Volunteering. Many of us give our time freely where, and when, we can - whether it be formal or informal. However it seems that people can be a little bit shy in discussing it. Well, on social media at least. Is it #Humblebragging or is it an important part of our society, our make-up and our lives that we really should be talking about more?
Volunteering has always been a part of my working life. When I graduated (first time around) from University, I spent a year in two different full-time volunteer roles working , and living, with adults living with disabilities in and around London. This led me into a career in health and social care, and, I think, gave me a solid set of core values which has held me in great stead ever since.
I still volunteer today. I'm an active Board member for a growing Asthma Music charity, No Strings Attached Scotland, and also for Volunteer Scotland. It was at the Volunteer Scotland Board session last week, which was also the AGM, that I was involved in a discussion about sharing stories of volunteering through social media. We heard from a variety fo European partners that people were less keen to post about their volunteering activity, for fear that it seemed 'self-serving'.
The European partnership found that before starting to volunteer, people felt volunteering was about being altruistic, helping others and making a difference. Indeed it can be all of those things. Afterwards, people reflected that they gained more personal benefits from volunteering, new skills, social connections, meeting new people and simply having fun.
Volunteering for me is about all the things. I want to participate. I'm passionate about inclusion. I value my own well-being. I want to be connected to my community, and communities. I want to be involved. I want to talk about it. I want to hear what other people do in terms of volunteering. I think it's important to encourage more, where we can. Do you volunteer? Or do you work with volunteers? If you want to talk about it, or you think I can help in anyway, please do get in touch.
A Year. Twelve months. Three hundred and sixty-five days. We all say that 'time flies' when you are having fun, but really this past year has whizzed by. It's been a year of change for me, a year of doing things differently, a year of working differently. A year ago I started my own consultancy business, leaving almost thirty years of full-time employment.
It's been quite an adventure. From my very first clients, who entrusted me to work with them to plot out better futures to the many inspiring people and dazzling organisations I have met along the way, who have all helped, I am so grateful.
It's not all been plain sailing. I've spent the year wisely. Figuring out what kinds of opportunities I really want to explore. Some I've been able to. Others have passed my by, this time. They've all been valuable. They've all been important. They've all been worthwhile, for me and for the clients too. I hope.
One of the mean reasons I took the plunge and decided to start my own consultancy was the prospect of being able to work more flexibly, both for my own health and wellbeing, and also to allow me to follow other interests. Over the year I've been busy continuing my academic research, and applying for opportunities to support it. This week, I start my PhD. I am thrilled, and slightly apprehensive all at the same time. I'll be researching part-time for the next five years or so, and continuing my consultancy alongside. My plans have become reality this year, but I know the real trick is to keep things going...
Planning. Reviewing. Developing. Being Strategic. These are all the skills that I bring to my work, whether it's consultancy or research. These are the things that I've helped other organisations to achieve over this first year. These are the things I've used to help myself over this first year. These are the things I will continue to help more organisations with over the coming years. Will it be you? If you think I can help you, please do get in touch.
We all love a bit of feedback, don't we? Maybe it is just me? I know some people run a mile at the thought... I am a feedback junkie. I'm always wanting to know how things have gone, positively or negatively, with a job. Did I help? Did I enable the change that they wanted to see? Did I have any impact at all? How could I improve next time?
As a Consultant, I certainly hope that I have made a difference with my work. It's what keeps me going. Not all changes that individuals or organisations make following my support will be massive. Small changes can make a big difference. They are all important. I think that it's also important for me to know what part I've played.
I've been fortunate that the projects I've taken on so far have allowed me to work on a more in-depth basis with clients, building up a relationship, getting to know what they require and providing some innovative, realistic and unique solutions. So, no surprises at the end.
I've recently finished a piece of work with an organisation working to improve the lives of women in Midlothian who have lost their way. Anam Cara lost it's way recently, and asked me to help. It's been a tough ride for all involved, but I was happy to be in a position to help. I wasn't directly involved. I could be objective. I could be clear. I could help them to see a way forward.
In return, they've helped me. Their feedback has reminded me why I do what I do. You can read the Anam Cara testimonial here. Maybe you are also looking for some help? If so, please do get in touch.
I spent this weekend learning some new skills. While researching examples of social enterprises for a client, I'd been drawn to the Edinburgh Remakery. They've tapped into the repair and reuse retail environment, as well as up-skilling would be recyclers. A two-day Upholestery course grabbed my attention. Perhaps that old chair in need of some attention that sits sadly in the corner might eventually be transformed...
The course went well. I successfully upholstered a chair. From a frame to finished piece. I learnt all sorts of new skills and techniques, with guidance from an experienced tutor, and also by watching the other participants work on a range of pieces.
I was happy with my chair. It wasn't perfect. It showed all the skills I'd learnt, the errors on show to remind me. I realised when it was finished that if I'd made different choices at the beginning, it could have been different. I didn't know then what I knew at the end. I'd started to work on the chair without any plan. No template. No knowledge. No fixed idea of the outcome.
It struck me when I got home that I'd been modelling the approach to social enterprise that I've been recommending my client also follows. Play don't plan. Innovate don't recreate. Prototype don't model. See what happens, if it works, great. If it doesn't, try again. Tweak. Try something different. Try an improvement.
Sometimes we rely too heavily on a 'plan' and forget if we 'play' outcomes can be different. Sometimes different is better. If you need some help to 'play' with ideas to bring a 'plan' to life, maybe I can help. Get in touch.
Some anniversaries pass you by. Some anniversaries you try to forget. Some anniversaries you count down to. Some anniversaries take you by surprise. Our lives are full of these markers of time, of place and of significance.
It's ten years since the Self Management Strategy for Scotland was published. Ten years this year since I started working at the ALLIANCE. Ten years since 'Gaun Yersel' became the blueprint for my work, my job description and work-plan, the thing I talked about all the time, the thing I brought to life. The Fund. The Projects. The Impact.
I'm delighted to be asked back to the ALLIANCE to celebrate the first ten years of 'Gaun Yersel' at a special reception following their annual conference. The Strategy sadly remains the only one of it's kind - written by people living with long term conditions and then adopted by the Scottish Government. It remains powerful as a document, and the ten year legacy already remains a powerful testament to the people it was designed to support.
Self Management has changed in those ten years. Expectations have changed. Professions have changed. Scotland has changed. I am proud to have been the leader of that change and proud to see the change in the many people, like myself, living with long term conditions around Scotland. Our knowledge, our skills, our lives, our expertise and our abilities to be equal partners in our own care are valued in a way they simply weren't ten years ago.
There is still a long way to go. 'Gaun Yersel' is only the start. We are all part of the future. Where do you see things in ten years time from now? For yourself? For your organisation? For your cause? Maybe I can help you get there.
I recently noticed a potato sprouting strongly in our communal garage. I'd clearly dropped it from a shopping bag weeks, or maybe months, earlier, unseen. There's no natural light down there, no soil and only little patches of water, intermittently . This potato was fortunate to find itself in one of those slightly damp patches.
It's now on a mission to escape, finding it's own path, a last ditch attempt to escape the confines of the underground garage and thrive. I've left it where it is, just to see how it grows and develops, against the odds.
I find it reassuring that it's drive is so strong, that it's instinct is to spread and find a place, even if it's initial home is far from ideal. It has an idea. It is working hard to realise it. It might be successful. Friends have suggested re-planting it to give it a better chance of survival, however it seems to be doing just fine on it's own.
My own business is doing the same. In the first six months I've turned ideas into reality. I've worked hard to bring things to life, to find my 'place' and to make plans to continue. I've been fortunate to have some fantastic clients and contracts. Things are looking good. Taking chances has paid off.
Maybe you also need some help to get something off the ground, are struggling to turn a corner or to break-free and be noticed. If you think I can help you, please do get in touch.
We share photos of our lives on-line daily. We want our friends and connections to see them. We barely give a thought to who may be 'using' them. We don't think anyone would want to, or would, without asking us for permission. We are wrong.
In another part of my working life, I am a food writer, photographer, blogger, researcher, academic, food historian and champion of early television cooking programmes. I was delighted when the BBC announced that they were adding a series of rarely seen cooking shows to their iPlayer archive over Easter. It generated a fair bit of press coverage.
I was surprised when friends and acquaintances contacted me to say they'd seen some photos I'd taken on National Newspaper websites promoting the shows. When I looked more closely, the two newspapers had actually used my pictures in their printed versions too. No-one had asked me. I wasn't credited. I wasn't paid.
I've spent a couple of weeks in 'negotiations' with both newspapers, reviewing offers, rejecting them, reviewing higher offers. It's a game. Not one I enjoy. I've always given credit throughout my work for others involvement, would never use anyone else work without permission and expect that as a minimum. It seems not all industries are the same.
As a freelancer, my reputation and people knowing how to contact me is just as important as payment. Those newspapers have used my work, but no-one knows it was mine. I will get payment, but the credit is lost. Maybe I would never have agreed for them to use my work, they aren't publication I'd be inclined to be associated with. Especially now. The flip-side is I have learnt a lot about copyright law, and how to deal with wilful infringement. I'm always learning.
If you think I can help you with some work, fully credited of course, please do get in touch.
This weekend I went to see a favourite film in a new setting. Rather than there being something in my eye as I watched Brief Encounter with a full, live Orchestra accompanying, I was able to watch with renewed eyes. The familiar seemed fresh, I noticed things I'd perhaps missed in the past. I enjoyed it in a new way, and the experience will stay with me.
Also this week, I approached a work contract with equally fresh eyes. I was facilitating a focus group as part of a Funder review. Having spent nine years as a Funder myself, I knew my experience would be useful, however hearing the thoughts of the funded projects in an unfamiliar setting really opened my eyes.
Thankfully with experience behind me I was able to dig deeply into their comments, ideas and suggestions, and hopefully make some strong recommendations to the Funder. I enjoyed it too.
My fresh eyes on a familiar issue were just what was required. Sometimes you can't see the things you need to yourself. We're too busy watching and reacting. Too close to see the things we view everyday in a way which is different enough to help.
If you are struggling to see something in a different light, perhaps I can help.
I went back to University this week. Not as a returning student, but instead to give a lecture to the current students on the Masters course I completed. I was letting them know about my dissertation, and the methodology I'd used to do my research. It was fun to revisit it, and to share it with them.
Part of my aim in setting up my own consultancy is to have more time for my own research and writing, so reflecting on that as a process for the lecture was extremely valuable for me too. I could talk all day about my research, but could I also talk about valuable insights to analyse how I'd 'done' it too?
I think I did a good job - the students seemed engaged and asked lots of questions. Questions really help. Some were wanting to know more about my research. Others wanted some very practical knowledge on 'how to do' the research. Others were keen for me to wear their class 'research goggles', and have photographic evidence to share, which apparently help them to focus and see things differently. I hope I added to that.
As I answered I reflected that the process was the same as I employ in many work settings too - particularly with new tasks, new contracts and with new ideas. Spending time finding out was much information as possible, being disciplined and organised in not only how I collect it, but how I organise and plan how to use information, are all crucial for me.
Research is so important, especially if like me you are curious to fill in the gaps and make improvements, explore possibilities and develop a new set of 'evidence' to support future work. It can be tempting to just 'jump in' but I prefer reflection, collection and then projection. If this is something you think I can help you with, get in touch...
I'm hopeful that 2018 is going to be a great year. It's often the last thing you want to say out loud, just in case, but as we head into a new year I am feeling positive, curious about what will occur and determined to make the most of every opportunity that comes along.
I left 2017 behind with a fun appearance on television. Not my usual way to see out the year, but a great way to celebrate a year of change. I was asked to be part of a BBC programme looking at Scotland's changing relationship with 'going out'. The show was presented by the voice of Love Island, Iain Stirling, romping through the decades starting with the 1950s.
My role was to discuss the weird and wonderful food and drink of the 1970s at a recreated dinner party in a stunning Glasgow home which has been preserved in all it's 70s glory. I'd been asked as a result of the other work in my portfolio around retro food, academia and writing.
It was great fun to look back and remember Cheese Hedgehogs and strange banana dishes. On social media people responded by sharing their own reminisces of decades past as I mixed up a Snowball cocktail for the host. Thankfully, it also highlighted that things have changed in the intervening decades. Semi-dressed 'lovelies' on beer cans are not a welcome retro revival. The combination of polyester, crimplene and the naked flames of candles should never return.
In my food writing and research I spend a lot of time looking back, not with rose tinted glasses but with a reflective head thinking about what we can learn from times gone by to improve the current day. This is equally important in my consultancy role too. Often things seemed better 'before' but when we examine it more closely, not everything should be revived. Reviewing the past very much with an eye on the future is crucial.
If this is something you are looking to do, maybe I can help.
HI, I'm Kevin and Third Quarter is my Consultancy. Follow my adventures here...