Green Bike Project wins £8000 National Lottery Funding

The Green Bike Project – a student led bicycle maintenance project at the University of Birmingham have this monday received £8000 of National Lottery funding to help set up their workshop on campus by the Learning Centre. Supporting the Green Bike Project both as a member and an officer was one of my main manifesto points and I’m incredibly glad that we have reached such a major milestone so early in the year.
A group of us have been working hard over summer to bring the idea of the first student cooperative on campus into reality, having skype meetings and meeting with allsorts of people. We received help and advice from the local Birmingham Bike Foundry, the Cooperative Developement Hub in Coventy. The project has been receiving support from all corners with the university investing £7700 into the premise over summer and the officer team signing off the purchase of a £900 toolkit as part of Community Action Officer Sean Farmelo’s manifesto pledge to help the Green Bike Project get off its feet, and support community projects.
The shop will be entirely separate from the Guild, as its own distinct business registered with the FSA and will be open to all members and run by its members. It will be fully democratic and run by a system of general meetings where everyone’s votes are counted equally.

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The premise is located in a shed between the Learning Centre and Biosciences building, and we are in the process of signing the tenancy agreement with the university for the space. After which we will be able to move in and start installing the furniture.
The Green Bike Project has the aim of increasing ridership on campus and creating a social hub for cyclists which will spread the idea of sustainable transport, and healthiness while reducing travel costs for students.
There will be tools and teaching available and volunteers at the project will help put on cycling related events and training.  The non profit organisation will also be selling refurbished bicycles at knock-down prices to help out students that need bikes but can’t afford them at retail prices.
The funding means the shop will be opening its doors imminently, it will also be able to hire a sessional worker to help get the project off the ground, providing  a meaningful part time job for someone in the community – something rare in the current economic climate. The group hold regular meetings and are reaching out for people to get involved in the setup of the shop. The next stage is to prepare for the grand opening of the shop! Facebook group can be searched for as ‘Green Bike Project’.

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8 months of police harrasment, finally behind me

Since the 15th of February, unknown to many of my friends I’ve been being pursued by the police and the university on spurious charges of assault that collapsed in court yesterday. I can’t describe the overwhelming feeling of this finally being over and I can’t thank my parents and certain friends enough for their support. It all began when I participated in a demonstration against a now famous injunction banning sit-ins on my campus http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/08/birmingham-university-high-court-injunction?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487, the injunction (which was condemed by Amnestly International, Liberty and Index on Censorship) has become since the subject on much enmity between students and the university. http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2011/12/birmingham-vice-chancellor-david-eastwood-should-resign/

I was wrongfully arrested on the charge of violent disorder, which was later changed to assault and subjected to six months of extreme stress. My trial finished yesterday with a Not Guilty verdict at Birmingham Magistrates court after major contradictions in prosectution testimonies and film footage showing me not assaulting anyone.

At the time a spokesperson for West Midlands Police made the claim that ‘a 20-year-old man from Edgbaston was arrested on 15th February on suspicion of assault after a security guard at the University sustained a broken foot.’, something which was later proved in court to be an outright lie, with no supporting medical documents. http://www.redbrick.me/2012/02/sabbs-split-over-protest/

The injunction was taken out by the University of Birmingham in a special High Court sitting costing upwards of £10,000 on Nov 25th to break up a peaceful anti fees sit-in taking place in abandoned gatehouse on the edge of campus. During the occupation a colleague of mine, Simon Furse, was assaulted by a security guard http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2011/12/disciplined-by-birmingham-university-because-i-was-assaulted/ and a university disciplinary was brought against him.

Given the national outcry against the injunction and its attack on freedom of expression; the implications it might have had for other universities across the country and the disgraceful treatment of Simon Furse by a maniacal university management; a national demo was called by NCAFC, Defend the Right to Protest and the Education Activist Network and backed by the NUS for the day of Simon Furse’s disciplinary. The Guild of Students, my students union, later pledged its support for the march.

On the day of the march we successfully disrupted Simon’s disciplinary and then gathered by the students union for speeches and the march. We ignored the illegitmate A to B route unilaterally imposed by Guild and University management days before and instead marched around campus on our own route. During the march I helped keep a door open at the back of a building on campus, we were unsucessful in keeping it open as a security guard slammed shut the door on my foot crushing it and causing me to scream out in pain.

My foot was eventually released and the march continued and held a succesfull sit-in in the corporate management suite of the university. When the sit-in finished and exited the building we found the police attempting to arrest a protestor I didn’t know. After being talked to they agreed to have him come in for questioning tomorrow (with the threat of arrest if he didn’t).

While this was going on I naively approached a police officer standing off to the side and asked him why they weren’t going to arrest the security guard who crushed my foot in a door. The police officer asked for my name and said I was in the same position as the other man, and when I said ‘forget it’ and walked away he then forcefully arrested me. I had absolutely no idea why and was in deep shock as I was arrested, it was the first time anything like that had happened to me. There were around 30 witnesses crowding around as I was cuffed and dragged off to a police car. The officer later accused me of ‘struggling’ upon arrest which is wholly untrue, my mind was absolutely blank and I was too scared to struggle.

I was taken to Kings Heath police station and held for five hours in a cell. My charge was then changed to Violent Disorder, a particlarly scary and repressive piece of criminal law I’d learnt about in legal training put on by the Guild and that I’d read about in the Alfie Meadows case http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-13206792. It is a nasty New Labour invention that is often used as a catch all protestor offence and its vague description makes it very easy to convict non-violent people with. In my interview I answered ‘no comment’ and gave a prepared statement denying assault and violent disorder, following the advice of my lawyer. As if it were a practical joke the police accused me of assaulting a security guard and severly injuring his foot – the exact thing I initially said had happened to me!

When I was released into the cold February night without my hat, jumper, bag or shoes I was overjoyed to find a whole host of my friends waiting outside the station in solidarity. However there was a total lack of Guild presence, apparently their ‘duty of care’ doesn’t extend to giving any assistance whatsoever to their members who’ve been wrongfully arrested at a Guild-backed protest on campus. When I was in the police station, in my cell and asked which solicitor I wasn’t sure so I asked them to call the Guild and get in contact with an officer who I knew would be able to tell me which protest lawyers to go with – however no one in the whole building picked up, and after getting back home I found Guild officers had been on Facebook all day attacking the student protesters rather than helping me. My shock at seeing that a “student’s union” can abandon someone in such a dire situation is what motivated me to run for an officer position to change the institution for better.

My criminal case quickly became a farce, with my charge being changed multiple times and several other friends being taken in for questioning. I was in and out of the police station around seven times in the next two months for interviews and a botched identification process that later helped destroy the prosectution’s case. I was missing lectures, seminars due to the police appointments and was very stressed. I did very badly in my course around then and failed modules as a direct result of my treatment by the police. I felt unable to go to either the Guild or the University for help with my academic troubles as I was aware they were both in collaboration with the police over my case. However Guild Council did strongly condemn the university’s disciplinaries over the protest.

The trial was eventually scheduled for 1st of October. The main witness against me, the security guard who slammed my foor shut in the door, claimed in the witness box that I was the ‘ringleader of the stampers’ and that my ‘repeated and vigorous stamping’ had given him ligament damage and lasting back pains. I’m not the biggest man and I think it was becoming apparent to the judge that the claims I’d severly injured a bulky 6’5 security guard were spurious, especially given the fact my foot was propping open the door the entire incident so it would have been impossible for me to stamp on him. The defence footage filmed by a Green & Black Cross Legal Observor clearly showed me cowering away from the security guard and with my foot on the door, it didn’t show me jostling him or stamping on him, things he specifically claimed I did.

When it came to the verdict the judge dismissed the prosecution’s evidence against me due to the numerous contradictions in their witness testimony. A security guard who was said to have been “pushed” to the ground by students conceded in court that she had in fact fell over herself, and her witness statement saying she was wearing flat shoes was contradicted by photographs of her wearing high-heels. The security guard I allegedly assaulted had said I was wearing black pimsols, however the shoes presented by the police confiscated from me on the day were described as “green boots.” This security guard claimed to have identified me months later at an ID parade at the police station from his memory of the incident, however neglected to mention that he walks past a massive banner with my name and face on it on his way to work every day and later admitted that he already knew who I was from me being a public figure on campus.

But most importantly, video footage of the entire incident filmed by a legal observer contradicted many the main prosecution witnesses’ claims and clearly showed me not having assaulted him or anyone, and had in fact stood still backing away throughout the entire thing.

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With this incident now behind me, I’m looking forward to moving on with my studies and carrying on the fight for education and all public services, against privatisation, tution fees & cuts. Our movement increasingly effective and powerful as it is faces increasing pressure from the police, university and government who want to stop us. Activists shouldn’t be scared, we should get prepared. We need to be careful and get well aquainted with our legal rights as we face real danger from a police force that is systematically targeting political protestors. Although I have been foudn not guilty many other innocent protesters are falling victim to injustice such as Alfie Meadows and also the Fortnum & Mason occupiers http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/17/fortnum-mason-verdict-uk-uncut-protesters . I would strongly recommend activists attend or organise Green and Black Cross legal training sessions http://greenandblackcross.org/legal/keyadvice . The important thing is not get put off taking action despite all this I believe it is worth the risks and I hope see more actions taking place this year at the TUC national demo on october 20th http://afuturethatworks.org/ and NUS National Demonstration on November 21st http://anticuts.com/2012/06/27/tax-the-rich-to-fund-education-nus-calls-its-national-demo/ .

Knobbly Knees

Early on Saturday mornings if my not so trusty alarm clock manages to raise me from my slumbers you’ll find me moving my knobbly knees in two big loops around one of Birmingham’s finest green spaces (link beyond the bullring cannonhill park). Parkrun is a completely free 5 kilometre, officially timed race for ALL levels of abilities that happens in parks in 7 different countries! No matter how much running experience you have, all are welcome. Rain or shine there are always upwards of 70 people from all corners of Birmingham doing the weekly run, you’ll find runners doing the 5k in times from 17 minutes and up to 40. There are some people doing it in speedy lyrca and even a father who does the 5k with a pram and his spawn (the pair of them invariably take me over a few corners before the finish). Waking up at 8 to go for a run isn’t everyone Idea of a relaxing weekend, but it really does refresh you for the rest of the day and you can always lie in on Sunday.

Each Parkrun event is run entirely by volunteers who give their time freely to set up each event, time the runners, process the results and clear away afterwards. To assist the volunteers, Parkrun HQ provides the volunteers with computer equipment, timing devices, bar-code readers, signs and the web hosting of the results.
To keep the whole event free there is a small element of corporate sponsorship, but this is kept to a quick shout-out at the start or the occasional freebie. On the whole the only time you think about companies whilst on Parkrun is the smugness you get when jogging past the British Military Fitness people and being certain that you are getting a better, freer and less shouty workout than them.
If you arrive in time for the speech at the beginning (around 8.55) you’ll see people being congratulated and cheered on for exceptional volunteering and for their running achievements. The rules and the route are clearly explained for newcomers of which there are always a number and then everyone walks down to the start of the run. The atmosphere is always positive and non competitive, there is never any pressure and if you aren’t feeling it you can just stop running and your time won’t even be recorded or show up on your account. It is easy to strike up a conversation after the run with people in the queue to get your time – or if you have breath to spare on the run. During first year I found going on Parkrun every week gave me one way of escaping from what becomes the monotonous bubble of The Vale/ University/ Broad Street and being around people who are actually from Birmingham. It would be great to see more students from the University interacting with locals and volunteering or running Parkrun is a prime way in which to do so.

Below are the details for the Freshers Parkrun event James Hughes the Vice President of Sports and I are organising for after freshers fortnight. If you aren’t a fresher you are certainly welcome to come along as well. Parkrun happens every week so even if you can’t make the 6th do register yourself, print out the barcodes and come along another week when you are free. Additionally check the national website to see if your local city has a Parkrun, most do and its great fun trying to force your family along on a weekend run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun Freshers’ Detox’
Date: 6th October
Meeting points/venues: Entrance to University train station (8am), Entrance to Elgar Court (8.15am), Tennis Courts entrance (8.15am) and Victoria Halls entrance.
There will be a marshal in a fluorescent jacket at each meeting point to guide you down to Cannon Hill Park
Simply sign up online via http://www.parkrun.org.uk/cannon-hill/home, print off the barcode that will be emailed to you and turn up at your chosen meeting point

More of a Union.

Hello I’m Sean. I’ll be the Community Action Officer for the next year.

Since being elected one of the most common questions I’ve had to answer is ‘what exactly is the Community Action Officer then?’. I’m hoping that by the end of the year I will be able to point to a number of succesful groups, projects and events which will do a much better job of explaining the worth of having an Union Officer dedicated to ‘community action’.

Anyhow the general thrust of my manifesto and the reasoning behind it is that, as I said in my very short election speech – it would be great if the Guild could become a Union next year.

Currently the Guild provides a number of exemplrary services but there is little tying the strands together. I believe that if we want the Guild to be an organisation that can really stand up for its members when necessary and has tangible bargaining power its members need to be fully invested in it. I’d hope that over the next year, rather than just going to the Guild for rock climbing or Fab or what have you, more people will come to see the Guild as their organisation that they can use to help them achieve big goals that they couldn’t achieve by themselves. Whether this is because their society takes part in a big event In the local area or because they become more involved in the policitcal running of the guild it doesn’t matter.

The end goal is for the Guild to become less of a student experience department, less of well branded shop providing fun activities and good nights out. The end goal is for the Guild to become a Union that fully reflects the collective worth, power and interests of it varied membership.

Anyhow enough philosophical rambling.
I spent the time after getting trained in June and July working on a few on my manifesto points, I helped organise the Cooperative Corner at the stupendous Vale Festival. The corner had a fair few brilliant organisations invovled that I’m sure you’ll hear a lot more about over the next year. One of those budding organisations is the Green Bike Project – Something I’ve been trying to get off the ground all year. The idea is that there would be a place on campus where people could bring their broken bikes and learn to fixes them back up. We would also take in donations of broken and abandoned bicycles, recycle them and sell or rent them back to the local community. The Green Bike Project would be set up as a cooperative, a democratic business owned by all of its volunteer members with any profits it made from selling parts or bicycles being plowed back into making the organisation bigger and better. We hope to organise cultural events, maintenance workshops and cycling tours of the local area, and become a central part of the cycling community in the Univeristy of Birmingham and Selly Oak.

After a year of networking and talking to people myself and Tom Wragg and other members had a number of successful meetings with the University, the Guild and the Cooperative Development Hub in June and July. These took us from the point of despondency to one where we have a room, a lovely professional toolkit provided by our very own Guild of Students (after the uninamous support of the outgoing sabbatical team – something pretty uncommon) and will, touch wood, be opening up shop in September at the start of the academic year. The business of setting up a business is no small feat and quite a few of us were working almost full time to try and getting various funding applications in place and the work is still going on in earnest. I’ll definitely be talking about the GBP properly in a later blog.

I’ve also begun talks with the Guild financial team and the VPDR to see how we move the Guilds long term investments away from HSBC and into ethical banks. The companies that members money are invested in, however indirectly, should be inline with the Guilds beliefs and commintments and furthermore the Guild also has policy for ethical banking so this is hopefully something that can be achieved over the next year.

In my next blog I will talk about how I thought officer training went and where I benefited and the agreements, sentriments and friendships that came out of it. Amongst them was the general agreement between non sabbs and (sabbs?) that GOG (guild officer group meeting) should be held fortnightly and that public meetings such as GOG and SOG (similar to GOG but with only sabbatical officers holding voting rights) should be publicised and transparent so that people can attend.

Incendentally if there is ever an award for the most exotic bloging location for the officer blogs, I think I’m in with a fighting chance – this was tapped out on the Cauvery Express, an overnight sleeper train from Myesore To Chennai in India.

Until next time.