Apple Seed – growing great ideas!

How community engagement is like clutch control

One of the trickiest things about learning to drive, is mastering clutch control. service-clutch-650x320

It relies on on a combination of good hearing (attuning your ear to the changing tones of the engine) as well as physical control on the pedals, to create the right balance of just-enough-pressure-on-the-gas with not-too-high-on-the clutch. With mastery of the clutch you can hold the car perfectly still, or allow the beginnings of forward momentum. Get it wrong and the whole thing comes to a abrupt, juddering halt.

The thing that really allows you to master clutch control is not just knowing you have to press certain pedals in a certain way, but understanding why that is and what’s happening under the bonnet. You need to understand that to achieve different speeds, the gears need to mesh successfully, and the clutch helps you do that without damaging those fast-spinning disks. To increase or decrease speed, the correct gear needs to be engaged and getting it wrong at high speeds can be very dangerous, for you and other drivers.

It occurred to me recently that successful university-community engagement is a lot like using clutch control. In order to help the different worlds of academia and community mesh together, there needs to be an understanding of both groups of people and what governs them. There needs to be an understanding not only of what needs to mesh together (aims, priorities, communication, resources etc) but why.

Successful engagement understands the different perspectives and needs of each group. It takes account of the history, demography, economics , geography and social capital within a local community, and weighs those factors up against the national and local drivers for the university, its funding, strategic plan, student population and research focii. And then, using time, patience, clear communication, collaborative planning and resource sharing, it gently and purposefully attempts to mesh these two very different worlds together – this is clutch control.

Done well, it allows for positive, forward motion on a project or piece of research work. It can empower residents, encourage staff and develop students.

Done badly, it can cause projects to come to an abrupt, juddering halt and almost everyone involved can feel hurt and disappointed by the results and probably less likely to want to engage in similar work in the future.

Of course, you could replace the word ‘university’ with almost any other institution or organisation: health, faith, government…The key element is remembering that when attempting to mesh two worlds together, it needs to be done, carefully, thoughtfully and with enough sensitivity to know that it’s not just what needs to be meshed, but why it’s important to get it right.



hammock_relaxing-summer_living-etcThe latest newsletter and blog update has been released from the Portsmouth Deanery’s FE Chaplaincy project. Read it here:

One of my tasks over the summer was to do some research into how prayer rooms and quiet rooms are set up, used and managed. The use of quiet rooms and spaces (both indoors and outdoors) is a visible, tangible way in which a chaplaincy service can offer support to staff and students and acknowledge their inner ‘spiritual’ needs, as well as their external ones. People may explore and express their spirituality in a variety of ways, but everyone needs some peace and quiet from time to time!

Read more here:

CUExpo – a digital reflection

Norris Point Marine Centre, Newfoundland

Norris Point Marine Centre, Newfoundland

A rather nice digital reflection on the CUExpo conference, which took place in Newfoundland, Canada, in June this year.

I was delighted to be invited to attend as a community partner, and to have the chance to talk about the emerging UK Community Partner Network, in the context of international work around university and community research partnerships.

This is an exciting area of work with more and more people seeing the benefits of collaborative research projects.

Watch here:

Soran’s Flight (a prequel to The Secret of Barak Lea)

montain_in_boliviaAs some of you will already know, one of my areas of practice is around storytelling, and for a number of years I’ve told stories at summer playschemes – most recently at North End Playscheme.

Modern technology offers us so many more options, and so I’ve decided to make the most of what’s on offer by recording a prequel to the story I’m going to tell at North End Playscheme this year. This is something I’ve never done before, and I hope it will help children and adults get excited about the week to come!

The theme at this year’s playscheme is Narnia, so I have devised an entirely original piece, based on the world that CS Lewis created, but set in-between the end of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and before Prince Caspian. This allows me a huge amount of creative scope, whilst still anchoring the story in a recognisable world.

So here it is: Soran’s Flight. I hope you enjoy it!


Education – getting the balance right

balance chairEducation is a gift. It is a privilege, both to the teacher and the student. Education has the power to change individuals lives and by extension whole families…swathes of communities…an entire nation.

But such power wielded wrongly can be a dangerous thing. It can damage and restrict people, limit them and their potential and instill a fear of failure and a sense of ‘not being good enough’.

I was abruptly reminded of this fact this evening, when putting my daughter to bed. She turned six just a month ago and will be moving into Year 2 in the autumn. Tonight she said she wanted to talk to me about ‘her worries’ and the things she was concerned about.

“I’m worried about going into Year 2,” she explained. “I’m worried because I’m going to have tests and I’ve never done a number test in my life and what happens if I get it wrong and I get bad marks?”

She is six.

Now, I should make it clear that I’ve never spoken to her about SATs, and the only notion she has about testing might be from her older brother, who will be going into Year 4 in the autumn and has already had his SATs and a series of QCA tests. And yet, she is keenly aware of – and worried about, the tests that she knows are coming in Year 2, and more importantly, she is worried about failing.

I’m not worried about how she’ll do in these tests, not least because she’s in an excellent school and she’s in the top Maths group. But the point is she’s SIX. She shouldn’t have to worry about tests or what might happen is she fails. She shouldn’t be concerned about not doing well enough or ‘getting bad marks’. She should be in an environment where learning is a joy, and failure is a accepted and more importantly valued part of that process.

Paul Benneworth, at the GUNI (Global University Network for Innovation) conference in Barcelona earlier this year, reminded us of an old but timely saying: ‘you don’t fatten the lamb by continually weighing it’. I’ve been working in the field of youth and children’s work for over twenty years, and I don’t object to assessment. I understand the need to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of learning. But it seems to me the pendulum has swung far too far in the wrong direction, and those holding that wonderful and terrible power over education find themselves falling foul of McNamara’s fallacy: we only value what we can easily measure, rather than finding ways to measure what we truly value.

My daughter has developed an anxiety about tests and a fear of failure from an education culture that says: ‘you’re only valuable if you achieve the right scores and pass all the tests’ and as a practitioner and as a parent, this is heartbreaking. Surely we want our learners of all ages to know that they have value beyond the score sheets? Surely we want to encourage them, and invest in them, and enable them to have the self-confidence and resilience to take the risks in order that they might achieve and fulfill all their untapped potential?

Education is a balancing act, and it has always been. It is a balance between the need to develop innovative ways of conveying information, and finding appropriate ways to understand how effective this conveyance has been. But people are more than the sum of their test results and metrics and assessments only shed light on a small part of the whole person.

Surely someone, somewhere, must be able to raise a shout that challenges this awful, seemingly inexorable slide towards a factory model of education, where only the ‘good ones’ are kept and the rest are thrown on the rubbish heap? Otherwise I fear this warped notion of ‘value’ will leech further and wider across society, and we’ll end up with a generation too fearful and constrained to take the risks we need to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Chaplaincy work gets carried away!

Well, not exactly carried away…but a group of us will be taking some time out on Monday 1st July, to take part at the Chaplaincy Away Day, hosted by Hopeweavers (you can see some photos of the venue below)

I’m really looking forward to this day and hopeful for some thoughtful and constructive discussion and debate about how the chaplaincy service could shape up. Find out more here:

Making maps…CUExpo

Happy Birthday to School!

An aerial view of the M275 before the flyover was built. You can see the large outline of St John's church by the newly formed Rudmore roundabout.

An aerial view of the M275 before the flyover was built. You can see the large outline of St John’s church by the newly formed Rudmore roundabout.

You’ve probably noticed, that I have a bit of a thing for heritage and history. Whenever I’m in a place, I just notice things about it – architectural features, signs, alterations and it starts my brain whirring…I wonder about the people who lived there, or the chain of events which may have sparked change…and I wonder about what was there before…


For me it’s all about the story.

And so it is that I appear to have sparked off another history-hunt, this time in Stamshaw, which is in the north-west section of Portsea island. The local Infant school building was built in 1899 and will be 115 years old next year, so I proposed a local heritage project, using this event s a catalyst to explore the local history of the area. The school were really supportive an I’ve been working with the Headteacher and key staff to develop a new community project which launches on 19th June. 

We’ve already been provided with some amazing archive maps and found some great photos in the City Archives, but what

The section comes from a larger map, dated 1952. It shows the outdoor swimming pool, which is located roughly where Stamshaw Park is now.

The section comes from a larger map, dated 1952. It shows the outdoor swimming pool, which is located roughly where Stamshaw Park is now.

we really need are photos and stories from local people to make it come alive.

To this end we’ve sent out press releases to local news groups and through social media, to promote the work and invite local people to take part to, by sharing their stories and memories.

The project will run over the course of a year, with three focused ‘Detective Days’, the first of which takes place in two weeks time. The children will begin by exploring clues to the past which can be found in their own school building. In the autumn term they’ll be going out and about in the local area, to find evidence of the past from present day buildings and sites and in the Spring term 2014 the school hopes to invite in local people, former pupils and staff from the school who can share with the children their own memories of Stamshaw. The project will culminate in a birthday party celebration, where the children can share the journey of learning that they’ve been on over the previous year.

The school has already been awarded a small grant towards the project from the Nelson Community Panel, and this will help pay for materials and resources which will be used during the project.

If you know anything about Stamshaw’s history (either the school or the area) that you think might be useful to the project, please can you drop me a line in the first instance:

The school will be setting up a dedicated webpage and email address shortly, and they also hope to have a ‘postbox’ in the school office, where local people could drop things in.

FE Chaplaincy project steps up a gear!

A candle, a tub of bubbles and some Maltesers...classic tools in the field of chaplaincy (!)

A candle, a tub of bubbles and some Maltesers…classic tools in the field of chaplaincy (!)

I’m pleased to say that the FE Chaplaincy project is now building momentum, and later this morning I’ll be doing my first ‘pastoral’ visit there.

To find out more about that, and the project in general, why not toddle over to:

Building Bridges in Barcelona

A stained glass window from Barcelone Cathedral

A stained glass window from Barcelone Cathedral

I’ve just come back from three days in Barcelona, attending the GUNI 2013 Conference on university-community engagement. I went as part of a small team from NCCPE, to promote the newly emerging UK Community Partner Network, which you can read more about here:

I met a really diverse group of people from universities across the globe, whose uniting passion is about enabling the knowledge, skills, research and resources held within universities to be more easily accessible to communities, in order that they themselves can make the changes they feel they want to make, whether it be about social justice, health, women’s issues, heritage or infrastructure.

Some of the projects I learnt about were incredibly challenging and quite beyond my own cultural frame of reference. Other were encouraging and inspiring, as new ways are being found to learn and share across continents and with new technologies.

But perhaps unsurprisingly some of the most effective forms of engagement come through personal relationship: that one-to-one encounter with another human being, who values you and wants to come alongside you so that together you can make a difference to the people around you.

And THAT is where I fit in.

Although much of the language and context of Higher Education is new to me and I’m still finding my way through the jungle of jargon, essentially I see that it’s about valuing people and using our skills to benefit one another. It’s about recognising that each of us has gifts and skills that can be used to a greater purpose, whether or not we have a degree or speak several languages. The ability of each human being to acknowledge the dignity and value of another shouldn’t ever be undervalued.

Policy can affect practice and funding can support practice, but without people there *is* no practice!

I have the privilege of attending the CUExpo in Canada next month, where any of the delegates from Barcelona will also be in attendance. I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation, and finding out more!