Thoughts on membership & belonging

Posted on: 12th August 2013

This blog comes from Body & Soul’s Head of Social Work Interventions, Rosie, and comes one year after she joined the staff team at Body & Soul.

Since starting in my role at Body & Soul a year ago, I’ve been struck by the amazing feeling of love, kindness, humanity and homeliness that this place exudes. Being a member of the Body &  Soul community is like stepping into another family, and it is like this because the people who fill its walls have a level of commitment and care about the place, its people and its mission that is second to none.

Anyone lucky enough to be involved here soon starts to feel a real sense of belonging, of membership.

The other thing I’ve noticed however is more related to the work that I have been doing here, which includes a vast range of case work and advocacy. I deal with anything from housing and benefit issues to working alongside children’s services, liaising with the police or medical professionals, managing debt or accessing university. The last year has been an extremely eye-opening and challenging learning curve.

Sadly, people living with or affected by HIV are disproportionately affected by poverty, and with this comes multiple financial and social struggles and a great deal of housing insecurity.

What has struck me within my work is the way that so many of the systems within welfare, housing and education that should be designed specifically to support the inclusion and involvement of the most vulnerable people in our communities are in fact designed in ways which exclude, disable, disempower and control them.

The recent, on-going welfare changes and legal aid cuts feel nothing short of draconian when you are faced with their real human impact on a day to day basis.

It leaves me questioning …

What has our new welfare system been designed for? Or more to the point, who?

Most certainly NOT for the most vulnerable members of our communities.

As far as I can see, ‘welfare’ has lost its meaning. It has lost touch. It is no longer about supporting vulnerable people to have opportunities and to be empowered and involved in the world. It is perceived as an obligation, and one which is being readily and increasingly undermined. When did politics become about money and not people? It seems to me that belonging to this society involves a very exclusive entrance fee. One that Body & Soul’s members, for the large part, cannot afford.

This train of thought left me thinking about membership and belonging on a broader scale, and the multiple barriers to these simple but vital experiences that our members face. For many who have been forced to migrate away from family, friends, common cultures, languages and land, ‘belonging’ has been shifted and distorted. For many, living with HIV carries with it barriers to becoming fully involved, transparent members of friendship groups, communities and even families.

It is for this reason that the unspoken and un-quantifiable impact of ‘membership’ is what I hold most dear in the work we do here at Body & Soul. We may not always be able to deliver membership in the outside world, but in here, within these walls, people belong.




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