Local resident, local campaigner, founder of Shakti Women, and Green Party candidate in both the recent Erdington by election and local elections, Siobhan Haper-Nunes talks to Erdington Local about her belief in social justice and how the Green Party are ‘not just about green spaces’.
“I am the proud daughter of two exceptional people. My parents met when my father left Guyana and came to England to further his education. My grandmother then ran a boarding house in Wheelers Road, they met and married and returned to Guyana with my brother.
“My father schooled himself as a boy, studying by candlelight to become the youngest pupil teacher at 9 years old. Over the course of 20 years, he went on to become the youngest headteacher and later was appointed Minister for Education.
“My father could recite all the great English poets and birthed my love of this country. My mother was the only daughter of an exceptional Irish woman, the 21st of 21 children, determined to give my mum a better life. Mum was a campaigning white woman who in Guyana became a journalist, writing about local community issues. She gave me my love of life, my eye for beauty and majesty, and together they birthed my interest in social justice.
“As a young woman all I cared about was fun. It was only after I had my son and returned to school, that my interest in society began to take shape. I studied social administration and took courses in comparative social policy, where I saw by looking at how things were done in other places, that there were sometimes more effective ways.
“I became addicted to research and landed two research fellowships, one at Birmingham and the other at Keele University. My first job at Birmingham City Council (BCC) was in the Crime and Community Safety team, looking at different ways to bring down crime in places like Handsworth, Aston, and Kingstanding. My role was to help community groups work up their bids for funding projects to make an impact.
“I was then transferred to BCC central and became the New Opportunities Fund (now Big Lottery) Officer. My role was to attract and manage external funding, I was also responsible for the Neighbourhood Renewal Budget and worked closely with local councillors to ensure these funds went to local groups.
“I saw more opportunities to empower local groups, so I wrote the blueprint for the External Funding Unit and was given £250k to set it up. My job was to bring all the national funders to the communities of Birmingham. I trained bid writers who were bringing in an average £3million in external funds to each ward we worked in, but many councillors did not see the benefits of money going to community groups, not ward budgets, and this small thinking frustrated me. After all my hard work I eventually experienced burnt out.
“I found myself attracted to green open spaces as they calmed my soul. I realised that life was not just about work, it was about quality of life, about the quality of our relationships, being connected to our community and feeling a sense of responsibility for the quality of our environment.
“I joined the Green Party because it epitomises my values. It’s not just about climate change and sustainability. It’s about a vision for a better way of life where social goods are valued more than consumer goods and people who provide them are rewarded. Where decisions are made not on traditional economics but on the principles of social and ecological justice.
“Yes, it worries me that we are doing things to the planet that are causing fatal climate change, but at a local level we are sometimes operating as if all people need is material goods. Our quality of life must be central to our decision making and that’s what the Greens stand for, that’s why we’re not just about green spaces but services such as health, education, social care.
“I want to see a stronger community fabric and have started working with a number of local groups to help them deliver on the projects which are important to them. I also want to help local people to strengthen their sense of community by setting up or growing their own local neighbourhood groups.
“The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of thinking where society is transformed for the benefit of all”.
To see the Green Party’s Core Values, visit www.policy.greenparty.org.uk/core-values