Social responsibility in photos

Through a College research grant and with support from our Diversity Plus Team, I have been able to commission a photographer to take photos illustrating social responsibility at Bradford College, and make the photos into posters.

This builds on the internal reports I have written over the last year, but it is still a tall order: how do you take photos that show social responsibility?

We have aimed to get a mix of the amazing diversity of activity, and to focus on group shots. Social responsibility often happens when people come together – staff and students, community members, partners. We asked people to look at the camera, and the result is an exhibition of nearly 30 images which is being displayed in different parts of the College.

I hope you enjoy the images (if you hover over the bottom right hand corner of each slide, you’ll see an arrow that lets you move through the presentation. Otherwise, lower down, there are Scribd’s control buttons):

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Walking gets ethical: Bradford College and the Global Corporate Challenge

GCC-participant-globe2More than 260,000 people, in teams of seven, aiming to walk 10,000 steps a day each from May to September 2013.

More than 1,200 employers involved, with staff walking in 158 different countries.

A website – available in twelve different languages – that sends you on a virtual journey as you and your team members pool your steps, giving encouragement and advice onphysical activity and nutrition.

This is the annual Global Corporate Challenge® (GCC), and Bradford College is taking part for the second year running. The goal is better mental and physical health and improved engagement, productivity and team-working.

As one of the College walkers, I am having a great time.

The GCC’s European office happens to be in North Leeds, so I went to meet Senior Account Manager Stephanie Griffiths to find out about the Challenge and discuss some of the ethics issues.

Stephanie Griffiths with her GCC accelerometer.

Stephanie Griffiths with her GCC accelerometer.

Stephanie explained that GCC was set up in 2004 by an Australian ad agency. One of the agency’s clients wanted a wellbeing programme for all of their staff, and turned to the agency for help with a creative solution which would engage their employees. That’s when walking became the central focus: “It’s so straightforward,” Stephanie says. “Nearly anyone can walk. Many activity programmes appeal only to the converted. This is for everyone.”

The figures tell the story: the scheme is now truly a global concern, and remains very inclusive. “The GCC encompasses different forms of mobility,” Stephanie says. “Everyone used to be issued with a pedometer, but this year we’ve introduce an ‘accelerometer’, which measures almost any significant movement in any direction. So if you are into kayaking you can wear it on your arm. If you are in a wheelchair you can use the accelerometer, or an odometer which measures distance.

“For some people, managing a few thousand steps a day is a major achievement. For others, the challenge gets them hitting a very high step count. It works for everyone, whatever your level.”

The big ethics question that my team members at College sometimes discuss is whether people are being honest when they enter the steps. On the website there is a ranking of all the teams, and those at the top have individual members who regularly clock up 50,000 steps a day – this is incredibly high, and some teams are very competitive.

GCCPulsePackStephanie describes the checking procedures: “Anyone entering a particularly high step entry is asked to give a short account of how they achieved it. We check in part because sometimes people make mistakes – it’s easy to add an extra digit and not realise. We also ask for information if someone suddenly spikes when they have had fairly low step counts before, or if someone’s entries are very erratic.

“But there is no cash prize, no fixed reward for being the team that walks furthest,” Stephanie adds. “You are challenging yourself to improve, and if you cheat, really you cheat yourself.” The number of reports of possible cheating are very low.

“People participate in the programme  as employees: employers expect honesty, and we find that most people are very honest,” Stephanie says. “There’s the team factor as well: other people are walking with you, encouraging you – they can usually tell what step count is realistic for you. And the employer gets the statistics for their teams, so that’s another point of review.”

GCC is a private organisation, and companies pay per team to take part. The same fee applies to businesses, public services and charities. “In a few cases, businesses subsidise the scheme or pay only for the lower paid staff, with higher salaried workers covering their own costs. But the great majority of organisations pay for their staff to take part because it brings so many benefits and fits with social responsibility goals.”

Another ethics issue that comes up, Stephanie says, is security. The GCC website is clearly designed by professionals – it is colourful, interactive and very engaging. Psychologists and other health and wellbeing experts have helped with the development of the Challenge and the GCC site to maximise the benefits and encourage lasting behavioural change. “A lot of data is entered and it’s important that the information individuals and employers enter is secure,” Stephanie says. In addition, step counts can be kept private to the individual and their employer. “Your colleagues on the scheme, and other organisations taking part, do not have to know your count if you don’t want them to.”

There is a strong charitable component to the Challenge, which is linked to UNICEF. “Through the Challenge we are raising funds for UNICEF water filtration projects,” Stephanie says. “Each dollar donated by a walker or employer will be matched by GCC.” Last year was the final year in a three year scheme that enabled some 380,000 primary school children to undertake a shorter walking challenge at no cost to parents, school or government. GCC has a Corporate Social Responsibility strategy of its own, with an emphasis on ethical procurement and managing environmental impact. All the staff at the Leeds office are wearing accelerometers and clocking up steps.

GCC_lozFinally: Stephanie’s role is to work with organisationsin Europe, the Middle East and Africa, encouraging them to take part, helping them through the process, and  – when feasible – attending the celebrations that take place on completion of the Challenge.

My verdict: I am not someone who goes to the gym. I drive to work, where mostly I sit at a desk. But for two years running I have had the pleasure of being part of a Bradford College team and walking a lot, far more than I would normally. So I have to finish by saying that I am hugely impressed. The physical and mental benefits of the scheme are very clear to me. Thank you Bradford College and my team, and thank you Stephanie for the interview.

College catering: students, staff and the ethics of what we eat

Bradford College runs a number of catering and hospitality courses: they are practical and popular, with numbers rising rapidly both in further and higher education.

Our catering staff and students also run two restaurants and a café on the College campus, open to everyone. They provide catering for events of all sizes, mostly in the College. This gives the students some great hands-on experience, and helps generate some revenue for the catering courses.

IMG_1127Aidan James (pictured above) is the College’s Restaurant Manager and Trainer. He has a degree and MPhil in catering management, and worked in the food and beverage industry before joining the College seven years ago to teach catering and manage our restaurants and cafes. He talked to me about the ethical issues that the catering team faces.

“It’s an exciting time,” Aidan says. “When our new £50 million eco-friendly building opens in September 2014, the main restaurant and cafeteria will be in the central entrance area, really well placed to welcome people in, and with lovely views of the new green area outside.” At the same time, Aidan explains, the additional College cafes which are currently run by an external contractor will all become College-run, giving the students more opportunities for valuable work experience and hopefully generating income for the College.

Food supply
Aidan says that the catering team have to balance a number of factors when sourcing food. “We want to stay local, so we lessen the fuel miles and help support local employment and business. We need value for money, so we can keep costs down for the College and our customers. And we want quality.

“So we tend to get our fresh fruit and veg from the wholesale market in St James’s, off Wakefield Road. Our meat comes in part from a local supplier, and from Sykes House Farm which provides high quality and is supportive to our students, who can visit their butchery department and slaughter house.”

Dry goods, wines and spirits mostly come from a large national company with a local depot, because of the good prices. “However, we are always reviewing this,” Aidan adds. “And we are about to switch to Fair Trade tea and coffee, and that will come from a Bradford company.”

Aidan explains that there are real risks in the food trade. “They include poor quality, passing off and adulterated food. So we want the students to be aware of the positive choices that can be made, and of the risks you need to be alert to. High standards are key. Once we are running all the College food and refreshment outlets we will have more buying clout, which will help us get quality produce at a reasonable price.

Grow your own
“The other area we hope to expand is getting the students and staff involved in growing food. We already have a small allotment, but with the new building there will be new opportunities. And we are next door to the University of Bradford which is doing a great job in this respect, so we hope to strengthen our links.”

Healthy eating and dietary requirements
“Eating healthy food is important – and new information and requirements are always emerging,” Aidan says. “This summer we’ve consulted with our customers who have special dieteray requirements to find out how we can better meet their needs.” The team are introducing a more flexible menu as a result. They are also looking at possibly having two main teaching kitchens in the new building, one halal and one non-halal.

“It’s a hard juggling act getting the menu right! In addition to ensuring meals are healthy and meet particular needs, we want to cover the curriculum, provide affordable food, be ethical, and minimise waste.”

Experience and enrichment
Aidan finishes by saying that another important goal is to give the students experience that widen their horizons. “We find opportunities for our students to meet the suppliers – most recently we went to visit a rhubarb farm in Tong, he says. “Also, the College is one of the main sponsors of the annual World Curry Festival, and our students volunteer to help run this each year as well as take part as contestants.” There has been a ‘food not waste‘ campaign, and now a team of staff and students provides an annual staff barbecue.

Aidan (at the back on the right) with catering students and staff.

Aidan (at the back on the right) with catering students and staff.

Finally, the team recently addressed the growing work load by taking on two catering apprentices, building in a range of work experience and training. They are ready for expansion!

Ian Brown: green solutions to waste and recycling at Bradford College and beyond

Ian Brown, left, with one of the Building Services and Green Solutions team.

Ian Brown, left, with one of the Building Services and Green Solutions team.

Ian Brown is Bradford College’s Building Services Manager. He has travelled from being a temporary porter to his current post: head of building services, responsible for 137 building supervisors, porters and cleaning staff across 14 College buildings.

And along the way he has transformed the College into a centre of recycling, restoring and re-use, improving our cleaning and porterage and setting up the College-based business Green Solutions to provide low cost services to organisations and individuals across 2013 finalist 300 dpiBradford. We are delighted and proud that Ian has been named as a finalist in this year’s prestigious Green Gown Awards.

The hub of all the activity is Garden Mills, a former textile mill conveniently situated at the lower end of the College campus, and close to the City Centre. A few years ago it was filled with rubble but, true to form, Ian and his team cleared it and transformed it into a viable facility, a base for Green Solutions and the College’s cleaning, porterage, storage, recycling and safe disposal services.

“I’m a working class kid done good,” Ian says. “I’ve been on the shop floor, and I never shy away from hard work. All my staff can see that, and we have a fantastic team spirit.”

Ian (on the far right) with members of the Building Services and Green Solutions team.

Ian (on the far right) with members of the Building Services and Green Solutions team.

Ian grew up in Outwood, Wakefield. He left school at the age of 16 with no qualifications:

“I was a tearaway – the dole office was next door and I just jumped over the fence and signed on as unemployed.” A series of short term jobs followed, including portering in hospitals and labouring on building sites. “The best thing was I always played lots of rugby at a decent level,” Ian explains. “But I didn’t settle so I went travelling overseas. I came back for just two months, got a portering job here at Bradford College – and it stuck!”

The manager who hired Ian to work at Bradford College clearly saw some potential: he was gradually given more responsibility, taking charge of big clear-outs and running the Junction Mills building. He started studying, and he wrote a book about Castleford rugby player Alan Hardisty. “I got lots of compliments for the book,” Ian says. “I can see now it was a time I was discovering and developing skills.”

Ian was made Head Porter, and gained a Diploma in Management Studies in the following year. The course was pivotal: he used it as an opportunity to re-assess the College cleaning and porterage service. “I found that the porters were handling a lot of the waste, which took time,” Ian says, “and then the College was paying for it to be taken away. I researched where the waste was going and what it cost us, and I realised we could reduce the College’s carbon footprint and help the College make a profit at the same time.”

His recommendations helped him become Building Services Manager. “And the environmental work all came from that,” Ian says. He is now continually exploring new ways to help improve the College’s environmental impact.

“I hate waste – waste of money, materials, resources, even operational processes. I like to stop and look at why we do things, and how we do them – are they quick and efficient? Do they avoid waste? It’s not about people losing jobs – if anything, you can have staff who have something in them but are stifled by a procedure. I like to give all the team training and opportunities, and as a result some of them go on to bigger things.”

Another important principal for Ian is reasonable pricing: Green Solutions offers a number of services free, and others at very competitive prices. “We want to cover our costs, and to generate surplus that can help us improve the College environment,” he says. “But it’s also important we get more people recycling and discovering the benefits of fixing and adapting what’s already here.”

Garden Mills: a hub for recycling, re-using, storage and environmental initiatives and courses.

Garden Mills: a hub for recycling, re-using, storage and environmental initiatives and courses.

Garden Mills is well worth a visit – Ian gives guided tours, and gives students work experience. The Bradford Bike Hub is in the building, a centre for bike purchases, repairs, meet-ups and more. Upstairs is the Sector Skills Academy for Environmental Technologies. Nearby is the allotment at Garden Mills, redeveloped through Ian supporting the College’s award-winning Students’ Union in its bid to the Student Eats and its Time to Grow project. Food grown on the allotment has been used in the College kitchens, and taken home by the student volunteers. Plans are afoot to develop the area further.

Ian has become a man with a strong vision for the College. He sums up his team’s approach: “We chase what some people think are lost causes, and we recycle and restore what’s useful.”

Interview and text by Ruth Wilson. Photos by Paula Solloway and Ruth Wilson.

The Green Solutions stats: August 2013

Customers
Retailers 32
Manufacturers 11
Restaurants 4
Large organisations and education institutions 10

Monthly recycling averages to end of July 2013
Card: 14762.5 kg per month
Paper: 13645.83 kg per month
Metal: 1517.583 kg per month
Plastic: 256.4167 kg per month
Average monthly income: £3,015.19 Per month

Furniture restore and reuse store (to April 2013)
Number of items of furniture reused: 8,774
Items sold at low cost to local businesses, community members, staff and students: 762
Landfill saving: 94,737 kg
Cost saving: £291,414

Sparking imaginations and saving energy: teaching environmental technologies at Bradford College

“The UK is a country that could face power shortages. We use more and more energy, and we don’t produce enough. Power is essential to our everyday way of life. That’s why the College has courses and initiatives to help people learn about alternative and sustainable technologies at work and at home.”

Barry Noble (centre) with apprentices and solar panels.

Barry Noble (centre) with apprentices and solar panels.

Barry Noble is one of the College’s passionate advocates for sustainable working and living. He grew up in Calderdale, leaving school to become an apprentice – working as a plumber and heating engineer installing boilers in textile mills and people’s homes. He gradually moved into teaching, starting at Bradford College in 1999, with a period at Burnley.

“I’ve always been involved in teaching and apprenticeships,” Barry says. “You start as an apprentice, you become a tradesman and you take on an apprentice – it’s a very sustainable model that’s been going for hundreds of years.” 

Most of the courses Barry teaches on provide training for apprentices and trades people and employees in construction and engineering, to help them upgrade their skills and get industry-recognised qualifications. “We were one of the very first National Skills Academies set up to promote renewable energy,” he explains. “We provide training in low carbon or zero carbon technologies where you use little or no manufactured power, and lowering the consumers energy bills, and working with the environment in mind.”

Fuel poverty is a key issue that Barry confronts. “If you spend more than ten per cent of your income after tax on energy, you are in fuel poverty,” he explains. “New technologies help to address this, providing fuel that is more affordable to ordinary people.”

fuel

Fuel poverty in the Leeds City Region. Bradford West, where the College is based, has a high ranking. (Data from Leeds City Region).

Bradford is built on wells and watercourses, used to power the textiles mills that grew up in the 19th century. “We need to return to using these natural resources to gain our power,” Barry says. “And we need more on a local level and scale.”

He gives the example of a mini hydro in Hebden Bridge, where an Archimedes screw set in the river is powering a café and retail outlet. Barry also speaks highly of heat pumps, a potentially greener way of heating homes. “As gas prices go up and the price of heat pumps gradually comes down, these will take off. People can come to us to learn about the  technology,  installation and maintenance requirements, and to make informed choices about what’s on offer.”

“We want to spark people’s imaginations as well as give them strong and solid skills,” Barry says. “For instance, plumbing is everywhere, from tiny pipes the size of a ballpoint pen in pharmaceuticals, to huge power stations steam pipework systems . Plumbing  has transformed  our quality of life.”

Barry explains how damp in a house – caused by poor plumbing and ventilation – can breed bacteria and lead to disease. He emphasises the importance of technologies serving to improve working conditions: one of his heroes is John Fielden, the 19th century mill-owner, innovator, MP and campaigner who fought for the introduction of the Ten Hour Act and other measures to improve the lives of mill workers and others.

The government’s efforts to improve energy sustainability face challenges. ”Leeds City Region is full of hard to treat old properties. Planners are opposed to external cladding, so all the upgrading has to be done inside, and that can be costly and be a large construction project. This has reduced the the demand for alternative technologies. But it is all waiting to happen.”

Bradford College 17th May 2013

Barry is involved in a number of outreach activities for the College. He is advising the Council on the use of photovoltaic panels, and Kirkgate Centre on energy usage in their community building. He has linked up with other local projects to help them promote or make use of alternative energy sources. The College also runs a two day environmental awareness course for anyone interested in sustainable technologies.

“We need to look at what can be done locally to improve the quality of life,” Barry says. “We can all switch off lights, we can all make less use of cars. My vision is that every learner at Bradford College should become aware of environmental issues that impact on the planet.  We should encourage our learners  to learn how to work better with natural environmental resources.”

interview and text: Ruth Wilson. Photos: Paula Solloway.

Supporting students who are deaf or hard of hearing

Bradford College has an unusually high number of deaf students.

There are two main reasons for this: firstly, there is a higher incidence of disability in general and deafness in particular in Bradford. Secondly the College has a very positive reputation as a place for deaf people to study and this attracts deaf students from across West Yorkshire and beyond. Most are aged 16 – 24, but there are students of all ages, with a number in their 60s and 70s. They include anyone whose hearing loss impacts on their studies.

I spoke to Learning Support Tutor Nicola Storey and Team Leader Chris Thornton to find out about their work and the ethics issues it raises.

Christopher Thornton and Nicola Storey, Bradford College Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team

Christopher Thornton and Nicola Storey, Bradford College Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team

Meeting Nicola and Chris
Nicola is a qualified teacher of the deaf – it is apparently very rare, and outstandingly good for a College to have a qualified teacher of the deaf. Nicola is just that, and in addition she has an MA in Deaf Education. Chris is a qualified note-taker, has trained in the use of technological aids, and has advanced qualifications in British Sign Language (BSL). Between them they have years of experience.

Nicola did not intentionally set out to work with the deaf – her interest and commitment has developed through years of working with deaf and hard of hearing students. “I was a student here, studying health and social care. I moved straight from that into being a support worker, helping students with special needs,” she says. Later, Nicola went to university in Hull to study social policy. She continued to work for the College in the holidays, and on graduating returned as a full time senior support worker. She had a spell lecturing in IT and basic skills, and then went on to do the MA.

For Chris, it began with having friends who were deaf. “For most people who learn sign language and work in this area, it starts because someone in your family is deaf. But not me. I grew up in Doncaster and for some reason my path seemed to cross with lots of deaf people. I remember playing football with deaf kids my age and experiencing the frustration of being unable to communicate. In my final years at school I went to Saturday classes and passed Level 1 and 2 BSL and did some work experience in a local college.” Chris started working aged 16, spending ten years in different areas of deaf education in Wakefield. He has worked at the College since 2010.

Some of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team (back row) with students (front row). Nicola and Chris are in the centre of the back row.

Some of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team (back row) with students (front row). Nicola and Chris are in the centre of the back row.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team
There is a team of 16 Communication Support Workers, supporting our deaf students.  They all have advanced sign language qualifications, and they are part of a wider team of some 70 staff providing learning support to students with disabilities. “The role is very diverse,” Nicola says. “You can be supporting someone understand when to use capital letters, and then be giving advanced support to someone doing research for a Masters. A support worker has to work across all subject areas, from basic skills to postgraduate level.”

British Sign Language is a relatively new language,” Chris explains. “Because there’s no literal word for word translation from English to BSL, and with the range of courses we do here, often we find ourselves working with the deaf student to  devise new signs as the need arises. This is the beauty of our team – we are so lucky to have people at that level.”

In addition, some of our students have weak  English language skills – signing is their first language, and English may be an emerging third or fourth language. .

The service covers all education support needs relevant to the student’s course, and support sessions such as counselling if someone needs this. If a student wants to get involved in other areas of College life, those departments then set up the relevant support.

The ethics issues
“Confidentiality is essential,” Nicola says. “Complete translation is also key. You have to interpret everything, communicate an entire message – emotion, force, intention, message. That’s important to equal access, opportunity and treatment, and being heard and understood.”

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team only uses its trained and qualified support workers as for interpretation and support, and does not involve family, friends or volunteers as translators.

There are two ways in which deafness is defined. One is a medical one, where deafness is a physical impairment or loss of hearing. The other is cultural, where people identify themselves as members of a deaf community, and view this as positive.

“Its big D and little d,” says Chris, “with the Deaf community claiming a capital D. We have both kinds of students – those who do not particularly identify themselves as Deaf tend to be people who’s loss of hearing has started later in life.”

The team does not make judgements on this, and they work across a continuum of hearing loss. Students are required to have medical evidence confirming their disability if they want support, but otherwise it is for the individual to decide how they define and perceive their deafness.

“There is an on-going debate,” Chris says, “as to whether deaf students are better off in a dedicated school for the deaf, or whether they should be integrated into mainstream education. That discussion is probably not going to be resolved, and there are benefits on both sides. I guess we are all working here because we believe students should be able to attend a College and have the chance to do well.”

The hard work has results….
The proof is in the pudding: apparently our deaf students often do well, through their own hard work and with the highly professional College support. One recent student came straight from school on a Level 1 IT course and now has a degree in business administration. Another, Neelam Hussain, is winning lots of awards and competitions as a hairdressing student, including a Rising Star award in the recent Oscar-style FE awards ceremony held annually by the college.

Its great to meet Nicola and Chris and find out all this. Repeatedly in this blog, interviewees are demonstrated the active and considered ways in which the College works to provide opportunity and a positive experience for anyone wanting to study. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team is integral to this.

Bradfd_0108

Saying ‘cheese’: members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Team line up for a group photo.

photoLinks:

The Association of Community Support Workers

Bradford College runs classes in British Sign Language – see the community learning prospectus for more information. Neelam Hussain, the student mentioned above, is featured on the front cover of that newspaper style prospectus!

Training the trade unionists: Bradford College’s specialist centre

Bradford College hosts a Trade Union Studies Centre, running TUC courses for union representatives and members, from introductory and short courses to Level 3 Diplomas. Steve Davison runs the Centre, with a small staff of experienced lecturers.

I met up with Steve, to find out about the ethics behind the Centre. Steve himself has an interesting background, steeped in trade union activism.

Steve Davison at the Trade Union Studies Centre, Bradford College

Steve Davison at the Trade Union Studies Centre, Bradford College

Steve’s story:

“I started out in engineering, working in the Bradford District, and I joined an engineers’ union. I became shop steward, then factory convenor, and then I was chair of a group representing some 8,500 workers.

“But I got made redundant. Put on a blacklist, which was common then in engineering and construction and its still in the news today. It meant I went from one short job to another, all over the place.

“And then I got a call from the man running the Trade Union Centre here at Bradford College. I’d never taught before, but in those days what mattered was whether you had the direct experience.  Trade Union Reps need teachers who know what its like, and what are the issues that come up.”

Up to a few years ago, Steve was active at the highest levels in the trade unions. Through a series of mergers, he became president of AMICUS, with 1.2 million members. In that position, he was part of a delegation to create the first global trade union, called Workers Uniting, formed with the American and Canadian trade union, the USW. It has 800,000 members and is still going strong. AMICUS later merged with the TGW to form Unite. It had 1.5 million members, and Steve was Vice President.

Three years ago, he had a heart attack and his family persuaded him to step down national trade union activity. Steve reflects:

“It was great. I met President Morales of Bolivia, I addressed the Venezuelan Parliament. But the thing which has left the greatest impression of all was working in Bangladesh with the ship wreckers.

“The wreckers are men who work along the coast, salvaging debris from boats broken at sea. They get about 20p an hour, and its very dangerous: a worker is killed every week. We were there to help them unionise and through that try to improve working conditions. They were amazing men. I’ll never forget it.”

Trade Union Studies at Bradford College

Steve explains: “Bradford College has been a progressive College from the outset, and it set up the Trade Union Centre in the 1970s. The College is rooted in the community, and Bradford at that time had a large industrial workforce, which was unionised – in textiles, engineering, chemicals and the catalogue trade.”

There are about 70 Trade Union training centres across the UK, with several in Yorkshire. “Our Centre remains popular,” Steve says, “but we don’t have the numbers of students that we used to get. There’s a threefold challenge: the absolute decline of manufacturing, engineering and textiles; the deterioration of Bradford city; and the rise of Leeds as the undisputed centre of West Yorkshire. That all impacts on employment, and has led to a huge decline in union members and therefore union reps.

“There is no longer a national solution, especially to the problems of work and jobs. The decisions about whether people in Bradford work or not are made in the US, Brussels, Delhi and Beijing. So we offer here the practical courses people need to advise and negotiate for their members, to help them gain or maintain a fair wage and decent conditions of work, and we also have a global focus.”

The Union Reps attend on day release. “The right to time off for Union training was established by Harold Wilson in the 1970s,” Steve says, “and it has stuck. No subsequent government has tried to dismantle it. It is in the interests of the employer to have an educated workforce with whom they can dialogue, with an understanding of the legal framework.”

Moreover, the training is free. “The right to this training is important: for labour relations and fair treatment, and also because for some reps it is an opening into education,” Steve adds. He explains that some reps go on to other study in the College, or elsewhere. “You can build up enough level 3 credits on our Diploma to start on a degree if you want. Sometimes there are people – women in particular – who’ve had little education and been out of the workforce, and they come to us and the world of education opens up for them. The College is therefore an important base for us, and it has always been very open, accessible and welcoming to our students.”

Steve2

Steve (on the right) with Trade Union Studies students and lecturers.

The trade union ethic

“An important ethic for us is that of equal treatment,” Steve says. “It’s enshrined in our courses – equal rights, equal opportunities, and the celebration of diversity. The most powerful inequity is that of class, and the aim of the trade union movement is to challenge that by raising its members from poverty.

“At the same time, solidarity with others is a massive issue. Empathy. There’s the old Methodist phrase – you are your brothers’ keeper. You have a responsibility to the workforce and to the community. We encourage people to be active, to be part of communities and causes.

“Our actions have consequences, and that can be very complicated for a Trade Union Rep who has to balance the long and short term interests of the workforce, and decide when to compromise and when to stand firm. That’s why training, and contact with trainers and other Reps, is so important.”

Finishing with a film…

I ask Steve to recommend a film or two for anyone wanting insight into labour relations and trade unionism. He comes up with three:

Sprit of 45   –     Made in Dagenham   –   North Country

It’s a great way to plug a short course coming up in November that any Trade Union member can apply to join. Titled Contemporary Trade Unionism, it will look at how the labour movement changed Britain after World War 2. Its six Tuesdays evenings from 5 November, and maybe they will run it again for those of us busy on a Tuesday.

For more information about any of the Bradford College Trade Union coursesdownload the brochure: 122782 BC TUC Autumn 2013Final-1 or contact farhana Khan on 01274 436115, email f.khan@bradfordcollege.ac.uk

Text and photo: Ruth Wilson. Group photo: Paula Solloway.