Little Stories in Little Places
I’ve been feeling confused. Perhaps you can help me with my confusion?
The 7 Days of Action campaign is being wound up, to be relaunched as something with a different tone and, hopefully, a wider reach. The original campaign had become too associated with me and the original seven families and unintentionally was in danger of becoming too self feeding and keeping others out. I’ve spent a lot of time lately looking at what worked and what didn’t work. The feedback I’ve received suggests that in attempting to present very human stories about peoples’ lives in ATUs became the campaign’s greatest strength but it’s greatest weakness at the same time. The same thing that engaged many, also turned off many. One of my disappointments was that we didn’t engage enough people within the professional front line of the social care system. I’m not talking about the academics, the writers or the researchers who all had a strong presence. I’m thinking about the social workers, the best interest assessors, the people who make the decisions and the people who work in the Units. Some got involved big time but the number of retweets, for example, from those groups was very small.
This blog is coming up for its fifth birthday. I had two reasons for starting it back in 2012. Firstly, I like writing and I realised that by being named in our court case, a space had been created to indulge my love for writing. Completely selfish motive. But secondly, the one thing I’ve never been able to reconcile about Steven’s unlawful detention (and I’ve had enough therapy in the past six years to try and get a handle on it) is the way Hillingdon turned Steven into a non human. At best, they made him an object. At worst, they made him an animal. As that is the person I love with all my heart, I’ve never got over the sadness and injustice of that. So my second motive was to redress the balance and relentlessly tell the normal, everyday stories of our lives.
I guess I approached the 7 Days of Action stories in the same way. I wanted the humaness of the seven dudes to come alive in a way that would prevent the reader from “othering” them. I didn’t want the dudes to be seen as case studies but as normal human beings caught up in unspeakable situations. And perhaps that was the problem of the non engagement of the professionals with the campaign.
Of course, the main reason may have been that we adopted a completely arse about face way of going about it. Not a day goes by without me seeing a call out by some professional group in social care for the input of “experts by experience”. Co-production, working parties, vanguard’s all calling for service users and their families to enter the professionals’ world and share their experience. With the campaign, we were doing the opposite and saying, “Come into our world. Come and co-produce with us”. I suspect that may have been a bridge too far.
Perhaps it was the tone. Someone told me that the campaign “exploded like a ball of fury”. Did it? I didn’t see it that way but if it did, perhaps it scared people off. The fury may have alienated the people we need to bring about change.
One thing that did strike me was the little Stories impacted as much as the big stories: there wasn’t much differentiation. Once you get the human in the stories, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a story about someone in an isolation cell & being fed through a hatch and a story about someone being prevented from watching their Fawlty Towers DVD. I experienced this within me during the campaign. When I watched the campaign film, Stuck In The System, I watched horrific stories of prone restraint, over medication, even death. But the thing that had me howling like a baby was the throwaway line from one mother that it would be “lovely” if her detained son could “just pop in for a cup of tea”.
I think what I’m saying is that whatever the story, it was asking people to take some sort of ownership for the part they are playing in the horror. It’s a big ask. I think it’s too much of an ask. I’m not interested in blame at all. That gets us nowhere. But I guess, if you work in the system and something you have done may be a reason why that dude can’t pop home for a cup of tea, that becomes too difficult to engage with. Only human stories can bring about an engagement but the more human they get, the more they run the risk of complete disengagement.
Yesterday, I was waiting at the bus stop as all these thoughts and questions were running round my brain. Who should drive past but the manager of the Unit where Steven was held for a year. I used to like him. I could imagine him being the sort of person I’d like to go out for a drink with. But back then, I started to see his weakness. I understand that perfectly human weakness but it was a weakness that was going to result in my son being sent 300 miles away for the rest of his life. I used to have a fantasy that I would take the manager out for a drink and get answers to all the questions I have; “Why did you let it happen?” “Why didn’t you speak up?” That fantasy died a long time ago because I can see that the sub text to those questions is, “Why, as a man, as a human being did you sell yourself out?” And that is a grossly unfair question to ask anyone, no matter how truthful it is.
I think that’s what happened with the campaign. The little Stories in Little places, inadvertently exposed that truth.