Healthcare leaders returning health to its rightful home

Heartily recommend a read of this, and inspiring to hear such drive and passion on this subject.

William Lilley

My first blog of 2016 has to start with this great recent article by the former NHS man and independent Peer Lord Nigel Crisp. Published in the December edition of the British Medical Journal (which also contains a recipe for baking a ‘brain cake’), Nigel lays out his vision for ‘Building a health creating society, with all sectors working towards a healthy and resilient population’.

The article is a passionate cry for a major re-focus on prevention. It also reflects a growing recognition by the current NHS leadership and others of the tremendous positive value that can be created when we recognise everyone has a role in creating healthy humans and communities, from housing associations to our next door neighbours.

To make his point Nigel quotes the inspiring African expression which pretty much sums up my overall philosophy on health care.

“Home is for health, hospitals are for repairs”

Over the past two years my…

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Why I care about resilience

The other morning I was lucky enough to bump into a chap I know called Alex Smith. My first post of 2016 is inspired by him and the work his organisations carry out…

Over the past year I’ve blogged quite a bit on what resilience means to me and all sort of interesting initiatives I’ve come across that I think build resilience amongst individuals and communities. I thought I’d kick off my posts this year with some reflections on why I think all of this is important.

Throughout my career in local government, I’ve defined myself as a bit of a problem solver. In fact, I’m not alone with this. You can take a trip through local council rhetoric up and down the land and you’ll find we’re constantly trying to solve stuff. How do you solve the housing crisis? How do you solve child poverty? How do you solve complex families? How do you solve ageing?

Swiftly following these questions will usually be the line “there are no easy answers” and while that sounds like a bit of a cop out, it is absolutely true, but maybe for not the reason people usually intend. We normally see these as difficult problems to solve because they are so complicated – lots of different variables on top of lots of different manifestations of the problem, on top of not enough time or resources would be the standard combo.

However I’m going to posit a simpler take – the reason we can’t solve them, is that they are not problems to solve. Most of the time we may as well be asking “how do we solve living?” (the answer to which is inevitably an unhelpful “stop”).

So what if we redefine what we’re doing – if we’re not solving problems what are we doing then? As a starter for ten, I’m going to go with “rising to challenges”. The reason I like this phrase is it takes away the implication that there is a final goal or destination. You can rise to a challenge and successfully meet it, but sooner or later another one will follow. The emphasis becomes less about how to stop that challenge occurring and more about how to best deal with it when it inevitably arrives.

Which for me is where resilience comes in and why I think we need a change of attitudes in terms of how we help people across the public sector, and for that matter in our private lives as well. For example one can’t *solve* ageing but we can create the conditions for ourselves (collectively and as individuals) to meet the challenges presented by ageing, whether that is through creating aids to help people live in their own homes longer, ensuring we all have half decent pensions(!), keeping fit and healthy or making sure that at a time in our lives when our personal networks tend to diminish, there are things around to help strengthen them.

I’m really big on that last point, whether it’s through use of things like Facebook, or the emergence of ideas like North London Cares and South London Cares, that bring together people of different ages around common interests and build friendships that they can draw strength from, rather than just arrange to visit people because they are “old”.

For those that are interested, I’m going to continue to blog my thoughts on this subject throughout the year and keep my eyes open for great initiatives that don’t treat life and other people like problems to be solved, but as challenges to be risen to, and dare I say, enjoyed.


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Understanding and forgiveness – I’m a failed befriender

Well worth a read and made me think of my volunteering experience with GoodGym and how important my relationship with my coaches have been.


It seemed the right thing to do; loneliness to me seems to be one of the most challenging things to face in older age in modern society and surely befriending could help? Two years ago in January I set out to try to offer something to help with loneliness somewhere. It took me ages to find a way of helping (blogs about that here and here) but earlier in 2015 I became a befriender for a small local charity.

I am no longer a befriender.

This feels like a confession but I equally feel compelled to write this down – It didn’t quite pan-out as I thought it would.

The charity, rightly, do loads of vetting before you can go one the list of befrienders. Interviews and CRB checks. We both went together, thinking that as a family unit we might be more helpful to someone. My husband is…

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Alex’s Random Resilience Round-up – some links I’ve found to be quite interesting #6

This week has been very interesting, not least because I’ve come across a load of cool initiatives that I haven’t heard of before. In the latest of my random resilience round-ups, I thought I’d share a few with some reflections on why I think they’re great examples of resilience.

2J Events

I’ve linked these guys to their “about” page for a reason. On the face of it this doesn’t look anything special – an enterprise set up to manage the hiring of spaces. Except it’s targeted at hiring out spaces in schools (which tend to be hugely under-used given they are essentially community facilities). And the income generated goes to help schools’ finances. And there’s an emphasis on building stronger community links between schools and their localities. And my favourite bit – it was founded by a couple of students who wanted to demonstrate their school had more to offer than a damning OFSTED report.

Almost everything about this story has an assets-based feel to it and I’ll be watching these guys with interest to see if they manage to capture the imaginations of other schools, students and communities across the country.

Old Spike Roastery and Change Please

I’m annoyed I’ve not heard about these initiatives before now, particularly as they are in the same vein as one of my favourite organisations Social Bite.

I work in London and am ashamed to say that I’ve not been immune to the rapid proliferation of coffee purveyors that seem to be everywhere at the moment. I spend an awful lot of money on very little if I’m honest, even if the coffee does taste quite nice. So it makes complete sense that if you were going to develop a social enterprise to provide people who are homeless with an employment pathway, you’d choose such a growth industry.

The Old Spike Roastery  in Peckham not only produces extremely ethically and seasonally sourced coffee, it employs homeless people and provides training as well as housing support. From what I hear it is going from strength to strength, which leads me to…

Change Please, which is the new venture from the same people (which I think is launching on Monday 23rd November). This takes the concept out on to the streets, with homeless people trained to be baristas and provided with coffee carts ostensibly to sell to the commuter crowd (people like me!). It’s such a simple concept, but a clever one in my view and I really hope they’re a success. If you see them out and about, trade in your over-priced hipster flat white for one that gives everyone a little more value.

And on a final note, it was great to see George Clooney visiting Social Bite the other week, but given his Nespresso links one wonders if he’d be more interested in these guys. “Change Please coffee? What else?”

Father Nature

A nice little Lambeth project this one which ticks so many boxes for me. A project that works to provide urban growing spaces that truly reflect the local community. Actually I’ll let them explain because they do it better than me:

“All of our projects involve close collaboration with communities to help people transform their neighbourhood by sharing our design and gardening know-how. Whether it’s greening your street with flowers and trees, growing fruit and veg locally, teaching children and adults about healthy eating and sustainability, or simply having fun outdoors, it’s all about growing together.”

It’s not really the transformation of open spaces that caught my eye, but the way they seem to have found a magic ingredient in bringing people together, whether that be larger communities, neighbours on a street, or even people within a family. Their work seem to build stronger relationships between people that in turn builds stronger relationships with things they create. I don’t think this is talked about enough in my view, so it’s great to see it so evidently in action.

and finally…. an update on an old favourite!

A little while back now I wrote a post about Stay Up Late and their Gig Buddies project. If you’re interested click the link and read away, I shan’t bang on about how awesome I think they are here. But what I will do is share their exciting news that they’ve come up with a method for helping people to set up Gig Buddies projects all over the place – Gig Buddies in a Box!

This makes a huge amount of sense. I’m a great believer that these sorts of things work best where they have a local feel but a wider network of support. There is literally no reason why there couldn’t and shouldn’t be a Gig Buddies Camden, or a Gig Buddies Brixton for example. Read up about them and watch this space!

As always with the resilience round-up, don’t take my word for it. Read about them yourselves and make you’re own mind up. And I’m always interested in other cool examples of people demonstrating and strengthening their individual and community resilience so feel free to share!


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Closing house, opening doors

Now this is a shame. Have always enjoyed the stuff coming from these guys. Well worth reading not only this post but their legacy site as well.

Relational Welfare Blog Archive

As you may know, after 10 great years, Participle has taken the decision to close its doors on 16 October, 2015. This means that this will be our final post for the foreseeable future. Thank you so much for being a part of our community. We know that Relational Welfare is an idea whose time has come, and we are confident that people like you will be keeping the spirit of the movement alive in the world.

On that note, we wanted to share with you the final speech delivered by Hilary Cottam as Founder and CEO of Participle.

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Recovery – the resilience taboo?

It’s been a while since my last post on this topic. I’ve missed posting but I’m also acutely aware that what started out as a blog to capture my work in an open and transparent way has also become a place that captures me in an open and transparent way. Perhaps this has made me more cautious about sharing my thoughts, however given the whole point of this blog is about sharing, I should probably learn to get over myself.

Today, I want to share some thoughts about the idealistic rhetoric surrounding resilience (both individual and community). I particularly want to challenge it.

During my time at Camden, we struggled for a long time (as policy wonks are wont to do) on how to define “resilience”. We were obsessed with ensuring that it wasn’t just about how one responds to challenging situations but how one develops a range of strengths and resources to “thrive as well as survive” (note: I have to come to hate this rather patronising and twee phrase). I guess I still don’t mind this angle that much; after all it allows the resilience conversation to align neatly with assets-based thinking which I am a big fan of, and of course puts the emphasis on developing one’s resilience BEFORE it is needed so that we are all better prepared. This makes sense.

My issue of late is that the conversation has been so dominated by making the case for investing up front in resilience, that too many of us (myself included) have lost sight of the “during” and the “after” effects. I’ll give you a very simple example.

Last weekend I ran a half marathon. There isn’t anything too special about this. I’ve run a few and only last month I did my first marathon. When I got to the last mile my legs gave out and I had to walk. This has NEVER happened to me, not even on my first run. I was annoyed at the time because the rest of me was functioning fine! Runners around me were gasping for air and waterfalling sweat while I was jogging along in relative serenity, but as they powered on I could only shut down. I was embarrassed, but really it shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’ve spent the summer training for my first marathon and within three weeks of completing it I had added a 19 km training run and a half marathon. In short, my legs were knackered.

In training I had built physical resilience to endure a marathon, but I had also used it all up (read up about marathon training – it’s fascinating how much it is an exercise in learning how to recover from damaging yourself!) and so of course when I looked to use it again, I was left wanting.

I have another example around my intellectual and emotional capacity, but maybe that’s a little too raw to share right now. However when I think about my running example I can see exact parallels – spending dedicated time to strengthen my mental resilience, using it all for a period I know will be tough, but then struggling (shutting down if you will) when I then try to use it again without restoring it.

Readers of these posts will know that I tend to, rightly or wrongly, apply what I learn about my own resilience to the topic of community resilience. When I do so in this case, I see something very worrying. I see councils, governments, charities etc investing in strengthening communities and households to cope with evolving pressures our society is facing. I see those communities succeeding, with terrific examples of people coming together and responding to challenges that seem impossible. I see inspiration and confidence. I see this confidence being its own enemy as even greater asks are placed on people who have already given huge amounts, if not everything. And on the back of this I see tragic collapses and ruins. I see people who don’t understand why it didn’t work this time. I see people who are ashamed. I see people who are angry.

What I don’t see, is anyone around to tell them that what has happened is ok. That it was expected. That they can achieve great things again, they just need a bit of rest.

This last point is on my mind a lot, and it is something I think is missing from resilience strategies/conversations I’ve come across. I guess I’d call them whole-life resilience approaches which go beyond the up front investment stage and actively build in what is needed to support individual and community resilience during a challenge and most importantly during the recovery stage.

I’ve read the phrase “bouncing forward” as opposed to bouncing back a lot. This is the idea that we don’t return to our previous state of being but we improve through applying our resilience. I agree that this is possible, but unless we respect our recovery stages, I don’t agree it is inevitable.

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Why are our politicians too scared to talk about love? A view from Australia

Relational Welfare Blog Archive

Public services don’t need to be transactional. Let’s not be afraid to talk about adding ‘love’ to the typical public service relationship, says Dr. Jennifer Sinclair in Australia.

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