This is a guest blog by Steve Bodycomb. Steve is involved with the West Kent Recovery Service and a member of the service’s Research and Innovation Team.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago humans believed that if they travelled in a straight line for long enough they would fall off the edge of the world. What you might call straight line thinking. Even today many people believe it to be the best option. After all it doesn't take a rocket scientist to prove the quickest way between two points is in a straight line. But by being blinkered and following the same path we may be missing out on a whole new world of possibilities.
Thanks to the recent London Underground strike I was reminded of this. I had to make my way to the RSA from deepest, leafy green Kent. Logic told me the quickest, most direct route was from my village station into London Victoria. Then I would usually hop on a tube, or in this case, need to navigate a 45 minute walk. But what if I got creative and thought laterally. Cogs slowly started turning, grey matter engaged. Eureka! What if I travelled in the opposite direction to where I wanted to go?
Crazy or enlightened? Travel 20-odd miles in the opposite direction to another station. Then board another train to take me to Charing Cross. Right on the doorstep of the RSA. No long walk, I could arrive as fresh as a Kentish daisy, taking only 15 minutes longer than my usual journey.
Normally, if travelling by the usual route; I would have a quick cursory glance around the carriage to see the many familiar faces, wearing the same tired expressions, looking down into laptops, tablets or other handheld devices. If lucky I may get an acknowledging nod and on rare occasions a polite “morning”.
I’m not sure whether it’s the creative, or the child, in me but I always get excited at experiencing something new and this was the first time I had travelled on this line.
My reverie was interrupted by a cheerful and joyous railway employee with his refreshment trolley. He found time to chat, tell a story, welcome and bid farewell to travellers while still managing to sell his victuals. I listened with a smile on my face. Everyone around me had also raised their heads from their downward gazes; the vast majority of them smiling too. This man in a very simple and highly cost-effective way had the power to engage people and to potentially change the attitude that they would enter their day with for the better. He had the ‘Power to Create’.
He had the power to create a feeling of well-being in the people he was serving and to those who chose not to partake of his libations. Although I suspect he sold more by his feel-good approach. With portly gait, slightly ill-fitting uniform and cheery banter he was a character that filled the carriage with life and vitality as the train slowed to stop at each station, picking up new travellers at stops on the way.
Disparate communities linked by common threads of rail and road. Pathways to enable communication, interaction and trade. Communities that are connected. Sound familiar? Yet when viewing these individual hamlets, it was obvious that there were communities within communities too. My imagination ran wild with visions and ideas of how the RSA’s Connected Communities programme is like these roads and railways. A conduit for ideas, help and support, linking business, public sector, community groups and individuals together. Working together for a common good and purpose.
Sound far-fetched; a pie-in-the-sky pipe-dream? Well, I guess the idea of taking ‘one small step for man…’, or being able to talk to somebody on the other side of the world at the touch of a button would have seemed far-fetched to William Shipley and cohorts when they held their first meeting in Rawthmell’s coffee house. Yet on our doorsteps there are still individuals, or small clusters of people, who because of social stigma, or misguided belief, are totally shut out and ignored by the community in which they live.
These people are not demons, angels or aliens. They are people. They breathe air, they choose to love or hate and they bleed the same as us all. And yet are treated as outcasts, third-class citizens, undesirables. We have the power to create solutions that will challenge and change this; and it need not cost the earth. Throughout history, mankind has continually evolved and improved through innovation and invention.
The stone-age didn’t end because they ran out of stones… .
However, unlike the stone-age we cannot use evolution. We must use revolution. Evolution takes too long. I am not advocating taking up arms in an orgy of blood and violence. This revolution involves coming full circle - taking power away from central source - giving autonomy and control back to individual communities, letting then decide what’s important and not. Radical, creative, innovative thinking is needed and when this takes place on the kind of scale needed it inevitably means change. Change is frightening. People don’t like change. But change is necessary. Change is exciting. Change is good. We all have the tools and ability, it just needs desire and then you have the ‘Power to Create’… .
And change means the dawning of a new age of man… the age of the storyteller. Where the journey is as important as the end result. Where bespoke is more important than mass produced, maximum profit. Where wellbeing is more important than well-off.
It is already beginning to happen. We can see a change in attitude towards many things. Most of us no longer want to just buy coffee; we want to know the story behind it; that it was grown ethically and the growers paid a fair price. We are happy to pay a little more so we can sip with clear conscious. The same happens with many other products. Just buying is no longer enough. We want, and demand, the ‘back story’. The move towards more aware, ethical and enlightened communities however will be harder to achieve; but not impossible.
There is a project that is successfully addressing such problems within one of these micro communities and giving it a voice. Not necessarily an RSA, business, public service or governmental voice; but its own unique, lucid, innovative, intelligent and creative voice. It is ‘Whole Person Recovery’, an RSA initiative operating across West Kent. It encourages people trying to recover from alcohol and drug abuse to take back control of their lives; where businesses, public sector, community groups and most importantly the individual themselves all have a stake in building ‘recovery capital’.
Many of the individuals concerned have lived isolated existences because of their addiction, or have been shunned and discarded as worthless by community and society. But through this RSA initiative a great story is beginning to be told.
As part of a partnership between the RSA, CRI and Sussex Partnership NHS Trust, the Whole Person Recovery Programme was borne. But it is through people in the recovery community; volunteers and peer mentors, that it is sustained. It’s only the beginning chapter. True altruism in action.
June is volunteer month. So we want to take the opportunity to shout loudly about the amazing people that help to make this project what it is. You know who you are. If anyone out there would like to meet them, just ask. The stories they could tell....
If Mr Cameron, or any member of the coalition government wants to see the idea of the ‘Big Society’ in action then the West Kent Recovery programme surely must be it. Not for the first time in its history are the seeds of revolution growing and flourishing in Kent. An army is swelling in numbers daily. It is an army of people in recovery that want and deserve to be part of, and contribute, to their communities.
If Connected Communities is the line then ‘Power to Create’ must be the vehicle to get us to our destination. And the best thing is the fare doesn’t have to cost the earth, in many cases it’s free. So, climb aboard, let your imagination and creativity run free and enjoy the journey….
If you happen to be on the same train I’ll be the person gazing out of the window imaging an infinite world of possibilities. Please feel free to sit and chat with me. I know I’ll enjoy the company.