Lori Hughes on what she's learnt from six months of lockdown and a series of Build Back Better third sector circles in Perth and Kinross. #NeverMoreNeeded
It’s my birthday this week – a time for pause and reflection. With this in mind, my #nevermoreneeded piece will take the form of a letter to a younger me to share the insight, experience and learning gathered from our Perth and Kinross #BuildBackBetter workshops and thematic #thirdsectorcircles.
Not everyone shares the themes and experiences highlighted, but they do point to an opportunity to embrace a different way of working.
Be prepared to see the third sector in all its glory – from volunteers walking dogs for shielding neighbours to free bike schemes for key workersLori Hughes
Well lass, 2020 is going to be a cracker!
Strap yourself in, buy extra loo roll when it’s on offer and embrace every hug, stolen kiss and moment of connection, because you genuinely don’t know when you will get another. Get ready to experience levels of loneliness and separation that you did not think were possible. Please encourage your children to run wild and free and to cherish every minute they spend with the people they love. Lean in to every moment and savour it for all it’s worth.
By the end of 2019, you will have heard of Covid19. By March 2020, the virus will have fundamentally altered how you live your daily life. The world, its structures, economies and communities will fall victim to the pathogen. People will die in their thousands across the UK, leaving grieving families and unforeseen levels of inequality. The country is scarred – emotionally, economically, socially and physically.
Throughout this, the third sector is incredible. Be prepared to see it in all its glory – from volunteers walking dogs for shielding neighbours to free bike schemes for key workers; from newly established telephone befriending services to circus acts on care-home lawns and everything in between. All delivered with empathy, compassion and a human touch in a way that only the third sector can.
The good news is, this will be recognised (in rhetoric at least); placing our values, our commitment to addressing inequality and our agility to adapt to emerging and evolving needs at the heart of recovery, renewal and the building of a fairer, more equal and more inclusive Scotland.
Regretfully, people will face unforeseen challenges – poverty, food insecurity, trauma, unemployment, anxiety and isolation on unprecedented levels. On occasions it will take your breath away. But… as is often the case with crisis and disaster, people coalesce and opportunities will emerge. Give space to this, little and often. Trust your judgement around the values revolution and compassion stirred by Covid19. A realisation will emerge across communities, sectors and governments that we don’t want to go back to normal. Instead, there is an opportunity to forge a new way. Be bold in your assertions, have courageous conversations and embody the collective leadership you wish you had.
Engage, engage well and listen. Listen to what others, including those with lived experience, have to say attentively and when you can, and where appropriate, use your platform and voice to embody the mindset of constructive discontent. It is the only way things will change. Sure, it’s exhausting being the difficult one in the room, but stay true to your values, believe you are doing the right thing and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Promote co-production as the norm and challenge when this approach takes the backseat in favour of response and pace. Focus on the longer term… Covid isn’t going anywhere overnight.
Meet the needs of your beneficiaries – the communities and the individuals you serve – not the systems and structures of which you are a part. Funders will offer greater flexibility, enabling a shift across the sector from competitive tendering and a reluctance to share, to a focus on securing the best possible outcomes and a willingness to explore collaborative working. Capitalise on this. Encourage sharing, honest conversations and respect across the sector.
Partnership working is tricky; you cannot artificially fabricate positive relationships where foundations are not built on trust, respect and parity. Try hard, really hard to build these working relationships. But also, acknowledge your own agency, and that sometimes it is ok to go it alone and ask for forgiveness later. This will make you feel uncomfortable – learn to be okay with that.
Shift resource early to support those working tirelessly to offer a safe space, a haven and a family to those who need it most. This won’t be easy, preventative work never is, but the sector with the warmth and freedom to be creative truly has never been more needed. Be mindful of burnout and ensure third sector staff feel connected, supported and part of a third sector community or ecosystem. Invest in this protected space.
Learn about resilience, as much as you can, and support the capacity building of others too. It will be key for individuals, communities and the sector as you fight the virus. Admittedly, it won’t be the most exciting of conversation starters but plan, have foresight, explore risk and how to mitigate those and encourage groups and organisations to have contingency planning in place. It might just ensure the sustainability and survival of their organisation.
For goodness sake, learn to be kind to yourself – take a breath, have a guilt free afternoon under the duvet and buy yourself that notebook. Life is far too short not to.
Above all else – let people and love into your life. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. This pandemic proves we all are.
Your future self,
Lori Hughes is partnership and engagement manager at the Third Sector Interface for Perth and Kinross