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An Introduction to Wisdom from the Pandemic

In July 2020 Mayday was asked by Westminster City Council (WCC) to capture people’s experiences of lockdown during COVID-19; specifically, people who were sleeping rough, offered a space in a hostel, hotel or sought another solution.

Mayday put together a team of seven people who went to London to strike up conversations with people who were on the streets, all of whom were happy to talk with us.

The Wisdom methodology is focused on unstructured conversations in places that people feel comfortable talking. With implications on COVID-19, this method was adapted and social distancing measures were put in place when required. Teams also ensured that everyone was comfortable in face to face situations.

The Mayday team carried out a total of 60 conversations in the Westminster area during July and August in 2020. The conversations took place over the phone, face to face and via email. The following document captures the main themes which were identified from what was heard Conversations were initiated with a single question – What was your experience of lockdown during COVID-19?

An Introduction to Wisdom from the PTS Partnership

By 2016 Mayday Trust had been prototyping a new Person-led, Transitional and Strength-based Response (the PTS) to working with people experiencing tough times for over four years and had started to see positive and statistically significant results.

People working with the PTS, formerly known as the Personal Transitions Service, reported an improved, more respectful experience; they were developing new networks, feeling more stable in their accommodation, and getting into work and training that built on their strengths and personal motivations. Early indications were that people weren’t coming back into services as they were finally able to get on with their lives.

Mayday fully adopted the PTS as the sole response across all areas. This meant undergoing a complete organisational transformation to shift the culture, internal systems and structures toward being fully person-led, and implementing a unique way to measure impact based on assets instead of deficits. But, being a small organisation, evidencing the approach and modeling systemic change would require other like-minded organisations to join together to model a new system as a collective. It required PTS Partners. Together it was hoped that real and sustained change could be created by exposing the deficit system and the barriers it creates for people experiencing tough times.

Two national events were held in London and Manchester to share the evidence, the ‘warts and all’ learning and the potential of the approach with providers, funders and commissioners. Where this resonated, participants were invited to join Mayday to form the first PTS Partnership.

This required brave, passionate, mission-driven, and like-minded mavericks to take on the challenge with the aim of offering the PTS to 2000 people over an initial three year period. This was more than modelling a new approach; it required a commitment to listen and learn from the grassroots and the real, raw experiences of people in order to challenge and change internal culture and externally disrupt and influence the norm.

Seventy organisations expressed interest, and after a year of travelling up and down the country, the original PTS Partnership was formed. First to join was Changing Lives in the North East, followed by The Brick, Wigan; Derventio Housing Trust, Derby; Nomad Opening Doors in Sheffield; Cherry Tree also in Sheffield; SHYPP (now Citizen) in Herefordshire; 999 Club in Deptford and South Northamptonshire Council. Investment was provided by our trusted learning partners, Tudor Trust and Comic Relief.

Over the three years, the PTS Partnership and Mayday came together to test, learn and clarify what systems change meant, as well as uncover the ‘why and the how’ things needed to change. The PTS Response continued to evolve, highlighting the need for systems change, recognising systems failure and its causes, and finally uncovering the ‘system damage’ experienced by people.

The Partnership has achieved a huge amount over the years. This includes an evidenced strength-based data set, a robust PTS Response, a university-level PTS qualification for practitioners, new ways of attracting social investment through Social Impact Bonds, a PTS Accreditation and a strong Wisdoms methodology for exposing systemic barriers through deeply listening to people at the grassroots.

The following Wisdoms have been captured as a ‘psychology informed’ way of listening. They have derived from conversations, reflections, challenges and changes in many different organisations and contexts. These Wisdoms will be used to uncover what we need to consider and act upon if we are to achieve the mission of a full paradigm shift in the systems encountered by people experiencing tough times – leading to systems that work.

A Move for Change

Mayday welcomes Robert White to the team.

“Are you nervous?” “Are you scared?” “That’s quite a change, what will you actually be doing?” These were all valid questions, but all they really did was make me increasingly concerned that I hadn’t made the right decision. Leaving the Local Authority and joining an organisation that is constantly evolving in major ways to lead on an ambitious vision across London and the ‘South East’ (a geographical term I found myself Googling the night before) – what was I thinking?!

Hello. My name is Robert White and I have just joined Mayday Trust as their Director of Change. I did start as the Director of Change and Innovation but on my second day, a colleague told me that the term innovation was wrong and the whole thing sounded “a bit wanky” – Director of Change it is, then.

I have just left Westminster City Council where I was the Lead Commissioner for Supported Housing and Rough Sleeper Services (I know). I had been at Westminster for six years, working my way through various versions of commissioner roles. I joined the Local Authority after a couple of years leading a team in a high support, 40-bed hostel for rough sleepers. As long as you could prove to me that you smoked enough crack, drank enough vodka, heard loud enough voices and that a commissioned outreach worker had seen you “sleeping, or readying for a nights’ sleep on the street”, you could stay in my hostel and I would fix you right up. You’re welcome. I knew at that point that something wasn’t right and that we could do better, and I figured if I joined the team that designed these services I could change these services.

I think we changed services for the better…No, we definitely did. We worked hard at making sure that trauma-informed practice, person-centred support, and psychologically-informed environments were at the heart of our service provision. As a team, we balanced the expectations of residents and businesses in Westminster with the ever-growing demand for houses, places of safety, and support that was right for the individual.  The scale at which we had to do this puts our country to shame. During some of our most challenging times, outreach services could expect to meet at least six new people a day, every day. Systems, pathways, hostels, support services were all creaking at the seams with demand. During my time at Westminster, we removed over £2m from the system due to the austerity agenda and, with the invention of the Rough Sleeper Initiative, we drip-fed £3m back in.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I began to recognise that, politics and policy aside, there was something about the system that had to change. That year, we had received an effectively blank cheque from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  They had been clear with us: do whatever you can, focus on the numbers on the street and reduce rough sleeping. The idea was, ‘if we can nail it in Westminster, the rest will follow’. The pressure was intense. We doubled the size of our night centre, housing 80 people instead of 40, we increased the size of our outreach team to reach more people, faster, we increased the capacity of the mental health team to assess and diagnose more people and get them into treatment. Housing First opportunities were doubled, and we continued to develop our assessment centre to process more and more people, as quickly as possible. All was leading to the annual street count, the questionable measure of success, a litmus test of progress; in 2017 we had seen 217 people, all services were full, teams working overtime to get people off the street, over £500k was thrust into the system to make it work…

The morning after the street count I remember feeling sad, overwhelmed and confused. We had found 306 people that night, a 30% increase in the numbers. All that work, all that time, all that money and it had made no difference. What followed was a lot of soul searching, involving, amongst other things: an inspirational trip to Scotland, a fact-finding mission to Bratislava, having a second child, a period of Parental Leave, and, dare I mention it 704 words in…coronavirus.

Where I arrived at was this.  It all boils down to one point: “change the system and not the person”. Until we truly challenge the status quo, until we collectively recognise that we are not here to fix people’s problems but to facilitate their strengths and work with them to grow in the way they want to grow, then we will continue to see numbers rise, more and more people institutionalised in a system of mass fixing and a revolving door of challenge and frustration.

I am proud of the work we achieved at Westminster, and the tenacity, passion and belief of my former colleagues is unquestionable.  But moving to Mayday Trust is a move of activism, a move to a place of true change, surrounding myself with the most incredible people who believe in a world where systems work for people going through tough times. Yes, I am nervous, yes, I am scared and yes, it is quite a change. Deep breath.

The Illusion of Choice. Person-led or just a Buzzword?

Andy Durman, PTS Coach at Mayday, reflects on what it means to be ‘person-led’ in the current system available to people experiencing homelessness.

How often do we hear that services are person-led and that if things haven’t gone to plan (the services plan that is), it was due to an individual’s poor decisions? Yet when we speak to people who have experienced these ‘person-led’ services the story sounds very different and the impact/damage of such experiences is sadly, very evident.

When you look a little closer and having worked within the system and listened to many people experiencing it, it’s easy to see how you can create the illusion of being person-led. Many organisations honestly believe that the people they work with have full control and power over their lives and direction – this might be the case, as long as someone moves through the right pathway, making the right decisions that is. If things don’t work out organisations can seek reassurance that it was the individual’s choice ‘not to engage’, rather than reflecting on the impact of the system or even their own role on that particular outcome.

The system currently dictates a person’s story, their choices and the direction that’s right for them. For example:

You find a place in a hostel, you are told you can stay here for six months. On your referral it states you have risks around alcohol intake and debt, so you will be signposted to a substance misuse service and must attend an in house budgeting course.

Once you are ready (in six months, after you have proven you are ‘tenancy ready’) you will be recommended to the local authority who will look to get you into a property. It is unlikely that you will have any control over where you are accommodated and largely felt that you should be grateful for whatever you get.

Unfortunately it’s very possible that this property will feel sterile and due to its new location away from everything you know and your networks you will also feel isolated.

However it is still your choice whether you would like to engage/do/agree with this plan that has been created for you. If you do choose to successfully ‘move on’ and understandably  you find it hard to adjust and make it work, you will have made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’ and forfeit any support in housing from the local authority. You chose to fail and the system has done everything it could to support you.

I struggle to see any person-led approach within this. I fail to see where the person and what they feel they need from the system comes through. This system will never work. That individual will re-enter the ‘cycle of homelessness’ of which so many organisations claim to break.

If you find yourself back at a hostel (probably the same one) you will be vigorously interviewed, asking what happened, why did it not work, what did you do that made it fail? And so it starts all over again, only this time probably with some additional arrears from your former sterile and isolated ‘home’ that you chose to leave. Each time you re-enter the system, more of your dignity, humanity, character, personality, talents and skills get stripped away. 10 years down the line and you are an entrenched, hard to reach, complex homeless person.

What I will say is that by some miracle this does not happen to everyone and this is 100% down to those individuals own unimaginable resilience, strength and courage and those professionals within the system who are mavericks, who see individuals as people, who focus individual context and strengths, who recognise the barriers the system creates and who walk alongside people going through tough times without an agenda.

We need to change the narrative of the system so that the individual has the freedom to write their own story. To be the author of their own lives. Then we can say we are truly person-led.

Ok…Yeah…Great!

Ciara Killeen, Executive Assistant and Quality Assurance Manager, looks at the importance of being okay with being uncomfortable when prototyping.

I have worked at Mayday Trust for five and a half years and during this time my colleagues have come to understand two things about the way I work:

  1. I will always try everything at least once as I see the value in saying yes. I get stuck in with prototyping something, seeing the result and trying again. You learn through the experience of doing; sometimes what you learn is that something doesn’t work – but at least you know that now!
  2. When I say, ‘Ok…yeah…great’ in response to a request, no matter how cheerily I say, it means that things are definitely not ok or great. It can mean I feel uncomfortable with the concept. It can mean this is going to be a lot of work on top of the lot of work I already had. But I say yes anyway.

I do not say yes to be a people pleaser. My role as Quality Assurance Manager and working with Innovation Partners to develop the framework of the Personal Transitions Service, is often anything but people pleasing. When I think I have done a fabulous job of developing a policy or template which really captures frontline feedback, and then everyone hates it, I am definitely not pleasing anyone. Or when I make teams go back and re-review a process or trial a form again, for the 5th time, in order to probably create version 6, no one is particularly fond of me. But my colleagues and partners also say yes.

So, the question is, why do we all say yes? Why do we agree to work together to prototype something new when it would easier to say no? When maintaining the status quo would save us all time, effort and, honestly, save face sometimes. Sticking your head above the parapet to offer something new means your work will be subject to scrutiny and when prototyping things can and will go wrong. We all work together as a partnership to prototype because it is the right thing to do for people experiencing tough times, who should have access to personalised, transitional and strength-based approaches. These approaches should be led by the real-world feedback from those we work with and the experience of frontline teams who see the systemic barriers that need to be removed. Prototyping starts from this feedback, not from a preconceived idea of what we should do. And what’s more, we know from experience that prototyping works, even if it’s a lot more ‘yeah’ and not so much ‘great’ to begin with.

The Personal Transitions Service (and Innovation Partnership) started, grew and developed from prototyping. Wisdom from the Street told us the two main problems people experienced when they entered services;

  1. Current systems and processes are dehumanising, humiliating and can end up institutionalising people.
  2. This way of working is not effective. The outcomes are not good enough. Too few people move out of the system and sustain positive life changes.

Once we heard this and saw the systemic barriers trapping people we had no choice. We had to start prototyping. It began with accepting that we were not separate from these issues but part of the system creating them. That definitely was an, ‘Ok…yeah…great’ moment for all of us. No one likes to believe they are causing the people they want to help harm. But the numbers of forms we asked people to fill in, with the level of personal sensitive information we requested, just so they could access support was doing just that. Tweaking parts of the broken system was never going to make change happen; we needed to prototype and develop something completely different.

So the first question I was asked was could we reduce the number of forms? Then could I incorporate the feedback from frontline teams who had used the new forms? Then could I attend a meeting to hear more feedback….reduce the number of forms again….think of a new layout….change the language….remove this section….get rid of these questions….look at this form again….now the policy that goes with it……

In the beginning it was relentless. Every week I was asked to consider something new, listen to more feedback, review our language and update the form or policy or process again. The updated version was tried, feedback sought, updates made and we continued on the merry-go-round. It took 18 months to complete the first DRAFT (not the final version, like painting the great bridge, it’s never truly finished if it is led by the grassroots) of the Personal Transitions Service Framework and people got very used to me saying, ‘Ok…yeah…great’. My colleague printed the words onto a poster and hung it by my desk.

But slowly there was a move from being just ‘ok’ to ‘yeah…I am starting to see where we are going with this’. Then one day I reached the Holy Grail. I received an email from an Asset Manager saying the new document is great. It works for people (it has since been updated, of course, but that’s prototyping!).

Prototyping is, let’s face it, a lot of continuous, sometimes hard, work. It can be frustrating. It can mean you are left for spells when there is no framework at all to guide you because you haven’t developed it yet. That is a sink or swim moment and you get used to muddling through as you listen to feedback, you learn, you adapt and you eventually do what you are there to do; provide something that actually works for people.

And prototyping can be exciting, refreshing and engaging too – bringing everyone together as one team in the quest to turn feedback loops and frontline influence into a meaningful framework. Nothing builds team spirit more than a good old debate lasting 30 minutes about whether we need someone’s contact number AND email address on the referral form (just in case you’re wondering, we just added a blank contact details box and people can decide what information to share. Feedback tells us it’s working really well).

So the next time you hear me say, ‘Ok…yeah…great’ then be assured that I actually believe it will be great in the end and that I am in it for the long prototyping haul with you.

The Story of Dr. Quality and Ms. PTS

Mayday’s Executive Assistant Quality Assurance Manager, Ciara Killeen looks at how the personalised, transitional and strength based mentality has crept into every aspect of her role – even leading to those Jekyll and Hyde moments!

This is a modern day Jekyll and Hyde story.

After a 12 month period of focusing on the re-development of the Personal Transitions Service Operational Guide, I found myself seated in front of 4 colleagues from Mayday’s Housing Team. I was in the middle of an audit and it was the first such audit I had undertaken in some time.

In the lead up to the audit visit I had been pondering how I could combine the 2 strands of my work as a PTS systems changer and as the Quality Assurance Manager working with the Housing Team. They were asking me very good questions about how they could improve their practice by developing the housing policies and processes. However, since I had last carried out such an audit, the old Dr. Quality was no longer in control; Ms. PTS had taken over.

I started to wax lyrical about the benefits of reflective practice. I spoke about moving away from form filling and physical paperwork and only capturing meaningful data. I posed the question, ‘Did everyone living with Mayday need a risk assessment plan if they didn’t have any issues to discuss?’ I spoke about developing local feedback loops and offering people the choice about how they paid their rent. I asked whether weekly room checks promoted the principles of dignity and respect?

And then I sat back and revelled in my mischief making. The team had expected me to ask for examples of how they had stuck to policies or enforced processes. They expected me to hand out ticks or crosses. Instead, I asked how they could improve processes to make them more strength-based and personalised. You could feel the effect of what we sometimes describe as the ‘PTS Coach bomb’ ripple through the room; it was an example of internal systems change happening in real time.

At first, the Housing Team were almost stunned to silence. Then there was nervous laughter. I could hear Dr. Quality in my head starting to panic, ‘Push the escape button! Revert to traditional auditing!’ she cried. But Ms. PTS remained resolute.

One colleague said they felt the room checking process was a ‘blunt instrument’.  Another said they had printed some new feedback cards to handout to people if they wanted to share their thoughts. The 3rd colleague described how the housing risk assessment was no longer fit for purpose and they went on to suggest some really good amendments. The real eureka moment came when the team described what happened after they had offered people the option to pay rent charges via standing order.

The team had initially been sceptical, ‘We thought rent arrears would increase….we thought people would take the money out of their accounts before the payment was due….we didn’t have much hope that standing orders would make a difference.’ And then one person agreed to set-up a standing order and their rent was paid on time every month. But, far more importantly, from this small offer of choice, this tiny aspect of personalisation, this person realised they had a choice. They had lots of choices actually. They chose to start speaking with the Housing Team about future housing options for when they were ready to move to independent living. They chose to start making plans.

And then the penny dropped as the Team went into collective shock. Until that moment, they had not realised the impact of such a small change, such a small offer of choice and personalisation. A secondary outcome was rent payments made on time but the primary outcome was the rebalancing of power which enabled someone to plan for their transition out of Mayday accommodation.

I called this a modern Jekyll and Hyde story which brings to mind the idea of dual identities; the Quality Assurance Manager carrying out a housing audit and the PTS systems changer, a member of the Innovation Partnership, developing person-led, strength-based transitions approaches. But what’s modern is that both parts of my role can co-exist. I was still carrying out an audit – an independent examination of team performance to highlight best practice and develop an action plan. But it was strength-based as I asked the team to review the processes as well as their actions. It promoted best practice through questioning together what we can do better.

And this idea of duality can be applied to the different teams who form our organisations too. Yes, the PTS and housing models are different. And yes, the Coach Team and Housing Team do work autonomously to each other. But that doesn’t mean we cannot promote best practice between colleagues, developing a one team approach which will enable internal systems change to flourish. The 2 strands of Mayday’s work can co-exist harmoniously so long as we continue to be led by the same principle, which is the foundation of what we do; the toughest of times should be a transition in a person’s life, during which they are treated with dignity and respect.

I always finish the audit process by asking teams to reflect on Mayday’s Quality Statement – a set of principles we all share, believe in and promote, no matter which team we work in. I asked my housing colleagues what quality meant to them; ‘Respect….dignity….empowerment….transitional and not permanent…’

Different team, different model but the same shared principles for how people should be treated. Whether the team think I am a ‘Ms. Hyde’ auditing monster, on the other hand….

8 of 13 Balanced Power Dynamics

“Yeah, sure, I’m off drugs and ! haven’t had a drink since last week *a-hem*. If it means I keep a roof over my head, then I’ll tell you whatever you need to hear. Wouldn’t you?”

In a lot of situations where people were supported in their accommodation, people talked about their relationship with their key worker or support worker. It was a common theme that people had good relationships with workers but were often unable to be totally open with them in fear that they would lose their accommodation. Some people said that they attended sessions with key workers just to keep the roof over their head or avoided support sessions as they had rent arrears. Staff often talked about people being manipulative or dishonest but had no recognition of the power dynamic in the relationship between a resident and a worker who has the authority to evict the person.

We took action

We took all of our coaches out of housing and based their roles within communities. We completely separated our accommodation business and made sure that coaches were not involved in the management or operational housing matters and didn’t have a say on an individual’s tenancy status.

The PTS is set up to ensure that power is balanced so that people are able to develop genuine trusting relationships that don’t influence the roof over their heads.

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.

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.

Expecting the best, rather than fearing the worst

Asset Coach, Andrew Durman reflects on the Personal Transitions Service. Looking at the significance of a positive approach towards the individuals that coaches are lucky enough to work alongside and the importance of releasing control

Reflections on the Personal Transitions Service as an Asset Coach for Mayday Trust

A recent conversation with someone I work alongside reinforced the importance of making a personal choice to approach our work in a strength based and solutions focused way. This I believe, has a direct impact on how we work alongside people, and how they respond to us as Asset Coaches.

It is an approach I totally agree with, although one I often have to remind myself of, challenge and reflect on. One of the hardest things can be watching someone make their own decisions, when in truth we may have done something differently ourselves. But trusting that the choice made, is right for the individual at the time is very important.

It is not our place as Asset Coaches to know what is best for an individual, instead we influence and coach them in their decision making and control, with the hope that the decisions they do make will have a positive impact on their lives.

I was reminded of this very clearly with the individual I was working with, as not long ago I lost contact with him for 3 weeks. During our last meet up he had been very frustrated and feeling like he was on a knife edge due to his own challenges, as well as his uncertain, unsettled and unsafe living conditions.

He felt that going back to prison would alleviate him of this and that it was a place that was safe. Unfortunately this is something we hear quite often.

We explored alternatives and dug deeper into the reasoning behind those emotions, although I was left with the feeling that it could go either way.

However, I recently received an email from his probation worker, as he had requested that I was sent a new contact number for him and that he was looking forward to getting back in touch with me. He had changed his living conditions and location, making a difficult but crucial decision, resulting in a positive effect on his life. He had also secured a job, which he was due to start the following week. This was brilliant, as during that 3 week period I could not help feeling worried for him.

I had to fight that ‘fixing’ feeling and have faith that he would be okay. It turned out he was, and not just okay, he was thriving!

He is a very inspirational individual, as are many of the people I get to meet as a Coach. I would much rather expect the best from someone and be wrong, than expect the worst from someone and be right. This individual knew that I had 100% faith in him and through this he could build faith within himself.

Would he choose to meet me and allow me the privilege of being involved in his life, if he didn’t think that I had faith in him? No.

Does he talk of frustrations with other agencies expecting him to fail and re-offend? Yes. I don’t believe we can be effective in our coaching unless we are allowed and have permission from the person we’re working with to believe in them.

A clear sign of this permission within Mayday Trust and the PTS, is that individuals have a choice in whether they want to work with an Asset Coach and how they would like that coaching relationship to work, and importantly, there is no consequence of ‘not engaging’. The people we work alongside are far too often underestimated, especially by the ‘professionals’ working with them. A person can see right through us if we do not truly believe in them.

I believe as Asset Coaches, or in fact any professional working with people going through difficult periods in their lives, it helps to ask ourselves a few questions. Questions I reflect upon regularly.

Do I feel more satisfied when someone achieves something that I have not had much input in, or do I want to be involved in every step of that decision?
Do I genuinely believe that the person I am working alongside has the ability to be successful and happy?
Do I genuinely want the best for the individual and expect the best of them (this will show through in our work and there is no way to hide it)?
Am I happy to take a step back and allow the control and power to remain with the individual, even if I have doubts and fear the consequences?
Is it that doubt and fear that dictates whether I step in to fix the situation for that individual?
Is what I have done today allowed/empowered that individual, or have I taken control (despite it feeling like the right thing to do and with the best intentions in the world)?

One of the most important reasons why I love working as an Asset Coach with Mayday is the constant self-reflection, on ourselves and the PTS model. There is no room to get complacent, it constantly evaluates whether we are providing the right and best service possible.

I do not believe this should ever stop and does not only provide great service, but maintains our model and longevity within the sector. This ensures that Mayday moves with the times and that we are adaptable to whatever comes our way. This also means that we can continue working towards and influence system change.

This philosophy runs deep within Mayday Trust and the individuals delivering PTS, I am very fortunate to be able to count myself alongside them.

#SystemsChange