Homelessness: my pledges to help end it

If you live in Manchester – or any city in the UK – you have almost certainly noticed a rise in homelessness over the last few years.

In December the city council counted 70 people sleeping rough in the city centre, almost double the number of a year before. That snapshot figure only includes everyone the team could find. It doesn’t count people who are homeless but have a roof on their head, or those who sleep rough in other parts of the city.

The austerity programme of the current and last governments has meant a multi-pronged attack on housing security. That doesn’t only mean welfare ‘reforms’ like sanctions and the bedroom tax, but also the central cuts to council funding that put local services at risk, and the changes to legal aid that prevent many people from getting the help they need to avoid losing their home.

But when so many people in our city don’t have a home to call their own or even a roof over their heads at night, it’s not the time to apportion blame. It’s time for homeless people themselves to decide how Manchester can become a safer and better place – and one where homelessness becomes a thing of the past.

That’s what the Manchester Homelessness Charter is about. Homeless people, those with experience of homelessness, other Manchester citizens, the city council, healthcare and other public sector services, charities, faith groups, businesses and more came together as the Manchester Homelessness Partnership.

homelessness partnership

Together they produced a Charter with a clear vision: to put an end to homelessness in Manchester, and. Before that is achieved, those who sign up to the charter agree to follow a set of values regarding the rights of homeless people in our city. Everyone who is homeless has a right to a safe, secure home. A right to safety. A right to respect and a good standard of service. A right to equality of access to information and services. A right to equality of opportunity.

You can sign up here to pledge your support to the charter. I’m proud that Manchester City Council – one of the key partners behind this work – have done so: you can see the council’s pledges here.

But I also thought it was important to pledge my support as an individual. So I did,  and my 2 pledges are:

  • I will find more opportunities to listen to homeless people about council decisions and services
  • I will take part in the Great Manchester Run to raise money for Mustard Tree.

2016-05-16 17.48.38

Mustard Tree are a local homelessness charity who helped create the charter. They provide vital life support to homeless and marginalised people in Greater Manchester and they put the voices of those with experience of homelessness at the centre of everything they do. I’m so proud to be running for them, and I’d be so grateful if you would consider supporting me, and more importantly supporting Mustard Tree, by donating here.

Thanks for reading- don’t forget to donate here and to pledge your own support to the charter here.

A Life of Productivity tip #44 – paint your office the right colour

This Life of Productivity tip is a bit of a departure from some of those I’ve been looking at recently, but I’ve been looking forward to exploring it –

Paint your office the right color. Science says you should paint a room blue to stimulate your mind, yellow to stimulate your emotions, red to stimulate your body, and green to stimulate a sense of balance.

– partly because this interview is pretty fascinating; partly because I like the fact that it justifies my decision to paint my office yellow (this was a coincidence. I wasn’t trying to stimulate my creative side; I just painted every room in my flat a different colour, because it was the first time I’d ever lived on my own and I’d always wanted to do it); and partly because I wonder if constantly being surrounded by the colour red (leaflets, Jeff Smith posters, all my clothes) is having any effect on me. Here’s what the ALOP interview has to say about red:

Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met
But loving him was red
Loving him was red

…my apologies, that’s Taylor Swift. Here’s what the interview says:

If you want to be more productive doing something physical, red would make you more productive than either blue or yellow, because it stimulates you physically. If you’re hiring a bunch of guys to build you a house, for example, “blue isn’t going to be a lot of help to you – you want the red for physical strength and stimulus”.

Hmm. Is that why we associate the colour red with ‘Labour’? …probably not. But it does mean our office environment (though chilly) should be encouraging everyone to get out there pounding the pavements…

A Life of Productivity tip #38: regulate your office temperature

A Life of Productivity‘s tip #38 is:

Set your office thermostat between 70º–72ºF (21–22ºC). This is the temperature that will make you the most productive.

Click the link above for some evidence about how temperature affects our productivity. In some ways it’s obvious: once, in the lull between Christmas and New Year, I decided to spend a couple of days in the flat Getting Stuff Done. The first day went ok; on the second day the temperature dropped and I spent an entire evening huddled in front of my oven, reading a book with fingerless gloves on.

I bring this up as a point of interest, not because I’m actually capable of regulating the temperature of my workspace. I actually can’t get warm in the campaign office no matter what it’s like outside…#brr

A Life of Productivity tip #13: RescueTime

A Life of Productivity‘s tip #13 is:

Track how you spend your time on the computer with RescueTime (Mac, PC, Android; free). You may be surprised by how much time you waste.

I installed it a little while back and boyyy, is it an eye-opener. My weekly summary email informs me that last week I spent 33 hours and 51 minutes in front of this computer. It then breaks that down into the amount of time I spent on very productive, productive, distracting and very distracting pursuits. You can tinker with the settings and teach RescueTime which activities count as ‘distracting’ or ‘productive’ for you – have a look at this article for tips on getting the most out of it.

Getting a weekly email that reminds you exactly how much time you spend on Facebook is very useful when it comes to being mindful about how you spend your time, particularly online. So much so that I’m even considering upgrading to Premium

A Life of Productivity tip #24: schedule time when you completely disconnect from your work

It’s Easter Sunday! For those who celebrate it. I do not, but since I respect those who do, I didn’t want to disturb them today by doorknocking or even leafleting. And neither did Jeff. This meant I got him to agree to – gasp! – a day off. A whole day! (Well. He did some emails.) We went to the People’s History Museum to see their election exhibition, because obviously that’s what you do when you’re taking a day off from the election.

The great thing about planning some time off – not just taking a break when you’re exhausted, but actually marking some time in your calendar that says 7.00-7.05: Be Cheerful And Relaxed And a People Person – is that you get a mental break, too. Instead of worrying that there’s something else you should be doing, you can – once you get used to it – allow yourself to be convinced that taking some time away from your work is what you actually need to do right now.

Hence: A Life of Productivity‘s tip #24:

Schedule time when you completely disconnect from your work. When you completely disconnect from your work, your mind continues to process your work, but in the background while you do other things.

Happy day off, everybody!

A Life of Productivity tip #86: stop tracking progress on your goals

A few weeks ago I blogged about how I was going to decide on an achievable goal for the Great Manchester Run. Today I dragged myself out of bed to the South Manchester Parkrun, splashed through 5k of mud in 28:43 (not my best time, but for me that’s not a bad result), then entered that into a race time predictor and got the prediction you see above: basically, I should be aiming to run the 10k in under an hour.

And that’s the last time I’m going to check how that goal is going.

This is because of A Life of Productivity‘s tip #86:

Stop tracking progress on your goals. Tracking progress on your goals makes you less likely to achieve them. The fix: view your actions as evidence that you’re committed to a goal, and remind yourself why you want to achieve a goal in the first place.

This might sound like it contradicts tip #87: set process goals, but I don’t think it does. If I want to run the 10k in under an hour, my process goal is to stick to my training plan – not to do some feverish maths after every training run to work out if I’m on target.

A Life of Productivity tip #88: quit surfing the internet mindlessly

Yesterday’s post about procrastination got me thinking about all the time I waste.

The internet is where I waste most of my time, because the internet is where I do most of my everything. And sure, I can go offline altogether when I’ve got tasks that will allow me to do that – but what about when I can’t?

Enter A Life of Productivity’s tip #88:

Quit surfing the Internet mindlessly. The Internet can be a huge attention suck. Practice surfing the Internet mindfully by taking more breaks, slowing down, and focusing on what you intend to accomplish.

The full article lists strategies to help you do just that – I’m particularly excited to see that there are apps for that, although they all look to have been made in about 1996. Nevertheless, I shall give it a go and report back…

A Life of Productivity tip #19: make a procrastination list

A Life of Productivity‘s tip #19 may seem a little counter-intuitive:

Make a procrastination list. Make a list of high-leverage activities you can do the next time you procrastinate. This will let you stay productive while your mind wants to push away the things you have to do.

I’m…not sure about this one. On the plus side, if you’re an Olympic-level procrastinator like I am, it’s got to be a plus to fill that time with things that will actually benefit you, rather than watching an old episode of American Dad for the fourteenth time. And there’s surely a deeper point here about the benefit of being honest with yourself, acknowledging you’re not always going to be working on the right things, and planning how to deal with that.

But I’m just not sure that this would work for me. I’m what the full ALOP article refers to as a destructive procrastinator. When I’m putting off a blog post or a run or a difficult phone call, I don’t do laundry or wash up or alphabetise my spice rack. I faff around on Facebook. I piss about on Pinterest. I nap. If I’ve got a list of useful things I can do while procrastinating, I assure you that I will find a way to put off doing them.

I’m keeping an open mind, though. The article had some interesting-looking further reading, which I’ve added to Pocket. If nothing else, reading it will give me chance to put something else off.

A Life of Productivity tip #50: take more breaks

This is A Life of Productivity‘s tip #50:

Take more breaks. Breaks let you step back from your work, recharge, come up with better ideas, slow down, reflect on your work, and ultimately make you a lot more productive.

I’m sharing it today for 2 reasons.

1. it’s good advice. Read the full article for more on how breaks make you more productive.

2. Today I seconded a motion at our full council meeting expressing Manchester City Council’s support for the trade union movement, so it seems like a good opportunity to remember that the right to breaks at work is just one of the many things we all owe trade unions. Click here to see my speech.

A Life of Productivity tip #60: Coffitivity

Some of A Life of Productivity‘s tips have caused my friends to raise a sceptical eyebrow or two – I think none more so than #60:

Download Coffitivity (web, Android, iPhone, iPad, Mac). The ambient hum of a coffee shop has been proven to boost your productivity and creativity. Coffitivity simulates that same vibe on your computer.


Explaining to my nearest and dearest that I am wearing earphones not to listen to Taylor Swift but to, essentially, pretend that I’m in Starbucks, turns out to cause much merriment. “Technology has gone too far,” quoth my other half. “Are you going to make yourself a pretend coffee as well?” wondered a colleague. Arf arf arf.

A year ago I probably would have laughed along, but here’s the thing – Coffitivity works. Last November I had my annual crack at NaNoWriMo and – for the first time in six years of taking part – actually completed a 50,000-word first draft of a novel.

Over half of those words were written in the last 2 days of November (don’t try this at home, folks) through the old-fashioned lock-yourself-in-a-room-and-don’t-come-out-until-you’ve-done-it method. I needed something to listen to – if only to drown out other, more distracting sounds, like distant dogs and burglar alarms and the weird mystery noise coming from the takeaway downstairs – but I find music with lyrics too distracting when I’m writing fiction, and don’t know enough about classical music to pick something to listen to. So, having seen ALOP’s reference to Coffitivity earlier in the year, I gave it a go.

ALOP refers to a study that suggests people are more productive in coffee shops – like Family Guy’s Starbucks Writers in the image above – because, basically, they’re being watched. And it makes a kind of sense that replicating the ambient noise of a coffee shop could work as a kind of productive conditioning. Whatever the reason behind it – Coffitivity works. I can’t recommend it highly enough.