Monthly Archives: September 2020

Research Bulletin, September 2020

Hi all,

Well, it’s a strange world for us all at the moment. Here’s my monthly update in case there’s anything new here that might help or be of interest to you.

1. Becky Fields’ autobiography

Becky Fields is a pen-name for legal reasons of a disabled woman who was systematically abused for years as a child and young adult by her mother. Before she died she wrote her story of that abuse and how she managed to escape it to live independently, and despite many safeguarding errors including by social services staff. Becky’s manuscript found its way to me and now it is published.

– SILENT NO LONGER, Becky Fields, 2020. ( ISBN 978 1913 1481 02 ) Free online and £4.99 as a paperback.

“I cannot say that I have felt much like a warrior whilst writing this book. I have shed many tears and had to set the book aside for weeks on end to give my heart a break from reliving the awfulness that was part of my early life. Yet, like a true warrior, I did see my task through to the end. I cannot say what will become of my efforts. But if this book helps anyone or even make one person think a little about what we, as a society, must do to put an end to this terrible crime, then it will have been worthwhile.”

2. Television

BBC Two have commissioned two TV production companies to make programmes on the history of disabled people’s campaigning. Both stop in 1995 with the (flawed) Disability Discrimination Act; I guess because the BBC want to avoid anything in the last 25 years that might be politically controversial, which is a shame and gap that others need to fill.

The first programme will be a drama-documentary based on the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) in the early 1990s. And the second programme will take a wider look at campaigning, starting around 1900. I’ve been sending the researchers at both companies various summaries and publications in case they help with accuracy.

3. Campaign interviews

There is a very interesting new kid on the research block, an organisation that is planning to safely interview disabled campaigners. I can’t say more at this stage, but hopefully there will be a public launch soon.

4. Plans

Manchester is a vibrant hub for anyone interested in the political histories of disabled people. Three examples:

– a – Plans are underway for an exciting range of online contributions on the International Day of Disabled People, 3 December, focussed on the Central Library with support from Manchester City Council.

– b – The People’s History Museum in Manchester is making plans for a substantial exhibition with disabled people under the banner, “Nothing About Us Without Us”.

– c – The DigiFest organised by Manchester Histories to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alf Morris MP’s landmark law – the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 – drew a lot of interest and comment, mostly positive.

5. Park House

Within the NHS there is an archaic proposal for a new large locked mental health hospital to be built in north Manchester to serve a massive area. Unfortunately it has some political support at the moment because it is one of the government’s promised “new 40 hospitals” and few politicians want to criticise that openly at the moment, unfortunately.

So, a campaign is underway led by the Hearing Voices Network based in Hulme at the Niamos Radical Arts Centre ( M15 5EU ) to get the planned locked mega-hospital abandoned and instead to use the money to build up genuine community-based mental health services across the city and beyond, which I support.

Some of the Archives+ materials from the Manchester Mind Collection from 1970 to 1990 have proved useful in showing how community-based mental health services are the only effective way forward, something we have known for some time now. Much better than people in distress being taken miles to be locked up, away from families, friends and communities, and only to be discharged later with a bus ticket, a box of tablets and precious little community-based support.

Stay safe,


Research Bulletins back copies:

PS – if you’re interested in climate change and transport, there are details of some ideas for new electric battery trains instead of diesel on my website.

Electric Battery Trains in 2021 with 60 miles range and 7 minutes recharge – doing the right thing

Imagine electric battery trains next year from Buxton to Manchester … and from Blackburn, Warrington, Sheffield, and more.

With the climate crisis facing us all, we know we need to reduce carbon emissions. Electric trains using overhead wires help us today by replacing diesel trains, but about a third of the network still has no overhead wires, mostly on rural and semi-rural lines. And it can take ten years to get new overhead wires added to one line, but we and our planet have run out of spare time.

Battery trains today can have a range of 60 miles and a recharge time of 7 minutes. This innovation allows for the necessary rapid transition to an all-electric railway. This will also bring air quality improvements, not least in our inner cities around main stations and lines.

However, while we already have the technology we still too often collectively fail to deliver the changes we know we need. This article hopefully suggests some ways forward, for discussion but mostly with the purpose of assisting action.

The idea of battery trains is not new. There are examples of services running in Ireland in the 1930s and in Scotland in the 1950s. Of course, battery technology has changed since then but the fundamentals are the same.

Currently there are various projects and initiatives for battery trains on specific lines, such as from north Wales to the Wirral, and from Chester to Crewe. There is also a frankly crawling programme of adding overhead wires, such as in the Lakes District. But the nervous breakdown that the railways organisations suffered while trying to add overhead wires around Bolton and Preston is still an open wound.

So we need to consider a rapid and intensive programme of introducing battery trains across the network, and not just more time-buying projects.

From the outside it often seems that the rail system or family of organisations and stakeholders was deliberately designed to be self-sabotaging. The speeding up of rail connections east-west between the cities across the north, sometimes called HS3 or the Crossrail of the North, has a government minister having to hold regular meetings, chasing progress, fixing misunderstandings and such, basically unblocking the drains.

A title like HS4 or CrossRail of the North for the rapid introduction of battery trains doesn’t quite work, but the political and organisational context is much the same, maybe worse given the wider number of local authority stakeholders.

In my days working at the North West regional development agency there was a phrase only ever used internally and at select frustrating moments, to differentiate between the rarer environmental programmes that led to real change, and some other ineffective initiatives which were “di*king about”. Harsh but true, and self-aware.

So, battery trains at pace and at scale in the UK rail family outside of London – a massive challenge to all of us.

Imagine a train station next to a church yard and bin store which needs some extra land for a transformer to recharge the trains. Imagine the parish council, the church trustees, Network Rail, the train operator, Highways England, the county council, sitting around a table in good faith. And shaking hands on a land swap – we have your old bins area, and we give you this other unused area for a new remembrance garden or whatever. And a photo of everyone for the local paper.

Frankly this would normally take months, if not years. Surveys, feasibility studies, reports, consultations, funding requests, sometimes appointing a programme director. Funding is then earmarked from control period ninety-nine.

Of course there is still a place for pilot projects. The hydrogen fuel cell enthusiasts deserve their chance. The tri-mode and quad-mode train lobbies similarly.

I’m still keen on reviving the Regional Eurostars, in case anyone is interested, business case on request.

But none of this should stop us electrifying the railways at scale and at pace – action this day. Better for the planet to do now and ask forgiveness, than to wait another day.