A Conversation On Losing Control

This podcast was recorded by a small group of people invited by Barnwood Trust to attend 2019’s Losing Control in Birmingham – a coming together of individuals, organisations, businesses and foundations from across the country, all searching for new ways to implement social change by relinquishing some control in favour of collective decision-making and grassroots participation.

To learn more about the Losing Control network & event, visit their website at www.losingcontrol.org

Leading the discussion is Jess Waterman, Head of Communications and Marketing at Barnwood Trust. Joining her is Rich Amos whose been collaborating with Barnwood Trust for some years, Ashar Smith from Creative Opportunities which is a social enterprise based in London, Louise Borg-Littleton who is a PCSO for Gloucestershire Constabulary who recently completed a 2-year secondment with the Barnwood Trust, Katie Peacock who is a member of the Barnwood Trust’s Learning Team, and Will Mansell from the Grace Network which is a social enterprise and community-interest company based near Stroud in Gloucestershire.

We join them as they discuss the conference so far and the wider topics that have been brought to the fore over the two days.

Jess: So, I’m going to just open this up generally – does anyone have anything burning or anything that’s at the front of their minds; a conversation they’ve had or a challenge that has been presented to them over the time that they’ve been here?

Louise: We just had our input about Barnwood Trust about our journey, and it was quite a long journey since 2012. It’s so hard to explain what Barnwood Trust does in such a short space of time.

There are so many different, great stories. I felt like I needed to explain how the police have been involved with Barnwood Trust, but it’s been frustrating, because I don’t think I was able to say the positive stuff that’s going on – the real-life day-by-day stuff.

That stuff didn’t really come out. It was more about why we’ve been a part of the work, the journey we’re on and how that journey will continue – but not really the root of the main stuff I think we do. So, it was really good, but I wish that we had more time just to share our stories.

Jess: I found it really fascinating and interesting to be in a room where there was such a diverse reaction. But that was so helpful to get a sense of – sometimes you can be in your own world, just doing your thing, and it’s just useful for someone to say “Just pop your head above the parapet because there are some other things that we want to tell you about.”

That mutual respect and learning was challenging but also kind of invigorating.

Jess: Does anyone else have anything in mind?

Will: I’ve had a great time chatting to people because it is such a diverse group that it is totally different to how I work – in a small social enterprise with the same people every day, we get in a bubble.

But coming here, the ability to hear other people’s stories and the power of the story over the institution, like the chap who was telling me that last year he had spoken to the United Nations on an anti-poverty campaign. He was a chap from Ireland who had moved to London, his wife had died – his story was quite intense. You hear this story and you think flipping heck – people want to change the world!

And it is stories that are driving it. So, having a space where we talk about big ideas but also root them in people – it’s very unheard of. I went to one – I mean no disrespect – I went to one where Martin Lewis was the speaker. And he is like a superstar who wants to change the world, whereas here it’s like there are lots of little superstars, which is like a tapestry of change, person by person.

Rich: I think what’s brought it home even more is that it is tapping into the human integrity of people. And that we are working within the world that is so focussed on systems and achieving our day-to-day objectives that we tend to lose focus about what we can bring individually and how vulnerable we actually are.

We don’t actually have space within a working day to showcase some of our attributes when there is a demand on meeting deadlines or having to be perceived as something that you’re actually not. There has been a few workshops which have taken a step back and said we are human and focus on the human element as people need space and time to understand themselves and to understand each other, in how people connect and work.

Jess: Yes, it’s taking it back to being about relationships between individuals rather than big structures.

Rich: Simple, yeah.

Jess: Asher, what do you think?

Ashar: Yeah, I think that Rich is bang on, to be honest. Katie mentioned it earlier as well – the building of relationships sometimes outside of the formal workshop sessions is probably just as important and is sometimes where the magic happens.

A couple of the sessions that have really stuck with me was the Honour of Media session. So how to work with mis-reported groups to shift narratives in the media and the stories presented to people every day. I think that can have such a huge impact on people – working with people with lived-experience to change that perception of how stories are told in the media.

And also the session at the end of the first day where it was looking at how people with lived-experience in the criminal justice system understand the complexities because they’ve been through it, and therefore, are the people that have the right ideas to change things in a structural way, that will have a long-term effect. I could talk for ages about it – it’s been great!

Jess: Yes, that session you’re talking about yesterday – it’s almost like there is a really interesting challenge around how do you employ somebody who has lived-experience who ahs a lifetime of being involved with the criminal justice system, when you’ve got DBS checking to get around?

There’s something about chucking out some of those rules and looking at things through a different lens and coming at it from a different perspective, that it’s been really helpful being in big rooms of people that are all thinking in that way. Thinking of coming at it from a different direction. But how fast can these things happen? Somebody said today – things are just slow sometimes – just don’t stop.

Katie: I think that’s why it’s so key for myself, listening to everybody else as well, it’s about what we take forward from this as well, and then in continues in some way. Because I think we’re aware of the real collaboration that could happen moving forward.

Rich: Since you referred to the speed issue, Jess, I think sometimes you can lose motivation because things aren’t going the way you want to or they’re not happening at the speed you want them to. There’s a sense you should be able to witness progress but it can take a long time to create the foundations to get people to see visions before you can get people signed up to what you’re planning to achieve.

Will: And I think there’s a gap at this conference between some people who want to create a proper movement which may take 20 years to get going that will last long after they’re dead and continue versus some people who are recognising that they can’t do things the old way, and so are just testing to see if a movement is the right approach.

And I think that first group with their person-centred approach is much, much better than those who say “My budget’s been cut so now we’ll do it through people-centred, lived-experience…”

And one of the things of this conference has been that divide between purists who say “I’m here to change the world” versus some of the realists who are thinking “Is this a cheaper way of doing it?” I think that second option won’t work, ultimately. Because it’s about genuine change, which as Rich says, can take ages.

Jess: Is part of that, though, that you’ve got some individuals and smaller, nimble organisations that can be responsive and there are others that are coming with the weight and the “stature” of history that means that they’re like big ships that have to slowly and steadily through the icebergs, rather than bashing them. Is it partly that?

Will: Well, some people on the more radical end are saying “Burn it all down!” And I don’t buy into that at all, but the flipside are that some large organisations, which I include Barnwood Trust, even though they’re ginormous and have lots of baggage and history – they’re still making the change. It’s just a slow thing.

I think there is a difference – it’s not about “Burn it all down and start again” or “Let’s change just to save some money this year”, it’s the people in the middle who are willing to stay at the course for a long time. I don’t think it’s about the size – I think it’s about the mindset of the organisation. You can be a little organisation with a very fixed mindset.

My experience of being here and looking around is that there is a very committed group of people who are actually up for the long-term challenge.

Louise: It just seems to me the most sensible way to go. What struck me with this sort of stuff is that none of it is rocket-science; you don’t even need to be that intelligent to get it – that’s why I get it!

You don’t have to have a degree to understand this kind of stuff. This stuff is about human nature, it’s about seeing people for who they are and just treating people with a little bit of respect – all that lovely stuff and I think why is it so hard for people to tap into that. Once you start doing it, it is really contagious.

Jess: I’m sure we could keep talking about this for a very long time and hopefully when we turn off the recorder we will continue talking but for now, shall we all get back to it?

Thanks guys!

About Losing Control

Individuals, organisations, businesses and foundations are searching for new strategies to improve their effectiveness. We need to let go of traditional ‘command and control’ organisational models and standard campaign techniques in favour of methods that focus on flatter hierarchies, dispersed leadership, collective decision-making and grassroots participation.We need to lose some control.  Read more via their website here