A-Door-A-Day Photo-Campaign 2018 with Bradford Civic Society

A-Door-A-Day Photo-Campaign 2018 with Bradford Civic Society

November is upon us and Winter is coming in Bradford as it is much of the Northern hemisphere. As we return to the curled-up positions as dark envelops our days and the cold sets in, it is a momentous time for reflection and reminiscing on the good things we have in our lives.

And if you’re fortunate enough to be a Bradfordian, no amount of family drama or work stress need get in the way of having a mindful moment with your city, and in this spirit, I have collaborated with the Bradford Civic Society to launch this month the A Door A Day campaign – designed to bring us together and appreciate the great entryways that Bradford has hiding away, but also in plain sight.

How is this going to work?

To add a sprinkle of fun to the reverie this campaign is also a competition, a photo competition to be exact and the best entry (heh) will receive one of the highly-prized Bradford Civic Society pins that you can proudly sport upon your breast or trilby or whatever.

The rules are simple: Your entries are limited to one photo per day for each individual, but you can use all the platforms Bradford Civic Society use i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You must @ them in and use the hashtag #ADoorADay to be in the running. The photo must be of a door within the Bradford and District area, and you must also provide a description of the location of the door, street name ideally but area is also fine in addition to the building name if it has one.

Bradford Civic Society will be liking and retweeting notable door photographs throughout the month and will announce an overall winner on the 1st of December. Remember we’re looking for some really great door homages so don’t be afraid to get creative and get off your usual beaten track to discover something new!

Why doors?

Bradford Civic Society are big on their buildings and spaces, and we as a city are very fortunate that so many of the beautiful ornate doorways of the Industrial era (and before and since) are so remarkably well preserved they deserve to be shouted about.

On a more symbolic level, doors are a poignant representation of change – be that the turn of the seasons and the dawning of the upcoming festival of light period (Diwali, Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, or Bodhi Day), or the personal metamorphosis of new relationships, business ventures, or changes in circumstance.

Doors provide us with the opportunity to walk through them and embrace the ambience of something a bit different but also the opportunity to walk away in the light that it is not yet your time or maybe it just isn’t worth it.

Whatever doors mean to you, for their aesthetic offerings and for their structural integrity they are something we take for granted but benefit a great deal from so the time has come to adore a door and get snapping: are you in or are you out?

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me on Twitter @bfdianfwrdian or Bradford Civic Society who can be reached via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @BradfordCivic .

Check out the Doors of Bradford page for featured entries throughout November!

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A Love Letter to Manjit’s Kitchen, and Street-food in General

A Love Letter to Manjit’s Kitchen, and Street-food in General

For those unfamiliar with Leeds you might not know what Trinity Kitchen is, but that’s where my ode to food this evening begins. The Trinity shopping centre, opened in 2013, provided a much-needed revamp for the retail polestar of Leeds and with it came this game-changing concept of Trinity Kitchen – a bare-boned, industrial-looking food court with anchored outlets alongside street-food vans which are literally craned up and heaved in through an open window on the top storey where the floor is based. Pretty interesting already, huh? It’s only the beginning!

The hipstery trend of opting for street-food over a sit-down meal in a restaurant has been in vogue for a while but has managed to maintain its acclaim where cereal cafes and avocado-everything has fallen down by the wayside. The reason for this in short is that it’s bloody good – good value for money and even better flavours. On top of that, remove the misery of standing out in the cold and wet whilst chomping on your gastronomical delight by hosting multiple small but ardent food businesses in a warm, dry and familiar location; you simply can’t go wrong. And it was there that I first discovered Manjit’s Kitchen.

I was fortunate to be there on opening night whilst writing for Culture Vultures so the balmy sensation of novelty from having the honour as a junior to attend a press event where I was to taste everything and all I had to do was have a natter about it was very much upon me. There, already in a pretty good mood and surrounded by some really cool people, I got my gob round a chilli paneer wrap and fell insatiably in love. Manjit’s offering was definitely the highlight as far as my tastebuds were concerned, amongst some pretty amazing food fare. She and her talented team are now famous for their thali plates which not only provide a supreme selection of authentic Indian cuisine but also offers some insight into cultural food norms that may literally have been foreign for some.

That wanting to bring people together and feed them for a fair price is something I’ve associated with Manjit’s Kitchen from the very beginning, and when the horsebox (yep that’s their food van of choice) disappeared at the end of its 6 week residency I was a bit devastated, although it did return on several occasions. They’ve now been based in Leeds Market for a while and I think that’s done them a world of good, both for their easily accessible location and also for their ability to immerse themselves in the community, acting as a positive force for stallholders and market-goers alike. You can also find them catering events for all kinds of occasions, again feeding off that wonderful energy that comes with celebration and delivering it back with the food that they produce.

Given their well-deserved popularity and with a national food award under their belt (BBC Food and Farming – Best Street Food/Takeaway), Manjit and company are ready to make that next step and are wanting to open a restaurant! Working from the ground up as they have always done, they’ve decided to crowdfund this project where their many devoted admirers can be part of its conception. The hearts and bellies of this community forming the bricks-and-mortar, together providing a stable hub for families, lovers, friends, colleagues and strangers to eat and laugh without having to adhere to the restrictions of landlords and red tape. It’s about time, and an exciting one at that – by using Kickstarter as a platform to raise the funds to make their dreams a reality it springboards the business to a much wider audience meaning much more people get to learn of its excellence.

For me, as a working-class vegan person, it is very important to me that people have access to great-tasting food, regardless of their budget or dietary requirements, prepared and provided by people with warmth and kindness. This is the sort of thing that comes as standard with Manjit’s Kitchen, and brought to fruition by a lady who really really knows her flavour combinations too, balancing richness and spice with freshness and subtle notes that surprise no matter how seasoned patrons may be of her food.

You can find out more about Manjit’s Kitchen on their website here, and after reading the above I truly hope I have convinced you to support the cause and help them to get their restaurant up and running – their Kickstarter page is here (make sure you watch the video!)

Mawwiage

Mawwiage

Weddings and marriage have been on the radar recently beginning with my first wedding anniversary followed by attending a wedding reception of some friends, and then also in the TV and movies I’ve been watching (e.g. The Bodyguard, Killing Eve, The Wife). So I thought I’d have a bit of a natter about it really because it’s such a multi-faceted thing is marriage, although probably its most prominent feature is the wedding itself. The legally binding rebirth of a relationship into its principal phase. This isn’t applicable for the lot of people who don’t even get married, and the chunk of those that don’t particularly have a relationship with the prospective partner prior to the wedding ceremony (no judgement coming from me), but as a relatively newly married person myself I can only really type from experience. I’d been with my now-husband for two and a half years before tying the knot which nowadays appears to be a touch controversial, in addition to the fact that I did it at 24, despite both marrying fairly quick and younger being commonplace only a generation back or so.

Why did I get married? Part of me feels like it was a bit of a cop-out decision as a progressive woman of the 21st century of no particular religious allegiance. However, a major motivation for going ahead and doing it anyway was the plain and simple romanticised allure sold to me by my parents and their generation of being on-the-whole very married, although I was aware of school peers whose parents were very divorced, it didn’t bother me back then and if anything made the concept more attractive because despite the split, kids seemingly just got double of everything as parental figures compete for affection and favour.

The second, slightly pathetic, motivating factor that convinced me that marriage should be a thing I commit to for my entire life was because of influential people in my life who were happily rocking it as a marital unit and demonstrating to me the potentiality of its long-term success: my nan and granddad, my husband’s grandparents…and Josh Tillman and Guy Garvey. I was and am a huge Father John Misty fan, particularly the I Love You, Honeybear album (the notable album of our courting phase), and frankly Elbow/Guy Garvey is pretty damn cool, so I can’t sit here and pretend like part of me wasn’t attempting to emulate the lives of people I admire but don’t remotely know on a personal level. Rationally speaking though, if constantly travelling and widely adored blokes can somehow maintain loving relationships, surely a highly needy and devoted homebody such as myself could pull it off?

Ultimately, the biggest factor that led to a piece of gold being permanently wrapped around my fourth digit is that the tart foolishly asked me to marry him six months into us dating whilst just having a cuddle in bed one morning in a spur-of-the-moment expression of tenderness. I hear that guys actually do this a lot without actually being serious about it which is…interesting, but unfortunately my other half didn’t know what he was dealing with and ever since he said it, I basically couldn’t let it go. You can’t unsay ‘Will you marry me?’ just as much as you can’t unsay ‘I love you’ or ‘I don’t understand Alan Partridge’. Thus, every six months or so, as regular as a dental receptionist calling to book your check-up and clean, I’d have the ol’ “soooo, you gonna propose properly thing so we can get married or what?” I should probably make it clear that my partner didn’t at any point regret this initial unceremonious proposition, he just hadn’t the foggiest as to how to go about it. Can’t say I blame him, the amount of effort (traditionally speaking) men have to go to to plan a proposal and buy the perfect ring is quite the ballache…it’s a rather silly convention when you think about it.

On the whole though I’m very pleased that we got married although I can’t comprehensively describe the feeling of being hitched itself, in response to the ‘how’s married life?’ question that pops up ever so frequently after initially becoming eternally bound in the eyes of the law because it doesn’t really change a thing or at least it didn’t for me. If you’ve got a strong and stable relationship (not in the Brexit sense) where communication, empathy and compromise reign supreme then you’re already onto a winner, with or without the rigmarole. In addition to the three muskateering motivators above, I did actually want to make a legitimate and sworn, and a bit of an expensive/difficult to undo promise to my partner to always be there for, and never give up on my dude so long as I live…so basically love-fuelled determination was the final nail in my unwedded coffin.

What being married does do however, is mature you by several years and at least in my case, people take you a whole lot more seriously. I couldn’t tell you why this is the case…maybe it’s the determination and commitment, characteristics that wouldn’t look untoward on a CV. I’m really not sure. It’s similar to being pregnant in the sense that as a deeply personal part of your life has become visibly obvious to the outside world it is apparently socially acceptable to take visible notice and make visible judgements about it. As soon as you say yes after the question is popped, suddenly the relationship previously happily enjoyed as a twosome must now accommodate everyone in your immediate familial and social circle as the eruption of tittering surrounding the wedding unfolds.

Fortunately (or not) for me, my family and friends of old are either estranged from me or literally too far away to get involved so that made planning the ceremony a whole lot simpler. As a big fan of balance, my husband and I decided to remove family and friends from the equation altogether, or as much as we could whilst remaining legally binding, and focus on what was important to us, which was each-other, food and having fun…and also not having any money. Our day featured getting an Uber to Bradford City Hall Registry Service, followed by a free Nandos and then watching the paradoxically harrowing Dunkirk at the Bradford Media Museum IMAX still dressed in our budget wedding day formal wear. For us, that was perfect, and the well-attended and splendid wedding I went to recently where our friends got married, was entirely perfect for them.

No matter how you do it, and hopefully you do do it how you want to, it is the marriage that is the proof in the pudding. The marriages of TV and film are often troubled and stifling but simply represent an arbitrary plot device used to counter the inner turmoil of the protagonist, and don’t at all reflect what a marriage or relationships in general have to offer for the parties of each individual union. In general, I’m a big fan of the convention for mostly superficial but also deeply personal reasons that don’t necessarily gel with my sociopolitical standpoint but the great thing about marriage, like any great convention society has to offer, is that it can be moulded to as you like it in which case could mean a whole lot of good times and a lifetime of happiness.

The Guilty Brain of an Autistic Hermit

The Guilty Brain of an Autistic Hermit

Right now I should be writing about the sensational Saltaire Festival – an annual event loaded with great food, music and other cultural delights. However, having spent Saturday morning crying loudly in a shallow and cold bath in the dark because I haven’t cracked immersion boilers yet, and tweeting about it (of course), I could barely bring myself to get out of the tub to put a towel round myself, never mind playing Bradford community reporter. I sort of succumbed to a feeling of eternal acute despair about not being able to relax with the precious little time off I have, after a less-than-ideal second week in a 9-till-5 office job. It left me desperate for comfort, the way a kid needs scooping up and stroking after they’ve fallen over and grazed their knee. Perhaps, previously, I would have even called my mum for reassurance but these days I just have me, and my husband within reason to provide that bespoke nurturance that my confusing noodle is in need of.

Following the despair that comes with being overwhelmed as I so frequently am, came a sense of determination to find something to do that would help my mood and also a sense of acceptance that I was in need of looking after myself and that is what I was going to do. Occasionally I got a pang of anxiety when I browsed social media in intervals to see that the festival was in full swing and I could have gone there with my camera and made a really beautiful feature out of it. But it wasn’t to be. And that was okay because I spent time on Skyrim instead which involved a lot of exploring in itself. I did unfortunately got severely lost in Blackreach though having been away from the game for so long, so I ended up creating a new game with myself as a literally cat lady, or Khajit as it’s known on there and doing incredibly childish things like jumping on top of feast tables in halls and knocking all the platters and goblets off, or squatting directly or behind NPC characters, confusing them immensely. Basically I had a right laugh and gave me that sense of fulfillment I felt great pressure for my Saturday to provide.

I suppose what I’m getting at here is that you have to know yourself, and what it is that you need to crawl out of holes if you ever find yourself in them. If you have anxiety as I do, symptomatic of my ASD, you may find yourself allegorically speaking six-feet-under layers and layers of catastrophising and self-loathing. And that doesn’t define us as terrible people or whatever, but neither should we be bound to follow the cookie-cutter advice of magazines, occupational health messages, Wiki-How guides or even friends and family for weaving an emotional rope ladder out of the pit. And by that I mean going outside and doing life-like activities, for pleasure or practical reasons, maintaining a regular sleep schedule sans-naps (the most egregious of tips), and healthy eating as defined by whoever offering the advice.

Granted, it is real graft-work to attain that emotional intelligence if you haven’t already, to give yourself the time to work out how you tick. Also, it can be really stressful not being able to comfortably ‘give it a go’, trying to fit in with how normies cope. It adds a whole new dimension to the aforementioned hole, not only are we to promptly climb out of it so as not to cause a scene and make ourselves homeless by lack of commitment to work, for example, but also we should ideally do it in a way that has a empirically-supported tick-box next to it, or has involved retail therapy in some way, in-line with Western World® standards of being.

Even writing this right now has triggered a crescendoing chorus of little disapproving voices in my head I’ve constructed as ‘dummy critics’ so to problem-solve my way out of any negative feedback (or lack of feedback at all), and steel myself from censure: Oh here we go, drama llama, back at it again with the woe-is-me. Mrs cannot and will not just shut up and read a book or something, little Ms cannot keep it in. In my most strongest Kath Day-Knight inner-voice I have to sternly answer back: Look at me Nathalie, look at m-look at me please, look at me. Now, I’ve got one thing to say to you Nathalie, emotions are dramatic. And you have a lot of them a lot of the time because autism, something you’re still not sure of how to work with at all. Everyone else aside, you’re allowed to take up space, you’re allowed to say how you feel, you mean well and if anyone has a problem with that then that is up to them. 

It’s all well and good having these rationalising retorts handy for when meltdowns are imminent but in practice it’s pretty paralysing and sometimes the most that can be managed in a comfy outfit, a cup of tea and hours of video-games or YouTube or whatever can be handled given the amount of remaining energy left for a particular day. And that is okay too. Even if we might feel guilty for not getting the exercise we should be getting, or for eating more biscuits than we probably should have had in one go, or having to let down the people around us in order to prioritise our minds, to reboot and continue trying to navigate life with at least a basic amount of functionality, is definitely worth the initial pangs of iniquity. For now may be the time of napping and being a potato (of loveliness) but eventually and in our own time we’ll be able to cocoon out of our domestic shells and explore with our cups refilled and anxieties quelled for the time-being at least.

Huzzah.

An Insider Glance into the New Geographies of Bradford

An Insider Glance into the New Geographies of Bradford

Yesterday, as a member of the Bradford Civic Society I attended a talk led by Dr. George Sheeran at the Jamiyat Tabligh-Ul-Islam Central Mosque but I got way more than I bargained for, in-fact it’s difficult to know where to start. So perhaps chronologically is easiest.

Firstly, walking into that mosque on a Saturday morning to come upon a selection of some of Bradford’s biggest and for the most-part whitest group of anoraks, to which I myself identify, was quite the sight to behold. However, graciously, we were invited to sit in the main prayer room by patron Zulfiqar Karim and listen to a recital in song of the Holy Qur’an by a man of Deen, a Hafiz scholar with the most hauntingly beautiful voice. I couldn’t tell you how much time past during this impassioned moment of reverence but throughout I was overcome with a transcendental sensation of peace – it was a tremendously humbling experience as a kafir person with little understanding of Muslim life. In addition to this treat, Zulfi explained some fundamental cultural tenets of Islam including dress and religious practice, but most importantly though he stressed a message of equality, that ‘in the eyes of God, we are all equal’.

Following this, skin still tingling from prayer, the group were led to an area where a presentation was set up, that put our being at the Central Mosque, and its architectural history, into context. We were in for the most scholastic of experiences with Dr. Sheeran, the now Honorary Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Bradford at the fore, who very clearly has given more than a few dozen lectures in his time on archaeological sciences and the like. The talk focused on that sense of place that feeds people’s identities but is also shaped by them – a fluid, ever-changing structure guided by the everyday rituals of its communities.

The areas that immediately surrounded the mosque of Westgate, Manningham Lane of Black Abbey and White Abbey, Sheeran detailed the contrast of living and influential impact in the 19th Century between affluent Scottish families that helped shape Peel Square in addition to the original Bradford Infirmary and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, and the Irish immigrant families who mostly lived in poverty but still managed to erect their own focal points, such as the Harp of Erin pub on Westend Street and St. Patrick’s Church on Sedgfield Terrace. However, he described, by the 1950’s these communities had long diminished but with the textile, engineering and iron-making industries still in full-swing, South Asian, primarily Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers, emigrated to Bradford upon invitation of Britain’s Nationality Act of 1948 to support the demand for labour. From then till now, these pioneers from the East have flourished and have not only altered the demographic make-up of the city but have also bolstered it. And this is the bit that really moves me.

From the 1970’s onwards industry in Bradford had been decimated by demand and competition from neighbouring cities and countries, leaving many areas impoverished and destitute. Nonetheless, the Asian communities of Bradford have actively supported the maintenance and development of our city ever since this happened and as a result are the very reason so many examples of stunning Victorian architecture are still standing in good nick today. This labour of love by our fellow Bradfordian Muslim brethren, which honours and respects this city, has too long been forgotten and taken for granted, especially by those of us fed and guided by narratives of ignorance and hatred. It is about time that their voice be heard having contributed so positively to this city for the best-part of 60 years.

Dr. Sheeran beautifully illustrated the plain old fact that cities change at a pace that people are not always comfortable with, although the maintenance, alteration, or removal of buildings and landscapes over time are always, actively defined by the everyday livelihoods and worldviews of the people living within them. The fact that in Bradford, people can much more easily than 50 years ago, physically wear their identities regardless of their global cultural origin, proudly and in full-view, is a credit to its diversity and although we are not the whole way there yet, this city acts as a sort-of prototype model of what a world-society looks like. The progress yet to come though, that offers such great hope for our future, needs to come about by a city-wide commitment to laden all of our neighbours and Bradfordian strangers with the same level respect we all deserve because can learn so much from each-other, and together can form an unassailable example of community to the envy of not only Yorkshire, or the UK, but the world too.

As we all know, the UK is up shit-creek without a paddle, and as individuals we have very little control over the mindless decisions made by the twits at the top. However, by unifying in our geographical identity as we already loosely do (any Bradfordian can recognise another one a mile off, regardless of what they look like if we’re honest) we stand a chance of surviving this colossal nonsense by focusing on what is truly important: friendship, food, and fun…and talking shite, probably. We are all equal AND Bradfordian under the eyes of God and fellow folk.

The Joy of Solo Adventuring

The Joy of Solo Adventuring

In the spirit of trying to be positive and with the last box of a hefty house-move ready to be unpacked I’ve tried to take scope of the more joyful aspects of everyday life and have hit upon something I have always enjoyed doing, going on an adventure entirely alone. With my impending fate in administrative work looming over me I can take some very real solace in that on weekends and the occasional day off through the week I can indulge in this special pastime. The magic of what is a two-part experience (adventuring and solitude) is that they continually reinforce and support each-other, making the experience all the more fun and worthwhile.

A lot of people, particularly women, don’t like doing stuff on their own whether that being going shopping for fun, or to the cinema, or for a walk in the countryside somewhere and I can totally understand that as there’s always the small chance you’ll get attacked by something, it’s good to have a witness or defender. Or perhaps it doesn’t take very long before you start feeling lonely and are pining for your nearest and dearest. But you’re still missing out in my humble opinion.

We’re enormously overstimulated these days as a species, mostly by technology, but if you think about it the main problem is actually other people – mostly under the social media umbrella. We are compelled to: always know what our friends and family are doing, scrutinise their holiday pictures and leave comments with a tone adjusted for written understanding, keep up with the joneses, stalk exes, get angry at politicians, bubble over with lust and or envy at people in the celebrity world.

We have full access to the entire planet with an internet connection and as social animals we’re practically drowning in it all. Maybe I’m just saying this as a grouchy Yorkshireman/Brit/Autie but prior to this sonic boom of social interaction, people get a bit much IRL. Whether its parents or kids, partners or peers, neighbours or care workers we all just want to be able to sometimes put up our peter pointer sausages and press them against the mouths of those talking at us, accompanied by an ear-splitting ‘SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH’, a sound you hope will echo across the universe so to allow you one bloody solid minute of tranquillity.

But you know who can trust not to gob off in your general direction? You! Unless you’re one of the few that love a good chat with yourself to the point where you cannot stop (although I fully recommend having an out-loud conversation with yourself occasionally by the way, it’s very grounding).

Hence, when you incorporate the nice alone quiet time with the novel stimuli of going to IKEA for example at the turn of the season, or visiting a museum you grew up near but never took the time to go, it’s a winner winner tofurky dinner (I’m sorry). I recently learned from a School of Life vid on extending your life that it is the cornucopia of new experiences in childhood that makes your youth, upon reflection, feel so rich and substantial in comparison to your modern ‘where did that year go?’ existence.

However, just because newness isn’t offered to you upon continual platters, doesn’t mean it isn’t yours for the taking. We’re just eenie weenie individual people, it’s impossible for us to do it all in our lifetime so we are absolutely spoilt in this department. The only problem is we have to be able to let go of this ‘next big thing’ mentality where we savour those things that get the biggest reaction from others the most. Nay I say!

The real beauty and wonder and magic in life comes by endeavouring to appreciate the minutiae that in the grand scheme of things account for diddly squat but specifically in your point of view makes you giggle as if you were lost in a feather duster factory. I think that that’s something we fail to account for on an everyday basis, our worldviews are entirely unique and shaped by our memories and experiences, and so the best way for you to enjoy your own life is for you discover it for yourself.

That’s not to say we can’t be given a helping hand with cues and suggestions for what might lead us to embark in our next adventure. If you’re lucky enough to be living in Bradford as I am, I would prescribe that you give yourself an hour to look up as you wander through the grand old streets of the city centre.

Architecture is something we very often take for granted but the level of care and detail that goes into designing and constructing those buildings is enough for it to be appreciated as if they were works of art, and Bradford is chock-a-block full of them! Beautiful buildings may not be your bag but there’s endless possibilities of stuff you can do to nurture yourself like you would a four-year-old on a day out – taking the time to organise and carry out a solo adventure is a real act of self-kindness as well as an enriching delight.

Therefore, let us go forth like Vikings with foam swords and endeavour to discover the world and ourselves. Be there for your ma and our da and your kids and your imam or whatever but also be there for you, it’s your life after all. Might as well live it adventurously.

Blokes and prison, part one – what a 14 year-old critical analysis has taught me about criminal reconviction rates

Blokes and prison, part one – what a 14 year-old critical analysis has taught me about criminal reconviction rates

I’m currently working my way through a series of books on crime, violence and recidivism or reoffending that I’ve quaintly named the ’12 Dissertation Disciples’ as I’m very much trusting in them to give me some kind of clue as to how to write the damn thing, although I’m truly hoping one of them doesn’t betray me in a majorly cruciferous way (I know that refers to a family of vegetables but I’m feeling it, okay). Anywho, one of these books is a study from 1994 by Charles Lloyd,  George Mair and Mike Hough and it basically looks at UK reconviction rates whilst at the same time taking a long hard look at how we measure such data and to what end.

They made a number of very interesting observations that should hopefully serve in my dissertation project, which will involve an evaluation of the effectiveness of a rehabilitation programme designed to desist criminal behaviour. The italicisation there is important because it would be erroneous to evaluate such a project for its effectiveness in its ability to reduce crime on the basis of reconviction rates alone…

Reconviction rate data are fundamentally flawed and crucial at the very same time. They are majorly important as a general indication of national and regional performance of policing, the courts and HMP institutions – increases in reconviction rates demonstrates that something is going wrong somewhere without being able to accurately distinguish the nuance behind its failings. It falls down for a number of reasons when used to determine criminal trends: numero uno is the fact that reconviction does not equal reoffence and therefore doesn’t reflect who, what or why causes the latter to occur (or reoccur), plus there’s a whole hierarchy of levels between committing an offence and actually being reconvicted, for a start you need to get caught, for instance.

Another issue with reconviction rates is that depending on what data you’re looking at, the definition of reconviction can differ! In some it simply refers to police involvement whilst in others it could refer to arrest, incarceration, or presentation in court. And on top of that, the purposes for convicting an individual in the first place can be motivated for a number of reasons not limited to simply trying to correct and prevent further naughtiness, for example as a means to ensure public safety or as a statement to make an example of an individual.

The choices made in a courtroom aren’t just reflective of the individual, but also of a society in a particular time and place as well as the specific legal team handling a case and making those decisions. Ultimately, the people responsible for maintaining law and order are just that, people, trying to make their best judgement. Nowadays with the help of much criminological and psychological research, it is not just the severity of a crime that’s considered when sentencing someone, they also look at that person’s context personally and socially – factors that are crucial for deciding the appropriate sentence.

Major predictors of reconviction according to the analysis consistently proved to be age and criminal history. Most often, young men that have been in and out of prison for years are those most likely to be trapped in a recidivistic cycle – mostly for what you’d call low-risk, high-reward crimes such as burglary or car theft. From previously having studied developmental psychology, and aggression in social psychology, it is evident in both instances that, for one thing, young people have not developed a concrete sense of self or identity by the time they are 18 years old – contrary to popular belief. In-fact, and particularly for men, it can take much longer (up to around 30 years of age, on average) before people gain a solid sense of who they are.

This is important because the above statistic demonstrating that lads are becoming trapped in crime seems suspiciously related to the widely-known fact that teenagers notably take risks as a means to explore the bounds of right and wrong. Consequently, wrong place, wrong time mischief encountered and reprimanded by authority could have the potential to lay foundations for a pattern of thrill-seeking identity establishment, all the while attributing themselves to their behaviour. I’ll be exploring the mental health implications associated with exposure to crime from adolescence in future posts, so stay tuned for that one.

What do we currently do with young men stuck in these cycles? Increasingly, and especially for minor crime, they are likely to be cautioned on the basis of a first offence, or are fined, or are issued with an IPNU (Injuction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance…doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like ASBO did, does it?) More serious or persistent offenders are usually presented with jail time or community service orders, although most recently suspended sentences are in vogue, which works a bit like parole (keep nose clean, keep out of nick deal).

However, Nothing Works™! This is a bit of a moth-eaten phrase used by experts of the criminal justice system of yore, referring to the fact that no type of sentence, whether considering an individual circumstances or not, appears to effectively reform behaviour en-masse because depending on the offence, on average around half will reoffend within 12 months of sentencing (CSO) or release (prison). At the same time, the UK is faced with other major HMP-related hurdles i.e. underfunded and overcrowded prisons – we have the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, despite the fact that it’s rubbish at reforming behaviour apparently. So what’s the solution then?

As Simon Amsell said in his most recent stand-up comedy show, Numb, where he jovially imagined a utopian future, and reflected on the pointlessness of prisons:

Do you remember when we had prisons? When we separated people off into cages rather than giving them the love they needed that would have stopped all the crime?

Alas, love is the answer as soppy as it may seem, or perhaps more technically speaking – attending to and addressing criminogenic needs (the things that put people at greater risk of involvement in crime, such as unemployment or drug addiction). In theory the more of these that are addressed, the less likely a person will reoffend. I’ll be discussing this in greater detail in future blogs but the point is that there is a clear transition going on here thank goodness, from ‘what type of thug goes in what type of shut-up box’, to a clearer appreciation of the importance in understanding why it is that people commit crime in the first place and for what reason they return to it after being punished.

Reconviction rates mean nothing to the individual breaking the law for reasons known only to them, and they mean nothing to the victims associated with their crimes.