Poker Chips

Can you bet big? What does having a big stack of chips really mean? Asset Coach, Richard Boylan explores what reality is like for people who aren’t in the position to risk it all.

During the years I have been involved with those experiencing tough times, I often get asked what is the toughest ‘challenge’ I face or the biggest ‘obstacle’ I come across. For me, the answer is often self-esteem.

Self-esteem is the fuel that powers us to move forward. Ultimately, the more self-esteem you have, the more likely you are to be thriving in life and mixing with like-minded people. A lack of self-esteem and you feel you are not in control and you often have a lower opinion of yourself and your abilities.

That’s all very nice I hear you say but what about these poker chips, that’s why I clicked on this blog! No worries, let me explain…..

There is a theory out there called ‘The Poker Chip Theory’ that explains self-esteem in a nice and simple way and I came across it whilst working with children in care. Richard Lavoie penned the theory and equates self-esteem to poker chips, as in the more you have, the more you are willing to use.

To be fair, I am not a poker player but have seen enough to know that the player with the bigger pile of chips will more than likely always beat the player with the smaller stack. Why? Because they can afford to bet big, they can take the chances that other players cannot. If they lose some chips it’s not the end of the world, there are plenty more in the pile. On the other hand the smaller stack player means they have to be more cautious, think more about the outcome and, more often than not bet small or not bet at all. Got to guard those chips to stay in the game!

Now think about someone you know going through a tough time, think about their stack of chips. More than likely it is a small stack, they are concerned about trying to keep hold of them but day to day life takes those chips away resulting in them unwilling to take those chances, afraid to bet big as they can’t afford to lose.

Compare that to your life and think on your pile of chips, I would imagine it is pretty big! Hopefully you are surrounded by those that love and look out for you, you have a job that adds value to your life and gives you purpose, you live where you have chosen to live and in a home that you are proud of. Maybe you have a nice social life and plenty of interests, either way, it is a safe bet that you are in control of your life.

Poker chips is what makes Mayday Trust and its Personal Transition Service stand apart from the rest. It isn’t about ‘fixing’ or telling people what they should be doing to have a better life, it’s about talking with people to find out what is important to them, what they want to do and achieve in life, who they want to be.

As the saying goes “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t” and that is no different for those going through tough times, but by focusing on the negatives or what is perceived to be wrong will never increase someone’s pile of poker chips. Having conversations about a persons passions and interests, looking at what it is they are good at and letting them steer their own course helps to increase their stack of chips, building evidence that they can achieve, making positive connections, and as the pile increases, the more they are willing to bet and the better the rewards.

After a time this becomes an unstoppable force, people gain internal motivation to make a positive and sustained change in their lives, achieving the insight and resilience to face their next tough time from a better and more able place. This is what stops the revolving door of people re-entering the system.

So the next time you come across someone going through a tough time who has made a decision that makes no sense to you, just have a think about their pile of poker chips, how big it is and whether you are standing in the way of them making it bigger by focusing on weakness.

Comfort Zone….What Comfort Zone?

Executive Assistant and Quality Assurance Manager, Ciara Killeen gives a very real account of her own journey with the Personal Transitions Service (PTS). Looking at how its strength based and personalised nature impacts on those working behind the scenes in an organisation delivering the PTS and the importance of internal systems change.

The PTS is person-led, personalised and strength based. The Coaches capture so eloquently how this translates to the experiences of the people we work with in their blog posts so I will not try to replicate. But what about everyone else working to deliver the PTS principles? How does a person-led, personalised and strength-based approach apply to the ‘backstage crew’ in order to create internal systems change?

Well, I am an Administrator – it’s what I am good at! I would describe myself as shy, not confident at public speaking, happy to contribute as part of a team but not a team leader. So that’s exactly why I just stood up and gave a 20 minute presentation to 30 of my colleagues about how I am leading on the implementation of the new PTS Accreditation.

Add to the list that I only really write formal documents (this is my 3rd blog), that I am slightly phobic about social media (Tweeting is the new procrastinating) and that I am not too fond of travelling (Birmingham, London and Northampton in 1 week – sure!). In between the travel, presenting and developing the Accreditation, I also book diary appointments for our CEO – Pat, proof read documents, take minutes, all on the move in various locations and far away from my original comfort zone; the office desk.

Before you start to think that I am heading down the rabbit hole, let me make it clear that this is not a moan fest or a cry for help. I am not complaining about the amount or location of my work because I absolutely love the vibrancy and energy of the PTS movement for change, which sees me literally working on the move. This way of working and the opportunities to frequently step outside of my comfort zone have become part and parcel of my working life, for which I am grateful. However, before I got to the grateful part…

I knew where my comfort zone was. It was in the processes that I needed to follow, knowing exactly how and when things should be done. I understood the status-quo of office life; hierarchy, defined job roles, your defined ‘area’ of work. I held on to all of this tightly and, quite honestly, working in this way was making very little difference to the people we work with. I was essentially erasing the main reason I wanted to work for Mayday in the first place.

I was in danger of becoming a barrier to change rather than a ‘systems changer’. At first, I found it difficult to let go of my comfort zone so that the internal, cultural changes necessary to become a truly strength based organisation could happen. It was uncomfortable. I felt adrift.

I had a real world conversation with Pat about whether I belonged in this new PTS environment. Pat’s response was to ask me about my interests, highlight my strengths and provide options so I could choose how to develop my job description. So, essentially, Pat used the key PTS interventions, focussing on my strengths and putting the power in my hands.

I had autonomy for the first time in my working life and with this came questions. Why did I need a desk or office to define a good working environment when I had a laptop and a park? Or I could meet my colleagues in coffee shops?!

Once I had started to question the basic logistics of administration I then started to question the actual work; how can my fellow systems changers use their autonomy to inform processes in a person-led response? I started to argue at meetings that we needed less paperwork, less questions, less meetings in fact! It seems that once you have taken the first systems change steps there is no going back; it becomes a way of life.

Naturally, like the first domino falling in a chain, a person-led internal system developed. We began to understand what dynamic job descriptions meant in reality. Our roles reflected the individual talents we could bring to Mayday rather than traditional roles. I learned that I was good at administration but I was not an ‘Administrator’.

Our lives do not work in straight, prescribed lines. Nor do we have one definition of who we are. This is what we try to convey to the people we work with to encourage their self-belief and internal motivation. So we, the #OneTeam working to deliver the PTS, need to believe this and live this too. This is what a personalised, strength-based working environment looks like; seeing people, not job titles. Seeing talents and understanding the benefit diversity of experience can bring. Supporting this through the one team approach that means there is still a comfort zone – but it is people, your colleagues, and not desks and processes.

This blog is not about me. I have used myself as an example but I could be talking about any one of my colleagues who, for example, work in the Finance Team but stepped out of their comfort zone to co-develop a system for quicker personal budget payments. Or my colleagues in the HR Team, who had to learn about strength based recruitment before working with the PTS Team to co-develop a new recruitment process.

The thing with comfort is that you actually have to be a bit uncomfortable sometimes to find new comfort in something better. And what’s better than a new comfortable working environment which is person-led, personalised and strength-based? That seems worth the discomfort to me.

It’s all about quality!

Let’s Talk About Quality… It might not be rock and roll, but it’s an essential part of systems change and ensures we’re doing our jobs well and for the right reasons. Mayday Trust’s Quality Assurance Manager, Ciara Killeen, looks at common misconceptions around the topic and how the Personal Transition Service Accreditation will be breaking the ‘Quality’ mould.

Did you know that it’s World Quality Day today? As a Quality Assurance Manager for Mayday Trust, working with Asset Teams to develop the language, culture and framework of the PTS, I was delighted to know that I had a day. Granted, it is not as good as International Pasta Day (October) or International Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (May) but it is a close 3rd in my diary.

The focus this year for ‘us quality buffs’ was the importance of trust in quality work. Now, I thought, this is something I can really get behind!

There is often an immediate, and natural, mistrust as soon as I say I am a Quality Assurance Manager. This became very obvious when a new member of staff greeted me with, ‘You’re the audit lady! I’ve been warned about you.’ This was only partly said in jest and I do understand why.

What does Google say?

You hear the term ‘quality assurance’ and you immediately think processes, audits, pass and fail, control, restriction. I Googled Quality Assurance… It didn’t make me feel any better:

Firstly, your typical checklist (I am never to be found without my clipboard obviously!). Next, standard services, high satisfaction, business, business, business…..and Quality Assurance is at the centre! Finally, there is that big tick that we all want to see!

The Power of Language

Imagery is only partly to blame – language has a lot to do with it too. This is an issue we reflect on a lot as partners; how the language we use has the power to set people free or entrap them. How the identity we give to people (you are homeless, you should attend homeless art class or this training course for homeless people) can lead to hopelessness, institutionalisation and isolation.

The systems change aspect of the PTS asks us to consider all language, such as how we describe ourselves and the roles we fulfil. So I am a Quality Assurance Manager and I will be working with partners through the PTS Accreditation process but that shouldn’t mean an immediate horror or mistrust because trust me when I say that this process is different.

An Accreditation with a Difference

As we begin to implement the new PTS Accreditation it is time for us to push the system reset button and develop a new set of expectations; what does a strength-based, personalised accreditation actually mean? Well, for starters, you can forget the clip board and checklist image. The accreditation is all about innovation – the clue is in our name! The accreditation team capture the innovative, localised, person-led responses to developing the movement for change. We are not here to cross check processes or look for problems. The Accreditation Team have real world conversations so that we can capture the experiences and voices of the people working with Coaches and frontline teams.

This all leads to the ultimate reason of why the PTS Accreditation, and my work as Quality Assurance Manager, is so different to expectations; it is not just a quality mark. That’s right, I said it! I am not here to rubber stamp a process. I am breaking out of the quality mould.

Over the initial 2 year prototyping period for the PTS Accreditation, the aim is to establish a benchmark; the evidence to show what a movement for change looks like in reality. The aim is to ‘influence systemic change by doing’, so providing the quality evidence, taken from the accreditation, to demonstrate that personalised, strength-based services work for people experiencing tough times. Immediately this aim places the PTS Accreditation into a completely different space. Organisational achievement is always great, and knowing people are receiving a quality PTS service is extremely important. But I am more interested in the PTS movement for change. The outcome of the accreditation extends way beyond our personal achievements; this could really change people’s lives.

Coming back to where we started….Trust!

And that is why trust in the PTS Accreditation and the Team is so important. I may deal in quality but I am working towards the same aims of the PTS as Innovation Partners and to achieve that we all need to work together, share experiences, be honest and review our practice. And I can give you a big tick too, if that helps?

Martini Shaken not Spilt!

Asset Manager, Rebecca Nelson, shares her initial experiences of joining Mayday as an Asset Coach. Reflecting on what it means to be a high functioning person, versus being a low functioning problem.

On writing this blog I had been in my role as an Asset Coach with Mayday Trust for about eight months and found myself reflecting on what I had learnt since embarking on the challenge.

Before I came to Mayday I spent most of my working life in Financial Services in a variety of roles including; sales, compliance training and coaching.  The bit I have always enjoyed most, my passion, has always been coaching – working with people to discover who they are and how they would like their lives to be.

I came to the role as an Asset Coach with a naivety about the homeless system and how it works – or as it happens, doesn’t work! What I brought with me was knowledge of working with people, coaching, creating direction, helping people to recognise their own strengths and how they can nurture and value these.

I have worked with a range of people and along the way I’ve learnt that tough times are not exclusive to people without homes. In our lives we will all experience something, in some capacity. This is because whether we have a home or not, we are all just people experiencing a range of emotions, including fear, confusion, vulnerability, creativity, strength, weakness, and resiliency.

Our circumstances may change, but this doesn’t mean that we change – we are still the same people inside, but with different external circumstances. The thing that does change is how society and the systems we’re engaged with start to amend their view of us and treatment of us, ultimately this changes how we see ourselves.

I used to work in central London, and I’ve been thinking about a couple of people I worked with during this time. The first was my Manager, we used to work in a small office in a beautiful building in the West End. Every morning he would come in to work, put the kettle on and then go to his office and rack up a couple of lines of Cocaine, which along with the cup of black coffee would  “start the day off nicely”.  I am not sure if the Senior Management knew, but he worked well and was a good Manager (well an ok Manager!). He functioned effectively, got the work done, often late into the evening and it was never perceived as a problem.

The other colleague was someone I met later in my career, at a different organisation. We were responsible for the same team of Financial Advisors. I took care of their training and compliance and he worked within business development. He was a lovely gentleman in his late fifties and very good at his job. He used to always smell of alcohol but it wasn’t a massive problem because back in that era, after lunch time in the city, most people would smell of alcohol! He was always on time, but one morning he arrived slightly late for a meeting and was very cross. I asked him if he was alright. His reply was no. He was really annoyed as the 7.45am to Waterloo was so packed someone had bumped in to him while he was drinking his morning Martini, it had spilt down the front of his shirt and there was barely any left!

Both of these individuals maintained their jobs, they were good at what they did, so no one was worried about the fact that one was a drug addict and the other an alcoholic. They both wore suits, they both lived in big houses, they delivered the required level of occupational output, and therefore it was accepted behaviour.

Many of the people I am coaching now have similar relationships with drink and drugs. The difference between them and my two ex-colleagues, is not the people; the difference is how we as a society view them.  Whether they are sitting on a bench drinking a bottle of Lambrini or drinking a Martini out of a silver hip flask, whether they are snorting cocaine or injecting heroin, it is the same thing, but why is one a “problem” and the other not?

We would label my Martini drinking colleague as a “high functioning alcoholic”, but imagine if because of his morning cocktails he had been sacked, consequentially he could not pay his mortgage, resulting in the breakdown of his relationship, leading to potential homelessness. He would still be the same person, smart, funny and kind, but would he still be considered “high functioning” or would he now be viewed as “low functioning?” It appears that as a society we have decided, we have labelled, we have judged and then we have determined who is worthy and who isn’t, based on circumstantial evidence. If you have money and a house and no visible problems you are marked as acceptable in society. However, if you don’t have a house, no money and have evident problems – you become the problem.

The difference seems to be determined by where you are and what you have, not by who you are. When someone ends up in the homeless system there is an assumption that there is something wrong with them and they need to be fixed. We stop seeing them as a person, but as a problem. Decisions are made for them, that they need to be clean and sober. These decisions of course are made in a “person centred- strength based” way – a term I have heard a lot in the past few months. From what I’ve seen, this manifests itself by someone completing a very lengthy questionnaire which is generally very personal and deficit based, but they’ve learnt that the person likes music and reading, therefore they’re working in a person centred, and strength based way!

If the two gentlemen I had previously worked with had turned up to work and were only seen as problems that’s what they would have been – problems, with no known solution. Their lives could have been very different, they were lucky they were in a place that put more value on what they could bring to the company. People put the emphasis on their strengths, not their deficits, which meant their strengths outweighed their issues. As it happened in time the Martini man did get sober, when he was ready, and this was supported and his treatment paid for by the company insurance. His job was left open for him until he was ready to pick it up again – because he was good at his job and they knew that.

When I discovered Mayday and the Personal Transitions Service (PTS), I found an organisation that knew something was very wrong with the homeless system and they were brave enough to stand out and shout about it. I found an organisation that wasn’t frightened of change, would chance sometimes getting things wrong and was courageous enough to step away from the normal approach. I like that about Mayday, but what I LOVE about Mayday is that it’s an organisation which puts the PTS and strength based work at its core. It is an organisation that wants this to be its heartbeat and the driver for everything they do, and it genuinely is.

In the first few weeks of working with Mayday sadly my Mother passed away. It was a difficult time, where I felt my world was spiralling out of control. I was in a new job, I was finding the homeless system frustrating and I was organising a funeral and dealing with my own emotions. My first thought was maybe this is too difficult now and maybe I will just hand in my notice, I had only been at Mayday for 4 weeks. I obviously didn’t leave and this is why; my manager checked in and asked how I was and then crucially she asked how I wanted to manage this, I had been here 4 weeks! I wasn’t told to stay off work, I wasn’t told I had to be back in a certain time, I wasn’t quoted a standard company bereavement policy. I was handed control of a difficult, emotional situation and trusted to make decisions which would make this as easy as it could be for me. My Manager checked in regularly to make sure I was ok and was available if I needed to talk, but ultimately I was in control. This might not seem like much but it was huge, it had felt like everything was slipping away but I was given an anchor, a foot hold. This is strength based, it was about me making decisions which were best for me, and not being dictated on what was good for me.

I have learnt from this and it has helped my understanding of what the PTS really feels like. I take it into my coaching role and I believe that it has made me a better Coach. I work with people to recognise their own strengths and how they can nurture them. I try to assist them to broaden their worlds, I broker opportunities, but much more than this, I give people the trust and ability to make decisions for themselves, to have control in a world which must seem like it is very much out of their control.

I work with people to be “high functioning” individuals, even if they are caught up in a “low functioning” system.

 

Resident Meetings!

Mayday Trust CEO, Pat McArdle reflects on her experience working in supported housing, resident meetings and how sometimes we need to question whether we really are providing a psychologically informed environment (PIE)

This week at our Housing Moving the Model Forward (MTMF) day we had a really interesting discussion about resident meetings within supported housing schemes. It took me back to a previous situation and reminded me of how important it is to question and reflect on our practice, even if it is something we have always done.

Years ago I was a Director of Homelessness Services which included a 30 bed shelter. We had weekly resident meetings and staff raised the same frustrations time and again; how do we get more people to attend? How do we get people to take responsibility and set their own agenda? How do we stop X from taking over the meeting?

We tried many ways to increase attendance including ‘pizza parties’ and telling people that attendance was part of their commitment to keep their room. However, after 6 months someone in the team had the revolutionary idea of simply asking people why they didn’t want to attend?!

As I had built up good relationships with many of the people we worked with, and as I was seen as the ‘boss’, I was tasked with speaking to people. I didn’t want the excuses, I wanted some ‘real world’, honest feedback.

I see now that you can only get that real world feedback if the power dynamic is balanced so a positive relationship can develop.

I set about attending various meetings and asking people to stay behind so I could have an individual chat about the resident meetings. I also wrote a note to everyone saying I would be catching up and why.

I haven’t forgotten what I heard in those conversations. Despite having worked in homelessness services for a while I was shocked and embarrassed that I didn’t predict what would be said.

People started out by saying they were busy and couldn’t be bothered but the more I continued the conversation the reality of those resident meetings emerged and, of course, it wasn’t rocket science.

People explained that they were embarrassed and by attending they felt like the ‘homeless person’. They also described how dealing with younger staff members left them feeling humiliated at being there, living in ‘that homeless place’.

Quite a few people revealed that they were terrified of certain individuals, “The more he sees me, the more he asks for money. He wants me to buy drugs, wants me to go out drinking…. but I know they end up robbing each other’s benefits.”

Others said they simply didn’t want to listen to the people who moaned constantly or they preferred to talk about repairs or issues with a staff member directly rather than speaking up in a group.

Many felt that talking about days out and Christmas parties was nice for some people. However, their reality was hard to face and these conversations left them feeling low. Christmas reminded people of the family they no longer had contact with. They just weren’t in the right head space for those types of conversations.

In one case a woman was angry that people thought it ok to ask her when it was predominantly men in attendance. She simply didn’t feel safe and she felt it was insensitive to be asked.

Some people did have good things to say. They used the meeting to make friends with other people living in the building and it was seen as a good way to break up the day. People explained that staff were great at making sure their discussions were on the agenda and it was a forum where problems could be aired and settled.

I suppose I was left feeling that in a truly psychologically informed environment (PIE) the platforms that WE were providing for people to be involved were not always the right ones. Even in situations where they were working for people currently, it was important to remember that they may not be appropriate in the future.

Back then, and even after this week’s discussion, I feel that we need to either keep out and not patronise people, or listen hard to how, when and for what purpose we were involving individuals. Otherwise, I believe that we are not using the huge power that we have as accommodation providers positively and with the best interests of people at heart. Ultimately, I was left wondering if providers even have that critical awareness of this power at all?

Adding the ‘Human’ Touch

Asset Coach, Penny Garner, looks at the importance of the relationships we have with the people we work with and why it’s essential to stamp out the ‘us and them’ culture.

Coming to Mayday from other grass roots positions has been a different way of working for me. I have always had the best intentions for people and genuinely want to see people succeed, but whereas before I represented the organisation I worked for, at Mayday I am myself.

The reality of being part of a person lead organisation

How I act reflects on Mayday and it goes without saying that I treat people with respect and share the values that run deep through the organisation; but I am a person, I build genuine relationships. I have no agenda, no remit within which I can only work. Most importantly no predetermined outcomes to achieve under the charade of doing what’s best for the person I work with.

It’s all in a meeting place

I’ve been amazed how much can be resolved during a walk in the park, over coffee, even a round of crazy golf! I shouldn’t be, I don’t arrange to meet a friend in a bland environment to thrash out a situation when I need support. I meet with friends and maybe we’ll discuss what’s going on, sometimes it helps to have my mind taken off things.

Wanting more

We should want more for people accessing services than to be categorised, ‘enabled’ to get on in life by the services and procedures put in place for ‘people like them’. We all want to be our own people having genuine choices in life. To support people to do this we can be the face of an organisation that can go so far, as long as it’s within the given timeframe and follows protocol.

Or we can be people too. An ally. A genuine relationship that isn’t confined by a predetermined set of policy, procedures and outcomes with the inability to flex to the myriad of personalities that we will work with.

Be Human

For most of us we get on in life with the help and support of others, positive relationships that boost our sense of self and encourage us to try even if we may not succeed. Loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day [1], so let us not tackle this with forms and procedures that try to fit people into boxes to identify the best approach to ‘fix’ someone. Let us meet people, get to know people, one person to another

1 – Campaign to End Loneliness (no date) the facts on loneliness. Available at: www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/the-facts-on-loneliness/

Don’t criticise my work! Wait….is it MY work?

Mayday Trust Executive Assistant and Quality Manager, Ciara Killeen, gives an insight into the complex and vital relationship between policies and processes, and Mayday’s ability to be an entirely person led organisation.

I am Mayday’s Quality Manager. Yes, we have one.

It has been levelled at us, more than once, that we are a bit, well, ‘fluffy’. Part of my work as Quality Manager is to demonstrate how a quality system with policies and processes (I know I’ve said quality several times, stay with me, it does get better) can be person-centred and strength based. I find myself proclaiming that without a structure you cannot provide a truly personalised approach. Everyone would be working towards their idea of personalisation rather than an approach based on the principles people told us were important to them (Wisdom from the Street). We work with people during some of the most difficult transition periods of their lives – so providing quality and safety is key. So yes, we have a Quality Manager and quality systems which incorporate safeguarding and dynamic reviews of risk, as you would expect. It’s just that our systems are person and principle- led, not process led.

Being part of the PTS #OneTeam means that I am part of a very big team. As well as Mayday, I am very fortunate to work alongside our Innovation Partners. Together, we share the voices of the people we work with to positively challenge the power dynamics of processes so that we can move towards a PTS, person-led system.

A PTS and person-led system means we actively listen to people and our response is to share all of the options available, all of the processes they can utilise and all of the information we know so that people can make informed decisions. It means that our processes need to be flexible to allow for a personalised, creative solution within the process so that people can take what the PTS has to offer but use their power to make the right choice for them.

My role in all the brainstorming, developing and questioning, which happens regularly, is to take feedback and turn it in to…….something. It’s often the ‘something’ which is the tricky part! How can a process provide flexibility? What are essential elements and what can a Coach use their autonomy to change? How can we rebalance the power dynamics of this conversation/process to put the person in charge? How can you evaluate a concept, such as disruption, for the new PTS Accreditation? I spend hours roaming the office, chanting words such as ‘strength based!’ while I try to incorporate everyone’s feedback into a process which is flexible and person-led. It can lead people to think that I am eccentric!

As we are leading the systems change movement, we are often developing something completely new and unique. It can take a lot of creative thinking to develop the right tone, language and balance of power when you are also pioneering. There is often nothing I can compare our work to. It all develops from feedback and the PTS principles.

So, when I finally come to present to teams what I think is exactly what they told me was needed and no one is particularly happy with it or it requires yet another round of edits, it can feel….disheartening. It can seem personal; this is my work you are questioning! You can become defensive and even stubborn, ‘No way, I am not changing it again!’ And this is when my personal belief in the PTS principles come in to play.

My work is not about me. It does not belong to me. I am not trying to make myself happy nor am I doing this work on my own. It does not even belong to Coaches or the Senior Management Team. Whatever I am writing, whichever process we develop, it will eventually become part of someone’s unique PTS experience. It will belong to them in a completely personalised way. They will take ownership of it as we hand power back to people and ask them to utilise processes such as personal budgets or brokered opportunities in a way that works for them.

When we positively challenge each other, we are not saying ‘you are doing something wrong’; we are saying the current system/process/way of doing things is not working for people and as system changers, it is our duty to make sure every system works for the person who needs it.

Sometimes I do want to hide under the table when I receive a list of documents that need to be changed or I am asked to take a 10 page policy and make it into a 1 page statement. But then I remember the amount of unnecessary, personal questions on forms or the rigid policies which mean people have to take entry level courses in their degree subjects and I think, I am glad to work with people who challenge our systems to make sure we are person-led.

It’s as Simple as a Conversation

Asset Coach, Mecha Akande, looks at the key areas where the PTS differs from the traditional approach. From the conversations a coach has, to the importance of a meeting place and what that all means for the people Mayday works with.

The Personal Transitions Service (PTS) is entirely person led, this means the basis of most of the conversations you have as a coach are about giving back the power of choice to the person you’re working with. It’s vital that you start to build a relationship of trust by having real and challenging conversations, listening to the persons interests and finding their spark.

The first conversation you have with someone can be as simple as discussing a person’s likes and interests, and what they want to build on to reach their goal, whether that’s exploring a passion for sport or researching local art classes.

No pathways or tick boxes here!

Conversations are purposely unstructured and where possible led by the person you’re working with. This aims to encourage a person to speak freely about what they want to talk about, reaching goals naturally, without force or pretence. This strength based approach often comes as a surprise to people, but from the feedback we’ve had it’s a positive one.

No one has offered me support in this way before.

It seems too good to be true.

Moving forward

Following these conversations I find people are keen to move forward, and tend to initiate organising the next meeting – of course this is always at a time and place of their choosing. But experiencing that enthusiasm as a coach is incredibly rewarding and only benefits the relationship going forward.

It’s all in a meeting place

As well as the strength based and personalised tone of the conversation, it’s important that the meeting with the person you’re working with is arranged in a place of purpose to them. This might be a location that is familiar, a place where they feel confident and comfortable to express their best self.

So if someone wants to meet in a coffee shop at 11am or in the local park at 5pm, that’s absolutely fine. At times it can be hard to get someone to choose something as simple as a place to meet, but this is all part of the process of that person taking back the control over their lives – it’s an invaluable step.

The PTS in the real world

Someone I have been working with recently has a great interest in Pokemon, Marvel and animated movies. He has an incredibly small select group of friends and tends to only build relationships with those who reside in the same block of flats and have an invested interest in his interests.

A simple starting point can lead you anywhere

Eight months ago he would request to meet at the block of flats where he lived, he ‘engaged’ regularly and spoke little about anything other than his interests. Over time we progressively moved on to meeting in book shops and libraries. Through months of confidence building and self-belief he was able to extend his circle beyond that of his residential block and found himself going to a local book shop. Here he could talk about his interests with like minded people and began to extend his network, his confidence grew and he began to listen to others and even positively challenge their ideas.

Taking an interest, rather than ticking a box

Last month he brought an animated DVD to me, MIYAZAKI’S Spirited Away, a studio Ghibli Collection, which he insisted I should watch. This invitation to take part in his hobby was great, it meant I was able to get an insight into some of his favourite characters and the genre of music he relates to. It’s a privilege for a coach to be part of another person’s passion, it’s an example of trust and something not to be taken lightly.

The proof is in the meeting place!

Next month he will be attending Comic Con in Birmingham with some friends, which is an amazing achievement and a far cry from the person who struggled to socialise beyond his flat just eight months ago. Another example of the positive relationship we now have and how far he has come, is that his latest ‘Place of Purpose’ was to go to the cinema to watch the newest Marvel movie ‘Infinity Warfare’, a busy environment full of people he didn’t know.

He really enjoyed this experience and after the film he explained that he prefers this way of meeting, as he finds it more purposeful. Whereas with traditional services he sat across a table, with paperwork to complete and a magnitude of tick boxes.

Changing conversations and meeting places may seem like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference to the people we work with. Without the strength based and personalised approach of the PTS I doubt we would have ever built such a positive relationship and he would not have made so much progress in such a short time.

For me as an Asset Coach, this is what the PTS is all about. Making tough times a temporary transition, rather than a reoccurring theme in a person’s life.

The Art of Listening

Asset Coach, Andrew Durman, looks at the importance and privilege of listening to the people we work with, the challenges of the traditional system and how his role as a Coach can help to break the negative cycle a person may find themselves in.

As I draw near to the end of another week of having many amazing conversations with inspiring individuals. I reflect on the mind blowing stories I have had the privilege to hear over the past 10 years working in this sector. A favourite from this week has to be hearing about someone’s past adventures travelling in New Orleans. Simply listening to him talk of his experiences and the feelings that he not only felt at the time, but was also re-living through the telling of his story to me, was amazing for him and me.

The opportunity to be able to hear these kinds of stories is one we regularly have to create ourselves. The people we work we are often surprised that we even want to hear them, especially when they have been caught up in the system for a prolonged period of time. Being given the freedom to have these conversations in my role as a coach, makes me count myself lucky that I am no longer caught up in the traditional system.

Looking at the traditional system

The current deficit, needs, label and diagnosis led system does not leave much room for these discussions. When a person in being assessed for eligibility to access the system, a number of questions will be asked. These questions will be on substance misuse, offending, behaviour or mental health difficulties, suicide attempts, history of arson and their previous housing history. This then leads to working with a keyworker or project worker, who will take this information to draw up a support plan and risk assessment, with the idea that at one stage (probably pre-scripted to 6 to 18months) this person will move on and live independently. Weekly meetings will be held for this person, reviewing how they are doing, and inadvertently reinforcing all the problems they have going on and what they have been through previously.

Looking beyond the surface

The traditional system demands this information to be shared to allow a person to qualify for the support they are told that they need. Yet this does not even scratch the surface of who this person is, what they have achieved, what they are interested in and where they would like to go. When working with people just on the surface and dealing with the symptoms of what is happening to them, you will never really see the real person. It is only once you get past all of this, that you will see the individual being hidden behind that label, deficit description, or referral form. The big question is, how do you do that as a coach?

Giving back the power, removing the labels and listening to the person

We have to earn trust and respect, we have to get the belief from that individual that we have their best interests to heart, and that we are here to have a positive impact on their lives. We have to ask different questions and have different conversations. It is simple, we ask people, instead of telling them and expecting that person to conform. We expect them to succeed rather than expecting them to fail. We see the talent and assets and we focus on them.

Accepting that there is a problem

You can’t ignore that there isn’t a problem in the current system, we see and hear about it on a daily basis as coaches. The system currently allows and encourages the use of labels, keeping people segregated from society and doesn’t identify the person, only their presumed deficits – so what can we do?

A question I often ask myself, is this how I would want to be treated? If the answer is no, then why would I expect others to settle for being treated this way?

Prior to joining Mayday these conversations that delved beyond the surface kept me motivated and passionate during my journey through the murky system waters, however they always occurred outside of the Key-work setting and beyond the file of paperwork attached to the person. Now these conversations lead the way and are always the starting point when I meet with a new person as a coach.

Starting the conversation and breaking the cycle

Once you get to the point where a person trusts you as a coach and starts to talk about themselves as an individual rather than a list of problems the real progress can start, development, aspirations and achievements can begin to be imagined and made.

I often find that due to the traditional system focusing on deficits and labels, the people I work with often define themselves by them and become institutionalised within the system. It brings me back to the same conclusion every time – we shouldn’t just be working towards breaking the cycle of homelessness, we should be breaking the cycle of the system.

Real life heroes

As a part of my reflection I continually assess my ability to have these conversations with the people I work with, and whether I deserve to still be doing what I do. Yet when I try and think of another job or sector to follow, I know I will be giving up the privilege of meeting the remarkable individuals I work with. They are real life heroes, yet they are portrayed as helpless, down and out, poor, disadvantaged, and written off.

Do you know someone who has jumped into a river to save someone’s life, regardless of their own? I do.

Do you know someone who left their family home, recognising that the relationship with their partner was not healthy, so that her children could continue to have somewhere warm, safe and stable to live? I do.

Do you know someone who has had no positive role models in their life and everyone they looked up to and trusted abused them, yet still became a positive role model for two children, which are not even his? I do.

Do you know someone who has experienced 20 years of hardship and difficulty, only to forego the opportunity of a way out because there was someone younger in the queue? I do.

Do you know someone who has sat in the French Quarter in New Orleans listening to jazz watching the world go by? I do and I wish it was me.

Will I ever stop meeting heroes? No.

Listening, the real art of the PTS

It is only when you ask and listen to someone’s story that you can help someone find the answers to what is going on in their lives. What and where they want to go, what they want their futures to look like and ultimately what barriers are stopping them getting there.

This is what I am able to do now, freely without the expectation of the system audits and questions. These are the stories being heard at Mayday Trust and with the partners who are delivering and reflecting on PTS and real strength based approaches. This is why it is working, this is why people are voluntarily allowing us to support them and this is why people are able to break free from the cycle of the system.

How was your day luv?

Mayday Asset Coach, Erone Knight-Simpson looks at what it means to be a coach and reflects on her first month in the role.

A seemingly innocent question you would think, but as an Asset Coach for Mayday Trust there can be quite a lengthy explanation, that can take your listener on a magical journey in understanding what it means to be a part of the Mayday Trust team.

Let’s start at the beginning. Hi, I’m an Asset Coach for Mayday Trust, something I’m proud to be, not the preverbal dread one may associate with an introduction at an AA meeting. That title encompasses so much more than a job role, it is meant as a way of life, as a movement.

What you see is what you get with Mayday Trust, we are a small organisation that packs a big punch. We are trying to change institutionalisation surrounding homelessness, which has been around for decades – this is no easy feat. From Oxford to Northampton and now Westminster, one of the top three most expensive boroughs to buy a property in London. Most people would not expect homelessness to be a problem here, but it is, and a complex one.

I work out of a building which has a covenant on it, used specifically for those who are experiencing homelessness and transitioning through difficult times, times we could all find ourselves in, after all as the media says – ‘we are all only three pay cheques away from being homeless.’

We look at the individuals we work with as people, not homeless, not clients, not service users, but people we work with. Individuals who may have owned homes, paid mortgages, been married, have children and families, worked in finance, have bachelors and master’s degrees, people just like you and I. Days can be challenging, they can also be rewarding each day is different and brings its own unique experiences.

So let’s get back to how my day was…

Picture this, a month into my new role with Mayday Trust and I find myself putting together an Ikea sofa with my colleague, a sofa which still looks great by the way, loved by all and still standing strong. Obviously not your usual start to the day, but how did it end? Watching Tottenham vs Newport at Wembley Stadium.

Why you might ask, because we can and we do.

We look to people’s strengths and enhance their assets not their deficits, I’m not going to talk to someone transitioning through a difficult time about the fact that they drink 6 cans of cider a day, unless they want to, but I will attend a football game with them in sub-zero temperatures, to help them leave their flat, help them to feel less isolated, and be engaged in doing something that they really enjoy, socialising with other football fans – a great experience and one which will only lead to more opportunities for that person in the future and ultimately assist them to work towards their own goals and ambitions.