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Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Work

Brendan Martin

May has been a month of perpetual motion for me, and as it comes to a close I realise it has brought growing evidence that my wonderful team and I are part of an unstoppable movement for change in the way we all support each other in our communities and at work.

It is easy to be downhearted by the all too sad and frightening social, environmental and political news coming at us 24/7 these days, but as I reflect on the people I have spent time with over the last month I cannot be pessimistic.

I write this on the way home to London from Edinburgh, where I have had the privilege of working with ‘personal assistants’ employed by the highly impressive Thistle Foundation, and with the charity’s leaders.

Thistle supports people with long-term conditions to “live life on their terms”, as the charity puts it with refreshing simplicity. We are helping them follow the logic of their already excellent relationship-based approach by supporting the teams to self-manage.

Many of those ‘PAs’ — soon to be redesignated ‘wellbeing practitioners’ – grew up and live in the same Edinburgh neighbourhoods as the people they support. Others are from all over the world – the teams I worked with today represent at least seven nationalities.

One of my hopes is that enabling them to exercise greater freedom and responsibility will counter-act the despicable ‘hostile environment’ policy imposed on Scotland by the Westminster government and persuade these fine people to stay.

Of course, one of the many challenges for multicultural self-managed teams is to overcome a variety of communication styles, but that diversity only adds to the richness of what they offer each other and the people they collectively support.

Earlier in the month I was in Toronto, supporting the development of an initiative to “return to how community nurses worked in Canada and around the world 30 years ago”, as Shirlee Sharkey, President and CEO of SE Health, one of our hosts for the visit, puts it.

The HOPE initiative was developed by SE Health and AMS Healthcare in conjunction with Buurtzorg, whose founder Jos de Blok made the keynote presentation at the launch conference, and aims to trial the model with around 1,000 clients in Ontario.

The following week I was in Torquay, in the beautiful English county of Devon, where the Torbay and South Devon National Health Service Foundation Trust is supporting the efforts of many of its frontline professionals to self-manage and innovate.

And in between all these activities, we organised our own workshop in London, where we were very grateful for the first hand testimonies of members of the fabulous Neighbourhood Cares teams in Cambridgeshire and community nurses we have supported in Tower Hamlets.

All these environments have some common and some unique features, but what strikes me most about them all is quite simple: ordinary people do extraorindary work in creative ways if the organisations and systems in which they work don’t prevent them from doing so.

Neither saints nor angels, not heroes but servants, the people I have been lucky enough to spend time with simply express the very best values and characteristics of our common humanity. From my heart as much as my head, a big thank you to you all.