Friday, January 16, 2009

Feet Not Touching the Ground

I left my house at 6am on Tuesday this week and didn't hit my own bed (well, the spare actually, the walls were shaking due to my wife's snoring) till 10pm Thursday night. Three fourteen hour working days with tons of travel. Bushwhacked.

So it has been a busy week for the CEO of Speaking Up! All of Tuesday was spent with my excellent CEO Kathleen Cronin interviewing interim managers at Odgers in London. Miss, miss, miss and finally HIT.

We seem, in our choice of interim, to have found one of those rare beings that bring order where there is chaos and sense where there is none. `Halleluliah!!' - as my two year old has, worryingly, just started saying every time she comes home from nursery.

Dinner at Carluccios with the lovely Louise Burner from Impact Beyond. Louise is the poshest person I know (she went to school with Princess Di) and also one of the best consultants I have encountered.

She is helping 25 people from right across Speaking Up, from users right through the CEO, write a plan for the 2010s. Louise comes free with our excellent package of support through CAN Breakthrough. But you can find her yourself at

Wednesday was one of those rips through London in which I seem to specialise these days. Breakfast in Russell Square Gardens (quite delightful btw) with my old mucker Owen Jarvis of Aspire Foundation then off to the final meeting of the ACEVO DWP Taskforce chaired by the human-spark that is Tony Hawkhead, CEO of Groundwork.

Almost single-handedly Tony has turned the death-formula of a 25 person committee to look at the issue of third-sector delivery of welfare-to-work services into a fun gathering at which things are getting done. Last meeting today as the report is ready. Not my subject area, so little to say, but interesting.

W2W will however be severely challenged by 3m unemployed. Sadly, the Labour Government is 10 years late on this agenda. Had they done it when Frank Field first put it forward in 1998, and there was some money around, the problem would be gone now. Nice one, Gordon (you helped stop it first time round).

Then onto the graduation for 30 odd people from Level 2 Unlimited. Now this was my type of thing. Every person in the room a social entrepreneur. All doing things. I did my usual presentation of my own story, laced with a few pointers (not that this crowd needed telling).

Lovely reception. Had my lunch with Cliff Prior who is one of the brightest people in the sector, somebody who is always worth hearing if you ever get the chance.

Then I handed the stage to Trevor Lynn, founder of Mow and Grow and Level 3 investee of Unltd Ventures. Trevor is a real-proper social entrepreneur. `Cutting Grass, Cutting Crime, Cultivating Success'. That's his strapline which kind of says it all.

Like all the best social entrepreneurs, Trevor has put together a model in which he gets paid for cutting grass, paid for training people to cut the grass and paid for turning the grass into compost.

He's managed to franchise the business and looks set to become a superstar. He also lives near Bury St Edmunds where he's now setting up Mow n Grow. We're meeting very soon in front of the roaring fire at Bury's magnificent Angel Hotel.

As Trevor winds up I rush off to meet with Nat Sloane of Impetus Trust at the British Library. Nat is probably my biggest individual mentor. He made a decision five years ago to back me and Speaking Up. Our partnership has been long and, I think now, mutually beneficial.

Impetus took a flyer on me when I must have looked a massive risk. Half a million quid's worth of a flyer. Using their own money. Now I am a grown-up social entrepreneur, I appreciate more and more just what a big thing they did. I hope, one day, to be helping Impetus to find the success stories of tomorrow.

The long day ends at Admirality House for `Meeting of the Minds' - a Social Enterprise Coalition event hosted by the Minister for the Third Sector, Kevin Brennan, bringing together key people from social enteprise, Government and business.

Meet some great and not-so-great people but I am sorry the evening has to end at 9.30pm. Apparently "deals" are being made at other tables. I miss out on this obvious dividend but it feels like a good use of time. Miss the train home. Wind up in bed at 1.30am.

Then I am off at six thirty to Nottingham where we have a big Speaking Up service. We have very recently lost a valued staff member there, Charlotte Knitter, who tragically died of a stroke at only 33 years of age. The team are traumatised, some are clearly not sleeping well or finding it easy to work.

My whole senior team are up there, yes, because there's work to do but also to show support. This person's death came as a total surprise as she was in perfect health. She was simply very, very unlucky.

Our day ended with a meeting with a potential partner up there. It was an interesting one as they are long-standing and local and we are a more recent presence and a `national'. That took some getting over in the meeting but I hope some progress has been made.

While this was definitely not an immmediate meeting-of-minds, it was the start of a dialogue which will, I think, get somewhere. As the economy goes south, I believe third sector groups of all shapes and sizes will need to make alliances that don't come easily.

As I arrive back in Bury St Edmunds at half-past nine on Thursday night, kiss my sleeping kids and collapse with a dried-up dinner, I am reminded of the proverb about mountains being climbed one step at a time.

Friday has seen me working from home. Highlight of the day was taking Ruby swimming in a near-empty pool, her hands clasping hold of me, her human Life-raft. Her simple delight in the water. The adventure of floating. I, bouncing along with her, in my own version of rapture.

The house I have just moved into h

1 comment:

helen said...

Charlotte Knitter was one of those people you notice. I remember interviewing her and knowing within a few moments that there was no question she would be successful. She made a brilliant advocate within a few days of starting with us, and was a well liked and highly admired member of staff.
She will be missed, every day, by many.