In this ‘tale of two cities’ Oxford Unite member Dr Hosnieh Djafari Marbini, re-standing as a city councillor, believes that local people working together can truly bring about real change in tackling inequalities.
Onwards then from the South West to the so-called ‘dreaming spires of Oxford’ where we find that this version of the city has little connection for many local residents – living in some of England’s poorest estates. We meet the woman who has been fighting for a more equal and fair place to live. Jody Whitehill reports.
Passionate about building strong links within the community and empowering people to contribute towards policies that affect them, Unite member Dr Hosnieh Djafari Marbini, currently a Labour councillor in Oxford’s Northfield Brook ward, is standing for a second term on May 6.
Hosnieh’s passion for social justice began at an early age – and stems from her own difficult experiences. Her family, fleeing Iran in the early 1990s, arrived in the UK seeking political refuge. During the revolution in Iran her father’s strong beliefs in equality and justice for all led to him spending five years in prison there. Hosnieh was just 13 years old when they moved to a council estate in London. Reliant on public services and the welfare state, Hosnieh spoke hardly any English when she started secondary school. Every day of her young life then was a real challenge.
But such challenges were to shape her determination to succeed. And now, a proud mum of two children, Hosnieh is a consultant anaesthetist in Oxford where she looks after cancer patients; working as part of a team to try and give her patients the best quality of life and helping them to prepare for the trauma of surgery.
As a medical student Hosnieh wasted no time in joining a trade union – the BMA (British Medical Association). But seeing the activity of the Unite branch organising and campaigning at all levels of her workplace, she decided to get involved.
Interested in true trade union activism that brings about real change, Hosnieh joined Unite during the junior doctors’ strike of 2016. “I feel it is so important that a union reflects the key message that we are all in this together,” she said, “and I believe Unite really showed that during the strike.”
Hosnieh happily threw herself in to union activism, quickly becoming the political officer for Unite’s health branch in Oxford. “There is so much value in standing together to try and build safe and good working environments and ensuring all workers can afford a comfortable standard of living,” said Hosnieh.
Since then she has been heavily involved in many of Unite’s NHS campaigns – and during the pandemic has spoken out against the lack of PPE for health workers.
Northfield Brook is a vibrant community five miles outside the city centre with a population of 6,000. Yet it remains one of the most deprived areas of the country. In 2015 it ranked in the top 10 per cent of England’s most-deprived areas. Oxford City Council is investing millions into regenerating the area, but there is still a long way to go.
“For many residents their children cannot afford to live in Oxford,” said Hosnieh.
“There are either multigenerational households that are overcrowded or families are split up when their children are forced to move away in search of more affordable housing,” she added.
There is a growing disillusionment with politics in the area and despite the council working hard to build more houses with 620 new council homes promised within the next four years, many residents in the ward feel that it must come with with better facilities, community wealth building projects and access to public services.
“Labour councils have been and must continue to work innovatively to bring wealth into areas – for example having community run businesses and encouraging residents to use their power to improve access to public services,” said Hosnieh.
“We must work hard to tackle inequalities daily in our communities and I hope we can keep working towards this by centring those most affected and strengthening local power,” she added.
Hosnieh is campaigning alongside residents for the regeneration to be done in the right way.
“Part of my work is to support others to feel confident to represent their communities,” she said.
“In order to see real transformation we need to change who makes the policies and I believe that local people are the best qualified to make polices that will truly improve lives by closing the inequalities gap,” she added.
It is Labour values that have inspired Hosnieh to try and influence change through solidarity.
“As a teenager I would never have imagined that I could walk into Oxford Town Hall and have the confidence to represent people,” she said.
“I want other people to see that they can do the same. If we have more understanding on a local level of what we can change then that can be a real force for good,” she added.
In 2019 Hosnieh was appointed as Oxford’s first migrant champion. She works with migrants and refugees, helping them to access local services and advice centres, and making sure their needs are considered, barriers removed and voices heard in council policy.
She has also worked to support community groups such as Leys CDI (community development initiative), a youth and over 50s community project in the parish.
Hosnieh helping to prepare Christmas parcels at Leys CDI.
“During the pandemic our volunteers have been running socially distanced food and medicine drop offs and doorstep visits to ensure no one feels isolated,” she said.
“There’s been a real sense of coming together and it’s been an honour to be a part of it,” she added.
Hosnieh also campaigns to improve living environments within the ward like better lighting following the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard.
“It is not the solution to violence against women but it has made a difference and helped women to feel safer walking home at night,” she said.
For Hosnieh the place to start if we want to see change within our communities, is within trade unions.
“I’d like to see more local councils and councillors get involved with their unions, I’d like to see other people like me who will make that link between migrant’s rights and workers’ rights so we can have joined up conversations and move away from divisiveness,” she said.
“Whatever the issue, be it access to PPE, a safe environment to work, safe and affordable housing or migrants rights – many of these issues go hand in hand. We are and always have been one multi-ethnic working class,” she added.
If you live in the South East and want to help Hosnieh see her web page here, or contact the Unite South East regional office and ask to speak to the regional political officer.
Wherever you live if would like to help Unite candidates in your area or to find out more see here
By Jody Whitehill
Stayed tuned to UNITElive for the latest on our Unite candidates