The 100 mile walk to Boot Out Austerity began today in great style. It had been exciting to read various tweets and emails the previous evening that showed the walkers converging on Birmingham from different parts of the country, and exciting too to receive messages of support and encouragement from all over the world, including Ireland, Spain, Canada, Poland and Romania.
We gathered at Wellesley House on Waterloo Street, soon to be BASW’s new head office, and as people were arriving we were treated to some fine political songs by Dave and Tim from the Banner Theatre, joined on some by one of the ‘7-day walkers’, Angi Naylor.
This might have been the moment that Angi first unveiled her song that soon all the walkers would be singing loudly along to: “From Birmingham to Liverpool, in 2017/We’ll march for the right with those that cannot fight, to Boot Out Austerity!”
By the time the speeches started we had a good crowd, who listened first to Ruth Stark, President of the International Federation of Social Workers, who have played a leading role in the social work campaigns against austerity, who with her good wishes added a bag of gifts for the walkers, including a Spanish Orange Tide t-shirt, a vest from the Korean disability rights campaigners who’d protested so powerfully at last year’s world social work conference in Seoul, and some Swiss chocolate from the IFSW HQ.
Ruth Allen, BASW CEO, spoke on behalf of the BASW staff team, some of whom joined us on the first day’s walking, and one of whom, Steph, is with us the whole way, tweeting and filming and playing an all-round documenting role. Clare Vas of the BASW Birmingham & Solihull branch fittingly gave us their good wishes, as the first few miles were to be through the streets of Birmingham, and Angi spoke on behalf of the Social Workers Union, who are also supporting the walk.
Then we had two speakers talking on housing and homelessness, today’s themes, first Glyn Robbins of the Axe The Housing Act Campaign and the Unite Housing Workers Branch, who are supporting the march, and then Shirley Mallon, former social worker and a Trustee with the Birmingham Christmas Shelter - powerful words from both, and we will post a summary on the website later.
Then we marched! Jon leading and Angi the back marker - and in the morning 28 more walkers in between. I am told we were also joined by the youngest walker at some point, a 6 year old (with his parent), who coined the chant: “No ifs no buts no social work cuts!”
We stopped at the Sandwell Council House for lunch, where after a photo shoot with the Express & Star, we were met b two Sandwell Councillors, one of whom, Councillor Preet Gill, is also a social work manager. They took photos and later tweeted their welcome support.
The twittersphere was buzzing by this point, with BASW staff providing the telling and terrible statistics about the effects of cuts on children and families; and the disability rights campaigner and Guardian journalist, Dr Frances Ryan, tweeting her support.
We stepped up the pace in the afternoon, Jon leading us on a force march through to Bilston, where we had a welcome break at Beldray House and were provided with drinks and snacks by the Wolverhampton Care Leavers Team. Thank you!
The last stretch was a doddle after that - well, not really, as the first blisters started to threaten. A few of us stopped to have our photo taken outside Noddy’s Bar, which I assume is owned by Noddy Holder.
And we arrived in St Peter’s Square before the planned time of 5.30pm. A successful day’s walking.
We then took part in the evening meeting organised by the Black Country branch on social work and austerity, where it was an honour to talk alongside Bob Williams-Findlay of Disabled People Against Cuts. More on that later too.
But bed now and Stafford tomorrow!
Guy Shennan, BASW Chair