At the time of writing, I am 6 weeks into delivering a series of poetry workshops for Thrive Teesside on behalf of the Tees Women Poets. I had no idea when I began this project that it would affect me in the way it has. The workshops are titled ‘writing truth to power,’ and the focus is on ‘living in poverty,’ the wonderful diverse group of women involved have floored me with their astonishing honesty of what it’s like to be forgotten and invisible. In a time where the government’s choice is to further punish those already on the breadline, these women tell it how it is, and I range in my emotions from an immense sense of pride to absolute rage and despair.

What is it like to be poor? The powers that be like to think they know what we need, that reducing benefits and raising taxes for the lowest paid in our society is a necessary economic choice that will help people into work. What a joke – if only it was funny – except in the reality of its delivery it’s a cruel political choice. 

The workshops have explored all this, and the women, some with no writing experience, have produced poetry and stories that plainly contradict the politician’s promises of ‘levelling up,’ and ‘we’re in this together.’ These women, with the lived experience of poverty, say loud and clear – from this most deprived area of the UK – that the slogans so beloved of our politicians are meaningless and empty. They poured over the Conservative manifesto with their pledges to ‘put us first,’ and tore it apart, erasing the parts that have proved to be electioneering soundbites.

The workshops have definitive aims – to empower those who are powerless and to produce a body of work that reflects their lived experience of that. These women, these resilient, down to earth, extraordinary women, citizens of a country with a political system that devalues and dehumanises them at every opportunity, are using their voices and making their declarations known. They demand to be heard.

Julie Easley

Supported by Thirteen Group.