Meet Dewsbury's young activist who has spent lockdown delivering 13,000 food parcels to her neighbours

One of the youngest candidates to run for local elections in her ward, The Yorkshire Post speaks to the Dewsbury activist to whom community means 'everything'

Tanisha Bramwell

"Community means family to me. It means home and it means hope."

To Tanisha Bramwell, community is also the axis around which she spins. The 26-year-old was born and raised in Dewsbury Moor and still lives on the street she grew up on as one of nine children.

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But despite her family having so many mouths to feed, Ms Bramwell was taught from the offset that there is always room around the table to squeeze in another chair.

"My mum had nine kids to feed but would still have the neighbours' children over if they needed someone to look after them," she says.

The scene is a fitting one for Ms Bramwell, who has been busy organising and delivering emergency food parcels to families in the area since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic a year ago this week.

Added to that, she has also been holding Zoom sessions with young people in the area, launched an anti-knife crime campaign and decided to run independently for local councillor elections.

The young activist spoke to The Yorkshire Post marking a year in which she has delivered more than 13,000 food parcels to Dewsbury residents.

Tanisha Bramwell

"I didn't really get interested in campaigning or politics until around three or four years ago," she said.

"I originally joined the Labour Party. I was raised in a family where you voted Labour because they were the party that most supported the working class."

Ms Bramwell later cancelled her membership to the Party.

"Why did I leave Labour? That's a good question," she continued.

Tanisha Bramwell has been organising emergency deliveries of food to residents in Dewsbury from her local church. Picture: Tanisha Bramwell/Twitter

"I wasn't happy with how things were being done. It was either their way or no way."

While a Labour member, Ms Bramwell was working on a community project she had set up at the age of 19 which was aimed at diverting other young people on the estate away from involvement in gangs and drugs.

The Bramwell Sports Development Team started as a grassroots campaign bringing people together to take part in weekly sports activities, and is now in the process of becoming a registered charity.

Yet this area of West Yorkshire has received little good press over the years.

Tanisha Bramwell

In 2008, Dewsbury's Moorside estate was propelled onto the front pages of national newspapers when resident Karen Matthews became one of the country's most despised figures for facilitating the kidnap of her daughter.

The area was depicted to millions - many of whom had only come to hear of the town after the media circus pitched up - through a misconceived narrative of British council estates being places where adults were too lazy to work and children skipped school. One headline in The Sun unsympathetically described it as "like Beirut – only worse".

But you would be hard struck to find a community more hardworking or where neighbours looked out for one another more.

"Community is everything here," Ms Bramwell said.

"It means if I lose my job, my neighbours are going to be there."

She added: "I think the lockdown has really made people sit down and think, 'well, who's doing what? Who is being active and helping?'"

"If we're going to get educated on what's going on locally, now's the time to get educated. Today, I've had eight phone calls from different people just asking about how council elections work and wanting to know more about what's going on around Dewsbury.

"I think there's a rumble in the air."

Ms Bramwell said she has been startled by how few in the community knew who their local councillor was, and what their role is.

"That's on purpose, in my eyes. It's actually very hard to find out for some people, because it's not taught in schools and it's not signposted.

"They don't want people knowing what a councillor should be doing because then you've got no expectations. So when they are sorting out fly-tipping or a pothole, there's a big round of applause. But if you actually knew the job description you'd say, 'well thanks, but what else have you done? Or is that it for year?'"

Since March 16 2020, local businesses and volunteers have helped Ms Bramwell to deliver food to families left struggling after the closure of schools.

Support to help feed hungry children spread across Great Britain like wildfire last year – lit by footballer Marcus Rashford's campaign to extend free school meals over the summer holidays, ignited by outrage when MPs' rejected the proposal in Parliament.

"About a week before the first lockdown, I started buying extra food," said Ms Bramwell.

"Then I put a post out saying, 'look I've deliberately bought extra this week – does anybody want me to drop a food parcel off?'

"I had about 50 or 60 messages within an hour. The response was absolutely amazing. People were reading it and saying, 'we're going to send you this' or 'we can drop off £100' worth of food for you'.

"But the kindness changed in the third lockdown.

"People were not in the same circumstances as they were in the first lockdown. So it went from, 'let's try and help everybody' to 'I need to help myself first'."

Ms Bramwell said the third lockdown had been "a lot busier" for delivering food parcels.

"In the first lockdown, I mainly saw people with young children and the elderly. This time, I've seen everybody," she said.

"I've gone to people's houses and they've been crying saying, 'I had two businesses before this'.

"It's heartbreaking because I feel like people in these towns across the North have worked so hard to try and get out of the austerity that hit our communities.

"Now it's like, after this, we will have to work our bums off for the next year just to make sure that our children and our nieces and nephews have some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. For that reason, it's worth it and that's motivation in itself. But it's a long way to go."

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