Chatting with friends over the weekend the topic turned to the works of Keanu Reeves (don’t ask) and his big break: the film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989!). We all agreed that the central philosophy of ‘Be excellent to each other’ was a pretty sound one.

This very much resonated with what, for me, was one of the key messages from our first national evaluation conference for Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) that took place that week. It was a really enjoyable day, particularly so once the nerve wracking experience of giving a presentation on our annual report was out of the way! A number of key themes came up time and again throughout the day: the role of purpose and meaningful activity, personalised support for people to move towards their own goals, and relationships. But for me, the most powerful message was the importance of kindness. Such a simple thing, and yet so often lacking it seems.

This was brought home most powerfully by Tess Tainton, one of three experts by experience who spoke about their involvement in Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs). Tess spoke movingly about instances where kindness was painfully absent from her experiences of services.

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It is perhaps all too easy to focus on understanding what the ‘right’ services are, how they should be configured and improving their coordination. And certainly this is important. But if those services are not delivered with kindness we cannot expect them to have the same impact. Katherine Sacks-Jones of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls, encapsulated this neatly when she said that:

“if we want people at the heart of systems, we need to put some heart into those systems.”

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So why should this be so hard to achieve? Kindness surely costs nothing? Our keynote speaker Dame Carol Black reminded us that no-one comes to work wanting to do a bad job. Speaking about the impact Jobcentre Plus staff have on those struggling with drug or alcohol addictions, she highlighted how a lack of time, understanding and information often means that people do not get the help and support they need. Many of the Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) projects aim to keep staff caseloads small (as low as four in one instance) so that staff have the time to build relationships based on trust and deliver personalised support – two other things critical to making a difference.

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The conference ended on a high-note with an energetic session from Maff Potts of Camerados. Maff’s message was a powerfully simple story of friends and purpose; focusing on people’s talents rather than problems, showing trust and embracing failure.

I left with renewed enthusiasm for the evaluation and full of ideas of things we could explore in our next report. Until then, be excellent dudes.

Rachel Moreton
Associate Director 0116 229 3300 | Rachel.Moreton@cfe.org.uk

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