I’m a huge fan of peer support. It has many forms and working in the community and voluntary sector it can be hugely beneficial for so many people. This includes people of all ages and experience and regardless of the types of challenges we encounter in our lives.
I’ve held posts over the last couple of decades which have contributed in some way to supporting people with a range of challenges – unemployment, criminal convictions, substance misuse, challenges with physical and mental health, learning difficulties and youth based support. We all need friends and supporters in our lives. In my last job I was very aware of the challenges that people who are growing older with learning disabilities have in terms of loneliness and isolation. I was proud to work with a brilliant team who tackled this challenge head on. The results of people being with people were quite something. Having someone to share a cup of tea and a chat with should never be underestimated. Very few of us can even function without others.
This is no different in a leadership role. There’s no prize for going it alone. That’s where for me, ella Forums comes in. I’ve experienced some great leadership programmes over the years and people who I’ve engaged with on these programmes have told me the same thing – connecting with and learning from each other is where we benefit most.
I was asked if I would chair the new North East ella Forum last year. I jumped at the chance. I hoped my varied experience in the sector would add some value. Most of all however, I felt that as well as having a lot to offer, I had a lot to learn from the experience. Launching the Forum in January 2020 and watching the development not only of the forum itself, but of the group of people who are taking part, has been such a pleasure. It’s a place to take some time out. Many of us are working more hours than ever. With some people still working from home, the time usually used to travel to and from work as well as between meetings has arguably been useful in tackling more challenges which seem to come our way these days. It may not be healthy or productive though. People tell me they are taking fewer breaks and with less opportunity to chat to people, we remain wrapped up in the challenges of the day. Even those of us working on-site are working in different ways and with less interaction outside of our Job Descriptions.
Something you don’t often hear in our sector… Be selfish. Put yourself first. Think of it a bit like that first aid training you had recently. You should aim to protect yourself first before you can protect others. This is relevant regardless of the pandemic situation. Those in CEO / senior positions in our sector often talk about how it can be a lonely place. It doesn’t have to be. At ella Forums we bring leaders together to share their experiences and challenges in a safe and positive place. There are no right or wrong answers, only ideas, options and support.
I’m extremely proud of all of our North East Forum members. In such a short space of time, together we’ve achieved so much. The breadth of experience is impressive and the approach each member has taken is commendable. Each member has brought leadership challenges to the group and everyone has had the opportunity to fully participate in the discussion and feedback how they might tackle (or have previously tackled) similar challenges. This has been action learning at it’s best and we’ve already covered a range of topics from staffing challenges to strategic work. We’ve also experienced new collaborations begin to develop outside of forum meetings. We’ve also made new friends and colleagues.
I’m biased of course, but I’d urge anyone looking at leadership development to find out more and get involved. You’ll find like-minded people, new networks to explore and most importantly, if you sign up as a member you’ll ensure that you take just a little time out to look after you.