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My thoughts for my BERA paper

by Ross Campbell - 23:08 on 11 August 2011

How can I improve my practice as a Chief Executive working with carers and their families creating my living theory of mindfulness and learning?

I have now been a chief executive of a Carers' Centre for 20 months. I had come from managing a young carers service and have a passion for supporting carers to improve their lives. This comes largely from my life experiences. I was fostered long term when I was 3 and a half as both my parents had schizophrenia and  misused drugs and alcohol. Whilst I was not a young carer my brother who stayed with my mum was for several years as was my sister. My caring role really started as an adult although it took me a long time to realise it. These experiences made me determined to help people and make people's lives better as I had been given a chance by being fostered and I wanted to make sure other people had support in their situations.

I had a very Christian upbringing although later in life I have been more interested in budhist philosophies of mindfulness. 4 years ago I took up Tai Chi which is slowly teaching me to be present in the moment and not to be distracted by everything that is going on, my instructor calls it the 10000 things. Being a Chief Executive it is easy to feel there are 10000 things. I hae led a huge amount of change at the Carers' Centre over the past 20 months and yet my research is about creating my living theory of mindfulness and learning. There has been a lot of tension and contradictions during this time. Jack Whitehead talks about living contradictions in living theory. I have certainly felt this at times. We went through a period of great uncertainty with funding as many people are currently experiening. I found that I was totally consumed with worrying about our finances and that it became much harder to focus on being carer centred, being mindful or supporting my staff to achieve this. However, during this time I asked the staff how they were feeling and what they would like to help. The survey and consequent report is attached. By asking the staff how they were feeling it allowed them to remain in the moment and to experience there feelings rather than only asking them to be future orientated to a future that I hoped would be funded and subsequently was.

I learnt a lot about allowing the staff to have their feelings, I received some criticism but I was able to hold it and to look at how I could improve my practice as a result. It enabled me to implement support for the staff. It was also important for me to be able to acknowledge the feelings of the staff. I had been feeling a low energy as staff morale was low with the uncertainty and there were difficulties with staff feeling divided and unsupported. Unfortunately some staff left during this period and I introduced a new sturcture to respond to the staffs needs to have work shared out equally and to have support to manage their workload. Funding was maintained and new funding enabled additional hours to help with capacity. This has enabled 4 new staff members to join an existing team of 8 (including myself) as well as some key freelance positions including a Communications Manager, Fundraiser and Finance Officer. A new energy has entered the organisation as morale has increased, staff have been given more freedom to pursue their passions whilst having a framework to share work between each other and an operational manager has been introduced to support staff with their workloads.

I have also been developing meetings where staff can discuss their practice and share learning with each other. I am trying to develop a staff team that researches and learns together to support carers and their families effectively. This is developing and these meetings can be energising. I am researching how energy can be created to support and motivate the staff, carers and volunteers. When a meeting goes well there is a real buzz. I have a picture of sharing energy that I feel summarises this. I drew it when I was 18 and called it conscious conversations. It was inspired by the book the Celestine Prophesy which talked about the energy that could be shared when people entered a conversation consciously. This is the same concept as mindfulness and I am trying to make space for this in the carers centre by giving people space to pool this energy together. Not just as a staff group but by creating opportunities for staff, volunteers and carers to pool ideas and energy to develop the centre.

It is impotant to me that the Centre is carers led and I have been supporting the staff to develop a strucutre where carers are involved on every level and tke control of opportunities to have their voices heard such as training professionals, setting up their own groups and telling us what they want so we can get funding to provide it. We have provided opportunities for carers to increase their learning by providing training and opportunities to put use their expertise as carers to have influence and make public their knowledge. This is the principle of living theory.

TASC is a method of action research that uses this model. This is an area I would like to bring into the Centre to help staff, carers and volunteers use to give them some structure to what they are doing. I encourage this model to be used but have not formalised it and yet it is being used all the time. For example carers came together to plan a training session for hospital staff. I encouraged the staff to bring together the carers to plan what they would do. They sepnt some time gathering and organising the experiences the carers had. They identified what the training session would involve and how they would achieve the outcomes. They generated ideas for how to achieve their outcomes. They decided which ideas they would use and who would do what and created a plan of how to make the day work. They implemented their ideas by runing the day. They evaluated the day by asking the hospital staff for feedback which was very good and they communicated it by writing a report, gaining media coverage and an article going into our newsletter. Carers and staff were involved in all parts of this process and the learning from it is being taken forward into another day at the hospital. However, this was all done without a concept of TASC and this may help the carers, volunteers and staff to understand what they achieved by introducing the TASC wheel to show them what they have done and how they can repeat it. I will be exploring this in the future.

I am looking to research this work with the carers, volunteers and staff and want to ask them my question to get their views on how I can improve my practice. I will be videoing interviews with staff and videoing interactions with staff, volunteers and carers so I can look at how I can improve my practice and ask the carers, volunteers and staff to validate my findings as well as bringing them to my research group at the university of Bath.


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