Day 2 - Thursday 20 April

Writing this blog post just after 10pm in the Rising Brook Baptist Church Centre, with my comrade 7-day walkers, drivers, and the film-maker with us for tonight and tomorrow, scattered around, talking over the day’s events, drinking tea, catching up with emails. A warm and supportive vibe is developing with each mile we walk together. Another 15 miles today, from Wolverhampton to Penkridge.

Another fantastic morning rally, on St Peters Square by Wolverhampton Civic Centre, where we were welcomed first by Julian Levitt, chair of the BASW Black Country branch and then by Wolverhampton Councillor, Mike Hardacre, who made a strong speech looking forward to the forthcoming election, which he said would be fought on the streets, and we are “going to be not just on the streets but on the roads, powering forwards, making a real difference”. Next up was David Gowar, of Impact - the service user and carer group at Worcester University - who spoke so powerfully and movingly, relating specific instances of how austerity measures had harmed fellow Impact members (anticipating and connecting with the showing of I, Daniel Blake at the end of our day).

A wonderful moment happened when Allison from BASW Cymru began reading out the Day 1 poem by our Poet Austeriat, Peter Unwin, which she was reading from my iPhone, to find the text suddenly obscured by a phone call. Answering the phone I found it was the Chief Social Worker from Northern Ireland, Sean Holland, who had phoned to offer words of support and encouragement, which I was able to repeat to the appreciative crowd, possibly the first live link-up between Northern Ireland and a rally on the Wolverhampton Civic Centre Piazza.

The climax was once again provided by a Birmingham Conservatoire music student, Dani Blanco Albert, whose piece A Blast for Boot Out Austerity was played at the opening rally, Dani had us all being the percussion section to his trumpet playing, and we were sent off in style once again.

The walk was a long and straight one, all the way from Wolverhampton to Stafford via the A449, with lunch at Dobbie’s Garden Centre in Gailey, where we were met by Sarah Moore, a social worker celebrating her 60th birthday by walking with us from Gailey to Penkridge together with her husband Pete. Just before we left the garden centre cafe we sang a rousing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Sarah, then walked out of the garden centre, singing Angi’s ‘From Birmingham to Liverpool, Twenty Seventeen, We’ll march for the rights of those who cannot fight, Boot out austerity’. The first protest march in Dobbie’s Garden Centre (probably).

Walking on to Penkridge, I had a phone call from Claire Donnelly of the Wigan Pier 2017 Project - it’s 80 years since the publication of The Road To Wigan Pier. I learned that we were walking in great footsteps. On 11th February 1936, George Orwell, on his journey north, had walked from Wolverhampton to Penkridge, and wrote about it in his diary:

“… took bus to Wolverhampton, wandered about slummy parts of Wolverhampton for awhile, then had lunch and walked 10 miles to Penkridge. … Walk from W’ton to Penkridge very dull and raining all the way. Villa-civilization stretches almost unbroken between the two towns. In Penkridge about 4.30 halted for a cup of tea… About 5.15 left and walked another couple of miles, then caught bus the remaining 4 miles to Stafford…had a bath, after which I find myself very footsore.”

We suspected that our walk was duller, as there was no villa-civilisation on the A449 dual carriageway. And I don’t think we are so footsore, as yet anyway.

We have been looked after really well at the Rising Brook Church, by Susan Myatt, one of the ministers here. The evening meeting consisted of a showing of I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s powerful film, following the Day 2 theme of benefit cuts and welfare reform, followed by a discussion, and then the final music of the day, Angi singing two verses of the song she’d written after first seeing the film, a version of A Soul Cake:

The food bank, the food bank
Standing in line at the food bank
Last year a builder this year a beggar
Terrified to open the Atos letter

The food bank, the food bank
Standing in line at the food bank
Last year a name this year a number
Welfare safeguards out of the winder.

Guy Shennan, BASW Chair