Care Experienced Conference "Seeds of Hope" Midlands - Ian Gould & jackie McCartney

My greatest fear is doing an injustice to our 'Seeds of Hope' Journey and the essence of our inaugural Birmingham meeting on 18th January 2020. As, together, we planted possibilities of another Conference to hear from more voices across our care family. Yet mindful, whatever I write, is written with love and hopefulness. I guess, as a remarkable ‘A’ Level tutor once wrote (1977-79), ‘Ian comes from a somewhat unconventional education and care background’ so, writing my first ever blog is daunting. Hopefully, others will want to tell of their stories as our journey unfolds.

It feels only a short while ago when Jackie and I shared the cathartic experience of our Care Experienced family/friends (Liverpool Hope April 2019) coming together. This, across all ages, backgrounds, diverse experiences and from different parts of our Nation and World was truly remarkable. Feel free to stop and take an inspirational tour of this unique, heartfelt and truly loving experience. Which is a testimony to our diverse heritage, the authenticity of lived experience and of the robust determination to give everyone present a sanctuary to have their voice heard, recognised, acted on and to feel loved, valued and a part

‘Building on the shoulders of Giants’ enabling and empowering family to come together to be ever more active, challenging, visible and inclusive; what’s, there not to like? It certainly felt like a solid foundation on which to build. Thus, a new Journey of ‘Hope’ was born. Envisioned and planted in the imagination and minds of others who would 'get it' and come alongside over the past 6 months. Jackie and I have drawn enormous strength from the aspirations. We are the majority who successfully turned the expected statistics on their head, shook them, and got on with our lives. Yet, rarely get spoken about or heard. Indeed, I recall our Scottish sister ’Laura’ who many years ago (2016) did a Tedx Talk where she energised our family to start a ’Revolution’ that would bring about long and lasting change. It’s by no coincidence we launch this Blog to coincide with the next stage of Scotland’s 'Revolution' @ The Care Review, as they turn words alongside the Scottish Government into actions.

It was early September that Jackie and I met to discuss the possibility of a Conference for the Midlands region. Wonderfully, albeit retired Ian Dickson gave us his blessing, providing the impetus and support to make it our very OWN and build on the enormous learning, diverse talent/gifts and the infrastructure that will forever be 'Hope'. Initially, only a dream, we’ve reached out and connected across our Region visiting, phone calls, emailing and even participated in a public appearance, @BASWbc, whereupon the ‘Seeds of Hope’ were well and truly sown. This in turn has gathered momentum, shape and potential. Jackie and I are inspired by the prospect that anything is possible when done with great love.

We are acutely aware many will be disappointed this Journey involves only those across the Midlands. Whilst, we make no apologies for this, we hope you feel inspired to consider doing something similar in your Region and become a further diverse and powerful voice for our Nations family/friends. Although, we’re not able to extend our hospitality to you on the day, ALL who connect with our vision are welcome to journey alongside and support both our, and wider family efforts. Ultimately to raise the profile of our family/friends and help sustain the momentum/movement calling for transformative change. Certainly, you are ALL welcome to look in on @CareExpConf and our hashtag #AmbitiousTogether.

It was with an enormous joy/privilege our Seeds of Hope Journey came to fruition on January 18th, 2020. United, by a common purpose and a shared hope of making a difference, our Team agreed to try and make a Conference happen. We would call the Conference Journey 'Care Experienced Conference Seeds of Hope Midlands’. Truly remarkable, given many present were strangers, yet bound together by a common hope of being the difference. The Team, JBCC-NHS-FLRS is made up of members across all ages (19-64)from diverse care experienced backgrounds and also includes, Social Work Tutors, a Clinical Psychologist, Artists/Writers, a Charity, a Social Enterprise and Corporate Parents too. Currently, we have a 70/30 split of Care Experienced Family/Friends. Through our twitter connections, we also have representatives from NHS England Safeguarding. Our Midlands Region covers Redditch, Dudley, Stafford, Leicester, Coventry and Birmingham. Wonderfully, we have also built bridges across to Solihull and Wolverhampton.

Despite best efforts, we didn't stick to the agenda but, I reckon the team felt it right to spend quality time, getting to know each other. Wonderfully, agreeing some ground rules, shared hopes and aspirations, we ALL signed up to being #AmbitiousTogether. An expression adopted from our host for the afternoon, Matthew Gordon, Care Covenant Lead.

Matthew gave an inspiring testimony about the importance of our Care Experience family sharing their stories and significantly having their voices heard. We also conveyed positive messages from several friends. Then we had a presentation by @CareLeaversAssociation who were part of the original Conference Journey.

Out of deep respect and personal knowledge we also held a minutes silence for Shane Griffen, a care experienced stalwart from Ireland. Shane is known to many of us from across our Nations care community and was a true stalwart and an everlasting Lamplighter for 'Doing the Right Thing. Rightly so, ‘whose Light should never be allowed to go out’ It was suggested by a member of the Group that we consider planting a tree in his memory.

Whilst, there is a marathon to run and we are only on the starting line, we've agreed, that it’s within our capability to make a Conference happen. We’ve adopted the ten top messages, will plant ’Seeds’ across ALL Midlands Local Authorities, Charities who work alongside our family, by promoting and making available access to the Reports. This should make it possible for many more diverse and previously unheard voices to be heard. Some of these include, Kinship Families, Faith Community, Refugees, those with Complex needs and Learning Disabilities and those involved with Criminal Justice.

Although, somewhat rushed we were able to give over the 2nd half of our afternoon to identifying some aims which will be worked upon during the interim period as we begin to agree the objectives (steppingstones) and a timeframe.

These will include:

1. To work towards a Midlands Conference in 2021.

2. Promote the Top 10 messages across our Region.

3. To reach out to ever more diverse voices awaiting to be heard.

4. Raise awareness about a lifetime of Love, Respect, Equality Dignity (Lifelong Links).

5. Maximise the potential of the involvement of NHS England.

6. Begin a discussion about how we afford to support different care generations for both the Journey to Conference day, Conference day and post conference too.

7. Share our Midlands Journey and build on links across all Social and Professional Networks.

8. Fully utilise our Research and Academic Group to help to identify a Researcher and making available post conference reports re outcomes.

The last few weeks has been a hive of activity, as we continue to reach out, becoming inspired and enriched by others who learn of our Journey, acknowledging their best wishes and love and support. Indeed, only in recent days, we've met with the Rees Foundation who are considering becoming our Fundraising Charity and helping us in all aspects of Conference planning and delivery. In a few weeks we also get to have a case conference with the NHS about what their objectives might look like.

Wonderfully, we have a full Steering Group and a date (Saturday 7th March 2020) for our next meeting, the venue arranged by Birmingham Children’s Trust and of course lots of things ‘carried forward’. Significantly, we all carry within us the desire to make this happen and with will, determination and effort no doubt we can produce a Harvest from our ‘Seeds of Hope’. Certainly, we have big boots to fill, given that we too want to focus on positive outcomes, and who knows, follow in the Care Experienced Conference footsteps and present 2021 Conference Voice to the Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, we await the Launch of the @TheCareReview on the 5th February and know that this will be an inspiration to all who follow this growing momentum for change for generations to come. We hope you will journey alongside and support our efforts to continue to build on the foundations of ‘Hope’ and achieve the very best possible outcomes for all involved.

We welcome you to add a comment in the box below or on the post on the @CareExpConf Twitter or Facebook post.

Ian Gould & Jackie McCartney


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