Monthly Archives: September 2012

Little Coat – Big Coat

What are you doing this weekend? If you’re in Manchester tomorrow (Saturday), pop into the Arndale and do some good.

One of my favourite things about winter is zipping my son into his warm winter coat (actually, he tends to do that himself these days, but you know what I mean…) There’s a certain glow from knowing that your child is warm and cosy – and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably guilty of taking that for granted.

Manchester isn’t known for its tropical climate, so a decent winter coat is a necessity for anyone living here. Unfortunately, it’s not a given for many children in the city. Last week, the M.E.N. reported that 42 per cent of children in Manchester are living in poverty – that’s twice the national average. The way the Government is going, the situation isn’t going to improve any time soon.

The Wood Street Mission has been helping local families for over 140 years. Last year, they helped 9,300 children living in poverty. Project Little Coat / Big Coat aims to collect coats in perfect condition for children whose parents or carers can’t afford to buy them new ones. It’s a simple idea: just take a pre-loved coat to fit a child or young adult to Halle Square in the Arndale tomorrow. As well as the knowledge that your child’s old coat is going to someone who really deserves it, you’ll get a voucher entitling you to 20% off a new coat at selected Arndale shops. So, if you’ve got any too-tiny coats kicking around under the stairs, you know what to do. Find out more about the Little Coat – Big Coat appeal here.

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Simple Things

Sunday morning and Tom and I are sitting in the swathes of clothes that litter the inside of our tent. It’s lashing it down outside, the walls are quivering and drops of condensation are being rattled on to our ‘bed’.

Last night was Primal Scream and thanks to the help of a team of friends strong enough to shoulder Tom, he got a perfect view of Bobby and almost as much attention. It’s the last day of the magnificent Festival Number 6 in magical Portmeirion, there are a hundred amazing things to see and do and I don’t think we can move for a bit. I could do with the Portaloo, but I just stuck my head out of the tent and got smacked by sideways sheets. We do need to leave the tent at some point, but I’m worried it will fly off into the estuary. We’ll just sit tight, until things calm down a bit, then go out and see what’s happening. I flick through the programme, spoilt for choice by the tantalising music, talks and parties in spectacular places. Tom is eating a piece of squashed bread, wrapped around a rubbery cheese slice the colour of Barbie. Balancing precariously on his long-johnned lap is a tin of cold baked beans.

“Ah,” he sighs, dipping the bread into the beans and catching the drips on the lid, “This is the life.”

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No Pets, No DSS, No Single Parents

“Mum, it’s beautiful!” Tom said, as we approached our new house.

And it was.

Finally: south of the city, within budget and best of all, a garden. One of my pet hates is when letting agents market two-up-two-downs in Chorlton as cottages (£850 a month, anyone?) but this did actually feel like a cottage. And it wasn’t in Chorlton, but I’d probably end up getting eco ennui if I lived there anyway.

“I want it,” I said, as we stepped through the door into a room full of sunlight.

Ten minutes later, the fees were in the agency’s bank account, the lady at the office was congratulating me and Tom was choosing his bedroom. Never mind the people who arrived to look at it as we were leaving: it was ours.

Except it wasn’t.

Three days later, I received a call from the agency:

“The landlady has decided she doesn’t want children in there.”

“I’ve only got one child.”

“I know, we’ve tried but she just says no children.”

“He’s nearly seven. What does she think he’s going to do – draw on the walls?”

“Sorry. You haven’t handed in your notice on your current house, have you?”

“No,” I’d been too busy, thank goodness, “Why is this happening?”

“Sorry. She just wants two working professionals.”

We’d already been through this: I contacted the agency initially to ask if I could have a cat in there – and they were more interested in what humans would be moving in. After I told them it would just be me and my son, they said that sorry, the landlady would only accept two working professionals. I pleaded with the agent, offering a guarantor, references and pay slips and suddenly, they were ‘pleased to tell me’ the landlady would let us look around.

Lucky us.

When the news had sunk in, I called the agency back to sort out the refund of the fees. This time, I got a man:

“I just don’t understand why she let us look around then changed her mind.”

“Yeah it’s not discrimination or anything like that,” he said, before I’d even mentioned the word, “All it is is that she’s got some concerns about the safety of the property and outside the property that make it unsuitable for a child.”

“But she knew I had a child. What concerns?”

“Obviously, these are just some concerns she has.”

“What sort of concerns?” Holes in the roof? Local doggers? A poltergeist?

“Obviously,” (no, it’s not obvious) “these are just some concerns she has. It’s for her own conscience, really.”

I checked the website when I got home and the house had gone. Someone had got it, just not us.

Luckily, Tom’s easy-going. “She sounds nasty, Mum. It’s a good job we didn’t move into her house anyway.”

I suspect the landlady hadn’t decided that she didn’t want a child in her property; she had decided that she didn’t want a single mother in her property.

I’d forgotten all this: when Tom was a toddler, I thought I’d be stuck in Mum’s house forever. Following one viewing, I called a landlady to tell her I was interested and she said “Right. Well, you don’t choose us, we choose you. So we’ll let you know if you’ve been successful.” (She never called back.)

On another occasion, a landlord of a ‘student flat suitable for families’, advertised through the university laughed at me: “How can you be studying if you have a baby? Sorry, this flat is not for you.”

This is not the 1950s: single parents are not excluded like they used to be, but the discrimination is still there, subtle. Single parents cannot just find their perfect home, pay the deposit and move in – mysterious force fields seem to see to that. For those who claim Housing Benefit, things are even harder. Moving house wasn’t something we desperately needed to do, but for many it is. You’re not as susceptible to the prejudice when you’re lucky enough to have an education and a job – but neither are you completely immune.

If you’re my landlord and you’re reading this (unlikely, but you have just offered to have the whole house professionally painted) we’re not going anywhere. Turns out getting Tom into a new school would have been incredibly difficult – and he’s happy where he is. And we’re very lucky to have a landlord who trusts us, never comes round, sends a repair man the second anything goes wrong and lets us have a cat. Thanks. I’ll keep making this our home and paying my rent on time, every month, just like I have been doing for the past five years.

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