Look At It This Way - May 15, 2015

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It’s five years since two women got so fed up with being made redundant each time funding ran out on first rate youth and community projects they decided to go it alone.

Deborah Terras and Linda Markey have not only proved their own worth but that of others who have may have slipped through society’s safety nets if the pair hadn’t set up UR Potential.

It’s a community interest company which basically means they’re not in it for the money – that’s invested for the benefit of those who need UR Potential’s help.

Those who want to step into either volunteering, employment or further education and need a helping hand with a mentor, befriending groups or training.

One of the steering group members thinks so highly of them she comes over from Cheshire regularly. Cheshire has its share of problems, she tells me, but nothing to what happens here, and the difference she can make here. It’s that kind of commitment Linda and Deborah can count upon. And they give so much back.

In a week when my own spirits came close to being crushed by the thought of another five years of central government cutbacks imposed upon a local authority fighting to rebuild Blackpool – it was a real joy to see what’s being achieved at UR Potential. It’s a battle on the home front, against poverty of spirit and despair and social deprivation, and the fact that too many people are thrown away without a second glance if they challenge traditional support systems.

It’s all about mining inner reserves and finding people who will shine in society with training and support.

UR Potential was born of the wreckage of so many lost schemes into which money had been ploughed and then pulled – pretty much when both women knew they were making a difference.

If there’s one thing more frustrating than the constant fight for funding, it’s having the cash cut off when a particular sourcing stream ends – because most schemes, most appointments, need time to make a difference.

Linda and Deb set up UR 
Potential from a standing start – both wives, both mums, both pragmatists and optimists, they were kindred spirits.

They knew how to write a bid, offer a service, meet a need, and target training to where it was most needed. They took their own destiny, and that of others, into their own hands.

Five years on they’re still going strong.

Five years on they are helping shape national policy, having conducted bespoke research for clinical commissioning groups.

Five years on one of their success stories, Jake Adams, who at 14 started his own community printing project, is at the newly elected Member of Youth Parliament for Blackpool and chairs Blackpool Voice.

I’d vote for Jake. He’s enterprising and innovative.

So are Linda and Deb. Five years on they are still looking for the individuals hidden away in the small print of the so called big society. Five years on it’s tiring enough to follow the pair on Facebook – and positively exhausting to catch up with them in person at a fifth birthday party buzzing with the joy that Blackpool is a much better place today because these two women took it upon themselves to change the future.

Linda got a degree at 50 having left school at 15 “because it was what you did at the time”. Deb took a more traditional route into youth and community work and got sick of being thrown away herself.

The epicentre is an office on Central Drive, Blackpool – an area being regenerated in its own right through new housing and other projects.

They now employ 13 people. It’s their second office. Their first was Claremont First Step Centre at Dickson Road, an area, like Central Drive, where few can see the rich seam of community spirit through its very core.

But, like the best parties, it started in the kitchen – for that’s where Linda and Deb mapped, measured and monitored the path of UR Potential when they first set it up.

This week there wouldn’t have been room there for the 60-plus guests heading in to celebrate from other charities, community groups, health, police, public, 
private, voluntary, faith and allied sectors.

And that’s what I call social enterprise – at its finest. You are potential. They prove it.

Freedoms we should not take for granted

The elections left me cold this year. I voted with 20 minutes to spare and every single electioneering leaflet consigned to the recycling bin. My party won locally, lost nationally. Given a choice I’d rather the reverse had happened.

At least I’m not Lib Dem, consigned to history in single figure percentage voter terms having plummeted from 10.89 per cent to 8.34 per cent in the four local constituencies since 2010. It astonishes me that 56 per cent (Blackpool South) to 68 per cent (Lancaster and Fleetwood) is considered ‘ a good turnout’ in voting terms these days. Britain languishes at 76th place in the global voter league. The Aussies are at the top – although compulsory voting concentrates their mind. The good news is the militant French lag behind us. It’s 18 years since Blair led Labour to landslide victory in a General Election which notched up a record 71 per cent turnout nationally .

It’s ordinary people rather than politicians who give me hope today. The VE commemorations – 70 years on – couldn’t have come at a better time. My mum, 79, talked of her memories of the celebrations, all of her half brothers home safe, including the conscientious objector. Then we watched veterans in their 90s on parade under the banner Live On as feisty and full of fighting spirit as they were when they fought that war and won their medals or worked the land and carved out a very different role for women today. We should never have taken the freedoms for which they fought for granted.