This article also appeared as a guest blog on ukhousingfast.wordpress.com on Sunday 13th July 2014. I encourage you to visit the site and read all the guest blogs about #UKHousingFast, and to get involved in any way you feel you can.
Tuesday 15th July is #UKHousingFast day. If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t worry – this is the inaugural year! The idea is simple, which is precisely why it is such a good idea: in the spirit of Ramadan, housing professionals will fast and raise (or pledge) money for charity.
If you’re already getting involved, great!
If not, I’ll give details at the end of this blog regarding how you can (there’s still time!)
If you’re wondering why #UKHousingFast is important, keep reading…
I am accustomed to fasting, though not by choice.
In 2010, after years of chronic ulcerative colitis and increasingly ineffective medication, I required an emergency ileostomy – surgery to remove my entire large intestine and divert my small intestine outside my body through an opening in my abdomen, creating a stoma.
I lived with a stoma bag for just over a year, during which time I had a total of four more surgeries – some planned, others emergencies (in one instance because I simply would not stop bleeding following surgery…) – until an internal ileo-anal pouch was finally created. My insides were now…well, inside again!
During many of the weeks I spent in hospital I was unable to eat or drink, sustained instead by a variety of chemicals and drips. In this state, you crave being able to drink water instead of having it pumped into your arm. You become intimately aware of how precious food is, and how vital it is to your health. From that horror – and I won’t lie, it was horrible – emerged grace and gratitude. Being able to stand, to eat, to go to the toilet again…every simple, ‘normal’ act was a blessing.
But you get accustomed to the scars and dietary modifications and, as you rebuild your body, you have a tendency to forget this insight. I’ve had further surgery and complications since, and each time I am forced to fast I am reminded of how important food is – of how grateful I am for being able to eat, and through eating grow strong, and in growing strong be capable of helping others.
I have been a student of the martial arts for over a decade. Each year I expect a reduction in class size during Ramadan due to the physical stress of that commitment…and each year I am reminded of the number of Muslim students who continue to train throughout. To go without food or drink and commit to hard training sessions during Ramadan is an extraordinary dedication; even those who don’t actively train still visit the club, supporting the class in other ways and encouraging fellow students in their training.
In Kung Fu we have a saying: one must “learn to eat bitter”, i.e. you must learn how to bear the hard times. You don’t have to be Muslim or a martial artist to understand this lesson, but taking part in #UKHousingFast on July 15th gives you the opportunity to remember it.
Hard times are not always a choice, as in martial arts training, or as explicit as emergency abdominal surgery. Many in the United Kingdom today are going through hard times every day: an unbalanced economy, ill-conceived welfare ‘reform’, and the ever-increasing cost of living mean that hard choices are often required to bear these hard times. For some, the hard choice is whether to feed the family or pay the bills, heat the house, pay off spiralling debt, or any number of other pressing obligations.
The economy has affected local authorities and housing associations as much as any other, and in the wake of once-untenable job cuts it is easy to get caught up in spreadsheets and deadlines and the desperate rush to pull another rabbit out of an increasingly-weathered hat, forgetting that, whether a business, charity, of public body – and whatever the specific role – housing professionals serve tenants. We provide the help, options, and safe and secure bricks and mortar that support people when they must eat bitter, and enable them to succeed how they will.
Do not mistake servitude for submission – to act for another is a powerful thing. It is to establish a connection, and that connection can serve both parties (after all, without social housing I wouldn’t have my current job!) We need to stop talking about housing solely in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, landlord and tenant; as Muslims are united during Ramadan, and as the housing sector will be during #UKHousingFast, so must housing professionals remember that we are all part of the same team.
Beyond the budget lines, beyond the governance reports and board meetings and projected spend targets, is kindness. Working in housing is to be involved with a fundamental bedrock of people’s lives – shelter. Having secured a place to rest, people can then turn their attention to possibility and opportunity; it is the hand of kindness that reveals such things.
Since my surgery in 2010, I have come to see myself as a student of kindness. I am no master, and am as far from enlightenment as measurable distance might permit, but I have not experienced such success, joy, and purpose – as an actor, in my training, and yes, in my housing career – as I have since committing to kindness. I do not believe this is a coincidence.
This journey is not without difficulty, of course – no path worth taking ever is – and that is why #UKHousingFast is so important. There’s more to the day than fasting or pledging money to charity: it provides an opportunity, however brief, to stop and remember – remember why we do what we do, who we do it for, and how we might do it better…and in doing so, work towards making the world a little better too.
It’s important to remember these things; we have a tendency to forget.
#UKHousingFast is organised by Sahil Khan from Origin Housing (@Khan_Sahil), Nasrin Fazal from Helena Partnerships (@NasrinFazal) and Roommy Zaahid from Yorkshire Housing (@roommy_yh).
Follow @ukhousingfast on Twitter and use the #UKHousingFast hashtag to share details of what you are doing to support the campaign and which local cause you are getting behind.
To get involved or to find out more, visit ukhousingfast.wordpress.com.