Last week we introduced Eileen Dillon, an Oxfam supporter from Exeter who is spending a fortnight volunteering in Wales with two of the charity's UK Poverty Programme projects. In her first blog, Eileen reflects on what her expectations were prior to visiting Oxfam's partner, the Dove (Viiew) Workshop in the Upper Dulais Valley in Neath Port Talbot. This project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund Wales.
What do I expect from my week in an ex-mining community in South Wales?
Many years ago I drove up one of the neighbouring valleys and thought that deprivation was written into the landscape. The dark steep sided valley was a stark contrast to the ridges and open plains of the Brecon Beacons just to the north. Unlike the Beacons there was no view of a horizon from the valley. This week I read that 35% of adults in Banwen are 'economically inactive'.
Government statistics would have described all of the adults on the housing estate where I grew up in South London as 'economically inactive'. My mother's gutting and plucking of chickens to sell locally at a small profit, the women doing cash-in- hand cleaning in the houses in the neighbouring streets of semi-detached houses, or the spraying and respraying of dodgy looking cars in the square where I used to play, would not have featured in any government statistics of economic activity.
However this black market entrepreneurship was primarily fuelled by neighbouring wealth. Up until recently, affluence and poverty have sat cheek by jowl in London and neighbouring wealth can offer opportunity. (Current government policy of capping housing benefit is about to dismantle this. Only today I read that 750 of the poorest families in Camden are about to be re-housed in Bradford and Leicester).
Living close to wealth enabled me to sit in the same classroom as middle class children whose parents valued education. I imagine that one of the biggest differences between my own experience of growing up in a single parent household on benefits and that of someone in Banwen, is that I grew up with a view to the horizon. Of course, never having been to Banwen, I cannot really know this, any more than government statisticians could draw up a representative picture of the economic activity on the housing estate where I grew up.