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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 26 October 2014

Doing charity differently

'Charity begins at home’ has long been a refrain associated with selfish detachment. Of ignoring social and international responsibilities to focus on ourselves and our personal economic wellbeing.  It’s a hackneyed expression, but one that has a hidden truth to be cherished. We have, for too long, mistaken charity as an act of giving alms, rather than its original association with acts of love.  There are many things to be said against piling up the pennies for one’s self, as an individual or a country; but the absence of love in our own home is something which makes us all less able to shape a thriving world.

As I reflect on my own career in charity, and look over a Berlin-wall of branded fences into the living rooms of other youth charity families, I am left with a horrible feeling that we have become homeless through the disassociation of our love from the causes we are meant to be working for. We develop our skills as project managers, budget holders, communication and relationship experts; we become coaches, counsellors, trainers, mentors; and we all want to be entrepreneurs, innovators, the next big thing.  We go on team building days, we explore our Myers Briggs and other personal and team profiles, we develop a culture and a way of working, we express our values. All this, while we work on programmes and campaigns to improve the lives and prospects of the young people we care for, with the promise that they themselves are the opportunity to transform the narrative of disadvantage which has challenged their lives.

What we don’t do is open up the engine to look into the deeper reality of who we are, where we have come from, and the potential that exists in and between us to recycle and transform our personal narrative into something that can create a different future.  While we might be moved to consider that as a programme to invest in for young people, we are less likely to consider that as worthwhile for ourselves. Which is where the problem exists: we are not authentic, and can never be so while we grapple with or blankly ignore our own inner narratives of being and conflict that we project out through our work onto and with others.  Until we realise that, we will forever be talking about making a breakthrough in the changing paradigm without achieving it, free-falling through space without realising the parachute cord is held between our hearts.

Charity does not do charity, because it is lost in a model of working and organising that is from a different world. Walk into an office, look around the people inside it; see beyond the computer-screen eyes to a hidden place of feeling, experiences, ancestral conflict, secrets, and the huge possibility to connect and shape all that into a new energy to thrive from.  How can we be so complacent to miss that; how can we not see the obvious connection between who we are and the challenges we are trying to address in our society?

There is a fusion to be had, within the home of charities, and between the homes of different charities, that would profoundly change the shape of the sector into a revolutionary community. Just imagine – a charity that is a home for human development; that authentically lives how to transform narrative and maximise personal potential through others in itself; that has abandoned the restrictions of replication for the abundant energy of continual innovation; that can be a philosophers stone to turn disadvantage into advantage.

Perhaps I feel this more strongly than ever in a week when the past has collided with my mind in the form of Lorna Sage, the wonderful teacher and writer who was the subject of one of my former blogs  Her name came up this week in conversation, and with it memories of something important she was trying to tell me one night in 1992 about the concept of ‘bad blood’. Lorna’s turned on its head the idea that we were left to hand down the bad blood of our ancestors - because the power of language and literature for her was something that could genuinely transform personal and social narratives into something new. In the book that idea would became in 2001, Lorna left us a well of good blood to nourish the future.  She also left us, perhaps, something of a challenge; not to neglect the personal history of who we are, and the importance of taking back control of one’s story in order to escape from it. 

That is a challenge which charity is to busy 'doing alms' to begin to see. Charity is failing in its responsibilities to begin charity at home. It urgently needs to wake up and start again, reclaiming its narrative from campaigns and contracts into something more beautiful.  Like the young people our sector is meant to represent, we are in danger of becoming a lost generation of missed potential to change and transform the story we all own part of in our self.  Let’s spill some shared blood and paint the canvas differently.

Sunday 19 October 2014


There is a large vault with 5 discrete spaces. You are led into the vault, through darkness, hearing the sound of heartbeats, breaths, crying, laughter, the mingling of life’s sensations.

You arrive to be left alone.

Space one contains all the feelings of young people we signify as undesirable: their anger, their suffering, their cynicism, their apathy, their violence, their self-harm, their otherness.

Then you are taken away, and left alone.

Space two contains all the feelings about young people we signify as undesirable: our criticisms, our blame, our fear, our frustration, our low aspiration, our victimisation, our confusion.

Then you are taken further, and left alone.

Space three contains all the feeling that young people have we signify as positive: their dreams, their love, their community, their creativity, their generosity, their risk, their intensity, their innocence.

Then you are taken further still, and left alone.

Space four contains nothing but an invitation for your feelings to be shared, in whatever shape and form is possible among the blankness, games, interaction, skin, mind, soul.

You are led to the last space, where others are waiting for you. It is a full of what has been performed by each visitor of the fourth space. You join an audience watching as your feeling is brought in to be displayed with the others, connecting with and changing everything about it.

When the time ceases, everyone leaves through a narrow door, alone and together, recycling what has been felt back into the world. This is a factory.

Saturday 18 October 2014


 I am receiving feeling. A numb communion. The dilapidated building with graffiti tears, the child’s empty face, a couple arguing over a black sofa on credit they can’t afford, the cracked lipstick of a tired supermarket lady, my reflection shimmering in a mirror I want to break.  The distinction between me and these pulses of pain is a misplaced sense of being. For there is nothing here but the connected hurt of this moment, channelled through a heart beating with beauty into death.  

The feeling is bigger than myself. The ghosts of experience have unlocked the windows to come in. Their ashen eyes hide from trusting anyone’s view of the pity they carry. They whisper in cuts and coughs and curses. There is no squeezed middle among them; these are the ones who walk with broken legs up squalid stairs.  The bottom of the pyramid, gesturing for attention with its slit throat.

I am fighting with feeling, because it’s not allowed to be expressed. The illicit underground of emotion barricaded into frail submission, opened like a forgotten daisy blossom into the burnt sky. I have become a feeling of all the feelings we are working for, and it suffocates my ability to be of worth. Through Smithfield’s market, the agony of a martyr’s ripped bowels kisses me goodbye.

Feeing has enchanted me. There is a room full of what it is not to be loved, of disappointment, betrayal, frost bite in summer, full of too many words to cram into a language; of the yearning to be touched, of wanting to belong as the crowd disappears over the summit, of almost runs, dreams left to be wrecked, swallowed memories of violence, introspections spidered into the web that hangs me; of knowing I am nothing but a figure in the spreadsheet, contained, zeroed into gossip.

Feeling is receiving me. Like a body burnt on the river, a tattoo mesmerising my soul.  The desperate need to speak through stammered worlds throttles my normality.  Passion’s cried-out mouth bites on cotton pillows from the hunger of  embracing shadows.

Think away, with your missions, values and ambitions. Don’t think with me. Don't feel with me.  I’m a thought of feeling that has gone.