Ticking Boxes

How do you measure success? At Growingpoints we say that our success is achieving ambitions. Wartime Churchill, asked rhetorically about his ambition answered with one word; Victory! Hard to achieve but easy to measure.
In our less heroic times the Charity Commission asks us to ensure our Annual Report is outcome based and increasingly both government and industry are asked to confront the “So What?” question in justifying their results. Never mind the impressive profits and the big offices; what changed as a result of your stewardship?
We think it’s simple too; our customers tell us their ambition ( we even call them outcomes) and we hang on in until they are met. If we do we succeed and if we don’t we fail. Simple; but is there a chance that by concentrating on the aim we miss something more important?
Recently,  Malvern Welcomes organised a Syrian-themed community meal. It was a lovely event, attended by 70 or so concerned people to raise the profile of our ambition to welcome Syrian refugees and raise some money to help them, and we did both ( ticked the boxes!)
But the undoubted star-turn was S, an Afghani  who talked to us about how it felt to be a refugee in UK and why the reception we are planning is so important. He had left Kabul as a child when “quite suddenly people started firing guns at each other” and arrived destitute and alone in Coventry. He learned English, got a job and finished his education and he now helps organisations like ours prepare to receive refugees. The response to his presentation was unequivocal, we all agreed that he was a fantastic advert for refugees everywhere!
He exuded humility and confidence and a sense of ease which everyone found both reassuring and up-lifting. There was absolutely no ‘box to tick’ that would cover that but he certainly played a vital role in buoying us up in our belief that we were on the right track and we’re making a difference.
And everyone who works as Guardians for Growingpoints could tell you of similar feelings of humbling and breathtaking determination to achieve change and make a difference by our customers. It’s ultimately what drives us to go the extra mile with people who have already travelled many hundreds.
S reminded us that at the front of every refugee’s mind is the determination to have their children live in security. They are prepared to risk everything to achieve that ambition. That is very understandable to me and why Growingpoints are proud to be prioritising  our work with refugees this year.
I hope we will be successful.

The Refugee Business

I suppose I should have realised that when I was invited to a meeting titled “Market Engagement” something about business would follow.

This was in fact a meeting to brief organisations who were hoping to be involved in providing services to refugees in our county under the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme  (SVPRP). As a representative of a welcoming organisation I went with a “listen and learn” brief, our organisation was there to ensure that any refugees arriving in our town were appropriately welcomed and supported.

The meeting was introduced by two members of the procurement team who explained the need for governance in the selection of bidders for tenders that would over the next few weeks take place competitively. So from the start the market was well engaged but were we?

We were welcomed (but only introduced after a prompt from the floor) and questions were taken but when we asked for some engagement (being represented on some of the panels involved in making the decisions), we were told that was not how things were done. But why not, wouldn’t it be sensible to engage those voluntary organisations present whose only concern was to ensure the refugees had a decent welcome by friendly faces? No, because it would represent a conflict of interest. Why? Because it would be like “having your sister-in-law on the panel.” So not much engagement there.

We sought further engagement more informally following the meeting, trying to work out who the front-runner might be and who we would see as adding most value to our work. There had been an audible gasp in the room when the procurement team explained that the weighting criteria for selection of providers, would be 70% on cost. Talking to people afterwards about this revealed that this was higher than elsewhere in the country and suggested that there was some pressure to keep costs down to (or below?) the minimum, in order to win the tender. Which led to other concerns being voiced about local authorities who were putting themselves forward to receive refugees in order to benefit  from the widely recognised generosity of the £8250 capitation being offered by the SVPRP for every refugee received under the scheme. The whispered story was that early-adopter councils had found that they could provide all the necessary support to refugees and make a tidy “profit” too; surely an element of the market-place which should be, if true, nipped in the bud. Perhaps this attitude is encouraged by the tenders being awarded to providers with Performance Related Pay which may encourage running a dangerously slim operation by providers keen to win contacts; with low costs demanded and surpluses available to be spent elsewhere on hard pressed budgets. If true; dirty business.

I came away feeling very un-engaged and wondering why the market was relevant here at all. After all this is a fairly simple operation driven by compassion and humanity (where markets have no particular expertise). Undoubtedly a market based procurement approach is how the modern local authority manages its business in the search for best value. But isn’t it just another example of markets hitting the target but missing the point, by creating conditions in which there is a race to the bottom when good citizenship and generous communities should rule the day?

Real people, real win-win!

This weekend, three of my Growing Points customers are working hard to slay the dragon of the NHS application form. They are 3 of 11 refugee women who are hoping to take the Nursing Apprentice programme  to become Clinical Support workers under a scheme Growing points has established with the help of Leeds Hospital, Health Education England and City of Sanctuary. That is where they hope to arrive in a year’s time and, if they wish, they can graduate onto a course which will ultimately give them registration.

Sitting in Starbucks at Leeds station ( my Northern office!) with each one of them, made me experience once again how important to them our Hidden Talents programme is. It’s not just a job and a qualification, important as they are but it is positively life changing and an opportunity they are desperate to grasp to change their life and social status in this country; to somebody who has made it!
Each one has no shortage of experience to put into their Personal Statement, they have not let the grass grow under their feet over the years whist they wait for the lottery of limited opportunities and the promise of a better life to bear fruit. It’s so impressive and humbling to be part of helping make this small change for us, massive change for them.
As the time for my train south arrives and passes 3 then 4 times I realise a whole afternoon has gone but who wouldn’t give any amount of time and support to those thirsty for this opportunity to break out?
Another Guardian helping on the programme puts it much better
I just want to thank you  for getting me involved in such a fantastic project at Leeds, with all those inspiring women! It was just the right thing at the right time for me, and I really feel very privileged to be involved…..I shall enjoy being part of it as it progresses.”
And it’s such a good model, the Hospital employs , Health Education England pays for the training, Growing Points provide 1-2-1 support and we hope at the end we have 11 formally qualified customers and the NHS gets more nurses. 
Real people, real win-win!

Growing Servant Leaders

Our Growing Points commitment is to achieve the leadership ambitions of people form excluded communities. We do this by recruiting well networked Guardians who “gift” their networks to our customers. And it works!
But I get asked about the leadership thing, why not just ambition? Well in many cases it’s just that but I happen to believe that good leadership, inspires,encourages and develops healthy people and relationships.
Of course that’s a big expectation but I find that our customers,  coming as they do from the margins of our society do have a real understanding of the model of Servant Leadership that I think works and keeps on giving.
Robert Greenleaf first coined the term in his 1970 book “The Servant as Leader” and defined it in this way:“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“ (My emphasis)

You can see why this might appeal to Growing Points​, the emphasis on growth, improvement and avoiding further deprivation is powerful and  of critical concern if the leader is to make a difference. It’s not a model widely recognised (or applied) but when you see it you can feel it; I’ve become aware of it in Quaker meetings, some counselling and coaching situations and social care and healing organisations, not always and not exclusively but there enough to touch.


We are beginning to recognise leadership in our organisation in our customers and where their achievements are such that they inspire and encourage others  we will offer them the opportunity to become “associates” who  become involved in working with and leading our organisation. Soon we hope some will join as Trustees and participate in our new and exciting programmes of work, maybe some will be servant leaders….

Ambitious plans need your support

We now live in Malvern a small spa town in Worcestershire. Before we moved we had heard that it had become a Town of Sanctuary and had persuaded the local council to apply for a small group of Syrian refugees to come under the Home Office SPVR scheme.
That was over 12 months ago and nothing much happened to the application and lots of barriers were thrown up by local authorities concerned about cost in a time of austerity. So after a year of campaigning with a wonderful group of people with a completely hands-on steering group; rebutting all the usual letters in the local press, marching ( yes, in  Malvern) on the council offices (twice), collecting a 1000 signatures on our petition , setting ourselves up as a charity to deliver help and advice to families, (Malvern Welcomes) and even an appearance on Channel 4, we have just heard that the application will go ahead and be supported by the County and District Council. At last!
There are to my knowledge 55 other councils who are going through a similar process and, from the number of requests we get for speakers and support there will be many others.
This year Growing Points, who aim to support at least 150 people from excluded communities to meet their leadership ambitions, have decided to prioritise refugees ( we already have many as our customers). This means we will need to recruit more Guardians who use their networks to ensure ambitions are met, particularly in  our hub areas of Leeds, East Midlands and London.
So if your town is welcoming refugees we’d love to hear from you to see who we can help and how. And if you’d like to become part of our growing number of well-networked and accessible people who are Guardians please look at our website (growingpoints.co.uk) and get in touch!

Hidden Talents

In my first Blog I mentioned Hidden Talents: this is what we are doing!
Britain has a shortage of Doctors and Nurses. Hospitals spend a fortune (do we know how much?) scouring other countries to recruit more. In addition the Agencies who supply nurses and doctors to the NHS at a premium are making money out of these shortages and the highest bidder wins. It’s a crazy costly inefficient system that denudes developing counties of medical staffing that they need to staff their own health care systems. Every year successive Ministers claim to have created more training places and put systems in place to link supply to needs and ensure the NHS gets off this unhappy merry-go-round. It just seems to go faster and cost more!
So why is it that Growing Points finding Doctors and Nurses arriving in the UK from outside the EU who are unable to get jobs, can’t use their qualifications and in many cases are unable to transfer their skills to support the NHS?
Growing Points are trying to do something about this.
Our Hidden Talents project is getting off the ground in 2016 and we hope it will provide routes into training and employment in UK. At the moment many of these erstwhile Nurses and in the care system on short-term contracts on the minimum (or less) wages. We are working with Leeds Hospital Trust to asses the best the way forward. Growing Points will appoint Guardians to support them, Health Education England will fund their training and Leeds Hospital will fund their employment. We hope this first tranche a half a dozen people can be repeated elsewhere and we have already had offers of help. If you are interested please let me know.
Our the next 3 years we can make a big difference to customers lives, the NHS and  social mobility by using the skills and talents of people who are living here already!

Bonnie Bute

If anyone has been involved in trying to get a local community behind Welcoming Refugees, you’ll know how important  leadership is, especially in the local press. Often the Press is cautious and craven, worrying about advertising revenue and providing a “balanced view” of contentious issues.
 So it has been really good to read about the heartwarming invitation  by the Island of Bute  to 80 Syrian refugees who have recently arrived on its windswept shores. They must be feeling a long way from home but the work that concerned local people  have done to make them feel welcome is nothing short of magnificent.
But the very best is the leadership shown by the editor of the Local paper Craig Boland who, recognising that not every one on Bute agreed with the move said in his editorial : “There have, predictably but depressingly, been grumbles about how we should look after our own first, how we should be spending our taxes and so on. But mostly these are just not-very-thinly-veiled ways of people saying ‘I don’t want them in my back yard’. Well, I do. I want Bute to be a place where people who come here with little more than the clothes they are standing in can feel safe and at home. I want Bute to be a place known not for narrow-minded bigotry, but for its warmth, and humanity, and willingness to help people with nothing in whatever way it can.”
You can’t ask better than that!

Making things happen!

We’ve made great progress since our launch  so in celebration of our 3rd Birthday, I thought a reminder of all that would be good!

We launched in 2013 with Alan Milburn making the key note speech and have recruited 16 Guardians who are working with 33 customers we plan to increase to 150 over the next 3 years

We have created a safe and sustainable model of work with supervision, confidentiality, evaluation and customer feedback as priorities

We have established a network of referral agencies across the country in Leeds, London and Leicester who spot customers for us and refer them to our secure process for allocation

We are working with a large northern hospital to establish a programme for refugee nurses from Africa who are seeking to practice in the UK; a programme we call Hidden Talents

We work with two headhunting organisations who give us pro bono advice and help on placing customers and feed-back on CVs

We have recruited three great Patrons Lord Philip Hunt, Marina Lewycka and Elizabeth Bayliss who speak well on our behalf (Marina a successful author was herself was a refugee, Elizabeth worked all her life in the East End improving lives and Philip has consistently campaigned for better and more caring health services)

We have run a successful Ambitions Auction through ebay last year which raised £2,500 for grant awards and running costs and attracted many generous “lots” from donors

We attracted a donation of £10000 to further our work on learning and networking.

And we are getting great feedback from our exit interviews…

We have not been standing still….!