The director of a local community company will find out if she is Salford’s Citizen of the Year.
Sarah Whitehead, has been running Community Pride Community Interest Company, which works with local people to seek out solutions to the problems of poverty and inequity, since 2015.
The inaugural Spirit of Salford Awards will “celebrate the great work of the individuals and community groups who do so much to make Salford the great city it is.”
I have been nominated as Citizen of the Year at the Mayors Spirit of Salford Awards 🎉 https://t.co/sJkGtcQ1nX
— Sarah Whitehead (@sjpwhitehead) January 23, 2019
Since 2009, Ms Whitehead has been fundamental in several community projects, helping to elevate the voices of those suffering from the unrelenting effects of social injustice.
However, despite her contributions she does not expect to win.
“The stigma around people that live in poverty and those who suffer from it is still very strong,’ she said.
“The idea that people are lazy and it’s their own fault and that they should do something. It’s not always that black and white. I think that’s why it’s not always valued as much as other work in the community.”
Coming from a tough background herself, she believes the compassion she holds for those in need stems from her own personal experiences. As a young single parent and a survivor of an abusive relationship, she believes stories like hers are the essence of her work.
“I was very lonely and isolated. I’d very much been looked after by the neighbours and helped a lot by the community so it was just natural to me that you help people when they need it.
“I would always be that person who would just stop and talk to people even if you can’t physically give them money. I’d always ask them if they’re okay or how their day is going.
“It has made me more compassionate, understanding and less judgmental because I can see the bad things people do and the bad decisions they make, but I don’t judge them by that.
“They feel comfortable to speak to me, they think I’m just like them, so I won’t judge them.”
Ms Whitehead was the driving force behind mental health empowerment event ‘Mad Pride.’
Originally founded in Toronto, Canada in 1993, it began as a mass movement for those with mental health illnesses to revel in their ‘mad’ identity.
Salford’s version aims to “bring people in the community together to celebrate their diversity whilst raising awareness about mental health.” The event in 2018 was the root of controversy however:
“There were some people in the community who were not happy with it being called Mad Pride, because of the stigma. Some were telling me they’re not mad and they don’t want to be called it. Others were telling me they were and they loved it.”
The event takes place again this year on June 8th in Victoria Park.
Ms Whitehead believes she has developed a better understanding of the political landscape over the past few years. She does not believe enough is being done by those in power for those who need help.
“There’s so many issues like universal credit, so it’s the systems that are put in place that don’t work for the people that need to use them.
“We’re coming together nationally with big organisations to say ‘okay, how do we get the voices of people with lived experience in the rooms with government and decision makers?’
“They’re not fit for purpose and don’t serve the needs of the community. The only way they will suit the needs of the community is if communities are involved in creating them from the beginning.”
It is by these means that Ms Whitehead has found herself on numerous visits to Brussels and around Europe in the presence of figures such as the Vice President of the European Commission and the Deputy Secretary General of NATO.
On one occasion, her work even had her seated at the table of Madeleine Albright, who she admittedly did not know much about.
“I wasn’t star struck, because I’m not a huge follower of politics. I never really had any political interest or political drive.
“I’ve only learned about politics and the power of community as I’ve done these community projects. I’ve realised along the way that everything is political, and everything is connected
“But in some ways, it’s a good thing that I didn’t know a lot because I could have a conversation with her and it was a really equal discussion. I didn’t have any preconceptions. We just had a really good conversation.
“When I measure how far I’ve come, I always say; from tea and biscuits in Weaste to dinner with Madeleine Albright.”
Madeleìne Albright – a refugee once said i cannot believe im with the secretary of state – she replies can you believe that a refugee IS the secretary of state #inspiration #inspirationalwoman #Refugees #refugeewoman #gmftiln #BrusselsForum #access #opportunities #gmfInclusion pic.twitter.com/U8tQho0D5C
— Sarah Whitehead (@sjpwhitehead) March 9, 2018
Ms Whitehead believes ex-offenders are mistreated after completing their sentence due to their previous transgressions.
She thinks that because the government are not doing enough, that is why communities and organisations must work tirelessly to integrate them back into society.
“We ran a project for ex-offenders living in Salford, called the Positive Changes Group. We had a group of men talking about how the cycle of re-offending… the support wasn’t there when they left prison.
“The support wasn’t there for housing either, it was literally ‘there’s your bag, there’s a bus ticket, there’s forty-six pounds, go home.’
“It’s helping people tom identify the issues that affect them and to recognise that they are powerful and to decide together to change the thing that is having a negative effect on them.
“It’s about supporting each individual in whatever their goals are.”
As much as winning Citizen of the Year would mean to a person like Ms Whitehead, she will not even be in Salford during the ceremony.
Instead she will be in Gothenburg on a learning exchange, “looking at how communities, academics and businesses work together to produce solutions to the issues in communities.”