I work freelance, taking advantage of early retirement from work in a local government setting.
I had extensive experience in management, training, development, monitoring and reporting in play, youthwork, community & adult education. I was strongly committed to this work, but I did not fit with the institutional frameworks in which I worked. How did I survive this cognitive dissonance and dissidence?
Mainly, I did survive and sometimes I could play with ideas and projects. It was innovative, it was also enjoyable, but sometimes risky. I did get into trouble occasionally, but I more often held back, as I didn’t let the idea of playing and experimenting be at the expense of the well-being of colleagues, managers, clients and learners. I stood back a little from the corporate ethos and house-styles, observed, looking for alternative, more ethical and creative approaches.
I learned from work in other parts of the world, particularly the Commonwealth and European nations, wondering how we can make a difference by changing what we do, how and with whom. The additional outside perspectives made it easier to see what was under my nose – a great many skilful and talented people, working hard, under-recognised and with similar frustrations to my own.
I learned a great deal also from 12 years of inspecting the leadership, quality and impact of learning and skills for adults, their families and their communities and of multi-disciplinary, multi-agency children’s centres in this country. In these inspections, my work with young people and communities, in training or consultancies, I found many people with passions, working ethically and with dedication and commitment to the beneficiaries of the services they provide. Some organisations and networks support this well, with effective policies, practices, and self-review, including: openness to challenge and accountability; strongly embedded use of and monitoring of environmental, inclusion and diversity policies and commitments to the creativity, well-being and advancement of staff.
Yet many organisations still fail to safeguard, sustain, nurture or support ethical or creative practice with appropriate leadership and management. Sadly, many of those gifted and committed workers were undermined by subtle disapprovals, lack of support and even workplace bullying. Many organisations make claims to represent the vulnerable or the excluded, but rarely provide evidence that they are building the capacity of those groups or empowering them.
So there is much to learn from, both the bad experiences and the positive insights and build from them with reflections on how to build the ethical, creative and inclusive commitments needed. That’s behind the consultancies, mentoring, tutoring and brokering I provide.
I also have a passionate involvement with performing and visual arts, trees and landscapes, which refresh and inform my freelance work as well as providing a way in which I can engage with communities and environments. I had explored music as a personal therapy, then, still as something very personal, as a relief from the frustrations of working for an uncaring, anti-creative, life-sapping and ill-led public authority. Now, with greater independence in my work, I am more able to share music with others.
My freelance work currently includes consultancies in music production, adult education, in learning and skills and in children’s centres. My work at the Shrewsbury Centre of the University of Chester contributes to 3 trans-national projects of research, consultancy and teaching about the social and intellectual well-being of older people, including for those caught up in serious life changes, acting as agents of change in their communities or being facilitated to mentor young people. A fourth trans-national project, BreakDown/BreakOut, maps and values projects around people on the margins of employment. These projects focus on their social enterprise, creativity and on the benefits to the community, such as gains in health, integration, self-worth and autonomy of action. Other European collaborations include gamification to explore motivation, innovation, societal relationships and enterprise, urban forests and orchards.
a link to Education Consultancies
I’ve a separate listing here for some of my other work, much of which has grown out of deeply held passions:
- working with music with roots;
- writing and making radio programmes about music, food and communities;
- managing projects; producing and performing;
- making concerts, sound installations and surprises in cherished spaces such as museums & forests;
- providing consultancies for arts, heritage, environment & cultural organisations;
- working with trees and landscapes – from conservation and development of wildlife habitats to researching and creating sustainable food, drink and treen production in woodland, orchards, parks with the fruits and materials that trees provide;
- mentoring people who put their hearts and souls into work with people and supporting their resilience and self-advocacy skills;
- telling and collecting stories – in performance, educational settings, print, radio-broadcast, artwork and digital media;
- developing play, oracy and creative work with children and their families;
- training, facilitating and challenging the understanding of adults in their communities;
- developing resource bases, critical thinking and curricula about empowerment and change in society.
All this extends my passions into the work I do and for which sometimes I get paid. It keeps me busy, provide a series of valued social interactions and is a source of fulfilment and occasional enjoyment. Yet it has a significance for me that goes far beyond that. These activities define who I am and what I value in a way in which my former and formal work never did. They are also a source of nostalgia,* of opportunities for deep reflection and, in troubling times, a source of hope. This understanding has helped me work with people who have lost parts of their lives which they had come to feel had defined their place in the world.
All these contexts and contacts for my current work are, from one viewpoint, all over the place. But there is something they have in common, that they shine a light on changing but vital concepts or expressions that capture our human values, myths and beliefs and which can guide our actions. These concepts wind through our communities, languages, heritage, food, art, music, stories and the making of our homes and gardens, as do the words we use to describe them. Some of these connect, some contrast but I have a chance to reflect on this mix of elements. This is giving shape to a longer project for me, that researches, formulates and documents those principles we hold in common and which have value as measures of and remedies for alienation and powerlessness.
*”expression ‘used first in 1688 by Johannes Hoffer (1669 -1752) as a term for a serious medical disorder of soldiers away from home. nostalgia or mal du pays – also known as mal du Suisse “Swiss illness” or Schweizerheimweh “Swiss homesickness,” because of its frequent occurrence in Swiss mercenary soldiers, who in the plains or lowlands of France or Italy were pining for their native mountain landscapes. Symptoms were also thought to include fainting, high fever, indigestion, stomach pain, and death.” (from Wikipaedia article “Nostalgia”)
The word is coined from Homeric and Classical Greek (νόστος, returning to a homeland; άλγος, pain or longing.) Now it’s commonly a more wistful term – used often as an unrealistic and over-emotional looking back at idealised elements of the past.
It’s still a good word to use in association with heritage and community, when exploring people’s understandings, meanings, values and perceptions. Some of these are real, some imagined or dreamed, but that sense of a baseline in the past or in their home territory provides some powerful forces. Currently it is easy to suggest that people are increasingly and in an accelerating way experiencing a dislocation from their roots which an earlier generation are thought not to have felt, though they clearly did, as no historical period was ever a golden age or an unchanging one.
So “nostalgia” has an element from its original meaning, its impact is a death of part of our past and our souls, with serious awareness of what we are losing from our interrelationships with the natural and human worlds. It’s not just about missing something which you’ve left behind. It’s realising that even when you come back, that which you’ve left behind there also has changed, gaining an otherness.
There are simultaneously several versions of that reference point in your past which can’t be reconciled:
- what you’ve clung to but perhaps lost from your world-view and your self-view:
- the idealised memory of it which you hold still;
- what it’s become while you’ve been away;
- what experience or memory of it are held by significant others and
- what it actually was in the context of the original time and space.
All of these versions have taken separate paths, all hard to realise, hard to link and hard to reconstruct into a new single narrative. If your definition of who you are depends on one or more of those several versions, the ground under the feet of your self-definition has shifted. A balancing act needs a new narrative as a source of strength in combatting rootlessness, powerlessness, self-unravelling and cultural exile.
“ νόστον δίζηαι μελιηδέα, φαίδιμ᾽ Ὀδυσσεῦ: “