Care

I’d like to say something about the NHS.

Last Tuesday morning my partner and I went into the Royal Free Hospital to have a planned C-section. I realised afterwards that it was the first time I’ve stayed in a UK hospital since I was born in one, 37 years ago. And it was amazing.

Amazing not just because of the people who delivered our son with humour, care, understanding and love.

Amazing not just because those people were so hugely representative of the benefits of long-term immigration to the UK: a surgical team led by two brilliant women of colour; midwives and nurses from across the world.

Amazing not just because of the range of women – the eastern European woman waiting to be induced, the exhausted young black couple, the orthodox Jewish woman picking up kosher food from the trolley – who had come to this place to do this most fundamentally human thing.

It was amazing because we spent 35 hours in an organisation where the main currencies are need and care. For all its many flaws and restrictions, this is a place where you are prioritised not by who you are and what you have, but by what you need.

And where the principle output is care.

The care of the anaesthetists chatting to Ella to calm her as we went into the operation, the midwife bringing us tea and toast after. The help with breastfeeding, changing a first nappy. The older midwife who caught us at 3am when everything felt like it might fall apart.

These are things that dramatically change the first moments of life – and perhaps whole lives afterwards.

Of course (but why, of course?) everyone who cared for us was overworked, stretched and stressed.

There were women giving birth in our ward because the labour ward was full, students having to do things they weren’t yet qualified to do, a midwife who burnt her own hand and had to go to A&E, only to be back within an hour because she had ten women to look after on her own.

I don’t understand why anyone earning a decent wage couldn't spare a tiny bit more tax to make this better.

I don’t understand how anyone could think that profit-making might be a way to improve care-giving.

And perhaps most of all, I don’t understand how anyone who would ever make any of those midwives, doctors and nurses feel that they didn’t belong just because they or their parents weren’t born here.

On Wednesday evening we walked slowly out of the Royal Free with our son in a car seat. An old man passing gave us a pound to wish us luck.

But he – and we – are already lucky. We have a son who will grow up in the privilege of his race, sex and class, and (hopefully) be looked after all his life by the NHS. I want to bring him up to know and understand these things, and to feel responsible for them in the future –to fight for change, to make sacrifices for others and – most importantly - to care.

Help On Your Doorstep

Company Three are part of a consortium of local charities who are working together to think about what we do and how we do it. Recently we have been visiting each other's projects and learning about each other's work.

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I watched the Trump election pan out until 4:30am this morning, went to sleep, dreamt about alligators with leathery skin trying to eat me and woke up to the now familiar click of the radio confirming bad news on the day after an election.  

Then I went to visit Help On Your Doorstep.  It's a charity with a very simple concept: workers and volunteers go door to door on a local estate asking people there how they're doing and if they need any help with anything - finances, work, smoke alarms, company. And then they hook them up with people who can help.

I walked with a woman called Parveen for two hours, knocking on doors on an estate in Archway.

We met a man looking after his double amputee nephew, a woman who uses a wheelchair but has steps down to her front door, a man who has had multiple illnesses and transplants but really wants to get back to work at 55 (anyone need a German translator?).  

Then there was a middle aged woman with a terminal brain tumor who was losing her sight and her speech who told us she had loads of people looking after her so not to worry about her.  "Go and look after the people who have more time left" she said.  "Go and help the young people, they need it today".

And so we went on, knocking on doors. The only person who shut the door in our face was a surprised looking man wearing only a towel. Everyone else received us kindly.  Some stayed for a long time, grateful for a chat.

It was the simplest way of looking after others, about listening and responding and helping where possible. It was local and meaningful. And a far cry from the bigger story of the day.

Filtered through, not down

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Participation normally works in one way in theatre.

A group of artists (normally middle class white people) make a show.  It goes on in a theatre and people pay quite a lot of money to come and see it.

A group of other middle class white people - often called the Education Department, or Creative Learning, or whatever, then filter that show down to a group of other people who don't really go to the theatre.  They are probably not middle class or, often, white.  These people are the 'participants'.

The participants are asked to 'respond' to the show. They watch it, or do a workshop, or make a new piece of work that’s inspired by it.

In general, very few people experience that response. That includes the people who commissioned, produced and made the original show.  They’re probably too busy making their next show.

The  idea seems to be that the people who participate have something to learn from the people who made the show.   Not the other way around.

But what if we did something very simple?

Instead of filtering the show down to the participants, what if we filtered the show through them?

What if participation was the first thing we did, rather than the last?

Each creative team would be given extra time to do some of their research and development through participatory projects.  They'd still probably end up making a play with professional actors etc, but they'd start their research by working with normal people.

Participation would suddenly become important to the making of the play, rather than an annoying afterthought.

Artists would get extra time to develop their work, maybe months in advance of their rehearsals, and they'd be thinking about a diverse audience from the very start of their process.

The quality of the participatory work would rise.  We'd invest more in it and it'd be led by the very best artists (maybe supported by facilitators who are brilliant at working in participatory ways).

Participants would feel inspired because they were contributing to something big and exciting. They’d feel their voices were being heard within something that would be seen by thousands of people.  They'd be part of the team.

They’d really want to come and see the piece that they’d helped develop. And they’d bring their friends along too. 

Most importantly, maybe the artists making the plays would find new ideas that emerged from their contact with people that they would never otherwise have spoken to.  Maybe they'd start to think about those people as their audience and change their play because of it.

Of course there would still be a load of problems, particularly because it would still be the same people 'making' and the same people 'participating'.  But it would be a start, if nothing else.  And in time, it might help create a space in which the participants become the mainstream makers.