Why Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships need to wander across boundaries

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This is a typical picture of me at work. Wandering across boundaries. I am looking for a good place for children and fathers to build dens together. My work with fathers is about enabling them to find ways to improve their own wellbeing. Spending fun time with their children is top of the pops. And it gives me plenty of leeway to wander. I am lucky, my work with communities means I have no restrictions.

To tackle health inequalities we need to be able to bash out of our silos and take the road less traveled. A few years ago I was working in a declining market town in rural Lincolnshire. I was at a town council meeting where the residents were talking negatively about the antisocial behaviour of outsiders who had moved into social housing. I’d observed that the divisions between tenants and residents were deepening inequalities. Then a voice piped up ‘I’m one of those terrible tenants and I’m glad to have found such a lovely house and live in such a lovely town’. She was articulate. She was positive. She was all about the community coming together. There was silence and shame in that room. It was obvious to me that those so-called ‘terrible tenants’ rarely came to these meetings and the factions of the town did not know each other. They presumed.

I took one resident, from his cosy cottage near the grade 2 listed railway station, to visit all the shops on the high street to tell them about a public listening event that was happening soon. The estate agent, newsagent, pub, chip shop, chemist… and then we got chatting in the hairdressers. A mixed race woman (in a predominantly white community) started talking to him animatedly about the town, the issues and how they could be addressed.

As we left, he said ‘I’ve lived here 17 years and I have never met half these people. What a jewel that lady was”. Later he found out that she too was a “terrible tenant”. He swallowed, but he did end up working with her to try to fix the town.

A resident involved in research done by academics Robin Durie and Katrina Wyatt at Exeter University into the work in 2 communities in Cornwall said

“The way that I saw it is that you have someone in the agency who just breaks away a little bit and tries to do it in a different way.. you know, you go in to work each day, you always get off at Junction 9, and what happens one day if you think “Well, I’ll go down this road a bit further and see where it leads me”? And I think “Well, why aren’t people trying that?” I think we tried. I think we started off going to Junction 9 and then we thought “Well, this ain’t getting anywhere, just carry on….and now we’re bypassing Junction 9 and carrying on straight down and seeing different things. I mean we might come to a dead end or we might open other avenues.”

My mentor and former health visitor Hazel Stuteley, Programme Director at Exeter University’s Connecting Communities programme would say to me ‘your role is to be a serial connector’. She taught me to introduce people to each other, with purpose. This is all about complexity science: making new connections and new pathways that can self-organise to create better solutions.

One day I got an email from Hazel introducing me to the professor in architecture at Manchester Metropolitan University, Stefan White. And my first question was  “why?”

Hazel had met Stefan via the academic Robin Durie at Exeter University who involved him in his complexity research. Stefan became enthralled with the idea of asset based community development (ABCD) and the role of architecture within this. He completed his Connecting Communities training programme in Exeter. After all, he teaches people how to literally design communities.

Stefan and I have gone on to help each other. I have taught ABCD in banked lecture theatres to scores of his architecture students, many mystified and a few, intrigued. I’ve taken a set of his students around Stretford, Manchester, to take in the history of Lostock Community Partnership, that overcame a number of issues around the built environment.

It only takes one connection that you have enabled to go on the road less travelled before something startling to happen. Stefan and his team went on to win a tender to deliver a 5 year/ £10.2m “Age Friendly Neighbourhoods” project in Manchester, working in partnership with Southways Housing Trust. His current initiative is the launch of PHASE: Place-Health, Architecture and Space Environment, a new consultancy at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has persuaded the other university faculties, like psychology and economics, to join in with the idea of place-based health. Not an easy task I understand, when faculties can be traditionally tunnel-visioned.

When it comes to Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships we need to go to places we’ve never been, get off at a new junction, knock on different doors, find the assets and introduce them to each other, with purpose. Only then can we avoid going down the same old street.

Say no to cuts in public health nursing

Imagine you are a father anxious about the effect of immunisations on his child but the nurse is so pressured she doesn’t notice the fathers anxiety
Imagine you are a child and you are being bullied, but your school nurse no longer visits
Imagine you are living on the streets and you don’t know who to turn to
Imagine you are a young person being pressured into sex and your young people’s sexual health advisory service has closed
Imagine you are a family facing poverty, worklessness, mental health and housing problems. Who will listen to their problems,help the parents and children and give them an equal chance in life?
Imagine there is a flu pandemic and there is no experienced nursing advice to help co-ordinate the immunisation campaign
Imagine viscous cuts to England’s pubic health budget
-We don’t have to, it’s here.
Write to your MP
Say no to cuts in public health nursing.


In July 2015, the Conservative government announced it would be slicing £200m from this year’s public health funding. That’s a 6.2% cut. Councils are supposed to use this funding to reduce obesity, smoking, drug and alcohol misuse, provide regular checks on children up to five years old and adults over 40, improve sexual health, keep tabs on infectious diseases, and much more.

The cut amounts to a total reduction of £800m over four years. But given that the November 2015 spending review has stipulated that no budgets, apart from the NHS itself and schools, are protected from Osborne’s cuts, which could be as big as 40%, public health budgets are now being decimated. 

And yet, as the diagram from the Royal  College of Nursing publication ‘The value and contribution of public health nursing’ above demonstrates, commissioners value public health nursing and there is a significant gap in the current and desired involvement of nurses in public health.

Waving the River Calm

Waving the River Calm.

The over-professionalisation of health

Learning humility

A poem by Heather-Lynne Henry

Mine is the open heart that sits with hers
Fixing upon her whilst she stutters her thoughts
The fear of judgement casts shadows on her  brows
The alienation of the lay by the ‘professional’
I wait, catching her words, muttered low, eyes cast down
The healing is buried like treasure but her wisdom is the spade to reveal it
Take the words, cherish and echo them back to the utterer
I turn  and say ‘you are right, I believe in you, go and try it’
Mine is the humility to recognise who the real expert is

I’m worried. Very worried about the over-professionalisation of public health. I’m the sort of person who looks for patterns. Lately the same words to me have been uttered by residents over and over.

‘I feel judged’

Don’t judge me’

‘We don’t like authority’

‘We don’t have the confidence to get help in case we are judged’

‘I’m fed up with being told what to do. Do they think I don’t know what I’m doing?’

‘I’m afraid that the health visitor will take my kids away from me. I only see her when I have to’

The over-professionalisation of public health  goes hand in hand with an increase in social gradient between professionals and patients. Residents experiencing multiple disadvantage no longer recognise themselves in us. They compare and feel they come up short. ‘I’m stupid’ one father told me recently. I’m the stupid one – my explanation to him was too complicated and it worried him. At least he told me. A few months ago this mistake might have cost me my relationship with him.

It has taken the best part of  a year for residents in this community to trust me.  I am ‘very scary’ and ‘very posh’ but they have learnt to overcome their fear and speak to me anyway, mostly because other residents have said I’m ‘all right really’.

According to the epidemiologist Professor Richard Wilkinson inequalities leads to stress caused by those on a lower social gradient feeling judged. But as well as needs, all communities have strengths and this is now manifesting itself to me in self-organisation. One of the foundations of  creating  health (salutogenesis) is having control over your own life. When the residents take control I now do what I can to help it along, but never to direct it, because they know their own community best and its their life not mine.

More and more, as I work with disadvantaged communities and residents, I find that the residents have the solution, but they lack the self esteem and confidence to carry out their ideas and  I think it is our own fault. Dealing with the social determinants of health is about caring with not caring for. If you break your arm you need to be cared for but if your life is broken you need someone to care with you and nurture your self-belief.

The poem above is about a meeting I had with a mother in a cafe recently. She asked to see me through her ex-partner, who I am working closely with. Emboldened by this, and – I suspect, not to be outdone by him – she had the courage to sit alone with me but could not meet my eyes. After a brew and a sandwich she started to tell me of her idea to start baby massage sessions with local parents. I asked her why it was needed, as the children’s centre already had one. She said that some parents didn’t want to go for fear of being judged.

She felt that, because she had known many of the local parents since school, that they would trust her and would talk more freely about what was troubling them. She said she had a lot of experience and so did many of the other parents in the area and she could give people the confidence to access services if they needed professional help. She talked knowledgeably about the importance of bonding and was aware of how much training and set up would be needed.  I could not fault any of  her logic.  Then she apologised ‘I’m pitching to you’ she said.  Indeed she was and I was overjoyed that she had done so.

The most important bit came next. I told her that she was fabulous and that I could see how strong she was. And she started to meet my eyes. Next time we met we sat and completed a form to send to the social enterprise support organisation Unltd for her to get some start up help and funding to try her idea.

I work with some fantastic health trainers – local people: they understand their clients and vice versa.  I envy the easy way they relate to each other. I have to work much harder to get that level of rapport.

What strikes me as the health inequality gap widens is that we must do our hardest to shift power and control back to residents and realise that we are not the solution, the residents are. The more we believe in and invest in them, the better.

A week later and after several Facebook messages between us, I met the mother with her best mate in tow, who also has idea.

The Hokey Cokey theory of community involvement

adviatech_communityIn relation to working with communities, NHS organisations regularly put their left leg in – out – and shake it all about. How many of us have seen HAZ (Health Action Zone), SRB (Single Regeneration Budget) and the like come and go? Have we ourselves been guilty of building a close relationship only to get a new job, new project and move on? This is extremely damaging to residents’ relationships with health professionals. This blog is my attempt to tell you why and how we need to change our behaviour.

I was talking to a group of men in a community garden about my upcoming work supporting men’s wellbeing. After about half an hour of chatting, Stuart put his trowel down and fixed me with a firm smile. ‘Look, you seem like a nice lass,’ he said ‘…But we’ve seen people like you come and go. There was a lad from the PCT. We liked him a lot and we helped him with his project. Then we came to realize that what we were really doing was helping him tick his boxes and he didn’t really care about us. Then his project ended and we didn’t see him again.’

The PCT’s history with that community had left its mark, making it very tricky for others working in this hard-nosed, disadvantaged community. In effect the PCT’s action – and those of predecessor organisations – had compounded inequality locally.

In addition to ‘consultation fatigue’ and ‘projectitis’ we have added a new iatrogenic ailment, the ‘Hokey Cokey’. We get involved – often in a leadership role, we build relationships and expectations. Then the money ends, people move on, policy and priorities change and the community are left high and dry. And bitter. And wary of the next people to come along.

What I am suggesting therefore is that instead of putting our left leg in, we put our whole selves in and leave ourselves there. We in primary care are able to do this because of our unique position, often as primary care contractors, in it for the long haul as owners of our own businesses. Avoiding the Hokey Cokey requires the following:


1. Authenticity

When I was a student nurse I was taught, alongside orientating confused patients and egg white and oxygen for pressure sores, to keep a professional distance. When working with communities this is a major barrier. It goes far beyond ‘Hello my name is…’. I remember Helen Bevan teaching me about Marshall Ganz’s organizing principles. To engage people, we have to share our ‘story of self’ – who we are, what we stand for– before we can move on to ‘story of us’ -the issues we share that bind us – and eventually our ‘story of now’ – our ‘call to action’. Keen readers of my past blogs will notice shades of this 3-step formula in my writing. It’s deliberate. So to build relationships when engaging in community development we have to be authentic. Routinely I share parts of myself, my experience, my values, with residents. As long as your intentions are genuine, this also encourages reciprocity. We do this naturally in social interactions and this is what community and patient engagement is.


 2. Going the extra mile

Standing outside a polling station after work, in the rain, to undertake an exit poll with residents about their views on their local community partnerships was a turning point in a somewhat ‘tricky’ relationship I had with one particular group of resident leaders. My engagement worker and I can be now seen brewing up, tidying up and even volunteering for community litter picks. If residents ask you to volunteer in this way, this is a test of your commitment. Forget your job title and do not fail it – this is not outside your job description if it involves community engagement, believe me. Learn humility – delivering invitations to listening events door to door with residents is one of the most important things you can do in order to build relationships and trust. I have GPs, local authority and CCG leaders doing this in East Lincolnshire right now.


3. Always start with sustainability in mind

Sustainability means them not us. I might be the one up front on day 1 explaining why I am there, but 2 months later it has to be alongside residents as equal partners and by 6 months they are leading and I am helping them. After 2 years I am still answering the phone to them or visiting to see how they are doing.


4. Their priorities, not yours

Even very experienced community development workers fall into this trap. One day I was at an AGM of a community partnership that was also celebrating its 10-year anniversary. All was going well until the community development worker, employed by an outside agency, was invited to speak about a new project. He wanted 13 people (a bakers dozen) to volunteer to do a cooking project. We all looked at each other. Cooking was not a local priority and this request came out of the blue as an instruction from him. The whole atmosphere changed and they became polite but distant. This damaged his credibility and his relationships with these residents in an instant. Don’t be the one to do this.


5. Listening rather than always doing 

As clinicians, we are excellent at listening when undertaking clinical work. Why is it then that I constantly see us speaking or doing and not listening to communities? A fellow nurse leader invited the CCG chair to a new community partnership. He immediately said ‘What do they want me to talk about?’ She said ‘Nothing, I just want you to be there and listen.’ He was extremely disconcerted by this and did not go. Another GP leader once said to me that we are afraid of what residents or patients will ask us for in case we cannot afford it. He added that we shouldn’t be, for often such requests are very modest and in fact they may tell us something important that we are unaware of. He was right. At that very meeting residents told that GP about a vulnerable adult that had been passed around the system and could have suffered harm. Then he heard that the biggest priority for those residents was basic clothing and furniture. He chose to personally investigate the case of the vulnerable adult, promised to report back to them and to offer help to a local furniture project. Residents hold GPs, nurses, pharmacists and other primary care personnel in extremely high regard. They will respect you just for turning up and listening. If they think you are there to tick boxes or count their participation you are shutting the door on your greatest untapped asset.

That’s what it’s all about

The shape of things to come -Predictions 2014-2020

The burning platform of rising demand and austerity presents opportunities for innovation. Here are my top 5 predictions for 2014 onwards in relation to culture and behaviour change in primary and community settings:

  1. Social innovation will come to match pace with technical innovation. We have a clear process for technical innovation in the NHS but how we manage the culture and behaviours associated with social innovation is still in its infancy. The actions of social entrepreneurs, such as Hazel Stuteley of Connecting Communities , Chris Dabbs of Unlimited Potential and organisations like NESTA will be studied and shared routinely. NICE and Cochrane will produce detailed evidence reviews to back this up.
  2. The glass half full will be seen as often as the glass half empty. Patients and residents will increasingly be seen as equal partners with talents and skills rather than ‘problems’ needing to be ‘fixed’. Primary care will wake up and realize that a deficits based approach will lead to dependency and even busier surgeries. Primary care contractors will learn how to harness patient talents and will move flexibly between being leaders (eg of PPGs) to being enablers.
  3. Culture and behaviour issues will be increasingly looked at through the lens of a complex adaptive system rather than a mechanistic system. Staff, patients and communities are not like engines – tighten a screw with the spanner of edict and a parts failure like Mid Staffordshire does not recur – but are more like flocks of starlings – what happens is often emergent, given the right conditions. So the science of complexity theory will begin to be understood and researched more fully. More focus is given to the enabling conditions for change rather than a deliberate strategy. Culture will no longer have strategy for breakfast.
  4. Primary care will recognize that three interconnected things need to exist in order for creativity to flourish in primary care: an understanding or culture, a person/people who bring creativity and a field of experts who support the innovation (Csikszenmihalyi, 1998). They will ensure that the 3 are in place and interconnected when embarking on change.
  5. The tricky issues of adoption and spread of good practice will be better understood. No longer will we publish case studies and guidance and wonder why nothing changes. The new mantra will become ‘A thousand seeings are not worth one doing’ (Vietnamese proverb). Social psychology tells us that enactment (behaving differently in front of your peers) and consistency (having staked our position, we strive to behave accordingly) are the shortest routes to doing things differently. So the focus will cease to be placed on writing about doing it / planning it but on carrying out what you say. Putting skin in the game. (Pascale, Sternin and Sternin, 2010).

I have chosen brevity over detail in the hope that you will investigate the references and visit my 2013 blogs  both here and on the NHS Alliance website which illustrate some of these ideas. Enjoy, and let’s hope my predictions come true.

Happy New Year!

Written for the NHS Alliance 03 January 2014 with a focus on primary care

Taking control

IMG_1493In my last blog, I talked about an early life blighted by chronic asthma and my eventual victory over self by taking control and concentrating on what I could do, rather than what I couldn’t.

This week, I turn not to individuals and self-management of illness, but the wider issue of communities feeling in control and how this affects health and well-being.

Recently I was invited to visit the hard-pressed seaside village of Winthorpe, near Skegness, to do a walkabout with Winthorpe Youth and Residents Association or WYRA. Leanne Irving, the chairman, a determined and eloquent young mum, introduced her equally impressive executive, including a mum of six. Leanne told us how she came to be chairman. One day she came home to find that she had been burgled and she felt sick. She knew exactly who had done it – the young lads hanging about outside her door. Youth nuisance and anti-social behaviour had blighted this community. People who reported such crimes had their windows broken, so in the end they shut their mouths, shut their curtains and suffered in silence.

Leanne could have rung the police. She could have done a lot of shouting and accusing. Instead she calmly went outside to speak to them. She told them she knew that they were the culprits and asked them why. The lads said it was because they had nothing to do. As they talked they confessed to umpteen caravan burglaries, with younger boys egged on by older boys to gain entry through windows for the price of a packet of fags. When I asked her how come they had been so frank with her she said it was because she had spoken to them as equals. After that encounter she decided on the spot to start a youth group from the local Methodist community house. She went home and gathered up whatever games she could and roped in some friends. The following month, the youngsters outside causing trouble were inside playing pool.  The number of reported youth nuisance issues has fallen and has stayed low ever since. She and her friends painted one side of the community house white to use as a graffiti wall. As a result local graffiti has ceased to be a big problem. Fortunately the local Methodist church thinks the wall is ‘colourful’ – she didn’t ask permission before she started.

Now the community house boasts an impressive array of community activities, all led by this group of determined young mums, their friends and their partners, trying to make a better life for their community by bringing them together and supporting each other.

Off we all went on a walkabout: mums, kids, prams, housing and council staff and us visitors, bumping into electioneering county councillors who had nothing but good to say. We passed a furniture recycling charity, a community garden and a newly funded park. Here, Leanne spotted two lads digging in a corner of the park. As ever she approached them, with me in tow.

What were they doing? Building a BMX ramp they said. Why? Because BMX is all they want to do but the nearest skate park is in Skegness and cost £12 to get in. And they had asked and asked for a ramp, just one, to do their jumps, to no avail. So one lad had used a school woodwork lesson to make a wooden box as a foundation and now the were reinforcing it with soil. Enterprising to say the least. They knew it would probably be demolished when found by the council – but still they dug. They had taken control just as Leanne had taken control before them. She knows, because she lives there, that these boys are not bad, just bored. And that they have a love of BMX that will keep them and probably many others occupied, and thus their neighbours will have to pull fewer curtains at night to shut out their anxiety. In return, no doubt, GPs will see a few less stressed out residents.

And so the clinical evidence tells us that when communities do not feel in control of their lives, then they suffer chronic stress and they start to feel hopeless. The epidemiologist Susan Everson and her colleagues discovered that men reporting higher levels of hopelessness experience greater progression of carotid atherosclerosis. Stress mobilises cortisol, which increases circulating fat and causes the lumen of large arteries to inflame. The statistical evidence for this in Scotland, presented byChief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns, is testament to this.

The further up the social class ladder you are, the more likely you are to have choice and control. Imagine a life of chronic socioeconomic stress- unemployment, poor education, poor housing, fuelled by a vicious cycle of deprivation.

Clinical commissioners, drawn from communities such as this, now have huge influence over what happens next. Once choice might be to screen and treat people with mild to moderate emotional distress arising from their situations, and improve access to psychological therapies. The second choice might be to increase your social prescribing, and refer them to community group activities such as those at WYRA. The third might be, when a community comes to your CCG, locality partnership or health and wellbeing board for help to get that BMX ramp, or job club, or credit union started, or asset transfer for a new community centre, or bus route to the hospital, to take a deep breath and see in what ways you can help them to feel in control of their own lives. These latter options treat the cause rather than the effect, increase the community’s own resilience and are cheaper that a lot of stents and stroke rehab further down the line.

Using our strengths: The new health promotion

asthma-300x187As a small child, I had terrible asthma. It was in the days of oral aminophylline, spinhalers and hope. My parents were often terrified by my nightly attacks of breathlessness. My mother retreated  into another room to be sick with fear and my father, another asthmatic, was left to sit and care for me.

Consequently, I was wrapped in cotton wool by my parents and the family GP, Dr V,  armed with few effective drugs but helpful practical tips , was sympathetic and responsive to our family’s plight.

bless you, Dr L, who, when faced with a sobbing student nurse with an acute exacerbation, persuaded the frightened me into inhaled steroids, despite my fear over the imagined side effects, drummed into me during my training.

One day the said good doctor diagnosed a  pneumothorax during a home visit to my student nurse hovel. My lung, weakened by attacks, had popped. The surgeon Mr B was calledwhen it failed to mend, and to my shock he said it wasn’t much good and removed two thirds of my right lung without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’.

Now, although Dr L had fixed my attacks, I couldn’t climb a hill without stopping for breath. My therapy was to choose cardiothoracics as a speciality, and look after others in the same position.

Skip forward to my forties. I’m looking at my reflected self – middle aged, a bit podgy, and unfit. My excuse of course is that I can’t make too much cardiovascular effort because of my lungs. But being somewhat vain, I decided to take up jogging, just to see what happened. My school friend, Mandy, knowing my history, was so utterly shocked by this that she took up jogging too and we’ve done a few 5k races together.

One day, something occurred to me as I puffed along the Bridgewater Canal. I had always equated breathlessness with illness, not wellness. Nobody had talked to me about what I could do, only what I couldn’t.

This week I went to see Donna Hinkson and Emmelynne Forman, who have recently founded a social enterprise  called People Point. They listen to the problems of local people and develop schemes which involve and support the community. At the moment they are developing a community cafe in a church – a place to be run by people with learning disability. Here, experienced mothers can pass on child care skills to younger women, and people can come and cook their food bank rations together and share a few tips.

Knowing that I am a nurse, Donna told me some tales of others like me with long term conditions. So terrified are these people about what they have been told about their diabetes that they dare not eat a Kitkat, for fear of losing their leg. Some are too scared to leave the house or, like I used to be,  take exercise. My colleague K, the local  lead nurse for primary care, took a sharp intake of breath as she sat beside me. In certain BME communities in the area, with standardised mortality ratios for cardivascular disease of one and a half times the national average, she knew that  some local practices use shock tactics, basically putting the fear of God into people to get them to control their diabetes.

Donna commented on how the messages that some health professionals give can turn the micro into macro – people with long term conditions can amplify the risks. She emphasised how People Point uses a  strengths-based approach, focusing on finding out and harnessing what residents are good at and what they are able to do. It avoids people seeing themselves as victims and encourages empowerment and self confidence.

In general, health services tend to be  health CARE services, we look after people and we fix weaknesses. But we may not find time or opportunity to identify the skills, talents and abilities that patients otherwise have. But other disciplines such as social work, youth services, training, education and family support have a strengths based approach built in.

Getting away from Parson’s sick role and illness behaviour must be built into our psyche as we go forward. As primary care professionals some of us understand and practice this, but we must now all take every opportunity to use a strengths-based approach. I know from bitter experience that long term illness can foster introspection and self pity. Asking what people are good at and finding ways to harness it is the new health promotion.

We know that ‘giving back’  is one of our five ways to wellbeing, so one approach might be to refer  patients to the local volunteers centre.

Here’s an example: I introduced myself to a Major in the Territorial Army at a community event last Thursday. He told me of his concerns for amputee war veterans who have returned to my home town with low self esteem and no hope. I asked if some of them could still drive or brew up. Yes, he said. I gave him the business card for our charity, CALLPlus,  which supports people with life limiting illness and asked him to speak to our manager about veterans, who have also experienced life-limiting situations, helping out. Our volunteers host fortnightly coffee mornings,  drive people to hospital and sit with them while they have their cancer treatment. His face brightened. ‘I’ll do just that’, he said.

The post was first published as a blog for the NHS Alliance on April 29th as part of a campaign on changing culture and behaviour in the NHS

Fling Open Your Doors

Fling Open Your Doors

Written for Practice Management Magazine Fling Open Your Doors offers practice managers some practical advice on how to connect to their communities, find and work in partnership with their hidden assets!

The importance of trying

‘So how did you think our away day went?’, said my friend and mentor, Eddie.

‘Well OK, sort of,’ I said. ‘ CALL keep reminding themselves that it is OK to try. Because we will learn, even if it doesn’t work, we’ll learn. We shouldn’t be afraid of failing’ . Eddie agreed.

Eddie and I had met years ago at my OU MBA residential school – he was the tutor and I was the student, on an innovation and creativity module. It was one of those great moments when we students were allowed to go to a ‘marketplace’ run by the tutors, who all sold their ‘wares’ from their ‘stalls’. And the students were allowed to wander around, cross question the tutors and decide on which tutor we’d like to be stuck with for the weekend. How neat is that?

I immediately warmed to Eddie’s perceptive, slightly quirky style. Finger painting and plank walking ensued. But that’s another story. Recently I had asked him to facilitate (pro bono)  awaydays for CALL, the charity for which I am a trustee, to break us out of our mental valleys and make us fit for the future.


Then he asked me how my own business was doing. I told him about a potential entrepreneurial idea that I had been brewing for the last 6 months, but hadn’t taken forward. ‘I know I’m right. I groaned. ‘I know it will work. But….’

‘You have answered your own question’ he said.

‘Have I?’

‘You’ll have to try’.

How stupid am I. It’s ok to encourage innovation in others, but when it comes to me, I realised I can still be blind.

I picked up the phone and spoke to Bernie, a chief executive friend of mine. I told him my ideas and asked him what he thought. And after that I rang Stuart, who runs a local social enterprise that I admire and thought may be empathetic to what I was trying to do. And after that I rang Jane, an acknowledged national expert.

By the end of that I had Bernie, Jane and Stuart saying that, in principle they were interested in helping me. I was no longer alone with my idea – and I had feedback too. And since then we have put in a joint bid for national funding together.

I might still fail, but at least I’ll have learnt something along the way.