A light that never goes out

Continuing our series this month on fear and how we handle it, here’s guest blogger John Wade of Bromford

Whatever book I’m reading or TV programme I’ve been watching I can’t help but see themes and links with our work at Bromford. When I read this recent Relational Welfare blog post I was pleased to see that I’m not alone.

I was listening to astronaut Chris Hadfield talking on a TED podcast about fear. It struck me that he was talking about what we might call ‘external fear’. That’s to say fear generated by something real….out there….like being in a rocket heading into space. That sort of fear seems entirely understandable. We’d all feel afraid wouldn’t we?

Chris did feel afraid but he wasn’t crippled by his fear. He’d spent years learning what to do. He knew why he was afraid, what he was afraid of and knew it couldn’t control him because he’d learnt what to do to overcome it.

But what about the kind of fear that starts as a little thought in your head before growing and twisting its way around until it has you routed to the spot….the kind of fear that seems able to tailor itself especially to you?

Singer Morrissey has a knack for summing up complex emotions in a seemingly effortless lyric. He nails this kind of ‘internal fear’ perfectly in “There is a Light That Never Goes Out

And in the darkened underpass
I thought oh God; my chance has come at last
(But then a strange fear gripped me and I
Just couldn’t ask)

He takes us straight to that underpass…..words stuck in our throat…..words we really want to say but which just won’t come out. Terrified at the thought of what might happen if we do makes the world close in around us. We feel completely alone and frozen in the moment.

Anyone seeking to influence the behaviour of others will be familiar with these special internal fears.

Fear of failure or rejection or ridicule.

They can trap people in destructive relationships; stop them taking up opportunities; stunt people’s lives. When we are somewhere we don’t want to be but feel completely alone…..can’t see a way out….then the fear can be overwhelming.

We need someone to reach through our fear to connect with us and help us believe that the thing we are afraid of can be faced, can be overcome; that there is another, better future out there.

Achieving the belief that this thing can be faced is not easy. It needs to be built up over time through a deepening relationship of trust in that other.

Building deep, trusting relationships is vital for any individual or agency that wants to help others overcome their own personal fears and make changes in their lives.

Building that trust can’t be rushed. It has to be developed over time through being open, being honest about consequences and risks, doing what you’ve said you’ll do.

This was summed up perfectly by Clara Oswald in a recent episode of Dr Who, “The Caretaker”. Clara’s boyfriend Danny had witnessed her carry out amazing acts of bravery to defeat an alien threat. Later he reflects that Clara hadn’t seemed afraid by anything she’d done:

“I saw you tonight. You weren’t even scared and you should have been,” he says.

“It’s because of the Doctor. I trust him. He’s never let me down”.

If we want to help our clients…customers…..service users….be brave and overcome their fears then we have to start by building their trust.

John Wade is Director of Bromford. We recommend you check out his wonderful blog, Joining Up the Planks, where he shares ideas and really entertaining stories from his years working in the community. You can find him online at @John_A_Wade

Picture courtesy of nerdalicious.com.


Why midwives matter

Though the brief strike earlier this week is over, tomorrow is the final day of action around their campaign to get a mere 1% pay increase. Unrelated to the NHS Strike but related to the issue, there will be a rally for the Living Wage, Britain Needs a Payrise, in London on Saturday, 18 October.

We believe better pay and better working conditions for those on the frontline of public services makes it much easier for workers to form connections with the people they work with, which results in better outcomes for everyone. Better pay also makes the statement that we as a society care about the work they do. 

This is an amended re-post from the educational and charming Gas and Air blog, where Clemmie relates her life working on the frontline as a midwife and mum.

This week I took part in something I feel very strongly about. I joined my fellow colleagues shoulder to shoulder in the pouring rain to strike. This is the first time in 133 years that midwives have taken industrial action. Us Midwives saw our pay frozen back in 2011, frozen again in 2012, before it rose 1% in 2013. On average the typical midwife’s pay had risen in line with prices since 2010, we would be paid over £4,000 more per year than we’re actually getting. What we’re really asking for is just a 1% rise. Yes that’s all, 1% and to make this point we were on strike from 7am to 11am that morning.

Midwives really do love their jobs, in fact it’s more than just a job (ask anyone married to a midwife). As fellow midwife Pam Ward describes today ‘Midwifery is a busy but fulfilling profession, and the care of women and their babies is paramount to us all. This is why my colleagues regularly work over their hours to meet the needs of the service. Most work very unsociable hours and many are on-call overnight, going out at a moment’s notice to give care to women in labour or at other times during their pregnancy or postnatal period. This is what the job demands, and we love it.’ I wouldn’t give up this profession because I believe all women deserve excellence in midwifery care, something the NHS is striving to do. Staff work flat out, often staying late and doing large amounts of unpaid overtime, as they try their hardest to give women the best possible care they can,” said Cathy Warwick of the Royal College of Midwives. “After years of stress, pressure and overwork, being told they face another year of rising bills – but static pay – is just too much.”

And it doesn’t sit well when I hear politicians claiming there’s no money left in the pot to accommodate the proposed 1% when these politicians got a 10% pay rise!

Within my little but amazing midwifery team on Tuesday, 3 midwives managed to safely deliver 3 babies. 1 in hospital and 2 at home, that’s 6 lives in their hands. I won’t go into detail if any of these midwives got a break yesterday but I do know one quick thinking midwife hailed down a Police van to to take to her to one home birth quickly, and she just made the birth.

I’m not here to dissect the down sides of our profession so to end on a positive note, my fellow colleagues have described why they love being a midwife. And as I sit here with my soggy placard drying on the radiator, I stare at my pager in anticipation as at any moment one of my women might need to call their midwife.

Seeing how amazingly strong and funny women can be. Oh and drinking a lot of tea. And driving home at dawn after a lovely birth feeling on top of the world!’ 

Making a difference regardless of the circumstances‘.

The unpredictability of each day.

The joy of seeing students become midwives at the end of a course’

To be a part of the most intimate journey in a woman’s life and to be trusted with that journey is such a privilege. To witness the miracle of birth and motherhood is a dream come true. I hope I forever love my job!’

Being privileged to share in the most awesomely intense time of a woman’s life, being reminded how amazing women are on a daily basis,  feeling supported and respected by my wonderful colleagues’

Being part of such a special journey… Giving support and encouraging through good times and bad’.

Tucking a couple up in bed in their own home with their baby. Seeing the strength of women to deal with what is thrown at them when things go far off script. My amazing midwifery colleagues who teach me, inspire me and humble me on an almost daily babies’. 

Wow that’s some pretty inspiring stuff there from other wonderful midwives out there.

Clemmie Hooper has wanted to be a midwife since the age of 4 and now works as one in Southeast London, supporting women through their pregnancies, birth and life with a newborn. Find her online at @midwifeyhooper or the Gas and Air blog

Read the original post here.

via Flickr user Terraces Tenements and Tower Blocks.jpgTenem

Neighbours: a dirty word?

I wonder how you view your next door neighbours? Do you think of neighbours as being noisy, nosey or a nuisance? Or do you see your neighbours as “good”?

For many people “neighbours” is a bit of a dirty word. What’s behind this? In part it is a fear of the stranger. Driven by scaremongering in the media (and a picture that does not fit at all with the facts), there is a growing sense that anyone we don’t know should be given a wide berth. This distance leads to fear and fear leads to isolation.

This isolation is getting worse. In the UK, more people of working age and the elderly live alone [1] and the proportion of the population that believes that other people can be trusted has fallen from 60% in the 1950s to 29% in 2000. [2]

I'm sharing my DVD collection2This really matters. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has noted, “The evidence shows that neighbourliness contributes to people’s health, wellbeing…child development, crime reduction… safety, belonging and protection. Good neighbours may be particularly important for those who spend more time in their local area – flexible workers, young families, the young, the elderly, the unemployed and the disabled.”

The good news is that the direction of travel is changing.

The Royal Wedding and The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee brought people together and have led to an upswing in neighbourliness. The average adult in the UK now knows eight of their neighbours by name (up from seven a year ago) and each day an estimated 26 million conversations between neighbours take place (an increase from 21 million).

What is more, technology, is bringing people together. One such idea is Streetbank.

The idea is simple. Streetbank shows the things and skills your neighbours who live within a mile are offering. It brings people together and enables neighbours to help each other.

Started in Hammersmith and Fulham and ranked by The Times as one of 50 websites you can’t live without, Streetbank has spread to become the largest hyper-local neighbourhood sharing website in the UK with 57,000 members.

People are sharing all kinds of things from giving away sofas, to lending ladders, to helping out with dog-walking. These small acts of neighbourly kindness have a number of positive effects including saving residents money, reducing waste and creating happier, friendlier, more connected communities. What is more, 40% of requests made on Streetbank are from 30% most deprived households (as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation).

The effect on the individual is remarkable. A year ago Richard, from Witney, was struggling with some serious mental health issues. He has bipolar disorder, agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder. He decided to come off his medication, leave facebook (which he found wasn’t helping) and joined Streetbank. It helped him start to connect with his neighbours online, and that gave him the confidence to meet in person. Soon he was promoting it himself and building community in his neighbourhood. You can hear his story here.

Technology need not isolate people in their own homes, playing games and communicating with avatars. Technology can be a force for good. The good news is that neighbours are not noisy or a nuisance but almost invariably, surprisingly nice…. Once you get to know them.

Sam Stephens is the Founder of Streetbank. You can find them online at @street_bank and www.streetbank.com

Photo by Terraces, Tenements and Tower Blocks, via Flickr Creative Commons.

1. Research by Malcolm Williams (2005) shows that while population has grown by 5 per cent over the past 30 years, the number of households with just one occupant is up by 31 per cent. The research points out the propensity to live alone among working age men (25-44) and women (40-50) as well as older people.
2. Halpern 2002, Life Satisfaction Cabinet Office Analytical Paper

via Flickr user Herbalizer

“Relationships form the bedrock”: New Village Girls Academy

Back in March, Louise Thomas and I visited New Village Girls Academy on behalf of the Innovation Unit. This is a reflection on the amazing school we found. Deep relationships form the bedrock of this school. From advisor to pupil, from pupil to pupil, and from mentor to pupil, the school build structures that foster deep and lasting relationships that help young people explore their interests, talents and passions on the way to becoming responsible adults.

New Village is an all-girls charter high school set in the old Filipino district of Los Angeles. Historically this has been a very tough area of the city, with problems caused by poverty and gang violence, but it is beginning to improve in part due to a neighbouring district becoming a very sought after area for young adults to buy property.

The school serves some of the most vulnerable young women in Los Angeles, many of whom have experienced abuse, gang violence, prison or teenage pregnancy. The girls at New Village often seem shy but the school also seems to have brought out huge courage to tell their stories and the drive to succeed in adult life. Javier, the Principal, describes the defining characteristic of the school as ‘deeply trusted relationships’, and this is clear from the moment you step into the school.

The school has 140 regular students and 20 who are part of their ‘independent study programme’, mostly teen mums, who make twice weekly trips to the school. The site of the school is a single story building set around a central outdoor space, and is co-located with a large sheltered housing facility called St Anne’s, which houses foster children and young offenders. Originally, the school’s building was used as a very small scale learning facility for pregnant teens. But in 2006, the chair of the board at St Anne’s had an idea to found a school for those girls they were finding impossible to place in local schools: “The ones no one else wanted”.

Four Principals and five years later, the school decided to implement a Big Picture Learning design, and brought in the current head, Javier Guzman. Big Picture is a network of schools in the US and beyond that start from the principle of ‘one student at a time’ – radically re-building the curriculum and the structures of the school to take this principle seriously.

Students spend most of their time in ‘advisories’ of 15-20 students, led by one teacher-advisor who stays with the group for their entire school career. Students also spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at an internship site somewhere in the city. Each student is asked to find an organisation they would like to work with, they are supported to broker a conversation with an adult from that organisation, and if it seems like a good match, then the employer becomes a ‘mentor’ for the young person and the internship begins. We accompanied a student to her internship at Union Rescue Mission (a local homeless shelter) where she helps LA’s population of 58,000 homeless people by preparing and serving lunches. She described how working on a project that has helped her understand and give back to the city’s most disadvantaged people has had a huge impact on her own confidence and sparked her desire to work for a charity in the future.

Most schools just wouldn’t provide the space for these kinds of relationship to develop, and as a result they struggle to engage huge swathes of young people. Big Picture represents a fundamentally ‘different way to do school’ and we here at Innovation Unit are working hard to bring it to the UK so that all young adults, no matter their background, can reach their full potential and develop the social capital to succeed in later life.

Mark Blundell is a Researcher and Project Coordinator at the Innovation Unit. You can find him online at @marksblundell.

Photo by Herbalizer, via the Flickr Creative Commons.

via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Fear of the Unknown: Learning How to Support Mental Health

Recently, we took a Mental Health First Aid course. We both have roles where we need to work relationally: Obie acts as a facilitator at Backr and Tara is a Guide at Wellogram. Relational work is a pretty broad term, but it means that we try to build relationships with the people who use our services, so that we can get to know what they want to achieve in their lives and eventually assist them in making that happen.

We wanted to make sure that we can be there for anyone who needs us, including those who might be struggling with mental health problems. Although one in four adults in the UK will experience a mental health problem over the course of a year, many people in our types of roles feel like they don’t have enough training to properly support them.

MHFA aims to increase people’s awareness of mental health conditions – in doing so it gave us the skills to:

  • Identify key symptoms and risk factors associated with many mental health problems,
  • Feel more confident supporting someone with mental health conditions,
  • Help reduce the stigma attached to mental health,
  • Be mindful of our own wellbeing and how best to manage it.

Fear and anxiety can pop up on both sides of the equation when you work relationally. On the one hand, people with mental health issues are often reluctant to bring them up because they are afraid they’ll be stigmatised (as highlighted so well by Time to Change). It’s everyone’s job to educate themselves and put an end to this kind of discrimination. On the other hand, when your profession requires that you work with people relationally, formal training like the one we attended can really help. Even though you may have gone through extensive training as a nurse, facilitator or social worker, mental health might have been glossed over or left out entirely. This leaves you afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing when you’re interacting with people who are asking for your support. That makes both people feel terrible, which is no way to work.

MHFA has allowed us to be less fearful of ‘making things worse’ when working alongside someone with mental health conditions. Through the course we were happy to learn that a lot of the general concepts for supporting people’s mental health were similar to what we already try to do as relational workers: be nonjudgemental, listen well, draw out people’s strengths. Using these techniques and knowing about specialised professional support that is also available, can definitely reduce our fear, which in turn, may allow us to appear more open – reducing the fear of discrimination for the individual disclosing their mental health condition.

We really believe more training around mental health first aid should be more widely incorporated into workplace training.

Feeling more aware and less fearful, we plan to share our learnings with the rest of our team. At the end of this month, we’ll be leading the discussion on mental health at our company’s team meeting. We hope discussions like this will help the team feel more confident supporting people with mental health conditions, while also encouraging us to put into practice ways of managing our own own mental health and wellbeing in our busy working lives.

Obie Campbell is Network Lead at Backr. She leads job skills sessions and works one-to-one with members who want to improve their employability. You can find her online at @Obiecampbell

Tara Hackett leads on Wellogram, where she guides members towards small changes that make big improvements in their health and wellbeing. You can find her online at @Tara_A_Hackett.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr Creative Commons.

via Flickr user Rael B

Fighting Fear: You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

October is a monster-y month. Halloween is right around the corner, and as the days get shorter you find yourself in the dark long before you thought you would. As the leaves turn and we start to dread the long grey UK winter, it’s a good time to reflect on the role fear plays in our lives.

Sometimes fear is a good thing. It tells us that something isn’t right, and we need to pay attention to it and make some changes. On the other hand, fear can paralyse us right when we most need to get a move on – the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ effect. Or it can send us spinning out in the wrong direction.

There are a few different types of fear we’ll be looking at this month – the fear of failure in local government that holds us back from finding new solutions, the fear that austerity brings to our communities, fear of social isolation or the stigma of mental illness. We’re also interested in more prosaic fears, like those that go along with a trip to the doctor’s office, or something as seemingly silly as FOMO. We’ve found that the one thing all those fears have in common is that they can make you feel very alone.

We’ve been trying to think of the right way to phrase this, and saw a few tweets from Mark Brown today that seemed very apt. “I think sometimes most powerful thing we could have is a social contract that says ‘someone will care for you and about you when you cannot’’, he observed. “If you erode idea that someone will care for you and about you people don’t become self reliant they begin to care less for themselves.” And that goes right to the heart of it. Whether you’re a frontline worker trying desperately to do your job well under difficult circumstances, or someone struggling to take care of their health without friends and family near by, fear can make you feel like you’ve got to face your worst problems all by yourself. And that can be paralysing.

It’s difficult to thrive when your fears and troubles seem like they’re spiralling out of your control. But one way out of that is to call on the people who can care for you when you feel like you can’t do it by yourself anymore. Whether this is a local network of supportive friends and neighbours, a relational worker in public services, or others who are dealing with the same issues, connection and relationship building are vital to helping us back on our feet. Even though the end goal is for us all to have the capabilities to be and do the things that make up our own version of a flourishing life, we need to know that someone will be there for us in times of need. As proponents of Relational Welfare, that’s what we want for every person in the UK. So when you’re afraid, remember – you don’t have to go it alone.

Photo by Rael B, via Flickr Creative Commons. 

via Flickr user Dennis Tang

Scotland, Be Brave

On 1 October 2014, our Hilary Cottam spoke at the Scottish Leaders Forum to share some of the learning from our Relational Welfare work. Here’s Shelagh Young’s take on that discussion.

What would you do with £250,000 ? Buy a house? Take an eight year sabbatical? Keep a struggling family stuck in a miserable cycle of despair for another few months? Easy choice isn’t it? Who would blow a quarter of a million to sustain misery?

Unfortunately, as Hilary Cottam pointed out during her recent visit to Scotland, we would. Our services repeatedly fail to serve up sustainable positive outcomes. Deep in the crumbling silos of serviceland we know this in our hearts, so a glimmer of light is a precious thing. The dark days of austerity and the looming shadow of a “care-greedy” ageing population are clouding our judgement. The real problem is with us, not them.

The basics of Relational Welfare and some of the road tested ideas Hilary shared with us aren’t necessarily new to Scotland’s veteran change agents. It’s not revolutionary to suggest that you can help people overcome life’s challenges more effectively if you walk a mile in their shoes. It is not rocket science to work out that a strong social network helps keep older people out of costly heavy duty care for longer. Nor is it radical to reveal that even the messiest families can, given a fair economic wind, some trust, respect and support in choosing their own way forward, rebuild a life which no longer drains public money and everyone’s hope. What is dramatically different is the call to join up the dots and transform our struggling services to ensure that everything we do is with people not just for people so that it always leads to increasing people’s own capabilities to lead flourishing lives.

As a board member of Nourish Scotland, I am currently very engaged with the debate around food and health. I was struck by photos, taken by a man with diabetes, of a week’s worth of his meals. The gap between the pie and chips evidence and his self-described healthy diet was stunning. It only began to make sense when you considered the minute architecture of this man’s life. What fresh food is available between his favourite social space, the pub, and his home? What food makes him feel full and happy when his wallet and stomach are equally empty? What difference might it make to this man’s health if, instead of getting a take out and eating alone, he was able to eat affordably with others who might, as friends often do, gently draw his attention to the gap between his dietary aspirations and his daily reality?

In Scotland we are already pretty good at recognising that improving health takes joined up working between clinical, social and education services. But the spiralling cost of caring for people who struggle to turn expensive public funded education initiatives into actual behaviour change cannot be ignored. Continuously confusing lack of capability for ignorance is a very costly mistake that fatally undermines the Scottish Government’s purpose.

There are tantalising glimpses of the kind of community-led initiatives which will help create the flourishing Scotland we want. I see it in many 1000s of community projects and organisations. For example, the Climate Challenge Funded community gardens that bring people together to dig and grow in more ways than one and in the aspirations of Nourish Scotland to stop us “solving” the problem of hunger by disempowering people and stripping their sense of agency through the burgeoning food bank system. But I sense that the silos are still there and that the well-paid hands of the middlepeople are, despite the best of intentions, not easily prised off the levers of power.

So what about it Scotland? A revolution in welfare founded on strengthening relationships between people. Sounds good to me.

Shelagh Young is chair of The Cooperative Phone and Broadband, the UK’s only cooperative telecoms provider which is owned by its member customers. She is on the board of Nourish Scotland, which campaigns for a fair, affordable, healthy and sustainable food system. You can find her on twitter at @sheel9.


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