The biggest crowd yet gathered at the ASHA Centre near Hanley Park in Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday morning, with weekend walkers warmly welcomed into the Boot Out Austerity fold.
There was a real buzz in the room, as 7-day walkers reunited after a night spread out around the Potteries, and we were joined by people from ASHA, who supplied generous amounts of tea, coffee and toast.
The rally outside began with Godfroide welcoming us to ASHA and telling us a little about their work with asylum seekers and refugees in Stoke. The next welcome to Stoke came from Councillor Mohammed Pervez, the leader of the Labour Group on Stoke-on-Trent Council. He told us about the difficulties faced by Stoke due to the huge cuts that have been imposed in recent years, and about the call that he has made for a review of the impact of welfare reform in the area.
We then heard the first of the rally’s two poems - the Poet Austeriate’s ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ - all poems are on the website.
The day’s theme is international issues, and so Nigel Hall, 7-day walker and IFSW Human Rights Commissioner, spoke next, referring to the the IFSW Statement on Austerity, and IFSW’s current focus on the need to develop social protection systems. We were to hear more later from Nigel, with Professors Vasilios Ioakimidis and Andy Bilson, who led a discussion at our evening meeting in Sandbach Methodist Church - more details of their fascinating presentations to follow (keep your eyes on this website) - that really added to the developing richness of the walk’s conversations.
The second poem was read by 7-day walker, Donna, at the morning rally and the evening meeting - When Great Trees Fall, by Maya Angelou - requested by Maris of BASW England, in memory of her social worker friend, Ingrid, which we were pleased to be able to honour.
Shortly into our morning’s walk through the streets of Stoke-on-Trent we stopped on the steps of Hanley Town Hall, singing Angi’s “From Birmingham to Liverpool…” as loudly as possible across to the BBC Radio Stoke building. I’m pleased to say they answered the call, as someone came out with a microphone, and did an interview with us about the walk. At the same time, a Sentinel (the local paper) reporter was doing an interview with another walker - let’s hope these were broadcast and published!
We walked all the way along the A50, through Burslem and into Tunstall, breaking just by the High Street, before moving on to Kidsgrove and then to our lunchtime stop at the Red Bull Hoteal, a beautiful spot by the Trent and Mersey Canal. I had a nice surprise when Peter Branson, a local folk singer, introduced himself and said he could come and sing at our evening meeting. His songs, including a new one he had written called The Ballad of Jo Cox, the piano playing of weekend walker, Diana, and the songs of the irrepressible Angi, made for a fantastic musical evening to complement the discussions.
Perhaps - well, there wasn’t really a perhaps about it - the highlight of the day came shortly into the afternoon stretch walking down the Trent and Mersey Canal to Wheelock, before turning right into Sandbach. Donna had earlier contacted one of Jeremy Corbyn’s team, as we had heard that he was travelling to Crewe on Saturday - a neighbouring town to Sandbach. I don’t think we expected he would call himself, but call he did, and it was a wonderful boost to all the 30 afternoon walkers, spread out down the canal towpath, to hear that Jeremy Corbyn had just personally made clear his support and solidarity to all the Boot Out Austerity walkers.
Guy Shennan, BASW Chair