Choosing a Prime Minister

It was an interesting start to a short week. A Tuesday morning visit from Jeremy Corbyn. It may sound a bit grandiose when I say that I have met two previous leaders during an election campaign, both of whom became Prime Ministers. I don’t know what this means for Mr Corbyn!

Corbyn wowing our babies with his leadership skills!

Corbyn wowing our babies with his leadership skills!

His visit resulted in a lot of press energy because of his failure to answer a question on Women’s Hour about the projected cost of his childcare promises. I hope that we veered the argument away from Mr Corbyn’s inability to answer the question, instead focusing on the actual costs of childcare to the sector and the continuing inability of two Governments to deliver a correctly funded childcare offer.

Like the previous leaders I have met including Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, Mr Corbyn presented as thoughtful, articulate and engaging.  It is surely what you expect from a leader. I remember being surprised and affected by Mr Cameron’s passionate espousal on the importance of Big Society over his cup of tea.  Mr Corbyn also enjoyed a cup of tea and was just as exercised about a range of issues at the heart of social justice.  Sitting there listening I was struck by their decency and integrity, unlike the haughtiness I have experienced during visits from more junior Ministers!

I haven’t met Mrs May so I cannot comment about how I would feel after sharing a cup of tea with her. All I know is that she describes her leadership as strong and stable.  The thing about leadership is that it’s an elusive concept.

Bill Clinton

There is no one perfect model. No one way to do it.  It requires the right balance of  knowledge , experience, confidence and skills that enable flexibility, agility, intelligence and strength.  If it was easy we would have a surfeit of good leaders.

Right now, we are being asked to choose our future Prime Minister from television debates, radio interviews, Twitter, newspapers and all the range of modern media which gives us everything from detail to soundbites, gossip to chatter.  I liked the quote from Harold MacMillan, Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963.

harold-macmillanI read a great number of press reports and find comfort in the fact that they are nearly always conflicting.

Few of us are lucky enough to meet them in person. In the past we had the hustings where there was a chance of the public meeting the candidates. It may have given us more of a sense of how the leader makes us feel?   Do I feel strongly enough to believe?  Am I convinced that they are telling the truth and will listen?   In the end, whoever becomes the next Prime Minister will need us to trust them and  willingly engage in the social contract that requires us to pay more tax or give up our autonomy or accept their word of honour. I wonder whether a media focusing only on the leader’s mistakes, confusions or policy u-turns gives us the right information to make a fair judgement that is best for the whole country?

 

When is an entitlement not an entitlement? When it’s 30 Hours Childcare!

A previous election manifesto addition was to promise parents 30 hours of free childcare. This is an annual increase from 570 to 1140 hours, whether 30 hours term time or 22 hours stretched across 51 weeks of the year. If you are one of the many parents struggling to pay for childcare, “free” is an overstatement or I should simply state, it is misleading.

It is worth noting that when a manifesto declares childcare ‘free’, they’re counting on a lot of hardworking citizens in a climate of stagnating living standards and wages to lurch for anything called “free” without much thought about what free really means. Since we now seem to live in an alternative fact, post-truth world, I can unreservedly tell you:

Someone always pays

nothing free

How to tell the difference between free and subsidy

Childcare is a subsidised offer funded by the tax payer and the sector.

Childcare, like schools, cost.  The majority of the costs (approximately 77%) pay for staff and the rest is used to pay the rent, rates, buildings, food, resources, business costs and contingencies. Therefore, someone needs to pay the costs of this.  Up until now the local authorities allocate a proportion of their Government funding to childcare and the sector picks up the rest. So we can be given anything between £3.60 and £6.00 to fund a child’s place which may cost much more per hour especially in London. Just as an example, the National Living Wage is £7.20 and the London living wage is £9.40 so that gives an indication of some of the baseline costs.   The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) calculated that on average the sector lost £900 per place per year.

The second word used was “entitlement”. People generally translate this to mean they can access this because they are entitled.  This is not the case. Parents may be entitled to apply for a funded place for 30 hours childcare but that is only going to happen if the childcare sector provides sufficient places. More recently guidance uses the term eligibility which is broad and covers most parents whether working a weekly minimum equivalent of 16 hours at national minimum or living wage to earning up to £100,000. The issue is availability. According to the recent Pre-School Learning Alliance report, only 44% of providers were considering providing the offer. The DfE itself published a report that said they anticipated a shortfall of 10,000 places.  4 in 10’s report ‘At what cost: The 30 hours ‘free’ childcare promise in London’ has identified that:

  • Just 13% of settings said the funding is sufficient, and over half said remaining financially viable over the next two years would be very challenging.
  • 40% of settings are not sure or definitely not going to take part
  • 33% of settings said they will not offer more 15 hour places for three and four year olds over the next two years

This reality means that many of the parents will be disillusioned about the 30 hours. That is certainly what I found when I have talked to parents about if and how we could offer it at the LEYF nurseries. I made the same point to a group of local authorities at a conference recently, warning them to get the message right to parents to avoid disappointment and discontent.

Is the sector being unreasonable?

temper-tantrum-cartoon

That’s a resounding, NO!

A sector in crisis : first came the recruitment fiasco, then came the 30 hours

We are still reeling from the recruitment crisis needlessly manufactured by previous Minister Elizabeth Truss, who insisted that to enter the profession, candidates and apprentices needed A to C GCSE in Maths and English.

Well, I hear you cry, why was that such a problem?

Many who choose to become nursery teachers don’t have the required GCSEs and as a result, the sector experienced a shortage of permanent staff. As is the norm, when there’s a shortage of qualified staff and the demand soars, you know it is going to be costly to solve the workforce problem. The sector had nowhere to turn except to hiring agency and temp staff, the outcome of which was a huge increase in staffing costs, demoralised and exhausted permanent staff and ultimately a big risk to the quality of care.

It took two years and continual lobbying for the new Minster Caroline Dinenage to rightly address our concerns and rescind the GCSE requirements, giving us flexibility to increase the entry requirements but at a pace that was realistic for the sector.

The future for childcare

So, what are the options?

We cannot charge parents for any part of the free entitlement, either directly or indirectly.  So we will have the raise the fees. We can charge for activities we currently provide as part of the offer and we can charge for meals or parents can provide a packed lunch. This leads to many other issues that challenges inclusivity. For example, a Nursery World survey found 43% considered that 30 hours will negatively affect their settings’ food provision. They were worried about the quality of food and managing two lunch arrangements. There is a space issue as packed lunches need to be stored safely. Also, how do you create an inclusive environment where one child gets a meal cooked by the nursery chef and the other child is tucking into cheese and crisp sandwich?!

Finally, while the DfE has clarified that it’s not fifteen hours of education and fifteen hours of childcare, its coming across as that especially if they are insisting on the flexibility of using fifteen hours to wrap around the child. This is a backwards step in the quality debate which demands integrated care and education to meet full developmental needs of a child. The sector needs a serious conversation about 30 hours with parents. We need parents to understand the issue of quality, why 30 hours isn’t just “childcare” but deeply important early education. The research on quality needs to float right to the top of the argument.

In summary, for parents to access the 30 hours we need more funds to ensure we can deliver a sustainable offer.  This week’s Children & Young People Now (CYPN) noted that over half the nurseries across the sector (that’s could be up to 9000) are in financial difficulty and may close. We need childcare to be part of the local infrastructure and if we want quality education for our children, we must factor the following into provision :

  • Affordable housing for nursery teachers
  • Nurseries near transport links for working parents
  • A workforce strategy that supports us in swiftly rebuilding the recruitment and retention staff pipeline
  • Better and stronger relationships with employers so we can collaborate to build a more family friendly society

Childcare is just another way of describing early education.  It’s a serious offer for our small children.  It needs to be good quality.  So, if we want to help parents access it to ensure they can work and have their taxes filtered through the system, let’s cost it right and divert the funding correctly so there are no financial pinch points.  That way, we can provide the 30 hours and more and childcare will be a perfect vehicle to strengthen our infrastructure in a way that drives social and economic benefits at every level.

Six Steps For A World Leading Early Interventionist Childcare Strategy

Westminster storm

The election fever has begun.  Well, less of a fever and more of a virus at the moment. The manifesto writers are busy locked in a darkened room trying to shape their political parties’ ideas and offers. According to the media and political pundits the main subject of the election is Brexit but a general election needs to address domestic bread and butter policy as well.

The challenge of all manifesto promises is that they are great big statements with little attention to the detail.  More often than not, the translation of the manifesto promises is delegated to the local authorities. These, much maligned councils, very often find themselves having to interpret these promises into pragmatic solutions without the necessary resources. This is a concern for all local authorities given they are under huge financial pressure, not least in the area of social care and community support.

Some local authorities are still trying to deliver big manifesto promises from the last parliament such as Universal Credit which are still not implemented and emerging information shows that the promise is benefiting fewer than the anticipated headline numbers leading to greater complexity.  In fact, in the case of Universal Credit the very recent DWP figures confirmed that the number of people caught in the cross fire of a manifesto promise has increased from 8000 to 15000.  The result is more working people now live in poverty and around 2.3 million children in the UK are living below the Child Poverty Act 2010 relative poverty threshold, representing one-fifth of all children. By the same measure, eight million working age adults and, overall, over one-fifth of the UK population live in poverty. For those families stuck in a cycle of poverty the escape routes are limited. Routes out of poverty include cheaper housing, affordable childcare and flexible employment. These options are currently not freely available.

The issue of childcare is of great interest to me. As a social entrepreneur I lead the design and development of the largest community childcare social business, the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). It was created to reduce poverty by providing all families but especially poor families access to affordable childcare.  However, despite successive Governments recognising the benefits to parents and children of good quality affordable childcare, we have yet to see a fully funded robust coherent anti child poverty childcare system implemented. Every Government has done something but never enough given the raft of national and international research which confirms the long-term benefit of high quality childcare and education for children, families and societies.

John Adams, the second American president from (1797 to 1801) noted back then that

john adams

A more recent advocate of this approach is Nobel prize winning economist Professor James Heckman who shows how childcare can reduce poverty and improve the educational achievement gap found in disadvantaged children.  This gap opens up between them and their more affluent peers at 22 months and is very hard to close.  He argued that Governments should invest in early years not least because of the rate of return which he calculated as a 7 to 10% return per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime. So, the argument for early intervention is strong, and quality childcare plays a significant part in this.

For example our Prime Minister Theresa May recently challenged us as a society for failing to tackle the issue of mental ill health which as she said goes right to the heart of our humanity.

Child mental healthShe cited government statistics that show one in four people has a mental disorder at some point in their life, with young people affected disproportionately as half of mental health problems start by the age of 14 and 75% by 18 at an annual cost of £105bn. Half of this would fund a world leading, life changing, society improving early interventionist childcare strategy.

There are many other benefits to taking an early interventionist route; employment that balances work and family enhances well bring, reduces poverty and sets a positive example to children.  Lone parents who have flexible work and accessible childcare step out of poverty more quickly and the cost benefit of enabling professional educated women to work while their children are young has innumerable benefits for employers and the country’s economy.  The challenge is therefore building and funding an early interventionist strategy that recognises how childcare can be key to our social and economic infrastructure.

The impending new government therefore has the chance to pull together all the positive elements of previous governments policy initiatives and create the most effective and powerful early interventionist childcare in the world beginning with these six steps:

1. Raise the profile and long-term impact of good quality childcare and how it benefits all children and society by leading a strong public front facing awareness campaign

2. Boost the involvement of employers in the awareness campaign so that they invest in better childcare and family friendly activates to attract and retain staff

3. Strengthen quality by investing in an Early Years work strategy that sets out and funds a national properly paid, attractive career pathway from apprentice to Masters degrees.

4. Develop a national housing policy which includes an explicit keyworker building programme especially for those low paid nursery staff.

5. Better fund the public childcare offer so that its fair and accessible to all parents not just those who can make up the shortfall through parental contributions.

6. Amplify and foster the important role of social businesses in the childcare market as sustainable means of providing high quality childcare within poor and diverse communities.

Locating the child in the 30 hours offer

Like many of you, we spent a fair few hours on the motorway en route to the country for the Easter Weekend.  It’s a time to catch up on playing forgotten, new or favourite music. However, our car has a CD system known as Touchy that decides what it wants to play. If Touchy dislikes the CD she refuses to play or chooses another one instead. It’s the same with the radio.  She likes Magic, refuses Radio 4 and has completely stopped playing Classic! This weekend she has taken a liking to Jack Johnson’s CD from the film Curious George and his friends.

I must admit to being a terrible passenger and I am worse on the motorway. My eyes are squeezed tight, my stomach a permanent knot and I duck up and down as if watching a scene from a Scandi Noir.  The upside is that I focus my attention on listening to the lyrics of the music.  Jack Johnson benefited from all my attention and focus and I listened intently to his lyrics.  He sang about sharing and being friends and looking out for the new person and being kind.  This appears to be a theme for me at the moment.  It may be because I am not seeing much about kindness or care.

Is there a collective nervous breakdown going on in society at the moment? Have we have lost sight of what makes us human? The issue of care is now an issue of money, convenience and return on investment.  It’s considered acceptable by commissioners to give a lonely elderly person one hour of support a week or time the delivery of their meals on wheel delivery to exactly 10 minutes. Hardly time to say hello and goodbye.

In childcare we face the same challenge. The 30 hours offer is fast becoming a battle for funding. It is a conversation hijacked. The offer’s utility to society is measured only in how many parents it will free up to work and contribute to the great British economy instead of trying, as painful as it is, to understand the problems facing the early years sector and the compounding problems mounted on the sector by initiatives we can’t afford. This would entail putting the child first, not return on investment.

Image result for economism

Cacophony of calculations : Where’s the child in the 30 hours discussion?

Talk is of top ups and charging for lunches and tea when it should be of quality, health, nutrition and equal provision for all children. It’s shocking and poorer children will suffer more.  Let’s raise the status of care and the quality of care and start a national conversation with parents about what care should look like and what the 30 Hours should deliver.

In the words of Jack Johnson “ let’s not take the wrong turn”.

Keep Calm, Be Kind and Build Bridges of Friendship for the Sake of the Children

In 2007 three of the LEYF nurseries were involved in the Edgeware Road bombings. I still remember it but the strongest memories that stay with me were of the kindness of people, the concern of parents bringing food and blankets for the staff who stayed late into the night and the letter I received from Ken Livingstone, then Mayor, who shared and supported the view that London would mourn those who lost their lives and keep their memories alive by celebrating the best in people and continue to connect people across communities. That Saturday our nursery in Lisson Green held a community party inviting everyone from the local population. It was a public display of human warmth centred on children whose futures demand that we do not allow fanaticism to seep into our lives and destroy trust.

Children holding hands

The event on Wednesday involved our nursery in the House of Commons. Not once did I doubt that the team would not put the children first and do everything to keep them safe. I was touched by the shared trust from parents locked out of the nursery until late into the evening.  The resilience of the staff and parents was that we opened at 8 the next morning and carried on.

Thinking about both incidents, I was struck by the similar responses from the new Mayor Sadiq Khan. Like Ken Livingstone he urged that we build on London’s resilience and carry on.  Certainly, Thursday seemed quieter but even Southern trains ran on time.

This time communication was easier. Emails worked and the phone network was much better than in 2007. However, while the staff and parents appreciated the regular emails throughout the day and evening, it was the 7pm reassuring phone calls from staff to parents that were most soothing.  Crisis and trauma needs a human response. Tell that to the humanoids.

The call for more security worried many of my team fearful that the nursery would prove a security risk. We would counter that by saying that if anything, building nurseries into our London infrastructure contributes to the humanity of people.  Think of the comments of MPs locked into the Houses of Parliament with visiting school children who raised their spirits by singing.  The nursery children kept people smiling as they prepared for a special nursery sleepover.  We must remember the importance of children in our social infrastructure if we are to build human bridges connecting all the communities of our great city.

Happy International Women’s Day

IWD

And so here we are at another International Women’s Day. I awoke to a card from South Bermondsey nursery wishing me a happy International Women’s Day. Well, didn’t this wake me up and make me appreciate not only all the wonderful people (men and women!) working at LEYF but also the great strides we have made towards equality and the great strides to come.

South Bermondsey card-min

International Women’s Day, which began in 1909, was originally called International Working Women’s Day.  Since then it has shifted and changed to embrace the challenges and plights facing many women.  However, I want to reclaim the working women element and highlight one significant barrier for many women who want to work.

The access to local, affordable and good quality childcare

This is a problem the world over.  In the UK we know that the cost and availability of childcare remains a problem.  The Government tried to ameliorate the problem by offering 15 funded
hours to three and four year olds.  However, that presents its own problem for the mostly female childcare businesses as the Government subsidy does not meet the actual costs of childcare and leads to continual financial business headaches for those trying to balance subsidy with actual costs especially in super expensive cities such as London.

Everyday feminism

Across the world there is a similar childcare crisis and for many the remedy is not very palatable. There are 671 million children under five in the world today and 60% of their parents will be working.  The majority have limited childcare options except leave the children at home, find very low standard childcare which is cheap or let them fend for themselves. Very little option for a mother making a judgement between childcare and destitution.

There are some formidable women shining a light on the often simple solutions to such oguntestructural inequalities and social problems which impact children globally which are blocked often by lack of political will or shared understanding of inequality. Over at Ogunte, Servane Mouazan gives women the professional support to work towards their own solutions to social and environmental problems. What could be more heartening? Women helping women helping alleviate social disadvantage?

Meanwhile, in Kenya, Sabrina Habib responded to the lack of options for women by setting up a
kidogosocial enterprise in Kenya called Kidogo.  She wanted to provide safe, high quality childcare for less than a dollar a day having found that mothers desperate to work were leaving their children in cramped, squalid homes as there was no alternative.

What Sabrina found in Kenya is to be found all over the world but especially among the poorest children with the most restricted access to early childhood support. Women continue to face economic disadvantage in a changing world whether through low wages, insecure and unsafe jobs, unequal access to social protection or a heavy unpaid care and domestic workload.

Our children will never know a world without insecurity, fear and precarity unless we give women the opportunity to equal pay and secure work. We should value the delicate balance women tread every day in providing the often disregarded emotional labour, domestic caregiving and labour out there in the working world. Equality for women and accessible, affordable childcare remain dependent social problems which women like Sabrina at Kidogo and Servane at Oguntu strive to address.

This year we ALL need to join forces and raise the importance of childcare as a step towards women’s equality.

Be Kind, Be Courteous and Remember Your Manners

Last week, I spent a morning with staff from two nurseries talking about pedagogy.  Kindness and what it means was central to the discussion on social and emotional well-being.  It’s quite the topic of the month with the Duchess of Cambridge saying it was more important to be kind soldier flowerand compassionate than to excel at sport or Maths. Blimey, I bet that made a few politicians choke!  Mrs May talks about creating an inclusive society and the British Values requirements were introduced, albeit in a clumsy method, to provoke a conversation about democracy, rule of law, tolerance and mutual respect. They might have been better understood if we had used the words of kindness, compassion and courtesy which I believe are the underpinning behaviours.

In a city as crowded as London, we need to dig deep into our ability to be kind and courteous. Call me old fashioned but in a very mixed city we need some common rules to make life easy and reduce the dirty looks and kissing of teeth.

Old person tube

So confused are people as to what are the common rules of courtesy in this modern world, that 10,000 have written to Debrett’s for guidance on social manners. Questions like :

  • Should I kiss a client on the first meeting?
  • Should I give up my seat on the tube?
  • Can I begin to eat before everyone else has been served?
  • Why must I remember to put my knife and fork together at the end of the meal?

As early years’ teachers, we need to practice kindness and courtesy so that the children imitate our behaviour. Unless we teach them they may never understand that it is polite to wait for all of our friends to be served lunch so we can all start eating together, or that putting your knives and forks together is the sign you are finished so waiters can remove your plate without any inconvenience or confusion.

'After you' said Miss Manners. 'Oh you first' insisted Mrs Etiquette.

Much inconsiderate behaviour is often not a deliberate provocation but thoughtlessness and ignorance and not understanding the subtlety of the societal rules. We all have our particular bugbears. For example, which of these really make you spit fire (in no particular order)

  • Answering the phone when purchasing an item at the check outs (is the checkout person invisible?)
  • Walking slowly on a busy thoroughfare looking at your phone (yes it may be the map but walk on the inside, don’t wander about all over the pavement!)
  • Applying make-up on the train (do I pay a train fare to be in someone’s bathroom?)
  • Smelly food and confined areas such as the train carriage
  • Dogs on the train seats
  • Barging in front of you in the queue
  • Dropping litter (especially when the bin is right next to you)
  • Just standing on a discarded free paper and not picking it up and sticking it on the carriage rack

Of course, we all have wonderful positive examples of good manners and joyful moments. I have had many incidents of people spontaneously being kind and courteous, last week a young woman must have seen my tired face and offered me her train seat, I enjoy regular chats at the checkout of my local Sainsbury’s, have had helpful customers suggest how I cook fish, add nutmeg to liven up spinach lasagne and explain whether to use crème fraiche or cream.

The Spanish guide to politeness

The Spanish guide to politeness

Last week, one of our nursery managers was getting on a crowded tube at Green Park when she spotted one of the nursery children squeeze on further down the carriage with his Dad.  Next thing she heard the TfL conductor announce “Good Morning Oscar”.  Later, his father explained that as daily commuters to nursery since he was six months old, the staff have gotten to know him and look out for him and welcome him over the the speaker system when they see him.  How lovely we thought. Our manager was so touched by that, she said it gave her a warm feeling all day.

Courtesy, compassion and kindness are interwoven and can be taught and replicated. If you are in doubt about what to do and you can’t find your nearest Debrett’s, just step into their shoes and be nice. Manners and common courtesy are 99% common sense and 1% kindness. People with good manners treat people with respect and remember that no one, no matter how busy, powerful or self- important is above that.

“May you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold;
May you never make your bed out in the cold.
You’re just like a good close sister to me,
And you know that I love you true”

Become an Early Years Teacher and Beat the Robots

I recently read a piece about the growth of artificial intelligence and the impact it will have on existing jobs, whether the driverless car or the extension of computer controlled decision-making.

The Birth of Artificial Intelligence

I can’t understand the rush into such an inhumane world.  Why do we want more automated services, more self-service machines that go wrong and more advice services which is simply a computer talking at you?

This week I wanted to check a simple fact with Ofsted, so I rang the helpline, which took me to a selection of options and when I finally got to the section I needed, it referred me to the website!

Courtesy of Justin Boyd @ http://invisiblebread.com

Courtesy of Justin Boyd @ http://invisiblebread.com

Irritated, I found myself on the Gov UK website , a site which is like a busy aisle in TKMaxx, everything is squashed on a clothes rail and it takes determination and persistence to filter out anything of interest. Is this the life we want?

How can we therefore guarantee a career which won’t be overtaken by robots?   Become an Early Years Teacher. Children will always need adults to help them learn and develop. There is no greater honour than contributing to the development of the next generation.

Next week the Nursery World Show will celebrate all things Early Years. It’s an opportunity to celebrate what we do and how we do it.  A good show provides networking, CPD opportunities, and recruitment. I always attend to do all of the above and this year we have a big LEYF presence. We have created a nursery space with the help of Community Playthings where visitors can sit and chat and enjoy pedagogical conversations with each other.  We have also persuaded David Neil our chef from Brixton nursery to do a cooking demonstration and Gary Simpson one half of our Learning and Development team to present on the Live Stage. It’s one of the top CPD opportunities as the best way to learn is to teach others!

The opportunity to talk, connect and celebrate the humanity of our roles is critical. In this mad rush to reduce human connection, we as a sector need to do the opposite.  If you get a chance to attend a show or be part of an exhibition, take a LEYF out of our book! Make it a time for a bigger conversation, new learning and a public celebration that robots and drones have no place in our world.

Devo, Beautiful World

Doing business by doing good : A Social Enterprise’s most valuable asset is hope

It’s hard to get a feel of what is going on with the Government at the moment. Communication is muffled and it feels like we are watching a foreign psychological thriller without the subtitles.

the-third-man-shadows-large

Scene from psychological thriller The Third Man

The Prime Minister has said some great things about social inclusion but the feeling on the ground does not comfortably align to her rhetoric.  What we see are Children’s Centres closing, cuts to support services, no advisory staff in local authorities and cuts to social services.  The
brexitBrexit strategy has been described as hard, soft and clean but again on the ground it feels stained and in need of a good wash before its clean enough for any of us to wear.  In the world of education, our minister Caroline Dinenage remains completely silent on the workforce strategy despite us meeting her in October to explain the recruitment crisis and despite a very powerful response from the sector to the November consultation on the sector qualification, not a word has been heard.

I was therefore very pleased to listen to Lord Victor Adebowale, newly appointed Chair of Social Enterprise UK, on which I am proud to be a Board member.  He gave a short but generous acceptance speech at the AGM thanking the outgoing Chair Clare Dove and unlike President Trump was magnanimous and kind about the work that Clare has led over her ten years as Chair. His overall message was positive. He reminded us that even in our darkest hours we must hold on to the view that social enterprise and the social entrepreneurship movement is driving a big change and can help reshape our current established pattern of business behaviour because we can show that we are doing business by doing good.

The positive uplift was reaffirmed the next day when one of the LEYF Area Managers sent me her progress on the action research she is doing with nursery managers about kindness. We are celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day at nurseries, to encourage the spirit of generosity. The Kidogochildren are reaffirming kindness and courtesy in the nursery as well as donating to Food Banks and charity shops, supporting a partner social enterprise called Kidogo in Kenya and extending our multi-generational relationships especially with the old.

The sense of hope was energising.  It took me back to a great exhibition by Anselm Keifer at the White Cube Gallery. Two paintings transfixed me but gave me hope. The first painted destruction.

Detritis Walhalla

Anselm Keifer Rorate, Photo Charles Duprat White Cube Gallery

The second provided hope.  My husband looked at me in bemusement, Hope? Is this not about death and destruction?  However, while I am no art critic, I like art that makes me feel. This gave me hope and right now we need to try and find hope everywhere.

“Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now”

We began the year of 2017 with the sad news of the second untimely death of another of our much loved young staff members.  Telling the organisation about his death was my first duty of 2017 and it quickly put things into perspective. It also made me realise the power of the workplace community and how it can scaffold and support during miserable times.

The first indicator of support was the ability of staff to talk openly and kindly to each other about death and their personal responses to it, raising very deep feelings, bringing up memories, focusing people on the transitory nature of time and making us think about our own mortality.   I take an Irish approach to death which is to grieve in whatever way feels right but most importantly to celebrate that the person lived and contributed something to your life.  In essence, don’t be reluctant to say their name, remember them openly and describe how they touched your life.

In 2016 lots of the people who touched my life, however tentatively, died. David Bowie was my first teenage fascination, Alan Rickman had a voice that made me think of Christmas, Terry Wogan, reminded me of hilarious evenings listening to his commentary about the Eurovision, Famous people died 2016Ronnie Corbett from the Two Ronnies and Victoria Wood, great favourites in our house and the doleful tones of Leonard Cohen kept me company from my late teens. Last year I also lost my lovely friend Dave Perry who died suddenly leaving me very distressed and mournful.

This year, we cannot predict who will die and leave us bereft but we do know it will happen to someone.  I have been listening to many TED talks on death and grief and the message is consistent, talking and sharing is the healthiest way of dealing with the unbearable.  2017 must therefore start with a strong intention and every effort to build as much resilience and kindness in the organisation as possible so we can be the sort of community that can help each other as we face grief.

Grief