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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Friday 28 February 2014

A Bridge for Young People's Future

A speech given for Bridge Foyer's 15th Birthday:

"I’ve come all the way from London to be at this special 15th birthday celebration, because the Foyer Federation holds Bridge Foyer and the other Foyers of Your Housing in high regard. And at a time of great innovation in Foyers in the UK and overseas, represented by programmes such as Open Talent and Healthy Conversations run with Your Housing, I want to try and understand why it is that a beacon Foyer like Bridge could be put in a position where its vital service is under threat through the current commissioning climate.

I’d like to begin that by looking at a quote:

‘ Tomorrow’s leaders, artists and innovators are busy growing up but they can only achieve their potential with our whole hearted and expert support. That is why we need a director who’s not just skilled but driven and not just capable but passionate. In short, we need a true leader who understands why this job is so important.’

So marks the introduction for a job at Haringey Council as Director of Children’s Services – an authority trying to move on from the legacy of the Baby P scandal to put in place a culture of high aspiration for children and young people. They are using what we call at the Foyer Federation ‘Advantaged Thinking’; to start with what is possible –tomorrow’s leaders - and develop services to ensure that young people can create the possible in their lives.

What about Cheshire West and Chester?  What vision is being expressed in its strategic commissioning consultation document?  If you look at the outcomes, there is no sense that the young people of Chester are being prepared as tomorrow’s leaders, artists and innovators. In Chester, young people are not being equipped to thrive; they are being given an offer of ‘Housing Related Support’ that is only prepared to help them cope. Because all the evidence shows that services, such as Foyers, designed to do more than housing related support, enable young people to navigate a world that is far more complex that the choices suggested in the consultation document. Instead of the Advantaged Thinking approach in Haringey, Cheshire West and Chester start with what is not possible, the suggestion that young people cannot do more than sustain a tenancy, and then they propose commissioning services that ensure people can never achieve anything else. It’s what we call Disadvantaged Thinking – seeing young people in terms of problems instead of possibilities.

The difference between Haringey’s job ad, and Cheshire West and Chester’s consultation document, is like the difference between the story of the good and the bad parent. When a child is learning to walk, the good parent holds out the aspiration that the child crawling on the ground and falling down will be able to do something that is beyond their current ability. They encourage the child to keep trying, because they believe that they can and will be able to walk in the world. Compare that to the story of the bad parent  - who, when their child falls down trying to walk, says – I’m sorry, but walking is not for you, you are best crawling, and we’ll help you develop the skills to sustain your crawling for the rest of your life through ‘crawling related support’ so you can cope with not having the talent to walk like the rest of the children in town.

Why does Cheshire West and Chester only have the vision to offer young people the Housing Related Support options to help them crawl through life, instead of learning how to stand tall to find their talents through talent-building services?

Just imagine if the people responsible for the consultation document had been tasked with managing the GB Olympic team.  A team of athletes, prevented from breaking any bones, supported to sustain their tenancies and behave in in the Olympic village – but not equipped with the skills and experiences to win any medals at the games. At the Olympics, the GB team succeeded in winning its biggest medal haul through 3 key lessons: giving athletes access to high quality coaching; providing flexible, personalised budgets for athletes to navigate their life needs so they could focus on thriving; and creating a culture of high aspirations that believed in success, instilled confidence, and encouraged peer-to-peer positive support. Where are those ingredients in the Cheshire West and Chester consultation document?  In Chester, the service best placed to offer young people access to those 3 things, with the experience of doing so successfully, is now in danger of being axed because it doesn’t fit the strategic commissioning model being proposed.  Where is the Olympic legacy in that? 

The Olympic Games opening ceremony was memorably kicked off by a local Cheshire lad, Daniel Craig, famous for James Bond – a character associated with standing up against those who threaten our freedom.  I wouldn’t dream of comparing the intensions of Cheshire West and Chester with those of SPECTRE from the early Bond novels and films, but they do share one thing in common: an attempt to impose a system of control over the world that we know in our hearts is wrong, that we know only benefits a few, and that we know needs someone with the courage and determination to fight against.  The logic behind the Cheshire West and Chester consultation amounts to this: that there are some young people who we should only offer a minimal Housing Related Support offer to because they don’t have the talent to invest in their development through a more specialist talent-building service such as a Foyer. They are wrong. The logic is faulty. And the implied intent will leave Chester with a generation of young people with short term tenancy skills but without the longer term investment in their talent to build our collective future.  

What can we do about it?

At the Foyer Federation, we are creating a new movement to tell a different story about young people.  A story that can challenge disadvantaged thinking with the reality of who young people are, what their authentic voice is, and who they can become.  It’s a movement for ‘Taking Advantaged Thinking Action’.  And you can be part of that here, in Chester, by becoming an activist and special agent for Bridge Foyer.

You can be 001 – and make sure that the language we use about young people is focused on who they are, not the negative stereotypes and deficits that get attached to them by others.

You can be 002 – and make sure that the knowledge you have of young people is based on what they can do and aspire to, as we have witnessed in the young people performing today, not just their problems.

You can be 003 – and make sure that the way you work with young people is shaped around the power of coaching as opposed to supporting.

You can be 004 – and make sure that the future isn’t about the 20% savings the commissioner needs to make through service cuts, but about the 80% that will be wasted in just supporting people to cope instead of equipping them to thrive.  

You can be 005 – and make sure that you express the highest aspirations for young people as a good parent would.

You can be 006 – and make sure that we really involve young people in what we do, enabling their experiences to shape the services they receive in a more genuine way than the processes used in this consultation.

And you can be 007 – the ultimate agent - by challenging and campaigning for Taking Advantaged Thinking Action to secure a better world for young people.

So respond to the consultation document. Stand by the staff and young people of Bridge Foyer.  Think what talent you have to offer to help open young people’s. And whatever happens tomorrow, remember this song, by a music band called the Manic Street Preachers, from 1998 when Bridge Foyer was being built: ‘If you tolerate this, your children will be next’…"
With thanks to all the amazing young people and staff from Bridge Foyer in Chester

Create the future with me in a night of Taking Advantaged Thinking Action  at The Cockpit, Marylebone, on 6th August at 7.30pm. Tickets now on sale HERE


Friday 21 February 2014

That Feeling...

 I saw the poster inside the shiny offices of Prince’s Trust as I trudged through the rain to work from Liverpool Street station. That Feeling – a big face catching the eye with the sensation of doing something challenging and exciting to raise money for The Prince’s Trust.  Or, in the words of the poster, to support ‘disadvantaged young people’.  Or, from a more honest perspective, to support the Trust’s ongoing communications campaign to stereotype young people as being ‘disadvantaged’ and other negative labels as the most effective way to raise money for itself.

At least the poster was colourful. At least the poster would motivate thousands of people to do things for others. At least the poster would stimulate an interest in the future for young people. Atleast some individuals would directly benefit from the promise of inspiration.

But I had a different feeling.

I was walking down a street in East London. One where there are not-so-shiny housing estates with young people who experience multiple challenges to harness their potential for life. Directly outside the estate, in the bus stop normally postered with KFC and drink ads, the Prince’s Trust’s ‘That Feeling’ image stared back.  It stopped me in my tracks. Not even I expected this.

How could they?  How dare they allow a poster to be put up here? Raising money in the name of supporting young people like some of those on the estate, who receive absolutely no service what so ever from The Prince’s Trust?  Using the image of their so-called ‘disadvantage’, in order to raise money that they never see?  I know, because I've lived there.

I wondered how many people had signed up to help the campaign, thinking their donations would make a difference in their actual locality.  Does the Prince’s Trust have a plan to help those young people on the estate?  They have great resources to offer, but do they and will they ever reach here?  Do they have an intention to share funding with those local charities working with young people in the areas where they put up their posters - those who actually have the best expertise to reach out and connect young people with opportunity?

I doubt it. After all, this is just the way that big national charities meet fundraising targets  to protect their status quo - in a clever, well done, and utterly shameful manner.

That Feeling….

Of betrayal. 

Of broken trust. 

That’s what putting a poster, with that language, with that intent, in that place, amounts to. For me.

As I walked home, I wondered if I could sign up to help the Prince’s Trust’s work.  The 'That Feeling' campaign has four options to choose your challenge, none of which I'm that good at, so I reasoned I could come up with my own.  And in the spirit of the campaign, it's a life-changing challenge - to convince the staff at Prince's Trust to 'Take Advantaged Thinking Action' in the way they talk about young people; in the way they invest in young people; and in the way they behave as a charity.  Because ‘That Feeling’ really really needs to change.
If you like a challenge, come and explore a night of Advantaged Thinking Action with me at The Cockpit, Marylebone, on 6th August at 7.30pm. Tickets now on sale HERE

Saturday 1 February 2014

Running for never

‘Running away together, running away forever…’

Words from the (in)famous Brotherhood of Man hit that haunt me, not with the idea of eloping from reality, but the image of charity marathon runners and the causes they are prepared to hurt for each year.

I usually don’t get too excited by an email asking me to sponsor another runner for another cause. This week was slightly different.  The runner in question was the Chief Executive of Leap Confronting Conflict. If you don’t know them, Leap is an authentic, well run and inclusive youth charity, with a value base very different from the mainstream brands.  One of the Advantaged Thinkers in the pack.  In their own language, ‘Leap supports young people struggling with conflict (gangs, weapons, in prison, excluded from school) to transform that conflict in to positive activity, to reduce violence in their communities and to help lead our society. The young people we work with are amazing.’  While impressed with the challenge, it struck me that actually running such a charity ‘the right way’ was its own mental, emotional and physical marathon.  In which case, why weren’t we being asked to sponsor that? Why must a Chief Executive have to run a more publically acceptable form of ‘marathon’ as well, just to get money to invest in the work our society depends on?

Then I had a vision – arguably a nightmare – of all the normal brigade of celebs, well-to-dos, and middle classes looking for a new personal challenge, dressed in shorts and bursting into the doors of my workplace to help run the marathon of running a charity.   Sponsored to achieve various charity marathon challenges (posted up to choose from via our Run-a-Charity app of course), such as: how to prove your impact using tools that don’t reflect what you do; how to build a sustainable future using short-term funding; how to help young people navigate through a policy system designed to fail their every step; how to enable poorly paid over worked and under-appreciated staff on the frontline to pick up the fragments our society disposes of.  Thinking about all the time it takes to train for a marathon there would be more than enough hours to prepare easy-win solutions for the big Run-a-Charity day. Even better, if we could get the people causing some of the social problems that charity is trying to resolve, to come and actually run one, they might see how the true measure of what they do exists in the life of others they don’t understand. Expect moments of confession by the water-cooler as hubris finally melts with the polar ice cap.  

Ultimately, I am something of a 'rebbit' - a rebal rabbit running to get away with saying these things while I can. It won't last. The farmer’s gun isn’t far behind. Every rebel runs the line of a different race, knowing that the only finish line is the end of something or the end of themselves.  They don’t want to go home in foil, a sticker with a fastest time on the fridge, so they can come back to do it next year. They can't keep hiding in their hole. They want out.

Looking at the repeated programmes and campaigns that seem to do more to keep their organisations running than to stop our need for them, I really wonder what we have become. A society in perpetual motion, in perpetual denial. The fact we have a marathon to run for young people at all, after all these years, all these initiatives, all this knowledge, all our social wealth, is something to do something about. It’s certainly every reason why we should sponsor someone who is trying to run two marathons at once because, like me, they want the race to cease. We all should.
Sponsor Leap's Chief Executive Thomas Lawson to run the Brighton Marathon here

Find out how the race can cease in The Adventures of Tata-man, a performance of ideas at The Cockpit, Marylebone, on 6th August at 7.30pm. Tickets now on sale HERE