Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Riding project helps teach vital life skills


Riding project helps teach vital life skills

Horses expensively trained to remain calm

Big Issue North article 


A Bradford horse riding programme for disengaged school children has drawn praise from participants and their parents.

Changing Lives Through Horses (CL) is a national project organised by the British Horse Society (BHS) that takes place with qualified coaches at approved riding centres including the Throstle Nest Riding school at Wilsden Equestrian Centre.

 Opportunities extended

The BHS project is aimed at young people who are “permanently excluded, at risk of permanent exclusion or who have special education needs or disabilities”, those who are not in employment, education, or training, or lack the skills to improve their economic situation.

Throstle Nest is run by Jeanette Wilder, who has been working with horses since she was 12 when, along with her brother, she used ponies from the family dairy farm to teach riding skills to children from the Eccleshill area in Bradford. Wilder’s passion for horses has been extended into providing opportunities for young people who are otherwise very unlikely to learn to ride the animals.

“We put something back into the community. The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is linked to us. When the BHS established Changing Lives four years ago, I immediately got us involved. Whilst it brings in some income, we lose out by needing to turn away other customers,” said Wilder

A general lesson at Wilsden costs £20 for 30 minutes and £25 for 45 minutes. On the Changing Lives programme the fees are £28 an hour and £45 for two. The costs are covered by schools, the RDA, parents and charitable associations.

 Prodding and poking

Amelia Helm, aged 14, has been riding for ten years. She persuaded her school to let her begin attending CL sessions in September.

“I am struggling speaking in school lessons,” she said. “Coming here is relaxing. It is fun and I have no worries as I don’t need to make an effort for people. “I do the lessons with other age groups and I relate to them as we are all passionate about horses.”

She also attends weekend pony club lessons and enjoys mucking out the stables and looking after the horses. She wants to do work experience at the riding school next year as she is looking to work with horses when she leaves education.

In addition to support from volunteers, Throstle Nest employs eight full-time staff, all women

 On site it has 21 horses, more expensive to buy in recent years. Horses must be four years old and fullytrained before they can be used in the riding school and the animals, which need to be calm and forgiving enough to be able to overcome some prodding and poking, must be five before they can be employed on RDA sessions. To save costs, Wilder bought a three-year-old horse, which staff are training. There is no guarantee the horse will prove suitable for lessons.

There were nine children of varying abilities aged seven to 15 years on a Tuesday CL session in November. “We don’t tend to look at their diagnosis but just work with them on a weekly basis as the children can be totally different on each occasion,” said Wilder. “Sometimes they can be having a bad day because of a change of medication. We have a plan but you can realise it won’t work. You must be patient but we have a much lower ratio of staff compared to pupils than at school and so we can make swift changes.”

Special relationship

Warren Keighley, aged six, who has complex needs, has been attending the CL programme for two years.

“A physiotherapist identified that working with horses would be very beneficial for building his core strength,” said his mum Hannah. “The facilities here and the whole environment and dedication of staff, who are empathetic with children that have different needs, means you feel included.”

Grandad Martin is also a big fan. “Warren has moved from being afraid to get on a horse to saddling it up, mounting, leading and dismounting from the animal,” he said.

During lockdown the centre trained parents and grandparents in how to lead horses and this helped facilitate lessons for Warren.

 Before lockdown, Warren had built a special relationship with staff member Evie. On the day Big Issue North visited, the pair had met for the first time in over a year.

A smiling Warren said: “What I liked about today is when I saw Evie and I cried as I was happy. Missy was my horse today. She is a bit cheeky like another horse called Dolly. I like coming here and being in charge of a horse.”

According to Wilder the racing industry is offering opportunities to young people to undertake apprenticeships in stable yards and the pay thereafter is good.

Wilder explained that children attending the CL project are taught to work with others and to pay attention and concentrate as otherwise they get into trouble with the horse.

“It also improves their balance and by being fun it helps develop an interest that we can channel into education generally,” she said. “If they switch off at school in English and mathematics then we can get them to write about horses and work out how much to feed the animals.”

In more basic scenarios, children get to recognise different colours when they pick up objects when riding a horse.

The CL programme uses a range of awards that “are structured around promoting the holistic development of all involved and nurturing six life skills for all young people: building relationships, communication, confidence, responsibility, teamwork and perseverance”.

Susan*, who has seen her two sons benefit from engaging with horses said: “My eldest, who is hypermobile and has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has improved his core strength by coming here.

“He has completed the award scheme development and accreditation network qualification, which took him a year. He is not going to achieve a standard qualification, so having a certificate where he can say ‘Look, I can do this’ is great for self-confidence.”

 Susan’s youngest son is nine. His CL programme is funded by his school and the RDA.

She said: “It has created a connection with horses, which has helped him emotionally and his attention span has expanded. When riding he must consider the needs of the horse and this moves him away from thinking about himself and helps him to get on with other children.”

Susan believes that many more disengaged children would have their lives improved if there were more opportunities to attend the project.

MARK METCALF * Name changed

Monday, 11 October 2021




Farmers to be paid for sustainable practices

Critics say soil quality is difficult to measure

Article from Big Issue North magazine 

Agricultural experts who believe soil quality is critical for the UK’s food supply have welcomed the government’s decision to pay farmers to improve it for the first time. But concerns remain over how soil quality will be assessed and the mechanism for paying farmers.

Following Brexit, Britain is phasing out the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy farm subsidies and replacing them with the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme, to be introduced next year.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the SFI is “centred around incentivising sustainable farming practices alongside profitable food production and rewarding farmers for producing public goods such as better air and water quality, protecting wildlife and improving soil health”.

Compaction and erosion

The plans are part of the government’s 25-year Environment Plan, which includes a net zero carbon ambition.

Soil quality and biodiversity supports agricultural production and the storage of carbon. But almost 4 million hectares of soil in England and Wales are at risk of compaction, according to the Environment Agency, and 2 million hectares are at risk of erosion.

Intensive agriculture has caused arable soils to lose 40-60 per cent of their organic carbon, said the Environment Agency in July. But it added that there is insufficient data on soil health and called for investment in monitoring.

From next year, farmers can sign up to SFI schemes to improve arable and horticultural soils at payments between £30 and £59 per hectare and grassland soils at £6-£8 per hectare. According to a Defra spokesperson: “Healthy soil is key to supporting our targets on the environment and improving farm profitability. Well managed soils can lead to increased biodiversity, increased carbon sequestration and storage, improved water quality and flood prevention.”

Food scientist Charlie Clutterbuck, an academic and author who holds a PhD in soil ecology, welcomed the government’s newfound commitment to monitoring soil quality. But he said that should begin with “an England-wide measurement of soil carbon”, investment in more research facilities and a legally binding commitment to improving soil quality.

Clutterbuck has calculated that Britain, which currently imports half its food, could reduce this to around 25-30 per cent through better land management and soil content. In turn, many countries that currently export to Britain could begin to grow food for their own people, many of whom go hungry.

“We need that better soil to produce more local produce to regenerate rural communities and not fund carbon offset schemes that benefit the City,” added Clutterbuck.

Government promises

SFI will be phased in over seven years, while in the next three years farmers will lose half their former EU subsidies. They mean more to smaller northern hill farmers, earning around £25,000 annually, than larger farmers on the richer plains in the south and east. Some farmers, many of whom have farmed for generations, are being offered incentives to quit the land.

Critics say this is at odds with Boris Johnson’s promise, made in 2016 at a cattle market in Clitheroe, that farmers would get the same amount of money – “100% guaranteed” – from subsidies after leaving the EU, while being relieved of red tape.

The first SFI schemes will start next spring but, according to environmental law expert Richard Smith, “few farmers have signed up to the new programme”. Farmers’ have low trust in Defra due to its previous management of agricultural subsidies.

A Defra spokesperson said it was planning a “comprehensive programme of soil monitoring across farms participating in the early roll-out. The first stage will be establishing a baseline for a range of soil health indicators.”

The spokesperson added: “There is a wealth of expertise in soil health within the UK including scientists from the University of Lancaster and UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.”


Friday, 24 September 2021

Power in the union - John Smith 1932-2021


4 podcasts by John Smith, born 1932, a Great Yarmouth Docker who died on 23 September 2021.

1)      The Life of a Great Yarmouth Docker

2)      From docker to branch secretary



John Smith (RIP) – Stopping the Job – there is power in the union.


The decline of the docks following the ending of the National Dock Labour Scheme

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Speech to Halifax 1842 meeting on 17 September

Could it happen again?

In 1842 Britain was a society where parliament sent troops against civilians.  But parliament understood the implications of this terrible state of affairs and from then on has largely sought – with the exception of Ireland and which I will return to in due course - to control protests using the police, a civil force with coercive powers – which many people opposed - that began under Sir John Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act 1829 and which resulted in a network of police forces over the following quarter-century with the Lighting and Watching Act 1833, the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 – which enabled the first local authorities to set up borough forces, the County Police Act 1839 allowed the provincial counties to do the same, the City of London Act 1839 similar, The Town Police Clauses Act 1847 clarified police powers and in 1856 the County and Borough Police Act required all local councils to establish forces.

The police had, of course, demonstrated by 1833 that it was capable of spying on political activists and acting brutally as was the case at the Cold Bath Fields Meeting, declared illegal by the Home Secretary Lord Melbourne, of the National Political Union of the Working Classes.

Since then, any regular protestor will tell you that they expect the police to misbehave on protests, that in fact there has always been a shared understanding between police and protestors that the police will resort to unlawful violence at political protests.

Even the Countryside Alliance supporters in 2001 found themselves being roughed up outside Parliament when they protested against Tony Blair’s plans, forced on him due to popular pressure, to outlaw fox hunting with hounds. The attacks on  women who attended the vigil earlier this year for Sarah Everard, murdered by the police, came as no surprise to many people.

Returning to the past, on Sunday 13 November 1887, the Met deployed military tactics to prevent a demonstration in support of Home Rule in Trafalgar Square on what became known as Bloody Sunday. 2000 police officers, backed up by troops and cavalry prevented a quarter of a million people protesting and 200 afterwards required hospital treatment. Later many members of the public sought to bring charges of assault against 34 officers.

At the start of the 20th century – November 1910 - the police acted violently and also indecently assaulted numerous members of the Women’s Social and Political Union whose actions included  disorder and violence when seeking to breach police lines to gain entry to the House of Commons In total 296 women were arrested. All but 52 defendants later had their charges dropped. The Home Secretary Sir Winston Churchill later refused to hold a public inquiry into events.

Of course, the military were still during this period used where necessary. The Featherstone Massacre of 1893 during the national lock out of miners:-

Here is the Guardian report, dripping with support for the military.  It was about nine o'clock on Thursday night when the South Staffordshire detachment first fired on the mobs which were besieging the colliery of Lord Masham and were charging the soldiers with stones. The first shot was only by one file of two men, and these did not take effect. Shortly before ten o'clock one section of the Staffordshires fired two volleys.

So far as could be ascertained seven of the mob were hit. James Gibbs, of Loscoe, was shot through the breast, and expired. James Perkins, knee shot away, died yesterday.

A sculpture was unveiled at Featherstone in 1993 marking the centenary of "the Featherstone massacre", in which it says two miners died.

Then, of course, there was Tonypandy in 1910 where another joint police, involving local forces and the Met, and the army attacked striking miners resulting in the death of Samuel Rhys, who it is believed was hit by a police truncheon.

In August 1911, troops of the Worcestershire regiment shot dead two striking railway workers in Llanelli where strikers, taking part in national action, had already been brutally attacked by the police.

February 1919 – the police and military were jointly used to suppress a strike in Glasgow for 40 hour working week.

In none of these cases did any police officer or member of the military find themselves arrested or imprisoned.

In 1926 the army were used to break the strike by undertaking roles vacated by strikers.

Joseph Foster, interviewed in April 2005, recalled events in Burnhope in 1926 , when he was 14, as “being a terrible time. I saw the worst of the strike. No clothes, no shoes, no food... families couldn’t make ends meet.

Foster remembered an incident in which a delivery van was tipped over by four striking miners, Ted Close, Harry Hobbs, Jim Hobbs and Frankie Armstrong who had all been left angry after they had been forced to dive out of the way when the van was earlier driven at them. The events led to soldiers being sent to Burnhope. “They were walking about with bayonets, with guns.”

There is, of course, a place little more than 100 miles from here where British Troops have regularly been employed to put down demonstrators marching for rights that most people would accept be granted. On 30 January 1972 the largest civil rights (organised by NICRA) march in the history of Northern Ireland was ruthlessly suppressed with 14 killed, none of whom were armed

Later, Lord Saville's report was made public in 2010 and concluded that the killings were "unjustified" and "unjustifiable". It found that all of those shot were unarmed, that none were posing a serious threat, that no bombs were thrown and that soldiers "knowingly put forward false accounts" to justify their firing. The soldiers denied shooting the named victims but also denied shooting anyone by mistake. On publication of the report, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom. Following this, police began a murder investigation into the killings. One former soldier was charged with murder, but the case was dropped two years later when evidence was deemed inadmissible. This is now subject to appeal.

 Bloody Sunday fuelled Catholic and Irish nationalist hostility towards the British Army and worsened the conflict. Support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) rose, and there was a surge of recruitment into the organisation, especially locally.

Nearer to the current day, what are we to make of the fact that during Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader of the Labour Party we witnessed soldiers filmed using a Jeremy Corbyn poster for target practice.

The video showed servicemen from the Colchester-based Parachute Regiment in a shooting range, believed to be in Kabul, Afghanistan. The soldiers were disciplined but not sacked.

 Or in 2015, Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton told the BBC's Andrew Marr that refusing to launch nuclear weapons would "seriously undermine" Britain's "deterrent". And he said he would be worried if such a view "translated into power".



Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Youtube videos by Rough Jersey


No Pasaran - James Alwyn of Bolton when to Spain to fight for democracy and lay down his life in doing so


Edward McHugh - rediscovering a lost -working-class hero


Ellen Strange - the light that still burns


Friday, 13 August 2021

Halifax public meeting on 17 September will help build for 180th anniversary of the fateful events in 1842


Remember the people in Halifax who marched for democracy and an end to poverty in August 1842, some of whom paid with their lives


Public Meeting


to build for 180th anniversary commemoration in 2022


Friday 17 September 2021

7.15 pm

Maurice Jagger Centre

junction Lister Street & Winding Road, Halifax, HX1 1UZ


Speakers include:

Catherine Howe Halifax born author of Halifax 1842

Matthew Roberts Sheffield Hallam University

Cllr Jenny Lynn Park Ward councillor

Mark Metcalf Halifax freelance journalist


For more information email:


Peterloo 1819


Halifax 1842

In August 1842, striking industrial workers in Halifax were attacked by 150 soldiers and 200 specially sworn in constables. At least four were killed whilst many others suffered brutal injuries that are likely to have killed them.

Workers were participating in a nationwide general strike that combined demands for better pay with an extension to those allowed to vote.

Massive wage reductions over the previous two decades had left many workers in great poverty.

At the same time only one man in seven had the right to vote at a General Election.

The strikers called for the same right for all men, because they believed their own parliamentary representatives would bring them some control over the laws under which they lived: laws fashioned to protect property and profit. 

In the 179 years since that atrocity of 1842, what has changed for the people of Halifax?

The wealth gap between rich and poor is still here. In recent years it has widened under both Labour and Tory Governments.

Workplaces were hazardous in the 1800s yet are still not safe.  We have had a disproportionately high number of COVID deaths in front line workers, and deaths from accidents continue because of cost cutting by employers who ignore Health & Safety laws.

Our environment has greatly changed due to industrialisation.  Climate change needs measures taken that do not simply make ordinary people pay for polluting companies going green.

Housing costs – whether to buy or rent have risen sharply. Many young people still have no chance of owning their own home.

Unionisation is no longer a prosecutable offence but today there is still employer and government hostility to the existence of trades unions with Amazon being the latest major company to refuse to allow unions to organise employees.

Tax avoidance is still a fundamental issue with many major companies such as Amazon failing to pay their fair share.

As in 1842, new technology threatens us with unemployment:  driverless cars and automation mean millions face being out of work.

We have our NHS but it is facing privatisation with citizens paying exorbitantly for the building of Calderdale Royal Hospital because it was built using expensive private finance.

Today we have a national pension scheme but the state pension age has been increased. Capped pay rises (and pay freezes) for public sector workers also result in lower pensions on retirement.

Many of us enjoy the benefit of university education but students now pay for higher education and once they are saddled with debt, many cannot find decent jobs.

Sexism and racism are no longer left unchallenged as they once were but legislation is hard to enforce. Women should be safe. Ethnic minorities should be empowered to effectively challenge discrimination. The prosecution of attackers should be vigorously pursued.

Today, soldiers are not employed against demonstrators but there is an increasing militarisation of the police whose powers to prevent effective protests including strike action are set to be strengthened through the Policing Bill. 

As in 1842 we still live in a society organised on the basis of profit before people.

We will not forget what happened in Halifax in 1842. We will campaign for the changes needed for a better, fairer, more equal society.