I’m on my way to a meeting – the first of many this week, about Somerstown Stories. It’s another one of those ‘behind-the-scenes’ meetings. Important – necessary in fact, if we want the project to run smoothly and be a success, although it can sometimes feel like I’m spending more time ‘meeting’ than ‘doing’.
It occurred to me that project management is rather like an iceberg: 75% of the work is below the surface, unseen. And yet projects are so often rated or valued on the 25% that’s visible above the water, which is a shame, because the work that goes into making something a success is very often disproportionate to the event itself.
‘But how is an iceberg like a cake, and what’s that got to do with project management?’ I hear you ask.
Well, in my mind sometimes the best bit of the project is the ‘people’ bit. The time spent with real people in real communities, sharing stories and experiences, trying and learning new things together. That’s the ‘visible’ bit. The 25% above the water. Or, if you prefer, the icing on the cake.
Now, you need the cake: you need the substance, the infrastructure, the planning and resources to enable the project to come together…and some of the greatest achievements of you and the people you’re working with will happen during that ‘cake’ period…and probably only a few people will realise or appreciate just how much work has been done and what’s been accomplished.
But I’m still inclined to think that the icing bit is best because that’s the part where we get to see if all our hard work has paid off, and that’s the place where our dreams become reality.
Working with real people in real communities isn’t easy. But it is very valuable, and cake without icing would be a bit dull – don’t you think?
I have been doing some background research for Fratton Big Local (www.frattonbiglocal.org.uk) recently, reading the Portsmouth Anti-Poverty Strategy (http://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/media/cab20110606r4app2.pdf). Although the research has been triggered by FBL it will naturally have implications for all of my work, as everything I do is people and community based.
A person or family are considered to be living in poverty if they have a household income of 60% or less of the ‘contemporary median’ before housing costs (this varies depending upon whether you’re a single person, lone parent with child etc). The contemporary median is the figure that averages out the various costs of differently composed households, and presents a figure of what the ‘average’ household would need to have available as disposable income.
In 2008/9 the weekly income figure for a couple with two children under 14 was £374. 60% of that is £224 so a family having that level
of weekly income or less, would be considered to be living in poverty. My family is composed of two adults and two children under 14. My husband and I both choose to work part-time (he has a job working 21hrs a week, I work freelance), in order to be available for our children. Our ‘average’ weekly income is less than £50 greater than the contemporary median, so technically we’re less than £50 away from the poverty line.*
*sometimes this gap feels a lot smaller, whilst waiting for invoices to be paid
This got me thinking, because until I’d sat and worked that through, I wouldn’t have said that we were living in or near poverty.
Certainly things get tight from time to time, and we don’t own a car, for example, but we do have what I would view as luxuries, such as broadband and cable TV. More than 1 in 4 children in Portsmouth live in poverty. Based on these calculations, might that figure I wondered, at times include my own children? Now clearly, poverty is based on more than just financial income, and there are a number of contributory factors, but it got me thinking: Do people with lower incomes feel or believe that they live in poverty, or at risk of poverty? How would someone in this lower income band define poverty? What would they think are the things that would indicate to them ‘yes, we’re living in poverty’ or ‘no, its tight, but we manage’?
As someone who works with and trains others to work with young people, I watch the ebb and flow of society closely. As Kenda Creasy-Dean, Lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary so aptly put it: “if you want to know about the state of a society, look at its young people”. (Practising Passion; Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church, 2006)
I observe that the society I live in seems to value people based on what they have, or what they can do. So if you don’t have, or you can’t do, do you still have value? Young people copy what they see adults demonstrating: they see older people acquiring goods and services, because they’re deemed functional, necessary and because they add status. And so young people act in the same way: they choose goods and services that they believe will add to their own sense of social value and intrinsic value. The Youth Marketing Trends assessment from 2009 offered a variety of key trends and values that advertisers should be aware of. One of those was: ‘How will owning this product give me significance?’
And this then brings me back to poverty. Do people living in or close to the poverty line feel/believe/perceive that they have less intrinsic value because they may not be able to access the goods and services that society as whole seems to suggest will give someone added value or status? Might someone become inexorably drawn into a cycle of debt, trying to buy the things that society seems to suggest will make them valuable (large TV, car, fashionable wardrobe, latest phone/laptop, blu-ray player etc etc) but in fact having less and less disposable income, because they don’t think they’re valuable enough without those things? If value is based on what you have or what you do, and you don’t have or you can’t do, do you still have value?
Poverty is about more than money, although income is clearly a factor. But having a sense of value, place and purpose*…now that’s something worth its weight in gold.
*Spirituality and Youthwork - Value, Place and Purpose, originally presented at CAMHS Conference 2006 as part of a paper ‘The Ethos of Youthwork’ D Raper and S Court . Copies available on request.