Friday, June 6, 2008


Cambridge. Nottingham. Bury St Eds. Barnsley. York. Bury St Eds. Nottingham. This has been my week. Blatted from one point on the map to another. And back again. Needless to say the effect on my head has not been great. While I owe a lot to the inventors of mobile wireless technology, there are limits to this, as I sit here at nearly one am trying to catch up with what happened at work while I was pinging around the country. What I want to know is `Who is the Wizard?'

However, it has been an interesting enough week. Visit to our operation in South Yorkshire on Wed was a success. We have a very turned-on, ambitious leader there who was refreshing to hear from. So often when I visit places I get bombarded with woe and leave feeling like I need a couple of fast pints. Not that day though. Took all the team to lunch and before the grub arrived did a Q & A in which people were forthcoming - but in the right way. Wetherspoons in Barnsley also delivered surprisingly good food. I may even go there again.

My Barnsley afternoon continued with a trip to see the CEO of Barnsley and two of his senior team, the lead on adult social care and their partnerships lead. I could register their disinterest on the Richter scale at the beginning but this soon seemed to evaporate.

We met in this amazing glass goldfish bowl of a room which looked out over the town. The council here is very keen to put itself in the limelight which they have done with their stunning performance getting people onto personal budgets. Being next door to Leeds and Sheffield seems to be a big motivation for these guys.

Learned that Barnsley is fairly `tight' in terms of existing voluntary sector partnerships but that there is probably room for Speaking Up if we show ourselves to be useful in pulling in new resources.

The strategic agenda here, like all councils, is on personalisation. This means, in effect, an end to public sector Stalinism. I wonder how councils will really do this as it means, in time, them kissing goodbye to their own provider role - if this is done properly. But I don't sense that is quite on the cards yet. Not in Barnsley anyway.

The afternoon ended with a quick meeting with super-blogger Rob Greenland, a social entrepreneur from Leeds. I enjoyed meeting Rob as much as I have relished his blogs. He brings a lightness of touch to the serious business of social enterprise - and a much needed realism to the discussion.

He deliberately works at the pointier end of the sector and provides frequent reality-checks to a movement which, frankly, can see a bit up itself at times. We discussed doing a Barnsley event in September which I found myself feeling quite bright about.

Stayed overnight in Hull with my friend Rob from University days. Like many people I know with extremely high intelligence, Rob has struggled to find his way in life and at 38 is still `at sea' - working for some dreadful Government quango but hating it, living alone, not particularly fulfilled.

He's wonderful company however and as the years slip by I feel increasingly the comfort of old friends. I like new ones but they are harder to find and it is somehow harder to get to the points of intimacy one managed quickly and easily as a 21 year old.

Today I visited one of our services in a secure unit near Hull. These places are pretty awful, you wouldn't want to be banged up there I can tell you. While newly built, like some new estate, they are understaffed and sort-of built on the idea that if you did something wrong in 1998, you need two seven foot skinheads following you around all day and jumping on you if you get a bit arsey. Of course, I am being frivolous but `overkill' does, now and again in these places, actually kill people. If the food doesn't first.

Our staff are in a funny position here. Inside but not part of the Machine. Its a strange role being an advocate here. I don't envy them. And I'm not sure how good it is to do the job for too long as there's a basic unhealthiness to the place that you need a skin of iron not to be touched by somehow. I am always glad to be in my car and away.

The final slam of the ball today and I am back in Bury St Edmunds. Ruby is glad to see me despite a 48 hour absence and gives me a fantastic hug and makes me carry her for the next half an hour till my arm drops off. Wilf smiles too and I give him his tea. These moments are all the sweeter when I've been away.

Once they are in bed and I've cooked the tea I settle down to work. There's all sorts of semi-stressful stuff to think about and I do OK until I realise its half past bloody twelve and I need to be fresh for a talk to a group of CAB managers tomorrow morning in Nottingham.


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