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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Learning Ability and the Spirit of 2012

This morning I was at the launch of the Mayday Trust Foyer in Rugby. A new Foyer is always something special – but particularly when it is the ‘The Learning Ability Foyer’, designed to help harness the talents of young people who are experiencing what society calls 'learning disabilities'. It’s a good example of  'advantage thinking’: recognising the ability, not stereotyping a disability.  As someone who was stuck in remedial classes as a young boy, classified with ‘learning difficulties’, I feel passionately that people deserve the right approach to find and grow their unique talent in life. The friendly, interactive environment created by May Day, with staff coaches on hand to encourage the development of skills and resources, is exactly the sort of place every community needs. It was no surprise the event was packed out.  Those attending were treated to a table tennis display from paralympic table tennis champion Victoria Bromley, and an inspiring speech from Special Olympics athlete and board member Greg Silvester. As Mayday's dynamic CEO Pat McArdle explained, "We have invited our Olympians here because we are using exactly the same model to achieve aspirations, with no limit on goals and potential." 

I think Pat is right. The real potential 2012 legacy is staring us in the face, yet is somehow being missed.  Great Britain was a top medal winner; our children, however, lie at the bottom of the table for wellbeing across Europe. Why can’t we take the learning that helped us develop such successful elite athletes, and apply it to those in our society who we continue to fail? 

We can. There are 3 ingredients to seize on: a focus on high aspirations, to believe that the young people we tag as ‘disadvantaged’ can build thriving lives; an approach that uses world class coaching, to enable young people to find and nurture their talents; and targeted flexible investment that can give young people the power to shape the path they need to make their dreams a reality. 
 These ingredients are precisely what the Foyer Federation believes all services for young people should offer.  It is something the Foyer Federation calls Open Talent – a campaign to pull together the many different ways these three asset-building ingredients can be put into practice. It is possible to achieve, and it is essential to achieve. The expensive evidence base of services ill equipped to nurture young people’s talents, from care homes to job centres, is all around us. 

Later in the afternoon, I attended an event hosted by the Big Lottery to promote work to rekindle the Olympic ‘Spirit of 2012’, including the launch of new funding to encourage positive volunteering activity such as the excellent Pedal On UK initiative led by the Sustrans charity.  After a morning of table tennis, we had speeches from Olympians Chris Tomlinson, Andrew Triggs Hodge, and Lord Coe. While this was all vital stuff, I couldn’t help but think how the Spirit of 2012 should set us a challenge worthy of the Olympian inside us all: to be more advantaged thinking by asking us to apply the three ingrediants behind the success of the GB olympic and paralympic teams to how we work with our young people. Just like the Kaos Singing choir, who were the highlight of the event, we need to sing out loud, embrace our learning ability, and ‘do things differently’.

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