I thought, “I can’t do this”, so I went back into the home and found that there were other people who felt the same as I did.

    So we very quickly formed an Action Group and set about raising a petition.

    The council had only given us three weeks notice before the closure decision would be rubber stamped by the Full Council and in that short space of time, we raised 5000 signatures, which meant that they were obliged to hear one of our group address them in the council meeting.

    We then set about calling public meetings, bombarding all the Tory councillors with letters and emails, writing to the newspapers, attending and addressing meetings of everybody from Unison to UKIP.

    Where New Bradley Hall was concerned we were totalling non-political. I would have talked to the KluKlux Klan if they’d help keep the home open.

    And so it went on and on and over time I began to learn an awful lot about care home closures and politics and for anybody involved in anything similar this is what I have learnt:-

    1. Petitions do not work. You have to do it but no petition ever stopped a care home (or anything else for that matter) from closing. All a petition does is publicise your campaign to a wider audience and give you the opportunity to address the council.

    2. Peacefull non-violent demonstrations in themselves do not work. The Council simply close their doors and draw the curtains. But you’ve got to do them.

    3. Consultations that Council carry out to determine public opinion are meaningless. They are simply a tool to prevent a legal challenge by campaigners. You could have a 99.9% opinion in favour of a care home remaining open and the Council would still close it. A Consultation is not a referendum and neither is it legally binding on the Council.

    4. The only thing that will save anything from closure is political pressure. You have to make the councillors believe that they are in danger of losing their cushy £20k per year part-time jobs.

    We were very fortunate that our campaign coincided with an election year, so we made sure that our message was “Ask your prospective councillor what their views are on the closure of New Bradley Hall and then irrespective of your normal affiliations, vote for the one that will keep it open”

    And of course this swayed large numbers of Tory leaning floating voters.

    The Leader of the controlling Tory group, being the astute politician that he his saw this happening and so made his dramatic U-turn and said that the closure was not now an option and the home would remain open under his watch.

    The Leader of the Labour group was now forced to also make a positive statement to match the Tories and we subsequently ended up with a win win situation.

    So as I said earlier, I have learnt an enormous amount about politics and care home closures over the last few months and the biggest thing that I learnt is that there is no one silver bullet.

    Success comes from a range of small diverse initiatives that all come together from varying directions to put pressure on the decision makers.

    But I have also heard it rumoured that some politicians change their minds on things after being elected, so being the cynical sod that I am I won’t be taking my eye off the ball just yet.

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About the author

Alan Hughes a New Internationalist contributor

Alan Hughes was a graphic artist at New Internationalist. He retired in 2014. He is a life-long socialist and trade unionist and is currently involved in the Keep Our NHS Public Campaign. He is passionate about The Beatles and has supported Aston Villa FC for over 50 years. He lives in Oxford with his daughter.

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