So many people ‘doing it for themselves’
I have worked all my life within the world of health and social care. It’s a sector that is always complex and often baffling, one which on the face of it is all about people…but you don’t have to dig too deep to see that people are rarely in the driving seat.
Within my sector there is so much positive work happening right now across the whole of the UK. Work that has a focus on the strengths of people and communities rather than their deficits. This is so welcome as anything that has people at its heart can only be a good thing. Even more welcome when I see that as a result perceptions are changing and conversations are different and better. But.
Increasingly the conversations about people’s strengths seem to come under the banner of prevention. This can mean they sometimes take a slightly odd turn that makes us Community Catalysts feel a bit uncomfy, one which shows the aim is not really about celebrating all the good stuff but more about ensuring people stay well back from the gateway into (costly) ‘serviceland’. So, I hear you say, what is wrong about keeping out of serviceland? Who wants to enter the world of health and social care unless they really need to? But. The real downside of too strong a link between strengths and prevention is that the strengths of people who are in the system get missed.
The reality is that people who are older or disabled or who live with a long-term health condition may need some extra help to live their lives. All fine but there is a downside. Problems start when this support overshadows the skills, interests and talents the person has and they start to be seen mainly for what they need rather than what they offer, their strengths unseen and untapped. The waste of talent is a tragedy for the individual and impoverishes their communities.
From this starting point Community Catalysts supported by the National Lottery Community Fund have developed a project with a focus on people’s strengths instead of their needs. We think there could be some real value in finding out what helps people and the folks around them to value their strengths and believe in themselves. We decided to focus on leaders mainly because we think they have a lot to teach us and others about what is possible. This threw up a few issues because ‘leader’ could be interpreted in lots of different ways. So, we pinned it down to define leaders as people who start their own enterprise or group or lead change in their local community. We called these folks ‘people who are doing it for themselves’ and got cracking.
Exciting stuff but more than a bit scary too.
We made a start by writing a list of all the people we knew who are ‘doing it for themselves’ and then grew the list by inviting people to get in touch, searching online, using social media and talking to people we know about people they know. The results were amazing. 56 individual leaders running enterprises or businesses or groups in their community and another 15 run by groups of people working together. And the list keeps growing. We found people in England, Scotland and Wales; in cities and villages. Men and women, of all ages, who live with conditions like dementia or autism or epilepsy; those define themselves as disabled and others who experience challenges with their health. All of whom are actively, intentionally and gloriously leading positive change for themselves or others. Strengths at the forefront with needs still there but well out of focus.
People like Charlie in Rotherham – a talented young woman who always wanted to work as beauty therapist but couldn’t get a job. With help from Speak Up and my colleague Harry, Charlie decided to set up her own enterprise.
‘I looked for a salon job and nobody would take me on or give me a chance because of my disability, even though I am hard working. Therefore, I thought I might as well set up my own business’
Over the next few weeks we will be talking to the people we’ve found and asking them to share their story. We want to find out what drove them to lead, what helped and what got in the way. If all goes well, we plan to focus on an area or two, work with local people and organisations, and see if we can do things to make more and more people feel able to ‘do it for themselves. One thing that is certain is that we and society has a lot to learn but that there are plenty of people out there with loads of personal expertise who could make exceptional teachers.