What if people who have directly faced poverty were involved in the decisions relating to addressing issues that keep people trapped in poverty?

This is the question we will be exploring to establish Hartlepool’s Poverty Truth Commission. 

Developing relationships encourages wisdom to be released. Real solutions to poverty can be found by working together. This approach can have profound and lasting effects on the people involved.

Poverty Truth Commission- An introduction.

The Black Civil Rights Movement in the USA would not have made progress had white people dominated its leadership. Similarly, the feminist movement would not have achieved what it has, had men been running the show. And so a movement to tackle poverty needs to have people who experience it at its heart if real change is to be achieved.

The Story to Date

From the Poverty Truth Commission Network website:

“In 2009, the first Poverty Truth Commission was launched in Scotland. Hosted by Faith in Community Scotland, it grew out of a belief that the wisdom, experience and understanding of people who struggled against poverty were vital in making decisions about poverty.

Word about the impact of the Poverty Truth Commission in Scotland soon spread. Something about this approach intrigued others and left them asking, ‘What if we did a Poverty Truth Commission around here?’

Between 2015 – 2020, 10 new locations hosted commissions and there are more on the way. Initially, the Network was incubated as part of Faith in Community Scotland. Then, in 2019, the Poverty Truth Network became a separate charity.”

The first phase: October 2023 – April 2024

We will primarily focus on building relationships and supporting a group of civic and business leaders and a group of Hartlepool people who have lived experiences of poverty and disadvantage. the two separate groups will spend time ‘getting to know each other’, develop their understanding of the values and components of a Poverty Truth Commission, and prepare for the launch of the Commission. This phase will continue for approximately six months.

Our First Meeting

Our first community commission meeting was held in November 2023. This was our first ‘getting to know you’ session and learning more about the Poverty Truth approach. We looked at some of Hartlepool’s statistics around Poverty and began to put a face and some meaning behind them.

Together, it was important for the group to understand how poverty can impact someone. We did a ‘Head, Heart and Hands’ exercise to look at how Poverty can affect someone, including their mental health and physical wellbeing.

The group divided into three groups to focus on different areas of the body:

Our Second Meeting

In December 2023, we held our second community commissioner’s gathering. During this session, we took some time to review our previous meeting, including some of the challenges that individuals living in poverty in Hartlepool are faced with. In this session, we collectively chose three issues to focus on which were bills, food and the cost of living crisis.

In three groups, we explored these issues in more detail, looking at how they might affect people, what people prioritise and how it impacts their lives. From what was discussed, the three groups began to write letters to a person in power i.e. Rishi Sunak or the Managing Director of Hartlepool Borough Council.

Our third meeting- 17th of January.

We have a growing number of people living in Hartlepool, taking the opportunity to use these Poverty Truth Commission meetings to articulate their lived experiences, issues and solutions to poverty and inequality within Hartlepool.

During this session, we started thinking about our Poverty Truth Commission launch event, what that would look like and how our members want to be represented. Members voiced that they want to make a lasting impact and impression on those who attend and want to show that people in Hartlepool are bigger than their poverty. We started thinking about unique and creative ways to represent lived experience voices and stories, including ideas like live music, theatrical performances and powerful testimonies. Commissioners want to utilise local talent and showcase the knowledge, skills and expertise that local people possess.

The hope is that this event is the start of lasting and meaningful partnerships between civic and business leaders and our community commissioners, to work together to look at local solutions to identified issues.

Our last few meetings

Over the last few months, the Hartlepool Poverty Truth Commissioners have been working hard to plan and rehearse the official launch of the Hartlepool Poverty Truth Commission, which is planned for the 15th of May 12-2:30pm at Ye Old Durham’s Social Club, St Aidans Street TS25 1SN. Commissioners have been eager and excited to showcase their own stories and the realities of living in Hartlepool. and struggling to get by. 

Commissioners have been working on telling their stories in a creative and unique way, they want to make an impact and show civic and business leaders that they are more than their poverty, they have skills, knowledge, expertise, they are hardworking, dedicated, and active members of society, who keep Hartlepool going. 

The launch will feature special performances, sketches, music, and art to highlight the stigmas surrounding Poverty, the lived experiences of living in Hartlepool and how people in the community can work alongside those with power and influence to start making positive changes in the borough. 

In the last few sessions at Greenbank, commissioners have been finalising the running agenda for the launch, selecting key speakers, rehearsing various activities, and preparing for the next steps following the launch event, as this will only be the start of the journey. 

Hartlepool Poverty Truth Commission – meeting with Civic and Business Leaders

Civic and business leaders within Hartlepool came together as part of Hartlepool’s Poverty Truth Commission. This collective gathering was an opportunity to hear about their expectations, answer any questions regarding the Poverty Truth approach and think about what they can offer the Commission.

There is a willingness to work collectively with people who have direct experiences of poverty within the town and together embark on a journey to fully understand the nature of poverty, gain a clearer understanding of some of the underlying issues that create poverty and explore creative ways of addressing them.

There is an interest in developing their understanding about how local responses to the issues faced can impact people’s lives and there is an appetite to work with people in the community to ensure local decisions have a positive impact.

Hartlepool Poverty Truth Commission: The Official Launch Event

On the 15th of May, Wednesday, we hosted the launch event for the Hartlepool Poverty Truth Commission. After six months of planning, dedicated Hartlepool community commissioners produced the launch to shed light on the realities of life in Hartlepool and the challenges faced by those living in poverty.

The second phase: May 2024 – April 2024

Thrive will facilitate an initial meeting to identify areas of work and establish working group arrangements. From April 2024 to April 2025, monthly commissioners’ meetings will be held to build relationships, support working groups, encourage one-to-one meetings, and plan a closing event. The goal is to embed the Poverty Truth approach.

May 2025

A closing event will be held to communicate the findings of the commission with the wider public. This will include the work carried out in the working groups and the effect that the process has had on commissioners.

Work may continue to help commissioners embed what they have learnt into their communities, organisations and institutions and through communicating the findings of the commission through annual events and reports.

Nothing About Us Without Us is For Us: The Poverty Truth Commission approach.

The Poverty Truth Commission is a unique and powerful way of developing new insights and initiatives to tackle poverty, developed in Glasgow and Leeds. The key principle behind a Poverty Truth Commission is that decisions about poverty must involve people who directly face poverty. Its uniqueness is derived from the fact that half of its members are people with senior roles in civic and business life in Hartlepool – and the other half are people with direct personal experience of what it is like to live in poverty in the area.  The process is a culmination of relationship building, fact-finding and deep thinking over 18 months between people with a direct experience of poverty and civic and business leaders within the Borough. The aim is to ensure that people who have experienced poverty first-hand are at the heart of how the Borough thinks and acts in tackling poverty and inequality.

Hartlepool people will be given the chance to relate their personal experiences of struggling against poverty, by creating safe spaces for people to talk about their experiences and offer opportunities for those making and influencing decisions to listen. It is hoped that the project will have a deepened understanding of the difficult and entrenched issues of poverty, improve perceptions and challenge stereotyping, and lead to better decision-making by the Boroughs leaders across business, public and voluntary sectors.

What could it do for Hartlepool?

Hartlepool is experiencing increasing inequality within the Borough. The Council faces huge challenges with continuous and sustained reductions to local authority and other public sector budgets, whilst at the same time demand for services continues to rise.

Despite the Government’s commitment to eradicating child poverty by 2020, millions of families in the UK are unable to heat homes, pay rent, or buy essentials for their children. The prevalence and impact of poverty on a local, regional and national level is continuing to rise, with the North East seeing the UK’s biggest increase in child poverty.

In recognition of this and the impact on family incomes of the pandemic, changes to national insurance levels and inflation, the Committee identified ‘Child and Family Poverty in Hartlepool’ as a critically important, crosscutting, priority issue for investigation.

This is an opportunity to explore what can be done to ensure that the wealth and opportunities that are being brought to the Borough provide real and lasting benefits to those experiencing entrenched poverty. It will seek to understand how can those who live with poverty daily become genuine stakeholders in shaping the future of Hartlepool.

The Poverty Truth Commission will provide a space for those who play key roles in civic and business life in the Borough to work alongside those whose voices and insights are rarely heard in seeking to find common solutions, over 18 months.