Tag Archives: Steve Hynd

The government’s plan to ban single-use plastics is too little too late

This article was originally published by Left Foot Forward.

There is a flood of plastic waste entering our rivers and oceans. And we need Government, not just consumers and businesses, to help turn off the taps.

Over the last 20 years we’ve produced more plastic than in the whole of the last century. Global production has increased twentyfold since the 1960s. It is expected to double again over the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050.  We now produce over 300 million tonnes every year – up to half of which is single-use. Only 10% has ever been recycled.

This is having a devastating impact. Globally, between 8 – 12 m tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every year and it is now estimated that more than 150 million tonnes of plastics have accumulated in the world’s oceans.

The recently announced Marine Conservation Society beach clean data starkly tells us that for every 100m of coastline we have an average of 385 pieces of litter – the vast majority of which is plastic.

It is understandable then why many, including ourselves at City to Sea, have welcomed DEFRA’s recent announcement to ban some of the most polluting single-use plastics. Having already banned straws, cotton buds and coffee stirrers, they are now consulting on banning single-use cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups. They declare that this makes them “world-leading”.

Sadly, for our planet, this is far from the truth. What they are proposing is the very bare minimum and does little to answer our concerns about their wider efforts to tackle plastic pollution.

Too late  

In 2019 the EU passed the EU Single-Use Directive which included provision to ban all of these most polluting single-use items. This came into force in July 2021. At this point we had heard nothing from government about their plans and so we launched a petition and dubbed their lack of action a “dereliction of Brexit promises”. After nearly 100,000 signed our petition DEFRA scrambled to announce that they planned to announce a consultation on banning these items.

3 months later – last week – they did finally announce a consultation. To dub this game of policy catch up as “world-leading” is frankly “world misleading”.

And this tardy approach to a very immediate environmental problem has carried on. Despite including positive and welcome measures in the consultation (such as banning harmful bioplastics) they are now not proposing to bring this ban into force until 2023. This is two years behind the rest of Europe and a year later than Scotland’s recently announced proposals.  

We’ve established that this action is too late, but it is, again sadly for our planet, also too little.

Too little

During the Environment Bill we repeatedly challenged Government with cross-party support to introduce a legally binding target to reduce plastic pollution as a whole. We wrote about why this is important for Left Foot Forward. But Government chose to reject this, asserting that they wanted a more ‘ambitions and holistic target’ that deals with all kinds of waste not just plastic.

And so we are left with a big, like an elephant in the room sized big, question. What is government’s over-arching strategy to tackling plastic pollution? Do they have a plan for example for the microplastics from car tyres that are responsible for over 200,000 tonnes of microplastics entering our oceans every year? Do they have a plan for supermarket food wrapping plastics or for plastics flushed down our toilets causing sewage blockages and sewage overspills?

The Environment Act empowers them to use big policy leavers. They can introduce a Deposit Return Scheme, introduce a tax on single-use plastics or forcing greater consistency in recycling standards. But for us to have any confidence in these measures being suitable for the scale of the problem we face, we need Government to commit to ambitious and legally binding targets.

In 2022 they will be setting various ‘waste and resource’ targets – within that needs to be an ambitious target to reduce single-use plastics by at least 50% by 2025. Boris Johnson was right when he said  “we’ve all got to cut down our use of plastic”.

But, and this is important, they also need to explain how they plan to tackle, measure and reduce harmful microplastics that don’t even enter our waste and resource systems. A lot of plastic pollution isn’t plastics we hold in our hands on a day to day basis but it is found in the food we eat, the oceans we swim and even the air we breathe.

No-one ever said this was easy, but if government wants to be seen as ‘world leaders’ these are the policy questions they need to start answering.    

Steve Hynd is Policy Manager at City to Sea, a not-for-profit that campaigns to stop plastic pollution at source.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Politics

From warm words to warm homes in Stroud

This article was published in Greenworld – the membership publication of the Green Party.

New research suggests that the UK’s retrofitting industry needs to grow ten-fold if the UK is to decarbonise its housing stock at a suitable pace in line with climate science. This challenge is substantial. We are missing much of the skills, supply chains, and wider infrastructure to make this happen. The Government continues to talk the talk of decarbonisation and retrofitting, but has so far failed to put significant money where its mouth is. 

For this challenge to be addressed we need central government, local government, businesses and residents working together.

Local government has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kick-start efforts to tackle this by investing now in its own housing stock. And that’s exactly what Stroud District Council’s Housing Committee has proposed to do. The plan will see us investing £180m in the next 30 years to retrofit, insulate and decarbonise the Council’s five thousand homes. This is part of the Council’s ongoing commitment to address the climate emergency as part of its wider Carbon Neutral 2030 strategy

The impact of this investment will be significant. It will see a reduction in emissions of up to 24.5 per cent, with council tenants saving up to 11 per cent on fuel bills. This new investment will mean that, on average, council homes will meet Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) C ratings by 2030. 

The Stroud District Council Housing Committee’s plan, which was agreed this month, now needs full council support – if passed, the programme will be accelerated, with more money invested. It will first be targeting houses with the poorest SAP ratings, ensuring those that will benefit the most receive support first. 

For those who don’t know, Stroud District Council is run through a ‘Cooperative Alliance’ made up of 15 Labour Councillors, 13 Green Councillors and three Liberal Democrats. The Housing Committee is chaired by a widely respected long-standing Labour Councillor and the Vice-Chair is a newly elected Green Councillor, Chris Jockel. This level of investment stands as a testimony to the possibility of progressive politics in power. It also shows how a Green voice on the council over many years – Stroud District Council being one of the first councils to elect a Green Councillor – has shifted the Overton window to such a degree that now these bold measures were agreed with little disagreement, even from the Conservative opposition.

There is good climate thinking behind focusing on residential properties. They currently account for the second-largest source of carbon in the district, about 17 per cent, following road transport. However, the five thousand homes the council owns is only a drop in a heavily polluted ocean. In this sense, there is a wider question about how the council can ensure that its investment can lead as a catalyst for action from within the private sector.

This ‘early’ – in terms of market economics, not climate necessity – investment can and must act as a guarantor of a base-level of demand within the region, in order for the private sector to sure up supply chains of skills, labour and technologies. Businesses will know that it’s the Stroud District where there will be decarbonisation and retrofit work taking place. As such, the District will offer a degree of security for medium-term business planning, and, crucially, can stress test the currently shaky supply chains as heat pump demand grows

Council investment can also act as a catalyst for the training that is currently missing from the labour market. Stroud is well placed to deliver this with its highly praised Further Education (FE) college in Stroud. 

But, and this can’t be stressed enough, these policy challenges could and should be fixed through central government intervention much more efficiently. This does not mean repeating the mistakes of the disastrous Green Homes Grant that installed just 49,000 efficiency measures to date, saving a meagre 0.04 per cent of total residential sector emissions, but instead focusing on the use of large-scale financial levers to enable bodies like local authorities to invest at scale.

It shouldn’t be up to local authorities to stretch their Housing Revenue Accounts to fund these projects. The Government could, with the stroke of a pen, free up borrowing from local authorities’ general reserves linked to expected savings to allow for much bigger investments. It could also be providing more strategically directed grant funding, which we know has a dramatic effect in bolstering local jobs and skills. These are, by definition, shovel ready ideas, with local authorities like Stroud District Council pushing their finances to deliver as much as they can.

Lastly, all of this requires a public behaviour change campaign on a scale rarely seen. You can install as many heat pumps, insulation, and other energy efficiency measure as you want but if one doesn’t empower people on how to interact with them efficiently, then we are doomed for failure. In Stroud District Council, there is significant investment happening on improving council/tenant interactions, but much more needs to be done in an area traditionally characterised by poor engagement and basic service delivery. The success of the programme might well stand or fall on whether we get this piece of people-oriented work right. Only time will tell if we do or do not.

In Stroud, we are ambitious in our efforts to tackle the climate emergency and to offer residents safe, warm, and green homes to live in. We are putting as many pieces of this jigsaw together as possible. At this stage, it’s important to be open and honest about the challenges we are facing; finance, supply chains, skills, tenant engagement; and as we move forward, it’s important to also be honest about our successes, challenges and mistakes. This process will, in the medium-term, help to build confidence in the private sector, which is where we need super-sized action to occur if we are to meet the climate action targets that science dictates.

Details of the decision made by the Stroud Housing Committee can be seen on agenda item 6 on last month’s report pack to the committee.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Gloucestershire

Plastic pollution; how Britain now trails Europe after ‘Green Brexit’ failure

This article was originally published as an opinion piece for The Yorkshire Post.

Is Britain’s ‘Green Brexit’ falling at the first hurdle? 

Back in 2018 Michael Gove gave a speech declaring “a new era” for our environment. In that speech he categorically said, “we’re planning to go further in dealing with the pollution caused by single use plastics”. Two years on and these promises are starting to ring a little hollow, as the government drags its feet towards the very first hurdle along the route to stop plastic pollution, scratching their heads and idly discussing whether or not they’re going to need a stepladder to get over it.

From July 2021, bans on single-use plastic cutlery, plates, polystyrene trays and other food packaging are coming into force across Europe as part of the EU’s Single-use Plastics Directive. The ban was agreed by the UK when we were part of the EU. It was intended to tackle the most polluting single-use plastics that were also the easiest to replace or do without. In other words, these restrictions are the absolute minimum that the EU expects member states to achieve.

Two years after the ban passed through the EU Institutions, England has yet to even launch a consultation asking if some of these items should be banned – the first step in the legislative process. This stands in marked contrast to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly who have both consulted on a full ban on all of these most polluting items. England is falling behind not just the rest of the EU, but also the other nations within the UK. 

This is why over 20 organisations have written to this government, asking them to take this most basic of steps.

Whilst it is the easy, logical first step in a longer process, it is still a significant move. Packaging from take-away food and drinks is a huge cause of plastic pollution and items like plastic cutlery and take-away containers are consistently in the top ten most polluting items found on beaches around the world. Indeed, new research has revealed that plastic food containers and food wrappers are two of the four most widespread items polluting our oceans, rivers and beaches. 

We also know that a full ban on these items would be popular. At the time of writing a petition by City to Sea and Greenpeace calling for this is just short of 100,000 signatures, days after being launched, and polling consistently shows that plastic pollution is one of the UK public’s biggest environmental concerns.

In response, the government will claim to be a ‘global leader’, pointing to their ban of (some) microbeads, plastic straws, coffee stirrers and cotton buds. But we’re falling behind all of our neighbours in dealing with this problem, and we’re still Europe’s biggest plastic pollution producer. 

A genuinely world leading approach to tackling plastic pollution would be one of the following. Either rapidly adopt the EU measures, and then use the UK’s influential position in this year’s international environmental talks to try to get as many other nations as possible to adopt them as a minimum international standard. Or alternatively, implement fully comprehensive, legally binding limits to plastic pollution to their flagship Environment Bill, showing real leadership and providing a more ambitious model for other nations to follow.

Instead, our government is charting its own course, dipping below international minimum standards at times, while also failing to demonstrate a vision for the way forward. What we have is a government that echoes the language of the plastics industry, talking up the importance of recycling while ignoring the ever growing mountain of plastic that will never be recycled and ends up incinerated, in landfill or exported, damaging other countries’ environments and the health of their people. 

If this government was serious about tackling plastic pollution it could and should immediately look to fully transpose the EU’s Single-Use Plastic Directive into UK law and  lobby for these minimum standards to be adopted internationally. At the same time it could and should be working to introduce legally binding targets to reduce plastic production as part of the Environment Bill. Two UK supermarkets have already pledged to halve their plastic packaging by 2025. The hurdles are all clearable, we just need to aim that little bit higher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Why we need a legally binding target to reduce plastic pollution in the Environment Bill

plastic bottles

‘This is the government’s last chance to show real leadership ahead of COP26’

This article was first published on Left Foot Forward – please do support them. We need independent media outlets now more than ever.

For many, the defining image of plastic pollution is the one shaped through Blue Planet 2 – that of floating plastic bottles in the middle of the ocean.

It’s a heart-breaking image that has spurred much action but in truth it barely scratches at the surface of the problem. Literally. It is thought that the majority of plastic in our oceans is between 200 and 600 metres below the surface.

And while this prevailing image of floating bottles has undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for incredible action, and it has spurred the development of some positive policy decisions like that of the now sadly significantly delayed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), it has, seemingly, blinded decision makers to the wider problem of plastic pollution that is in the air around us, in the food we eat and the oceans we rely on. 

At the latest hearing of the Environment Bill at report stage, Conservative backbencher Chris Loder MP submitted an amendment that specifically would force government to set legally binding targets to reduce plastic pollution – covering the entirety of the problem. This amendment was backed by businesses, MPs, faith leaders, academics and campaigning organisations alike, including City to Sea. 

The Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow’s, response was telling. Pow’s reply was that government could not (or would not) support Loder’s amendment because they want a more ‘ambitions and holistic target’ that deals with all kinds of waste not just plastic. On the surface this seems reasonable, but like plastic pollution itself, if you scratch the surface of this logic you find a much bigger problem. 

Firstly, and crucially, by tying up efforts to tackle plastic pollution with “resource efficiency” you miss major sources of plastic pollution including most microplastics. These pollutants are not even entering our waste streams but are going directly into our natural environment. They are found in alarming numbers in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the oceans that sustain life itself.

These often do not come from conventional “waste and resource” sources like floating plastic bottles but are often shed directly into the natural environment. Think for example of the microplastics from car tyres that are responsible for over 200,000 tonnes of microplastics entering our oceans every year. Microplastic pollution may be largely invisible to the human eye, but it is profoundly felt in our natural environment and can have a potentially devastating effect – especially as it can be mistaken for food by some of our smallest ocean creatures, which are then eaten by bigger creatures as part of the food chain.  

Secondly, think of all the plastic that should, but for various reasons, doesn’t, even enter our waste streams. For example, every year water companies are spending millions on unblocking sewers that are overflowing due to plastic wet wipes and period products that have been flushed down the loo. Our riverbanks are strewn with these grim physical reminders of the plastic crisis we face. 

The government’s response and refusal to include plastic pollution in its targets section of the Environment Bill is born from either ignorance or lack of concern.  Instead of focusing on reducing the metric that really counts, plastic pollution, this government repeatedly echoes the language of the plastics industry in talking up the role of recycling. Recycling is important, but it must be seen as one of the many steps needed to reduce plastic pollution, not the end goal in of itself. 

We know, and I am sure the Minister knows, that recycling doesn’t currently work at the scale we need it to and we can’t recycle our way out of this plastic crisis. We need government to focus on what does work – and that’s to implement and enforce the waste hierarchy in all areas of policy, and to then set concrete, legally binding, targets to reduce plastic pollution in their flagship Environment Bill. 

They can still do this. The Environment Bill is due to come after the Queen’s Speech in May – this is the government’s last chance to show real leadership ahead of COP26 on one of the most pressing environmental issues of our ages. The only question left to ask is, will they? 

Steve Hynd is Policy Manager at City to Sea, a not-for-profit that campaigns to stop plastic pollution at source.

1 Comment

Filed under Environment

COVID-19 testing “an utter shambles”

Last week my two young children, 1 and 3 years old, came down with a cough – one of the Coronavirus symptoms. As the advice states I tried to get them tested, but the nearest available test centre was over 2 hours drive away in Telford. I drove two ill children for hours to the test site, but when we finally arrived, I was told that the whole site was closed because they’d run out of tests. This was awful in of itself. But this is then what happened next.

I tweeted about that experience and honestly things went a bit crazy for a while.


That tweet was shared nearly 9,000 times and reached over 1.5 million people. Hugh Grant shared it. And then Piers Morgan shared it as well. And this was when I got the call from Good Morning Britain asking if I wanted to come onto the show the next morning.

It was very, very, wet in the part of mid-Wales I was staying.

But from here things went really wild. I was getting a dozen answer phone messages every hour from producers and more replies to my tweet than I could read. It had the potential to swallow my whole day when my kids were ill and I was meant to be on holiday. So I agreed with my wife that I would limit it all to a few hours after which I would then go back and be with my ill kids. In that time I spoke to the BBC, ITV News, Sky News, C5 News, the i paper, LBC, Heart FM and more in back to back interviews. In retrospect those few hours were all a bit of a blur.

To my surprise, GMB asked if I would then go back on to give an update the next morning. There were still no tests available (I was offered one near Liverpool first thing which we decided not to take) and the problem across the country only seemed to be getting worse.

What was I hoping to achieve? Well when I posted about my experience on social media and parents, carers and key workers up and down the country got in touch with me to share their experiences. None of them were good. I had an opportunity to speak up for people who were being let down by incompetence and a failing system.

I also mentioned the experience my Dad’s care home had. How they worked in a vacuum of information as they lost residents to coronavirus. I wanted to say – to anyone who would listen – that this incompetence costs lives. I wanted to be able to say to those in power how this was affecting ordinary people day in, day out.

Right now we could and should have a functioning testing and track and trace system in place. This government, this Prime Minister and his health secretary, need to take responsibility for this. Without responsibility being taken, public faith in the programme will continue to diminish. The main take-away from the existing evidence is that you NEED public confidence to ensure compliance.

Instead, people’s lived experience is that of frantically trying to book a test, only to find that there’s none – some have been told to drive 500 miles to the nearest test centre. Essential workers staying home, patients having operations cancelled and students and staff stopped from attending school – simply because they cannot get a test.

This just diminishes faith, not only in government, but in the importance of complying with the testing programme in general. I just can’t get my head round how the PM and his ministers do not see this as a failing they should be taking responsibility for. The Government’s ‘world leading’ testing system is in utter chaos and all they tell us is that they are ‘shooting for the moon’. As the British Medical Journal (BMJ) writes:

England’s performance in implementing a routine test, trace, and isolate programme doesn’t inspire confidence for upscaling to a moonshot. Missed targets, misleading “facts,” slow results, and false bravado are everyday occurrences.3 Lucrative contracts are awarded to private companies by opaque processes, while money for patients is squeezed, as Helen Salisbury points out.4 All this without accountability or apology for mistakes and missteps.

This is deadly serious. The number of weekly coronavirus cases in Europe topped 300,000 last week – higher than during the first peak in March. More lives are being put at risk.

That’s why I’m calling on Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson to take responsibility and urgently sort this mess out. And this is why I set up this Change.org petition. If government is willing to listen, the discontent at the metaphorical school gates is loud and easy to hear. Listening now is the first step to recovery and their only path to align themselves with the mood of the country. If they don’t do this they will loose the public and their track and trace system is destined for further failure.

This is a cost too high for all of us. If you can please do sign and share it.


Update: Here is Jacob Rees Mogg in the Commons today illustrating my concern about how out of touch this government seems to be:

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Interview: Hotels move to ban tiny shampoo bottles

I recently spoke to PRI about the news that Marriott International would ditch tiny plastic soap bottles from its hotels worldwide by the year 2020. It’s a move that other hotels are making, too, including phasing out the use of other single-use plastics. I spoke with host Carol Hills and you can listen to the interview below or the whole episode of The World online by clicking here.

We also need supermarkets to make it easier for people to travel with less plastic. Sign the petition demanding supermarkets stock plastic-free toiletries so that we at least have a choice!

Leave a comment

Filed under Media, Travel

Hotels are ditching mini toiletries – here is how you can help them do it faster

044-CityToSea_TravelCampaign_TwitterInfographics_1200x675px-V4This article was originally published in Pebble Magazine, as part of City to Sea (where I now work as their Campaigns Manager)’s #PlasticFreeTravel campaign.

There was a time when no holiday was considered complete without trying to eke out the most miniscule amounts of shampoo from those mini bottles that haunt hotel bathrooms. But the times they are a changing.

This week it was announced that all hotels run by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) will remove mini toiletries from their rooms, after realising they get through 200 million mini bottles of shampoo, shower gel and so on – per year.

The move will see their hotel chains such as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotels taking the small single-use plastic bottles out of their 843,000 rooms by 2021.

These toiletry bottles have been a curious part of a hotel experience for as long as most of us can remember.

Alongside the shower cap, the free hand conditioner that smells like Aunt Marjorie’s potpourri and the trouser press they were an unquestioned part of hotel room ‘experience’.

Premier Inn, the UK’s largest hotel chain, has never used them and instead fitted rooms with dispensers to cut soap waste as well as plastic pollution. It’s a move that has saved them money as well as the environment.

Last year Marriott Hotels announced they were scrapping the mini bottles and just a few months ago the first ever piece of legislation was introduced in California that would see these tiny toiletries banned – forever.

But how did hotels ever think these environmentally disastrous and economically costly bottles were ever a good idea?

Why do we need to get rid of mini toiletries?

If there’s anything that conjures up single use plastic when you’re on holiday, it’s hotel toiletries. Mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner might be handy in the moment but they contribute to our overwhelming, global plastic crisis.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has worked out there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2020. Plastic makes up 60-90% of all marine pollution, with over eight million pieces of plastic ending up in the oceans, every day.

In addition to the millions of mini toiletries that hotels get through, research suggests that 15.5 million Brits buy travel size bottles when going on holiday with many saying they would make no effort to recycle them. This results in an estimate 980 tonnes of plastic bottles being dumped by holiday makers each year. For context, that’s the equivalent to two-and-a-half Boeing 747s.

But there is good news for the summer.

We don’t have to wait for our government to ban these things before we next enjoy a weekend break. There are other ways to enjoy a cranial cleanse that doesn’t involve harming the oceans.

Hard bar shampoos and refillable bottles

The first is an obvious one. There are shampoo bars out there that come with no plastic packaging at all. But if you are really committed to the squelch of liquid shampoo as it oozes out onto your palm, then there is no reason not to buy refillable bottles.

There is a whole world of travel refillable containers out there waiting for you to decant your shampoo into for your mini break. To make this easy for customers though we need all the big supermarkets to stock these products and give customers a real choice.

Ask your travel brand to ditch plastic

The travel sector is changing fast. Some Thomas Cook research found that 90% of its customers care about plastic pollution and want them to do something about it.

In addition, 60% are more likely to use a travel provider who took plastic pollution seriously.

At the same time refill schemes are slowly becoming the norm, so you don’t need to keep buying single use plastic to take away.

Waitrose recently became the first of the big supermarkets to introduce a refill station in its store. This allows customers to top up dry goods and beer and wine in reusable containers.

Not near a Waitrose? See our list of over 90 zero waste stores across the UK where you can refill haircare, pick up hard bar shampoos, bamboo toothbrushes and other plastic free travel essentials.

And then there is the pioneering Refill App – that allows you to find the nearest place you can refill your reusable water bottle for free.

Ask your hotel about their recycling and eco-friendly policies

We all know greenwashing is rife. Don’t believe the myth that recycling will solve everything. Remember that of the more than six billion tonnes of plastic waste produced by 2015, only 9% has ever been recycled. Of the rest, almost all of it is now in the landfill or the natural environment (79%) with the remainder incinerated.

If you happen to find yourself sharing a shower with one of those ridiculous mini bottles of shampoo; firstly, don’t use it and secondly, let management know you don’t want them to use them. It might seem like a small move but in these rapidly changing times hotel chains need just the smallest of nudges to adopt more sustainable approaches.

You can be that nudge.

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel

Podcast: Brexit, Climate Crisis and The Green Party

I recently had the pleasure of talking to the good folk at The Big Green Politics Podcast. If you are in the small group of people who don’t feel that you hear me voice my opinions enough then you can listen again below.

Do follow the podcast – they offer an interesting international alternative take on the big (Green!) issues of our day. Previous episodes available here >>> and follow them on twitter here >>>

2 Comments

Filed under Climate Change, EU politics, Politics

Stroud News and Journal: ‘Couple to embark on gruelling charity run’

This is from last week’s Stroud News and Journal about my up-coming charity run aiming to raise money and awareness of the African Palliative Care Association.

It is not too late to sponsor us – just click here

Click on the article to enlarge:

Image (142)
Thanks to the SNJ for their support!

Leave a comment

Filed under Gloucestershire, Health, Media, Uganda

VSO: The life of an accompanying partner in Uganda

In January 2013 I moved to Uganda with no job. Why? To be with my fiance who was volunteering with VSO. Within VSO I had the official title of ‘accompanying partner’. This is an article that I wrote for the VSO blog about what life is like for an accompanying partner. 

Steve-Hynd-Anya-Whiteside-Uganda-doc-2-400x300

 

Sat on a fold-down seat I felt the flow of night air leaking in through rust holes of the dilapidated bus that had come to pick us up from the airport. The bus jerked forward with every change of gear as we made our way through the still busy streets of Kampala in the early hours of the morning. Sat with a dozen VSO volunteers from around the world including the UK, America, and the Philippines, I joined in the slightly constrained conversation as everyone simultaneously tried to chat to other new volunteers, take in their new surroundings and also contextualise the myriad of thoughts and feelings that rushed through their heads.

For me, as an accompanying partner opposed to a VSO volunteer, I was the exception on the bus. I was the only one without something lined up, a structure to fit into, and a sense of knowing what was going to follow. But, just like the other volunteers, I had the support of the astonishingly well organised VSO Uganda office.

Taking part, and being made to feel part of, the first week’s in-country training was incredibly important to me. As an accompanying partner I was specifically invited to take part in all the sessions and to feel part of the ‘VSO family’. It meant that for the first week I had structure, a formal and informal support network, and also a chance to ask all those questions that had been queuing up in my mind: How much is the bus into the centre of town? What should I say if someone asked me what my views were on issues around religion, sexuality or politics? How do I greet someone in Luganda and how many people in Kampala use Luganda as their first language?

Even though I didn’t have a volunteer placement lined up, I did have a plan for what I wanted to do in Kampala – and that was to find a job.

As such, in the following days and weeks after the in-country training I used the little Luganda I had attained already to charm my way past bored looking security guards into different offices of NGOs to leave my CV and covering letters with receptionists. Those early days of walking Kampala’s dusty streets were a real learning curve for me. Coming from working in the Middle-East I had to unlearn the reserved habits I had picked up and learn to embrace the Ugandan enthusiasm, friendliness and passion for life. In retrospect I am pleased that I had those couple of weeks to get to know the city that would become my home in my own time.

Just over 5 weeks later I was invited for an interview at the African Palliative Care Association. The role was to become their Communications Officer which included editing the online health news website, ehospice. Just 6 weeks after arriving in country I started work in their office just a few kilometres from our new house. Everything very quickly seemed to slot into place and my previous life in the Middle-East and London seemed a long time ago.

With the small matter of the job sorted, this enabled me to spend more time looking into the rest of life in Uganda. Very quickly Anya and I joined the Mountain Club of Uganda and headed out into the mind blowing countryside that Uganda has on offer. In the last year we have visited Uganda’s many national parks to spot the big game, learnt to kayak on the rapids of the river Nile and explored some of the highest peaks the region has to offer. Uganda has so much to offer and Anya and I have every intention to explore as much of it as we can in our remaining time here. (See our blogs to see more of our travels).

Thinking back to that bus journey from the airport with all the new VSO volunteers seems strange now. The strangers that I was talking to have become close friends and in some cases almost like family. The streets that flashed past the window have now become my home and I don’t even notice the rickety old buses that lurch around Kampala’s congested city streets.

Steve blogs at www.stevehynd.com and tweets at @steve4319.

Steve’s partner Anya is a VSO volunteer Education advocacy officer working at the Forum for Education NGO’s of Uganda. She blogs at http://anyawhitesideblog.wordpress.com/

VSO welcomes applications from couples wanting to volunteer together, however we respond to demand from overseas partner organisations and it is rare to receive a request for two volunteers for the same location at the same time that will match both of your skills.

If it is not possible for both people to volunteer with us, the other option is for one person to volunteer (it could be either of you) and for the other to go along as an accompanying partner. This is fairly common and it is usually possible for the accompanying partner to find paid or voluntary work when they are in country. In this case we would only cover the costs of the VSO volunteer, but we would do our best to ensure things like accommodation are suitable for two people.

Find out more about volunteering abroad with VSO.

2 Comments

Filed under Travel, Uganda

Adventure holidays and trips in Africa for 2014

This article was written as part of The Guardian’s ‘Adventure Sports Series’.

Kayak the Nile
From kayaking the Nile and mountain biking in the shadow of Kilimanjaro to exploring Africa’s amazing national parks.

Jinja, Uganda, is a town on the banks of the Nile that is gaining a reputation as the extreme sports capital of east Africa. This is, in part, thanks to the range of whitewater rapids on the nearby stretch of the river Nile.

You can read the whole article on the Guardian Travel site by clicking here >>> 

2 Comments

Filed under Outdoors, Travel, Uganda

2013 and the future of Hynd’s Blog

When someone tells me that they read my blog I feel truly honoured. The fact that someone has taken a few minutes out of their day to read my thoughts on a subject matter is really appreciated. In fact I can’t put it into words how much it is appreciated.

I still find it hard to believe though. I find it hard to believe that people, other than friends and family, would be interested in what I’ve got to say. But they seem to.

The pace at which Hynd’s Blog has grown over the last year is as inspiring as it is terrifying for me.

One measurement of this growth is in the number of people reading the articles. The number of people visiting and reading this blog is important to me. Not because it gives to my already over-inflated ego a boost but because it relates to why I do this – why I spend hours every day tapping away on my computer.

I write Hynd’s Blog because I care. I care about people. I try to, in my own way, promote a more tolerant, free and fair society. I guess Hynd’s Blog is my way of contributing to the wider movement of change towards this vision.

This is why I continue to publish articles that challenge lazy lingering prejudice, hatred and discrimination. Whether it be on sexuality or anti-Semitism, freedom of speech or dyslexia, gender or religion, I try to express a moderate, progressive and liberal alternative to the mainstream narrative that drives so much of the hatred, intolerance and regressive attitudes that blight so many communities in the UK.

Hynd’s Blog is my attempt to shout into the winds of misinformation. When people catch just a little of what I am saying it begins to feel worthwhile.

The fact that 2013 has seen so many new readers come to Hynd’s Blog gives me the motivation to keep going, to keep writing, to keep believing that change is possible.

So, if you’re reading this now…thank you! It is your potential to be part of the change we so desperately need that drives me to want to keep going with Hynd’s Blog. You’re the reason why I am here now, when I am meant to be relaxing with a mince-pie in hand, writing an article.

Without you, Hynd’s Blog is nothing.

3 Comments

Filed under Social comment

Integrating palliative care into international human rights mechanisms

To mark World Human Rights Day (10th December) I wrote this article for ehospice about the importance of integrating palliative care into international human rights mechanisms. 

logo_460x88As we celebrate Human Rights Day we should take a moment to reflect on the millions of people around the world who are suffering from excruciating but ultimately preventable and manageable pain because states have not set up systems that meet and respect their basic right to health – their right to palliative care!

Palliative care is defined by the World Health Organisation as: “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”

Human rights and palliative care are in many ways natural partners. Both are based around the dignity of the individual being applied universally and without discrimination. But they also overlap. Not only is palliative care a human right in itself, it also allows for the fulfilment of other rights.

Without good palliative care, people can become imprisoned in their own homes. Trapped by the burden of disease symptoms including pain making them incapable of accessing education, health, transport or other basic elements of life that most of us take for granted. These are elements of life that we all have a right to.

Read the full article here >>>

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Health, Human rights

Millions in Africa do not have access to morphine and suffer unnecessary preventable pain

This article was originally published on Left Foot Forward, Britain’s No 1 left-wing blog

Palliative care

Palliation – literally, the removing of symptoms of life-limiting illnesses such as pain – has been brought sharply into focus in Africa due to the dual burden of an ageing population and an increased disease burden.

To give just one example, 70 per cent of people living with HIV worldwide live inside sub-Saharan Africa, a region which constitutes only 12 per cent of the global population.

Millions of these people in sub-Saharan Africa require palliative care to address the medical/physical, social psychological and spiritual challenges as a result of the life-limiting illnesses.

Despite the large demand, there is still little palliative care provision across much of Africa. Many countries do not have any element of palliative care: no hospices, no formal training for medical professionals, no or little integration of palliative care into national health systems and often little public awareness.

It is estimated that only 9 per cent of countries in Africa have palliative care integrated into mainstream health services.

One of the largest challenges facing pain relief efforts in Africa is the availability of, and access to, oral morphine. It is thought that Hospice Africa Uganda, a centre of excellence of palliative care in Uganda, can mix a three week supply for a patient for ‘less than a loaf of bread’.

Despite this, oral morphine is still not widely available to most Ugandans, let alone the rest of Africa.

Bernadette Basemera, a palliative care nurse based in Kampala, explains part of the problem:

“Morphine wrongly incites fear: Doctors wrongly fear patients becoming addicted, the police wrongly fear drug related crime, and members of the government fear falling short of international drug control frameworks.”

As a result of this fear, millions do not have access to morphine and suffer unnecessary preventable pain.

In recent years however, there have been signs that this might be a thing of the past. In the last two years alone four countries – Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania and Mozambique – have all adopted stand alone palliative care policies.

Although policy development does not immediately translate into oral morphine availability, a number of countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Namibia Ethiopia and a few others have improved access to oral morphine. Meanwhile Hospice Africa Uganda, in a partnership with the Ministry of Health of Uganda, continues to produce and distribute oral morphine whilst at the same time offering training courses to practitioners from all over Africa.

At the heart of these developments are passionate workers like Bernadette. Once again working late, Bernadette describes why she wants to work in palliative care, saying:

“Palliative care is the sort of care that you would hope you and everyone you care about receives. No one wants to think of a loved one suffering unnecessarily.”

Bernadette offers a simple motivation for her work in palliative care. This simple motivation, however, could benefit millions of Africans. Palliative care needs to be rolled out, and people like Bernadette might just be the way to make it happen.

1 Comment

Filed under Health, Uganda

On Israeli settlers: “They come down from the hills and get us with dogs and guns”

I have just stumbled across this article that the wonderful Kate Hardie-Buckley wrote after visiting me and my former colleague Emmet Sheerin in Yanoun in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

I don’t think I shared the article on Hynd’s Blog at the time.

The title, “They come down from the hills and get us with dogs and guns“, might read to some as being as slightly over the top. The fact that I can promise it isn’t says a lot about life in Yanoun.

Anyway, have a read of the article and let me know what you think.

PS – you can also watch Emmet’s video about life in Yanoun.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Media, Middle East, War

Minimum wage sparks Twitter argument with Stroud MP Neil Carmichael

This is a cross-post from my local paper, the Stroud News and Journal. I cross-post it only to illustrate the positive potential that twitter has to hold our politicians to account.

STROUD MP Neil Carmichael has come under fire for refusing to rule out voting for a freeze or a cut in the national minimum wage.

Despite saying a reduction would be a move in the wrong direction, the Tory politician would not commit to opposing one in the future, insisting that he would have to look at any proposals brought forward by the government before deciding how to vote.

Following his comments, Stroud Labour Party sent out a press release saying it was an ‘absolute disgrace’ that Mr Carmichael would not rule out voting to cut the minimum wage.

The party claimed his position amounted to supporting ‘the idea of reducing the wages of the poorest in society’.
Responding to local blogger Steve Hynd who re-tweeted the article in last week’s SNJ with the comment, “This is going to win @neil_mp zero friends in #Stroud,” Mr Carmichael tweeted, “@stroudnews #Stroud – I have long supported a minimum wage as a floor &, above all, I believe in promoting a high wage economy.”
Mr Hynd tweeted back, “So why not pledge to oppose any cuts? Min wage already below living wage! Time to stand up for #Stroud cc (constituents).”
Tweeting later on, Mr Carmichael said: “Low Pay Commission has reviewed methodology behind the minimum wage – to be considered – but I am focused on creating a high wage economy.”

Labour county councillor Brian Oosthuysen said: “To refuse to oppose any reduction in the national minimum wage is a kick in the wallet for all those low-paid workers who are struggling to keep their families afloat.”

He added: “What Stroud residents want is to see their MP fighting for them in Government, not fighting for the Government against them.”

You can follow me on twitter here
You can follow Brian here
You can follow Neil Carmichael MP here

1 Comment

Filed under Gloucestershire, Politics, Social comment

Talking on Russia Today about Israel/Palestine and International Humanitarian Law

Have a watch of me being interviewed on RT (Russia Today) on Israel/Palestine and International Humanitarian Law.

This video is about a year old but I’ve only just stumbled across it. No laughing at me not being able to hear the presenter nor the hesitant roundabout answers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Interview, Middle East, Russia

My love affair with Kampala

I am on an elongated honeymoon with city in which I live, Kampala. A rational mind living in this city would see the congestion, the number of motorbike accidents, and the levels of petty theft, but the mind of a lover is anything but rational.

My mind sees green hills, standing pert overlooking the beating heart of the city centre. It sees the taxi buses that serve as the blood flow of the city, bringing life to each of its extremities.  It sees the millions of people swarming through this landscape, each like an atom of the body, for a limited period, an inseparable part of this wider being – Kampala.

The irrationality of my mind was brought into focus a few days ago when I was walking back from work over one of Kampala’s hills. On this occasion the weather was close and heavy. It had been raining most of the day and it felt like there was more to come.

On this day, a thick mist was rising from the sodden ground and dancing in the air with the heavy low clouds. Walking through this was like entering a steam room as the thick air stuck to the inside of my lungs.

For most in Kampala, their thoughts in these few minutes were on finding shelter before once again the heavens opened. My mind though, was caught in that moment, enjoying it, literally breathing it in.

I stopped and stood, just for a few seconds, and watched the moisture lift from the ground and glide through the overhanging tree branches. Through the mist I caught glimpses of other houses and people making preparations for the inevitable downpour. But for those few seconds, it felt like I was alone in the city.

The air of Kampala was slipping into me, dissolving the distinction between the two of us, for a few seconds making us one.

Of course the sky then opened dropping heavy thunderous balls of rain. Every other resident was dry under shelter as I was striding through the streets with thick red mud clinging to my feet.

Somehow though, I didn’t mind, I still enjoyed it.

As with every honeymoon, I know this will all end. I know there will be a day where I will be walking the streets and feel my wallet slip from my pocket as the sun burns that bit harder onto the back of my neck  and I will long for nothing more than the soft comforting embrace of the temperate valleys from which I am from.

But that day is not here yet and so, just like every other lover around the world, I will continue forwarded, blinkered by the beauty of all that sits around me appreciating it to its fullest.

1 Comment

Filed under Travel, Uganda

Eugene Grant: “I prefer the term dwarf”

173796_507019340_815239236_n

Eugene Grant is a dwarf and the founder of the viral site EveryDayDwarfism that chronicles the day-to-day experiences of what it is like to be a dwarf in 21 century Britain. Despite his experiences, Grant is optimistic that he can contribute to changing people’s understanding of dwarfism. Steve Hynd caught up with him to find out more.  

For many readers the term ‘dwarf’ is one they are not familiar with. I know some people are nervous about using it, afraid that it is derogatory. Can you tell us what the word means to you?

I personally much prefer the term ‘dwarf’ as opposed to others like ‘midget’, which many dwarfs I know find offensive. But, for me – and this is where the whole idea of political correctness becomes redundant – what’s more important are the intentions behind the terms used.

People can be ‘politically correct’ but employ such words with malicious intent; others may use quite derogatory terms without any idea or intention of insulting or hurting a person. It all depends on the way such terms are framed.

Can you tell us a little about why you set up EveryDayDwarfism?  

The aim behind EveryDayDwarfism is to document and present just some of the things that I – and my partner who also has dwarfism – go through during our day or week. Its purpose is to try to make people just that little bit more aware as to the things we encounter as dwarfs.

A lot of what we experience, I would put down to stigma and discrimination still being relatively acceptable to lots of people. The whole tone of the site is not supposed to be angry or ‘martyr-ish’, but relatively neutral, matter-of-fact and informative.

It’s to say: ‘these things happen, quite regularly. I just wanted you to know’.

Within the EveryDaySexism movement, there is a strong feeling of finally ‘shouting back’. Within EveryDayDwarfism it also feels like there is quite a lot of rage, is this an important element of responding to discrimination?

It depends what you mean by rage. Rage is very important but it needs to be channelled in the right way and used very carefully.

Leaving out abuse in the form of physical violence, I think when responding to discrimination it’s vital to ask oneself: ‘what is it that I want to achieve here?’ and, more importantly, ‘how will I get this person to change the way they think and act towards me and others like me’.

Can you tell us a bit about how you coped with the attention and discrimination before you started chronicling it on EveryDayDwarfism?

It really depends on two things: the type of abuse, attention or discrimination, and the intentions behind it.

Some abuse – e.g. an individual shouting insults from a moving car – is best left ignored. What can you achieve when they’re 100 metres down the road by the time they’ve finished their sentence?

Others – the attention from a small child for example – is normally fine; although, as I wrote on the site, it’s often the reaction – or lack thereof – from the parents that is the most frustrating thing.

Some abuse though might manifest itself in the form of totally unprovoked physical violence or confrontation.

Have you been in contact with other dwarfs, how do they feel about EveryDayDwarfism? Do others relate to your experiences?

It’s very important that people don’t think that EveryDayDwarfism or my own experiences reflect those of other dwarfs; I can’t speak for them. Not even my partner.

However, I do know that lots of people like me experience such things – sometimes less so, sometimes more so.

If you had one message to the metaphorical guy in the street who tries to take a photo of you with his phone, what would it be?

Just stop, for a moment, and think: What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Why would you or your friends find that photo or film to be of any value or interest? What does that say about your character, as an adult, and how you think about and respond to people who are different? What if I was your brother, son or cousin? How would you see it then?

A bit of a long message!

You wrote for the Guardian about the portrayal of dwarfs in the media, do you see EveryDayDwarfism as an effort to counter some of that through the illustration of agency?

Not really, no. Sadly, but also deliberately, EveryDayDwarfism documents some of the negative things that happen. And in this way, there is a negative tone to the blog.

What I was trying to say in the article you mention was that there needs to be more boring, regular, neutral representation of dwarfism in the media – weather reporters, Masterchef contestants, Question Time panelists, kids on CBBC – whatever.

Basically, more portrayals of dwarfism that do not limit that person’s identity to ‘a dwarf’ but reflects what they really are: a citizen, a parent, a doctor or lawyer, a voter, someone with views, ideas, etc.

What has been the reaction of family and friends to EveryDayDwarfism, are they shocked to hear of such day-to-day encounters? 

It was actually as a result of encouragement from friends to set up EveryDayDwarfism that I did.

Often friends have no idea of the things that I – and lots of others like me – encounter on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Some have even been in situations with me when there has been abuse or something happen. Quite often, they are absolutely shocked at the way some people behave. It’s not a question of going looking for abuse or discrimination – that’s not a productive or positive way to live – it’s that, a lot of the time, this stuff finds youseeks you out, interrupts your day, your evening, when you’re just trying to live your life. And that’s what I wanted people to realise.

www.everydaydwarfism.tumblr.com/
www.twitter.com/aneverydaydwarf

1 Comment

Filed under Bath, Interview, Media, Politics, Social comment

The incarcerated nomad

A global nomad,
a no-man belonging nowhere,
desperately trying to escape,
another concrete landscape,
to  avoid another urban jail,
to speak through a medium,
other than posted airmail,
from one job,
to  another,
a quick meet and greet later,
a latte with a filofax,
income tax,
money back,
staring,
dreaming,
scheming,
to try and get the sack,
a sack back on his back,
so he can turn his back,
on this concrete jail,
push his boat out to sail,
He wants to rest his head on a new shore,
rest assured that he can actually rest,
where the air gives credit to the phrase,
take a breather,
this global nomad wants to go,
to another land, another place,
to escape the 9-5 rat race,
to sit back and take it at his own pace,
the impossibility of this though,
just goes to show his predicament,
and so, he is too often found,
in the bars, incarcerated, exasperated,
knowing nothing will see him set sail,
and let him escape his latest urban jail.

Leave a comment

Filed under Social comment, Spoken Word