Engagement has to be Fun

I present the Bradford Safeguarding Adults Board Community Engagement Event – held on 27th June 2018 at Manningham Mills Community Centre

It was a real privilege to be part of this event. I think the video pretty much captures the essence of the day, which was described to me by one of the participants as “joyous”.

“Joyous?” I hear you ask, “but isn’t Safeguarding a really serious, and potentially scary, issue?”. Safeguarding is certainly serious, but there is a pressing need to make sure it is more widely understood. And it is commendable that Bradford’s Safeguarding Adults Board is committed to making sure that the most vulnerable people in society not only understand the nature of abuse and what can be done about it, but that they can also contribute to the strategy being implemented across the District to keep residents safe. An important element of the Board’s approach is attract people to participate in setting policies and strategy by ensuring that events like this are fun, and genuinely engaging.

So people had a lot of fun at the event, and in amongst the fun, they learnt some really serious stuff; they were provided with tools to deal with abuse in their own lives, they learned about different kinds of abuse, and they contributed to the Safeguarding Adults Board’s strategic plan. And they did all this because they wanted to, not out of a sense of obligation or duty.

I found it particularly encouraging that storytelling was central to much of the message of the day, with a powerful video illustrating a particular kind of abuse, and participants being encouraged to use picture stories to explore issues. This was just one day, but it brought together individual service users and organisations that support their participation on a regular basis. Personally I believe that storytelling, and participation in storymaking, has to be deployed on a wider basis to develop understanding of complex issues and ensure that consultation is genuinely informed via deep understanding of the issues.

I was proud to be part of the day as part of my mission to raise the profile of social care, of the fantastic work so many social care organisations do, and the difference they make to people’s lives. And a key part of the message, which the Safeguarding Adults Board, and other social care organisations in Bradford are central to, is the emphasis on social care being an empowering service which provides the underpinning for people to live full and fulfilled lives in recognition that people know best what is good for them, and the role of professionals is to support them in achieving their personal goals.  In this year when we celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS, it is vital that we also recognise that the same act gave birth to the modern social care system, and that the two are different sides of the same coin.

There is a playlist of videos illustrating what participants said about the day here, and the presentations and games played on the day are below.

 

Why I do Digital Storytelling

This is a brief post about why Digital Storytelling is so important to me.

I believe the world needs to change so that there are more opportunities for people to improve their lives, so that organisations are more responsive to people’s needs, and so that power structures are more representative of the diversity of society.

Every day I come across examples of great initiatives which are contributing to these objectives, but all too often they exist in isolation from each other and from policy and power mechanisms which could translate them into coherent social movements.

As an example, I have only today seen someone from a major organisation revealing in a tweet that they have only just become aware that Britain has a Housing Crisis.

The digital storytelling I do aims to shine a light on people and organisations doing great work to make the world a better place. The most powerful stories of all are those which enable the people who benefit from such work to describe and demonstrate the difference it has made to them.

Here are some examples:

Most people think that social care is in terminal crisis. While no one could deny there are huge problems, every day millions of people work to deliver the best care they can in challenging circumstances.

Policy makers have for years believed that Britain’s South Asian communities did not want professional social care organisations interfering in their family relationships. Probing beneath the surface can reveal the truth.

All too many people believe that a diagnosis of dementia is a death sentence. Events like the North Wales Dementia Meetups prove that people can continue to live fulfilling lives with the condition.

It is not true that older people don’t use technology. Some get great benefits from it, but most don’t. Here are some of those who do use it to enhance their lives.

And sometimes it’s all about having fun.

 

I’d love to help as many people as possible to use this kind of storytelling in their work. If I can help you, please get in touch

#onenorth

Somewhere in the North of England

I love the north of England, I have lived in the north for more than 20 years, and even before that I sort of considered it my spiritual home. I was brought up just outside Nottingham which is in the East Midlands. But, historically, the River Trent was seen as the dividing line between the north and south, and, as the maternity hospital where I was born was three miles north of the river, and the village where I was brought up was another 5 miles north of that, I have always considered myself to be a northerner. I realise that if you are reading this in Newcastle or Carlisle, you’ll consider that Huddersfield, where I now live, is pretty far south, but I think most people would consider it to be pretty much at the heart of that thing known collectively as “the North” (in England at least; “hello” to my Scottish friends).

As a child I was fascinated by the North. My mother was a Londoner, and my dad had a job in which he travelled the country, but had regularly to visit his head office in London. When this happened in the school holidays, the family would all get in the car and be dropped off at my uncle’s house in North London while my dad went off to the head office. This happened regularly, we would all get into the car, head off towards the M1 motorway and turn left to head south for London. And every time we did this, I thought “what would happen if we turned right and went north?”. And then, one day, we did. I can’t remember why, but we turned right and headed north. And it was early evening in winter, it was getting dark. One of the things I remember vividly was that, as we crossed the Tinsley viaduct near Sheffield, there were jets of flame illuminating the night sky, emanating from the steel works. That left a big impression on me. My romantic notions of “the North” were now enhanced by a mental image that was almost like dragons breathing fire beside the road. Of course, those steel works are not there any more, and have been replaced by the Meadowhall shopping centre, which may be some people’s idea of a romantic venue, but not mine.

Somewhere else in the North of England

It was around this time, or a bit later, that my romantic notions of the North were significantly boosted by studying “Wuthering Heights” at school. And I also had this idea, perhaps fostered by my mother’s declaration that, having left London at the age of 21 she would never go back to live there, that the further north you went, the kinder and more collaborative people got (apologies to my southern friends, I know this is a stereotype). So, having lived in the West Midlands, as well as the East, when I got the opportunity to move to Yorkshire I jumped at it.

Even though I love living in the North, it cannot be denied that some of the infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. It always amazes me when I visit London and people complain about the Underground. Of course it has its faults, not least being the over-crowding at rush hour, but the fact that you can disappear underground and be whisked miles across the city in quick time is something that residents of most other cities in the country can only dream of. And, there is the issue of the extra investment being pumped into new lines like Crossrail and Thameslink, at the same time that projects such as the proposed electrification of the Transpennine rail line between Manchester and Leeds have been cancelled. So, is it any wonder that people in the North are angry, and suspecting that the south is being favoured?

And we have had the Northern Powerhouse, which is something I have been sceptical about since its inception. My big problem with it was that, in common with many high-level strategies, it failed to engage with the people of the North in any kind of tangible way. Most of the imagery that came out of it was the usual stuff featuring middle-aged white men in suits. And little of what they produced seemed to have much relevance to people’s lives. And then there came a change of government, and the one project that might have made a difference to how we live, the rail electrification, was cancelled.

A Northern Rail Pacer

Is the Northern Powerhouse dead? I don’t know? What I do know is that the people of the North are angry, and that anger has crystallised around the latest debacle, which has been the failure of the train operating companies, in particular Northern Rail, to adapt to the new timetable which was supposed to give us at least a slight upgrade in terms of speed and frequency of train services. The result has been the opposite of what was promised, with chaos across the region, and reports of people losing their jobs because they can’t get to work on time, among other negative consequences.

I have often been asked for my opinion of the most effective means to get communities organising using social media. My response has often been to suggest that anger is the most likely stimulus. And the Northern Rail situation has produced lots and lots of anger. One of the unexpected results of this has been rival newspaper groups across the region putting aside their normal competitive instincts to come together in a collective expression of the region’s rage at the situation. And much of the anger has been focused around the social media hashtag #onenorth which has been used both to rally people around the campaign to get the government to re-instate its previous promises for investment in northern infrastructure, and to catalogue the nightmare journeys many people have been facing. It is interesting that this began as pretty much a grassroots expression of frustration, with the newspapers offering some kind of leadership and amplification of the message. The politicians of the north, with the possible exception of the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, have been late to this party. Their leadership has been largely lacking.

So, does #onenorth represent a major coming together of the collective spirit of the people of the North? Who knows? It is perhaps too early to tell. I suspect that any collective spirit that does exist will dissipate if the immediate issues are addressed. But I have a hope. It is a hope that this might be a start of something. Could it just be that we can keep the #onenorth spirit going and use it to ensure the people’s voice is heard in future developments across the north of England? The Northern Powerhouse has been something that few people in the North have been able to engage with. Let’s make #onenorth a real movement of the people?

I am being absurdly optimistic about this? Let me know in the comments below.

Oh, and why you are here, I urgently need to get to 1,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel (I make videos about social issues and people’s efforts to improve the world), so please click here and subscribe if you can.

Finding Inspiration in Our Public Services

Yesterday I happened to catch a bit of a Sport Relief TV programme. There were lots of “fun” activities interspersed with sections on what the money Sport Relief raises is spent on. These sections were accompanied by inspirational music and language designed to pull at the heart strings.

Then a bit later I watched a YouTube video about the history of one of my favourite rock bands. I enjoyed the video, except for the bit about how they structured their activities to avoid paying tax in the UK. This was presented as a wholly acceptable and desirable thing to do. They were perfectly open about it.

For me this strikes at the heart of a key issue in our society. Every day people are doing fantastic, inspirational, and life-saving and enhancing things funded by tax-payers’ money. And yet, our society is happy to be moved and inspired by what Sport Relief, Comic Relief, the National Lottery, and other charitable fund-raisers do, while denigrating public services and resenting the tax monies that go to pay for them. No matter how much you might think you are an entrepreneur who doesn’t rely on the state; every time you use a publicly-funded road, have your bins emptied by the local authority, or rely on the NHS, you are using tax-funded services.

This is why I do things like the Civic Story Factory. The people who work in our public services are every bit as essential and inspirational as those funded by charitable telethons. They just don’t shout about it often enough.

Here’s an example of people doing some great work in our much derided Social Care sector. Homecare providers in Bradford.

 

How Digital Storytelling brings out the nuances

This is a piece of work I did a little while ago working with Locorum, a West Yorkshire-based social enterprise which exists to help health and care services adapt to the needs of under-represented groups. Locorum were commissioned by Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group to undertake a survey of care needs among older Asian people and then to take the results of the survey and interview people about its findings.

Comments we received about this confirmed my views about the importance of this kind of storytelling. There were a couple of interesting points that came out in discussion about it.

Firstly, the video brought out a number of nuanced views that could not have been gained from a survey. Surveys are OK for capturing statistics, but they don’t get to the “yes, but” views. The issues we were canvassing people’s views on were often complex and the way the interviewees addressed them help very much in shaping responses.

Secondly, I believe it is important to capture people saying what might be quite difficult things to say in public. There is a received wisdom that South Asian communities are highly resistant to letting professional carers into their family relationships, and, if we had just relied on the results of the survey, that is probably the message that would have come through. But the interviews revealed that, because of changes in society, that view is changing. Families are struggling to provide the necessary care in some cases, and they are reluctantly coming to accept that outside help is necessary. But it is acceptable only on certain terms, which include the need for cultural sensitivity, and that it needs to accept that the family is the principal means of care and thus professional care is there to fill in the gaps and must step back when asked to do so.

I’d love to help as many people as possible to use this kind of storytelling in their work. If I can help you, please get in touch.

The Antidote to Poverty Porn TV

Last night I was at a great event at Salford University launching the “Fair Press for Tenants” guide for journalists, produced by Benefit to Society a collective of organisations which has come together to promote positive images of tenants to counter the negativity which often features in mainstream media. Their message is music to my ears as it is a theme I have been focusing on for the best part of the past 5 years.

It was a great event, and there were some wonderful people there. I think the guide is great, but, as I pointed out in the discussion, journalists are not the only people who need to be focused on with this message. Certain politicians have been cheerleaders in stigmatising social housing tenants, and the people who make programmes like “Benefits Street”, “How to Get a Council House”, “On Benefits and Proud”, and “Skint” are generally not journalists, nor are the programme commissioners at organisations like Channel 4 and Channel 5 who decide they should be made.

It was particularly interesting to hear from Eric Smith about the experiences of living in Wythenshawe, South Manchester when “Shameless” was being made, and the impact that had on outsider’s perceptions of the area. After the event some of us had a discussion about whether we could make our own programmes which are the antidote to poverty porn TV. I am definitely up for that if we can raise the resources. Who’s in?

When did we allow the Public Sector to become “other”?

When did we allow the Public Sector to become “other”? I’ve just read yet another article about people doing things for themselves rather than leaving it to the “impersonal” public sector. All power to them, but why the contrast?. We have allowed the media and certain politicians to paint public organisations as being separate from the public, and, it has to be said, a certain kind of management culture and jobsworthiness kind of fosters that within a lot of civic organisations.

But, we should remember that public organisations ARE us. The public funds them through various kinds of taxes, and we elect politicians to oversee them. The public sector represents people’s desire to act collectively to get things done that we cannot achieve on our own. But still there are those who would like us to forget that. This is the reason I have formed the Civic Story Factory to unlock the stories of people doing great work on our behalf.

Bridging the Gap Between Young People and Politicians

Some good news.

I’ve been working with Global Diversity Positive Action (GDPA) an organisation based in Huddersfield which has a particular focus on unleashing the potential of young people who may have been denied opportunities by mainstream agencies. GDPA will shortly be launching an exciting shop-front project in the centre of Huddersfield, which will include a coffee shop, a co-working space, a recording studio, IT training facilities, and hireable meeting space.

A few months ago, I helped GDPA apply for some funding to run a project which addresses some issues which are close to my heart. And last week we heard that The Community Foundation for Calderdale had approved the application.

Lower Valley Chat (working title) aims to engage young people in political processes by bridging the gap between the language they commonly speak, and that used by those who make decisions about their lives. We’ll be working with young people in the Brighouse, Rastrick and Elland areas of Calderdale to help them create multimedia content which identifies the issues of greatest importance to their lives and expresses the actions they wish see taken to address them. We will then present this material to local politicians and other decision makers and invite them to respond.  There has been much talk about increased youth involvement in politics following the recent General Election, one of the things we’ll be testing in this project is whether this involvement can be sustained, and whether the politicians will really listen to their views, or is it just a case of courting their votes at election time. We’ll be working with colleagues at Calderdale Council’s Youth Service to engage with the young people they work with.

It will very much be up to the young people involved to decide what they want to say and how they want to say it, but we envisage they will build their case using a mix of YouTube videos, SnapChat messages and Instagram posts, with maybe a bit of Facebook and Twitter mixed in as well. The challenge will be to get the decision-makers to engage with them on those platforms. It’s a challenge I am looking forward to.

We are already planning a launch event in a local park featuring a performance by a popular local Grime artist. And the project will culminate in an event where we present the content to the politicians.

We are looking for businesses (local or otherwise) who’d like to get involve by donating prizes to be presented to the young people. Please please get in touch if you can help with this.

Watch this space for news of the project as it develops.

nEW-SILVER-LOGO

Why does it take a tragedy for the good stories to come out?

On Tuesday of this week I tweeted the following

There were some amazing stories that came out of the aftermath of the bombing at Manchester Arena, not least of which being the heroics of Steve, the homeless guy, who subsequently was offered 6 month’s accommodation by the co-owner of West Ham United Football Club.

But, why does it take a tragedy for the mainstream media and the public in general to start paying attention to our dedicated NHS workers and other public servants? And, it has to be asked, why does a homeless person have to perform heroic deeds before he is offered accommodation?

Health workers and public servants are doing great work every day of our lives, and there are homeless people on the streets of every city who have not had the opportunity to respond in the way Steve did. Are they any less deserving?

People doing good work need to tell their own stories. Because there are few occasions when the mainstream media and public pay attention to them.

We are a society that believes in sharing, in helping each other, and in being there when needed. That is our story.

Friendships not Transactions

I need to get this off my chest.

I couldn’t possibly count the number of times people have given me the excuse for not pursuing digital transformation that recipients of services would miss the personal touch. Indeed I am repeatedly told that, for many the regular interaction with their care worker / housing officer / other professional is their only human contact.

I have 2 responses to this argument.

The first is, why are we not making more use of technology to reduce isolation and increase human contact? First priority in this for me is to assist people to use social networking to make new friends who they can subsequently meet in person. Second priority is to connect people together online, whether it be via social media sites, or via video conferencing.

My second response is this. What has our society come to if the only personal contact people have is with those who are paid to deliver a service to them? This is not right and it should not be used as an excuse for holding back progress. I refer you back to my first response for how we should be dealing with this. Let’s help people make and maintain real friendships, not rely on perfunctory transactions for a semblance of human warmth.

Here’s Paro the robot seal which has proven really good at connecting with older people.