I had an interesting conversation with Lynne Freildi, an independent researcher, about how the advocates for personal recovery often fail to acknowledge that a people’s capacity to connect is dependent on their having the assets to give them the free time and means to participate. Many in rural areas do not make meetings because they lack the cash for a taxi or bus. Too often we forget having money helps us to participate. Lynne’s frustration is that people can be offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but not the bus fare to get to it. Friedli L with Carlin M (2009) Resilient relationships in the North West: what can the public sector contribute? Manchester: NHS North West http://www.wmrdc.org.uk/silo/files/resilient-relationships-in-the-north-west-1.pdf
I’m also frustrated by the fact that professionals like to tie down services to specifics that can be measured and delivered as activities and ignore the complexity of people’s lives and what matter to them. Public and shared spaces are important because they create the space for conversation, not just with your family and friends, but other people you barely know. Walking the dog generates easy contact with people you don’t know – and it would seem to me that healthy communities exist where people feel safe with the people they barely know.
Too much political energy has become very managerial and completely detached from the things that make life bearable or create opportunities for personal change. Roger Stone, the leader of Rotherham is a politician who knows that children in Rotherham suffer because they lack books – so he set up the ‘imagination library’– his starting point is that people learn when they are given the opportunity to change in a non-patronising environment. I have observed that he is sometimes patronized because he is not focused enough on predictable outcomes. Surely the role of political leaders is to attend to local resilience and well-being.
While most politicians are focusing public funds on individual interventions, such intensive support cannot be a model for developing local well-being across the communities. Another more open model of collaboration is needed if people are to decide themselves when to change their diet, life styles and relationships. Nudging in the right direction through ‘smoking bans’ may help, but ultimately, it is people who find new ways of living. Removing inequalities is as important in this process as is positive thinking or an army of well meaning practitioners.
Being open to diversity is not about ‘letting a 1000 flowers bloom’; a common put-down by policy-makers at the moment – but about letting people work through their own diverse solutions. We need to help create the conditions for well-being and personal resilience and that means attending to inequalities that affect so many people.