Susan Popoola

Leveraging The Value of People
December 21st, 2013

Food Banks

Little deeds of kindness,

little words of love,

make our earth an Eden,

like the heaven above.

Little Drops of Water

by Julia Carney, 1845

Most people have at some point in time gone through one or two tough patches – be it that they last for weeks, months or sadly even years. For some people the worst of a tough patch may mean the need to cut back on expenses. For others it may mean that people struggle to pay bills and even to put food on the table. This is a problem that is heightened during a recession.

Fortunately for people in Milton Keynes that are faced with such situations there are two food banks that I am aware of that aim to support people during these times.

There is one based at St Mary’s Church through which they work along with a number of other local churches collect food contributions which are then delivered to people in need.

They work in conjunction with the other food bank, which is based at Milton Keynes Christian Centre, and is registered as an independent charity which works with different agencies across Milton Keynes to support people in need.

Milton Keynes Food Bank operates on a voucher/referral system whereby people who visit a number of different agencies within

191the City and are identified as people with highlighted needs, inclusive of those provided for by the Food Bank, are provided with vouchers which enable them to go to the food bank to obtain a free food parcel.

Food for the food banks comes from local community and church congregation members who make donations of tinned and dried food or finance (for the purchase of food). One of the great things is that the people who donate include people who may have benefited from the food banks in the past, such as a lady who benefited from a food bank during a tough period when she had a small baby. Recognising that the food bank did not store baby food, she made a decision to donate baby food. In addition there are a number of organisations (both within and outside of Milton Keynes) such as New Covent Garden Food which also donate to the food bank.

When I learnt about the food bank, I made a decision to make a monthly contribution to it. Specifically I give myself a monthly budget which has changed over time from £5.00 to either £10 or £20 dependant on my budget for the month. (The change in amount is aimed at covering rises in the cost of living). In the grand scheme of things it’s not a significant amount of money for me; I often spend that amount or more on a night out. But that’s not the point.

Initially, on my designated food bank weekend, I go to the shops with my shopping budget, normally in cash as to meet my objectives, it is important that I keep within my budget. The task is to buy something reasonable within my budget for a family, couple or individual, ensuring that I only buy for them things that I would buy myself. Subsequently, as I don’t generally buy economy products for myself, I don’t buy them for anyone else. I generally find it challenging to walk out of the shop with something reasonable within my budget, but I make it a point to stick within my budget, because I want to put myself in that position so that I have a greater understanding and empathy for the people I’m helping. In time I discovered that the Food Bank actually has at least of products that it provides people with, so I changed my approach and now buy things off the list.

At times like Christmas, I often leave the shops feeling quite sad. For some reason (maybe it’s my imagination,) things seem to be more expensive at Christmas, but there are still an overwhelming number of people walking around filling their trolleys until they nearly overflow as I carry a little basket, trying to pick up a few things that are actually affordable. I often wonder whether they will ever be able to eat all that food over the Christmas period and question what Christmas is now about. But this is not the point either.

The point is that for someone on a limited budget, such as people on benefits or facing a temporary setback, it must be hard. Income support does not allow for much more in a week than what I budget to contribute to the food banks. For this reason amongst others I very much doubt that there are many people that live off of benefits unless they feel – rightly or wrongly, that they are compelled to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are people who are out to play the system, but for the vast majority of people on benefits, it is not by choice.

From: Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes:  A Social Perspective by Susan Popoola

November 8th, 2009

Lakes Youth

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea,

never regains its original dimensions.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes

In 2006 a young man named Ray Quinn appeared in the talent show The X Factor. I couldn’t help but like him. While he remained true to who he was he was extremely grateful for the opportunity of being on the show and wanted to make people, especially his mentor, Simon Cowell, proud. He went on to the finals and finished as the runner-up. In 2007, I felt proud to see him judging on Baby Ballroom, another talent contest.

In some many ways, he reminds me of some other young people I know of in Milton Keynes who live on the Lakes Estate. I guess like most young people they were of the opinion that they never had enough to do – they were bored. On the Lakes Estate there is an officer called a Community Mobiliser who has responsibility for community development within the area.

Described by a local parent as “someone who gets things going or keeps things going in the community.”, recognising the frustrations of the young people, the community mobiliser worked with them to arrange a number of sporting events. This included the rare opportunity to go away for an event outside of the estate and as such broaden their horizons. To her credit the events were a great success. They both involved and effectively engaged a lot of the young people. Significantly, they have carried on since the first event. What stands out about the events now is that they are no longer organised by the Community Mobiliser. Rather they are actually organised by the young people themselves. The only thing that the Community Mobiliser does to help is provide them with support at their request.

Their activities have had such an impact that they received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services in 2005. And some of these boys, though still quite young now are very conscious of their community needs and are working to help fulfil the needs of the young children on the estate who look up to them. They also work to support the older people within their community. To this end some of these young people also go to meetings within the Council Offices to represent their community’s needs.

It’s amazing how little things have such a huge impact. After all, these are young people that the typical adult would not think of talking to, who on their own part were very shy and would not have even contemplated conversing with adults, who now go to meetings and clearly articulate their viewpoint on behalf of the whole of their community.

There are a total of eight community mobilisers in Milton Keynes, working across the most deprived areas. Taking the time to understand the community needs and support the communities in fulfilling them through a number of different means inclusive of activity groups, workshops, trips and outings, but ultimately providing local people who sincerely care about their communities with the opportunity to improve on things for the collective good.

On YouTube there are a few videos which much better highlight the work of Community Mobilisers than I ever could. [i]

[i] Community Mobilisers –

Copyright 2008 Extract from Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective

This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated from content obtained from other sources and such content is referenced as appropriate.

November 5th, 2009

The Demonstrated Beauty of Credit Unions!

It’s been quite saddening to learn via the BBC of atrocious stories of how people have been charged ridiculous interest rates on loans from loan sharks. Interest that they could never practical pay, but have accepted out of desperation.

The stress that the resulting pressure of being chased for payments causes cannot readily be explained. However in what some may see us an extreme one young man ultimately committed suicide recently.

It’s therefore pleasing to remember that in Milton Keynes there is a credit union to help people who may otherwise have no other choice but to go to a loan shark.

I recently read the story below which clearly highlights how credit unions can help to transform lives!

Christina has been a member of Milton Keynes Credit Union (MKCU) for some time now. She told Kim Davis, MKCU, Development Officer about her experience of borrowing money with MKCU.

“I’d known about credit unions for a while so I searched on the internet to find one in Milton Keynes. I’d heard food things about credit unions from my mother, as she had been a member nearly 50 years ago when she lived in Canada. Mum had gone there to live and decided she wants to come back home. Using the local credit union, she saved up her fare home! Having heard such a positive story, I got in touch with MKCU and joined.

When I became a member, I wasn’t managing my money very well. I’d borrowed from a ‘doorstep lender’ and was paying a high interest rate. Even when I got a loan from my own bank to pay off an overdraft they charged me 50%in interest! I’d been with them over 20 years and expected more support, instead I got a really high interest rate.

I had no savings and no means of saving – no one wants you to save just a few pounds a month. Nowadays most banks require you to keep a certain amount of money in your account of you have to pay charges.

Since I joined Milton Keynes Credit Union, I’m still not great with money, but I’m improving. For the first time for years, I have some savings behind me – I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I borrowed money from MKCU to pay off my Provident loan, as the credit union charged me a lower interest rate, they talked to me about repaying too, we agreed a repayment which was affordable, and left me able to save too.

Borrowing with MKCU is different as I began to know some of the people there, it was a very personal service. I’m now on top of my repayments plus I’m building on my savings too – in fact, my savings are now greater than what I owe on my loan, which makes me feel good. With MKCU, the interest is charged on the decreasing balance so the more I repay, the less interest I’ll be charged, much better for me than doorstep lenders or my bank.

It’s good that money I’m saving also helps out other people in Milton Keynes with loans when they need it. You have to live or work in Milton Keynes to join the Credit Union so I know I’m helping other local people.

Now I’m looking to the future and planning a family holiday for my birthday – I’ll be using the Credit Union to save for this and it helps to know I’ve got the option to apply for a loan if I need it too”

As told to Kim Davies, Development Office. (story retold with permission from Milton Keynes Credit Union – ref: )

October 30th, 2009

Welcome to Milton Keynes

Never be afraid to try something new.

Remember, amateurs built the ark,

Professionals built the Titanic.


Milton Keynes is synonymous with roundabouts and concrete cows. However if, after 40 years as a new town and centuries of prior existence (as a number of different small towns and villages), this was all that Milton Keynes had to offer, Milton Keynes would not be such a diverse place with people from all backgrounds, colours and creeds and an ever-growing population.

It would also not be deemed England’s most successful new town and a showcase city visited by people from across the world who want to understand how to develop a successful new town, which is earmarked for growth into one of England’s ten largest cities by 2030.[i]

I’m possibly not the most knowledgeable person on Milton Keynes as I’ve only been here for five years, but the more I learn about it, the more passionate and in love with it I become and the more I come to believe that there is a need for greater awareness of what Milton Keynes is really about for the people outside of the town, some of whom will never ever visit, but carry an often very strong opinion of the place. Of equal importance, I believe it is necessary for those of us who live and work in Milton Keynes to be more aware of the diversity it offers.

Recognising the limits of my experience and knowledge of Milton Keynes, I have taken the time to visit different parts and speak to different people who I know have a much clearer, in-depth knowledge than I do on specific areas.

Having done all of this, I am very conscious that I only just touch the tip of the iceberg as there is so much more that I have consciously or subconsciously omitted or am possibly unaware of. For this reason, I hope that what I have put together will inspire you to investigate and find out more. You can find a number of links on the Leverage Points website.[ii]

As with everything in life there are negative things about Milton Keynes as well as the many positives. I have chosen to focus more on the positives: the possibilities and opportunities to overcome the negatives. I’m in no way deluded, but I don’t believe it is constructive to focus on the things that have been tried that have not worked or the mistakes that have been made along the way, unless there is a direct lesson to be learnt from doing so.

It is therefore not a contradiction that on occasion I have been compelled to mention some of the ‘mistakes’ that have been made in order to explain some of the current circumstances and, I hope, to provide some suggestions on how to avoid them and to move forward into the ultimate future for Milton Keynes.

I also hope that, through this book, people outside of Milton Keynes will come to understand that while we love our roundabouts and concrete cows, there is so much more to be said of this vibrant town.

[i] Invest Milton Keynes Facts & Figures 2008 Basic Presentation

[ii] Leverage Points –

Copyright 2008 Extract from Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective

This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated from content obtained from other sources and such content is referenced as appropriate.

October 28th, 2009

Beyond The Enigma

Without mysteries, life would be very dull indeed.

What would be left to strive for if everything were known?

Charles de Lint

Talking about the history of Milton Keynes brings me to what can be referred to as another myth. People generally believe that Milton Keynes is just a town based around a grid system – i.e. the roundabouts. This may be true of the newer, central parts. Most of the areas that existed prior to 1967 are, however, little towns in their own right just outside of the new town already mentioned. These towns, together with the gridded area, make up only 30% of Milton Keynes. Outside of the town there is a vast rural, or should I say, country, area, which makes up the rest of Milton Keynes. Although I had intended to explore all these areas when I first moved here, I am yet to do so, so although I’m aware that there is a vast richness within these areas with numerous stories of their own to be told, I intend to focus on the urban parts.

This takes us back to the grid system. Outside of Milton Keynes most people seem to be unaware that the much-mocked roundabouts form the basis of a grid system that enables people to rapidly move from one part of the city to the next.

For me it also means that it is difficult to get lost in Milton Keynes as the roads are marked with H’s and V’s: Horizontal and Vertical roads. It’s why, when my friends from London laugh about the roundabouts, I always passionately explain the grid system and tell people that all you need to do is follow your H’s and V’s.

At the centre of the grid system is Central Milton Keynes – otherwise referred to as The Centre. While there is a growing residential element to The Centre, it is very much the commercial centre of the town. It houses big businesses such as Argos Head Office, Volkswagen Group UK Ltd, Coca cola Enterprise Ltd and Abbey, down to medium-sized businesses and a multiplicity of small businesses. In total there are almost 10,000 businesses across the City[i] . It is also the retail centre of Milton Keynes – home to two major adjoining shopping centres – Midsummer Place and the mile-long Centre MK. In response to the question of what shops can be found in the shopping centre, the answer almost has to be “What shops cannot be found in the Centre?”

The Centre also houses the Church of Christ the Cornerstone. Built in 1992, it is the UK’s first ecumenical city centre church. It serves as the home church to Christians from the various denominations inclusive of Anglican. Baptist, Catholic, Methodist and United Reform. All these denominations are represented in the Church worship and ministry.

I cannot mention the Church of the Cornerstone without also mentioning the Peace Pagoda at Willen. Though not in the Centre, it is another first and a major religious symbol. Built in 1980 by monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji, it is the first Peace Pagoda to be built in the western hemisphere, and is understood to enshrine sacred relics of the Lord Buddha.

Outside of central Milton Keynes each square of the grid system encompasses a housing estate, industrial estate or combination of the two. There is a lot of greenery between the estates, with trees sheltering the houses from the main road.

This means that Milton Keynes is full of beautiful greenery, which is very well maintained by the Parks Trust. I have on many occasions gone walking and seen employees of the trust cleaning up the public areas or repairing property.

It is also home to a vast amount of wildlife, with woods and a number of parks.

Milton Keynes is also characterised by 13 lakes of varying sizes, each with its own unique features. The largest is Willen Lake, which is popular for watersports. Others include Caldecotte Lake, the Blue Lagoon at Bletchley, Furzton Lake, and the Tear Drop Lake.

I mention how easy it is to get from one area to the next. This is very true if you have a car. The grid system makes it a driver’s paradise as you can so easily get from one end of the city to the other within 10 to 15 minutes. If you don’t have a car it is a bit more complicated unless you cycle. There is a fair distance between locations. I used to go to a church which was a three-minute drive from my house, but about 20 minutes rapid walking. In a place like London where you have a good (though not always efficient) transport system it would be a non-issue but unfortunately, in Milton Keynes, if you don’t have a car and you don’t or can’t cycle you are reliant on public transport or taxis.

Sadly, the greatest weakness of Milton Keynes is our public transport system within the City as all we have is buses that do not run regularly. These shortfalls became apparent to me when, shortly after I moved here, I faced the unfortunate situation of having my car break down. With the dread of car repair bills hanging over my head, I wanted a way of moving around as cheaply as possible. I was disappointed to find that the buses only ran every half hour and left me with a 15-minute walk to get home. So I ended up travelling about by car. This was not cheap and with my impending car repair bill left me very squeamish.

[i] Invest Milton Keynes Facts & Figures 2008

Copyright 2008 Extract from Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective

This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated from content obtained from other sources and such content is referenced as appropriate.

February 7th, 2009

Thoughts on a Snowy Day in Milton Keynes

I felt a bit sad earlier on Friday as I had really been looking forward to attending the Milton Keynes Environmental Exhibition and Symposium. In fact, I was really geared up for it and had started getting ready to go, hoping that yesterday’s snow would have melted adequately for not roads not to be too slippery. However, at about 7.30am, I looked out of the window to check only to find that it had started snowing – again!

I turned on the radio to listen and heard a repeated and strong message that I should stay indoors unless it was absolutely necessarily for me to go out. I considered venturing to take a bus into the City Centre, but the radio went on to inform me that the bus services were cancelled.

After some time I decided to take a walk down the road in order to better access things for myself. I came across a man with a car similar to mine trying unsuccessfully to drive down my road and stopped with him for a chat. He reinforced the message that I should stay home, as did my next door neighbours who told about the nightmarish journey they had, had when they ventured out. I concluded that sadly it was time for me to give in.

So I went back to my office to sit down and get some work done. Rather distracted, from time to time I looked out of the window and saw people carrying green bags from the Budgens in the next estate. After some time, I decided to go there myself and get some milk.

I must say it’s good exercise walking in the snow, as you really have to lift you feet up out of the snow to take your next step – so pleased that I was getting some good exercise, I trudged along until I came across an elderly lady gingerly walking towards me. Having stopped to have a chat with her to make sure that she was okay, I continued my journey -smiling as I watched the children play and within 10 minutes I had arrived at Budgens, together with a mother and her two toddlers walking right in front of me.

As I walked back, I thought thankfully that I was glad that we had not been battled like this with snow 2 years ago as Budgens did not exist then. I, together with everyone else would have had to walk for about half an hour to Morrisons. That would have been okay for me – possibly even good for me to have got the exercise. But then I thought about the elderly lady I had seen together with the other people who may have found the journey difficult.

It made me think that maybe it would good for Milton Keynes to reconsider the policy whereby “soft infrastructure” such as shops are not put into new estates until the housing is complete.

Further thoughts on Milton Keynes are available on “

Copyright 2008 This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated from content obtained from other sources and such content is referenced as appropriate.

July 18th, 2008

A More Positive View of Our Youth

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend Countec Education and Business Partnership ‘s Investors in Education Awards at the Ramada Encore Hotel in Central Milton Keynes.

It was an event that celebrated employers that provide secondary school pupils with an opportunity to experience the work place and pupils that had been on a work placement and had a positive impact in the work place.

In the current climate where there is so much negative talk about young people, I was amazed at how many positive words and phrases employers had used to describe the young people that had been with them on work placements.

I found myself jotting some of them down as follows: Motivated; Enthusiastic; Consistent; Hard Working; Always Smiling; Grew in Confidence; Lovely Boy; Wanted to do Well; Steady & Reliable; ‘Can Do’ Attitude; a Delight; Upbeat; Polite; Perfect Attendance; Dealt with Issues …..
and the list goes on and on.

These employers are people who have had a direct experience of these young people, but somehow they see something different from the image of young people that is constantly portrayed in the media. I’m not denying the problems that do exist with young people, but I believe that the young people that were honoured at Wednesday’s event are more representative of the typical teenager than those portrayed in the media.

It makes me wonder what the typical young person trying to make the most of his/her life (who does not carry a weapon or belong to a gang) must think or feel about the image we are portraying of them.


Susan Popoola

Copyright 2008 This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated from content obtained from other sources and such content is referenced as appropriate.