‘We need to develop and disseminate an entirely new paradigm and practice of collaboration that supersedes the traditional silos that have divided governments, philanthropies and private enterprises for decades and replace it with networks of partnerships working together to create a globally prosperous society.’ – Simon Manwaring
‘“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”― Carl Sagan
I recently attended two events. They were very different – made up of people who probably never meet. Yet there was a song to be heard through both. They both made me think and gave me hope. They reminded me of the words of the famed cosmologist Carl Sagan. Sagan wrote of how the nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are, he said, made of starstuff. Further he said ‘ “We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.’ These conferences were made of the same stuff and it really was starstuff – starstuff making its destiny.
The first was at the Forest of Arden in Birmingham. It was organised by Lankelly Chase. Lankelly Chase is a progressive organisation that seeks to ‘to bring about lasting change in the lives of people currently most disadvantaged in our society.’ Lankelly Chase seeks a change that is ‘systemic, structural and cultural’. It funds many projects across the country. These include new projects such as Agenda working with women suffering violence to well established services like BARCA ( working with drug and alcohol issues, youth work and community development ). Lankelly have a Promoting Change Network that brings together those who use services, commissioners and service providers to interact and learn together. This was a PCN event. My good friends Leeds GATE were present. Leeds GATE work tirelessly to improve the quality of Gypsy and Traveller people. Their work is to ensure the voices of Gypsy and Traveller people are heard. They had very kindly asked for me to be able to attend.
There were about 140 of us meeting for two days. I was deeply impressed by the spirit and common vision. I could see how the people there – from GPs to people using services – were working to create new possibilities and models. These themes were written into fabric and heart of the discussions and group work. I was especially enthused that we started with the big picture – how we create a society which works for us all. I came away happy and thinking. I had promised the Lankelly leadership that I would write a blog about my experiences. As I travelled home my heart was full but I wasn’t sure what my mind would write.
The next day I travelled to Manchester to speak at the NHS Alliance Practice Nursing event. The NHS Alliance is a grass roots movement working to create best primary care. Its rallying call is ‘connecting, integrating, innovating‘. The Manchester event was the work of two amazing nurses Louise Brady and Heather Henry. It was a meeting of patients, nurses, doctors and health staff. The event was to celebrate the great work practice nurses do in our cities and across our country. The event was marked by a spirit of kindness, humour and connection. I was one of several speakers. When my time came I spoke. Afterwards I returned to my place. I then realised that what I had said was what I had seen in Birmingham and was now seeing in Manchester. My words were a reflection of what two movements for change were doing, seeing and seeking.
What I said in that speech was three things –
- That we can make a difference. I told a story from 20 years ago of working alongside a Third Sector service with a service user. The amazing recovery journey of that person and what we did as services – the NHS and Third Sector together – showed me the great gifts and potential people have. It also taught me together we can make a difference. From that time I have tried to create connecting open door services. Moving from silos to symbiosis. Twenty years on I am still singing this song.
- Disrupt the Narrative. The second part was that we have a duty to disrupt a common narrative that says we can’t change anything and that we cannot make a difference – that things are bad and that’s it. Not only do we have the duty but what I saw in Birmingham and Manchester is evidence that a new script is being written. A script about co-creation and co-learning. Forming alliances and care for and with communities.
- Celebrating the good. The NHS was formed 67 years ago and at the time people opposed it. They said it couldn’t work. They said it was impossible. Well sometimes when we believe the impossible we can do the incredible and that’s what the NHS – despite everything – does in so many places. And not just the NHS but other statutory services, the third sector and faith communities as well as so many inspiring individuals. We need to hear and share the good and build the better. We need to forge these living alliances with carers, families, communities and all sectors working from street to strategy level.
These three elements for me sum up the message and magic of both events. We live in challenging times. Like the start of Dickens ‘ A Tale of two Cities’ it is the best and worst of times. It carries awful challenges and changes. It also hold real possibilities of creating new ways of doing health and care. I do not believe we should see life or history – and that’s where we operate – as a static block. It is rather a dialectical dynamic process which we can affect. We can’t always stop the bad but we can seek to structure the good in the midst of it. It is a truly shocking thing that people do not have food in our country. It is also a sign of hope and kindness that the food movement has spread across our country with a message that we will support those suffering with food poverty. We will not stand aside but work to help.
These two events show the a manifesto of working to build new ways to work together. They incorporate the vital need to focus on moving from silos, embracing the other, listening to the experience of those who use, commission and provide services, to focus on what is best in and for people and communities and to let this flow on deep heart values. In the events I saw a glimpse of what the future can be and should be. Bucknminster Fuller the wise American architect philosopher once said that we don’t change old systems. Rather we create new models that make the old systems obsolete. The good news is that these new models are appearing. I believe I saw them on those days in Birmingham and Manchester as dynamic and caring people and services met to work out the way forward. I don’t know how but I am committed to seeking ways to bring these streams together more and more. In that encounter will be new energy, ideas and life. In dark times our role is not to curse the darkness but to light up the landscape. Let’s do that.
John Walsh. Practice Manager. York Street Health Practice