From Westminster to Sheffield: Former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett talks to Stephane Lawes about her new role in the Steel City

After serving four years as Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett has moved up North to contest Labour’s long held seat in Sheffield Central. HNews’ Stephane Lawes caught up with the now prospective MP to discuss her objectives in Sheffield and her former role as Green Party leader.

 “I saw Sheffield and I saw its energy, excitement and I thought that’s a brilliant place to live and represent as an MP”

It is fair to suggest that The Green Party’s strength is often dismissed, they don’t seem to stand as tall as The Conservative or Labour Party on the political spectrum.

But this is changing, in the 2010 General Election the Greens’ won their first seat in Parliament representing Brighton Pavilion, a huge step for the party, who now hope to repeat this in Sheffield with Natalie Bennett.

Which begs the question; why Sheffield?

“I had done two terms as Green Party leader and I felt it was time to do something slightly different but something that was very much still full-time in the Green Party.

“I had also been looking to move out of London, I looked at Sheffield and I saw its energy levels, lots of pop up businesses, lots of start-up businesses, lots of energy and excitement. I thought that’s a brilliant place to live and an excellent place to represent as an MP.”

The former party leader talks about Sheffield with a sense of excitement and eagerness, she continues…

“Also a lot of students are here and famously it’s the city where most students stay after graduating from university so it’s clearly a great place where a lot of people choose to make their lives.”

So the Green Party are about to establish themselves in Sheffield, but do they have a history here?

“So Sheffield is a long time center of strength for the Green Party, we’ve currently got four councilors here representing wards that many student live in. We also got our third highest result in Sheffield Central in the 2015 General Elections.”

2015 saw the Greens’ Jillain Creasy secure 7,000 votes in Sheffield Central, finishing 2nd to Labour’s Paul Blomfield with 24,000 votes.

“An interesting thing that many people don’t know is that the Green Party, until 2015 had never finished second in a General Election steep so we have really set things up here with great possibilities.”

“Politics is something that everybody, particularly young people should do, rather than having done to them”

A major aspect of the Greens’ new presence in Sheffield is Bennett’s profile, as former party leader she has a global reputation. But her profile isn’t everything, I asked her how she plans on using her leadership experiences in Sheffield.

“I think that as Green Party leader, one of the things that wasn’t visible on a national scale was that I would travel all around the country. Doing this, I would see lots of really interesting and good things happening, one of the things that I do regularly and hope to carry on doing is linking up organizations. When I see a similar place doing something good then I advise people to be inspired by this.”

Surely the change from Party leader in London to prospective MP in Sheffield has been huge. So I ask Bennett what she think of her new role.

“In many ways it’s a great chance to get engaged with local issues and there’s a huge number of issues in Sheffield. It’s a place that does some things a lot better than London, for example one of the things we’ve been focusing on recently is Sheffield’s city of sanctuary image. Sheffield was the nation’s first city of sanctuary, welcoming refugees and has a very long tradition of doing this, so it’s a place where lots of people come together.”

Something that London and Sheffield share are their larger than average student populations. What will Bennett do to appeal to our student community in Sheffield?

“One of the things that has always been a big focus of mine is that politics is something that everybody, particularly young people should do, rather than having done to them.

“In terms of the Green Party and what we offer students. The very obvious thing is to say we believe passionately in zero university tuition fees, we believe in free universities and that’s because it’s a public good, the cost should be met by general taxation.”

“There’s also the issue of the nature of our schooling system, they’ve been turned into exam factories, pupils shoved through exam after exam after exam. The vision we have of an education for life not just for exams, is something that appeals to lots of young people and their experiences of life.”

And finally, as well as appealing to our students, what will Bennett do to make Sheffield greener?

“Just this morning we launched ‘Let Sheffield breath’ and one of the things we’re focusing on is the issue of air pollution which is particularly acute in many parts of Sheffield.

“We need to do something to change this and that something is encouraging cycling, improving public transport and making it more affordable. We also need to look at cleaning Sheffield’s bus fleet, making sure taxi drivers have clean vehicles and importantly, we need to cut traffic.”

Natalie Bennett holds a lot of enthusiasm and passion for Sheffield, a city she hopes to modernize and clean up. On top of this she has a lot of time for the youth of Sheffield, inspiring many young people to get politically engaged and aims at reforming the education system, something important in a city of 60,000 students.

 

 

 

 

 

The Holt – the city centres hidden gem

I’ll be the first one to admit that the first dozen times walking along Arundel street, I didn’t notice the hidden gem that is The Holt. Hiding among surrounding workshops and student flats, you wouldn’t think from the outside that it could be such a great place to hang out with friends or get lost in a good book for a few hours.

Walking in will fill you with a sense of calm. The quaint music and the quirky décor are welcoming and relaxing. The design of the place is certainly unique, with almost everything being recycled or second hand. It makes for a lovely setting as you enjoy some of the best tea and coffee in Sheffield.

 

Second-hand couches fresh from the set of ‘This is England’ and ceiling decorations give off a cool vibe to the place. Hanging above you is seemingly everything from light bulbs to carnations, plant pots and even a bicycle. Empty bottles and bean bag chairs, not to mention the funky artwork give this place a cosy ambience and a quirky feel.
Once sat down, you can fully appreciate the wonderful decor as you take notice of all the magical little features around you. What’s even more impressive than The Holt’s intriguing interior, is their menu. They boast a fine selection of teas and coffees, as well as interesting sandwiches and soup.

Two personal favourites of mine have been their ‘Fully Monty’ breakfast tea along with some very heart-warming ‘Roast Spicy Parsnip Soup’, served with coriander and fresh bread.

What made my tea and soup taste even better, is the fact that almost everything they prepare is locally sourced. Coffee beans are roasted on site, their tea comes from Birdhouse Tea company, as well as their milk being freshly delivered daily, from their cow Molly in Dungworth.

 

In terms of customer service, the staff were wonderful! So wonderful in fact, I even got a chance to talk with the owner, Gareth, who took time out his work to tell me a little bit about The Holt.

Not even a year old, The Holt was based on Cafe’s seen in Germany. “The Holt was inspired by some of the places in Berlin”, Gareth told me. “We liked the way they used industrial spaces to hang out”

Having always dreamed of running a cafe, Gareth and his partner Jess designed the place themselves. The couple regularly host exhibitions supporting local artists as well as selling amateur photography. “We set it up to have somewhere to call our own and enjoy being”

All in all, I would definitely recommend visiting The Holt when you are next have a gap in your day and you’re around city campus. It’s certainly worth the visit! Great Tea, great food and a cosy atmosphere! Don’t miss it!

10 things you never realised you’d learn at uni

You came to university expecting to leave with a good degree, a small village-worth of multinational friends and the mental capability to take on any profession you desire. You naturally thought that once you were at uni you pretty much had your life together.

You are now at uni, eating spaghetti hoops from a mug and wondering if your parents would disown you if you dropped out tomorrow.

But wait– before you drown in a soup of self-pity and vodka – remember that you will (probably) finish university with a degree but that’s not all you’ll have to show for the last three years.

Here are 10 things you hadn’t even REALISED you’d learnt whilst being at uni:

  1. How to get on with almost anyone.

This seems obvious, but think, how many different types of people have you met because of uni? How fewer people would you know right now if you hadn’t bothered applying in the first place? You pretty much learn how to make a connection with almost anyone you meet. And this is a priceless skill. You shouldn’t undermine it.

  1. The true meaning of “I have no money”

Now, this sounds negative but it’s not. At uni, having no money is pretty depressing because you REALLY don’t have any money. In fact, you might (will) be in negative figures. Yes, Santander lives for these mind games. However, having no money will make you appreciate it so much more when you finally have some; that £20 large domino’s pizza was totally worth it. This will stay with you when you’re older too; you’ll value your earnings much more.

  1. How to cook without killing everyone:

This is always a plus. Unless you have a fetish for microwave meals or starvation, cooking is a pretty crucial skill. I mean, if you don’t learn to cook whilst at uni, when will you? It’s the perfect time to learn because everyone else is either learning too or lives off pukka pies. And to be honest, pukka pies are not ok.

  1. That adults are basically little kids with wine:

A realisation that can be difficult. I blame lecturers.

  1. How important tea/coffee is:

Before I came to uni I thought these two were mere drinks to be enjoyed with friends or with breakfast. I now know that coffee is life and motivation in liquid form. It is the liquid from the Fountain of Youth and has powers beyond anything you could imagine. If there is no coffee available in a morning, this means you are unavailable to interact with other beings. These hot beverages have serious implications.

  1. Not all alcohol is OK:

Previously, the phrase “free shots” was music to your drunken ears. Now, you know that if you consume said free shot there’s a 50/50 chance you won’t live to tell the tale. Or you’ll just be really sick – again. Either one is possible.

  1. How to work a washing machine:

Don’t even try to tell me you knew how to work one before. Washing machines are complex creatures. It takes a good year at university to learn it’s ways and how to use one.

  1. Exercise is such a good idea:

Exercise makes you fit in every sense of the word. It really does. You feel better, you look better, you even think better. Exercise is your best friend at uni (a friend that gives you muscle cramp and asthma attacks). This point is debatable within some groups of uni students.

  1. General housekeeping:

OK, so you might not be a domestic god/goddess. But you know when to take the bin out before it starts to smell like someone’s died. Or, not to light your cigarette using the toaster. Or, how bleach kills everything it touches. You even know how to get the hair out of the shower plug hole without throwing up.

  1. You get to know yourself a bit better:

Coming to uni lets you learn more about yourself. You know which drink makes you drunk-text your ex. You know your favourite way of chilling out after a long day. You’ve learnt that if you want a nice cup of tea, you have to make it yourself. Seriously, you can’t trust anyone with that sh*t.

So, next time you’re sat in your 9 am thinking, “what am I doing here”, remember everything you’ve learnt because of being at university. Even if it’s something as little as not lighting a cig on a toaster. All this knowledge is useful.

In the iconic words of the crazed warthog and his equally disturbing friend Pumba, “Hakuna-Matata” (said whilst living in a warm jungle free from student loans and gas bills)

Have a nice year.

 

It’s not fees that cripple students, its rent.

By the end of 2016 British graduates were leaving university with more debt that our American counterparts! Doing a degree is enormously expensive in this country, yet tuition fees aren’t what are breaking the students back, its rent.

Recently, I interviewed former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg where we discussed issues facing young people, and he agreed with my assessment.

“Probably the most important thing in my view which is particularly important, which has penalised the young more than anything else, more than the way they get benefits, more than – dare I say it – the way we fund education, is housing.”

Without mentioning the irony of discussing Nick Clegg and non-tuition fee-based student debt in the same article – dare I say it – he does have a point.

In November the IFS pointed out how young people have been bearing the brunt of stagnant wage growth since the financial crash, with living standards in the age group falling 7%. At the same time rents keep on getting higher.

Some student accommodations are charging as much as £300 per week for the benefit of living in a flat pack box smaller than your nans garden shed. On top of that, some of these places cannot even guarantee basic utilities such as disabled access.

I do a research degree and run the university paper, so I talk to a lot of students, and whenever money comes up no one ever talks about how much they’re paying in fees; all they do is talk about how much they’re being charged for rent.

It’s become an accepted norm that the ‘maintenance ‘ loan students are provided with to supposedly live off is just a pot of money to be taken by student accommodation providers from the day they start university, plus a few extra hundred quid from Mum and Dad.

Students aren’t taking this injustice sitting down, the recent success of the UCL rent strike and the rejection by students of the ‘Best Student Experience’ award hosted by Property Week, is just a couple of the examples of students protesting against the situation they are in.

I had the opportunity to talk to one of the judges who rejected the Property Week award, Laura, she said the decision was unanimous amongst the 10 student judges.

“When you have one provider charging over £300 ppw , another provider boasting about how much profit they make from students as a reason why they should win… A message needed to be sent to the companies and providers of student accommodation- you need to change!”

Doing a degree in the U.K is becoming less appealing by the minute, and this clearly is not on. All major political parties agree that it is good for the economy to have more people with degrees. But if the government is going to charge us some of the highest prices in the world to study, then surely they have an obligation to ensure we can afford to live.

Housing is a national issue, everyone knows that, but it is affecting the young the most, and when you choose to postpone seeking employment in order to enhance your career prospects you are going to at the mercy of the housing market.

The government has to respond, and its flimsy private sector initiatives to get the country building again are never going to work. It makes no commercial sense for a business to flood its market. The only way to build housing on the scale we need each year is through massive state run project. Only then can students – and young people in general – live decently away from their parents.

On this point Nick Clegg agreed with me, claiming housing was the only the only policy area he’s become more left wing on as he’s grown older.

“We need to be building 250,000-300,000 thousand homes every year for the next decade and I think that can only be done through very aggressive central government intervention and/or giving local authorities much more financial freedom to do it.”