“Liberate yourselves from the fixing!” was the cry from Maff Potts as he shared his haphazard, circuitous journey from charity CEO to Camerado at our board away day this week. You expect to find flip charts, awful coffee and men in rather dubious jumpers at an away day. You don’t expect to witness a roomful of people being visibly affected…changed even…by a speaker. But Maff really connected with our board members with his message of doing less not more, of stepping back and getting out of the way.
Talking about his time at The Salvation Army he said he’d realised that he was in the business of standing at the bottom of a cliff just waiting for people to fall so they could be rescued. I think everyone in the room squirmed a bit as we reflected on the services we had run over the years that did just that. Like so many ambulances parked on the beach waiting for mental health issues or addiction or domestic violence to lead to people falling from the cliff and into our helping services.
Over the years we have built fences to try and reduce the number of people who fall over the edge. All well intentioned.
We’ve set up helplines and befriending schemes.
We’ve employed support workers and counsellors.
We’ve offered outreach and guidance.
Housing associations are full of good people. Many social sector organisations are. We want to help. We want to make the world a better place. But we’ve ended up designing a service to fix every problem. And along the way we’ve filled people’s lives with needs assessments, care plans and prescriptions. They might be less likely to fall off the cliff but an array of well-meaning professionals has robbed them of their agency.
We need to turn our attention away from the edge of the cliff and look further in land…the streets and homes where people live their lives.
When we stop and think about a good day; one where we were happy, where things came together; the sort of day that we’d like to have more of. What are these days like? When we stop and share our stories do we find? That nearly all our good days have two things in common….
They involve relationships…being connected…with friends…loved ones…people who matter to us.
And they involve a sense of purpose…doing something we give a damn about.
How could we get more days like this in our new strategy? More days like this for the people who live in our homes and more days like this for the people working at Bromford?
Well maybe we’re already trying to do the right thing. Maybe we just need to have a little more belief in what we’re doing and spend a bit more time trying to do it better.
What is the ‘it’? Saying hello. Connecting. Giving a damn. Getting alongside and not doing to. Asking for help and not always offering it. Finding out what’s working well, what’s good about living in a place and sharing stories.
We should get in the way less and let people get on with it more.
I’d never heard this before but apparently William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said they needed to be at the top of the cliff, not the bottom. Maff found himself leading an organisation that was well and truly at the bottom of the cliff. Well, if we can get out of the fixing, doing to, mode, then maybe we can move not just to the top of the cliff but well away from the edge too. As Camerados are want to say….