[Blog] Uniting Brighton & Hove in social action

13 September 2019 – 13 Elul 5779

Michael Austin

It is not often today that something can unite different synagogues, churches and all the political parties; but that is what is happening now in Brighton and Hove, thanks to Citizens Brighton and Hove.

Five years ago Brighton Council closed the toilet facility at Hove Cemetery North which is used by all faiths including Brighton Progressive Synagogue and Brighton Reform Synagogue. This was ostensively because of vandalism, but actually it was to save money. There is a disabled toilet at Hove Cemetery South but that involves a walk of a 1/3 mile and crossing a dual carriageway that doesn’t have a pedestrian crossing. Mourners and officiants possibly coming a long distance are also considerably inconvenienced (please excuse the pun).

Despite representations to the council by Sandra Walker, President of BHPS and whose husband needs to use a wheelchair, pleas for dignity at funerals and stone settings were until now ignored. That is until Frida Gustafsson, nearly appointed co-ordinator of CitizensBH came along. Citizens is a non-partisan organisation which brings together different sections of local communities and empowers them to bring about change locally by, for example, reducing homelessness, increasing affordable housing and improving mental health services. These are, of course all things involving social justice, one of the tenets of Liberal Judaism.

With Frida’s prompting and political training at Sussex University together with the use of social media we were energised to campaign at the first CitizensBH hustings in April when the Conservative, Labour and Green leaders of Brighton Council pledged to work with us to solve the problem. Our latest action (see photos) was Wednesday May 29 when CitizensBH, including many BHPS members together with our Rabbi Elli, presented amongst other demands, invitations wrapped in toilet rolls to Councillors and key heads of departments to meet with us at the cemetery to see exactly what the difficulties are for all mourners.

We have learnt three things: firstly we are stronger when we come together with other local organisations, secondly BHPS is lucky in having so many committed members willing as necessary to lead, research and make suggestions but always working as a team. Finally constructive dialogue with local authorities is proving far more constructive than confrontation and is great fun!

[Michael is a member of Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue]
Click here to read more about the campaign  

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