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01 — New Role, New Weeknotes

It’s been a pretty intense week for starting a new job. I do want to keep up my Weeknotes though as they help me reflect on what I’ve been doing and I believe working in the open is more important than ever.

It’s time for some new questions though.

What have I been doing this week? — I still want to cover this, as one of the main reasons I started Weeknotes was to bring more visibility to what happens in the world of Foundations and funding.

What has been important this week? — I think this question will help me zoom in on what I’ve prioritised in terms of my time.

What have I learned this week? — It’s always good to draw out learning rather than just document action. Hopefully sometimes the learning will be useful for others too.

And don’t forget to still read the Digital Fund Weeknotes, that the team are continuing over here.

What have I been doing this week?

  • Worked with Dawn (CEO) and Faiza, ( Director of Engagement and Insight) on the development of a small grants programme in relation to the longer-term and the ‘new normal.’
  • Worked with Julia (Senior Head of Knowledge and Learning) to develop a plan around how we do learning in relation to Covid-19, as well as become useful as intelligence gatherers — equipping staff across the UK to do horizon scanning, sensemaking and foresight.
  • Had meetings with different organisations related to the above, like Local Trust, More in Common, and Baljeet Sandhu.
  • Continued to be in touch with many vital and strategic organisations that need to be supported at this time — too many to mention.
  • Hosted a ‘roundtable’ for a group of other Foundations (Nesta, Luminate,, Lankelly Chase, Open Society Foundation) to learn more about what is happening in the sector in relation to digital and an emerging new infrastructure. James and Rebecca joined from Citizens Advice, Laura from With You, and Cat, Dan and Nick from Catalyst.
  • Took part in a ‘roundtable’ hosted by Onward, chaired by James O’Shaughnessy, to generate policy recommendations on the future social fabric of the UK.
  • Joined an ACF ‘roundtable’ with a group of other Trusts and Foundations to talk about ways we can coordinate our efforts
  • Started getting to know my new team.
  • Had my usual set of team meetings and calls.
  • Co-hosted (or kicked off) a space for the team to talk about how they are feeling and coping in their roles at this time — based on this blog.
  • Announced the Foundation Design Lab.
  • Not been answering emails — sorry if I owe you one.

What has been important this week?

This week I had planned to be doing visits to our Birmingham and Cardiff offices, to go and meet some of my new team — who are spread out across the UK. That wasn’t possible of course, so instead I spent the mornings of Wednesday and Thursday doing one-to-one’s with each of them over a screen, and then in the afternoons brought them together as a group to do a mini workshop. There was so much other work to do this week but I was adamant that the one thing I wouldn’t move for anything was this time with the team.

Even though I know the UK Portfolio team a little because the Digital Fund team sits within it, I don’t know many people well. I had designed a set of questions that I sent them in advance and then we used the time together to talk through their answers.

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  • What are the main things you want me to know about you?
  • What are we not drawing on enough in terms of your strengths, skills, interests etc?
  • What would you like to do more of? And less of?
  • What are the changes you want to see in the world? And how do you think they are most likely to happen?
  • What would you like to see the UK Portfolio do more of this year?
  • What would you like to see the UK Portfolio do less of this year?
  • What do you most need from me as the Senior Head of UK Portfolio?
  • Any tips or advice for me in my new role?!

I didn’t use my User Manual For Me because I think that’s more useful when you’re planning in a more practical way how you will work together — this was more about getting to know people.

For the workshop in the afternoon I brought everyone together to do the following —

I drew on a tool from my ORSC practice — Crafting a Relationship Myth —
which is useful when you want to surface and then create a narrative using the myths that a team or organisation is built upon. I asked them to talk about the history of the UK Portfolio up until the present.

I then asked them to use a similar approach for talking about the future — what did they want people to be saying about the UK Portfolio in 5 years time?

We finished by exploring the teams culture and seeing if something different emerged from being in a group rather than what they had each shared with me individually in the morning.

I recorded the Relationship Myths, and the threads of narrative that were created in Birmingham and Cardiff, and once I’ve done Newcastle, Glasgow, Belfast, London and Manchester I’ll be making sense of it as a collective narrative and reflecting it back to the team.

I have to say that after the last two days getting to know the team, even amidst the crisis and complexity of the world, I feel very excited and lucky to be working with such a talented and thoughtful group of people. One of the team described them as a group of ‘misfits’ which really made me feel at home.

What I’ve learnt this week

I’ve spoken to several mental health charities again this week, who laid out some of what they’re seeing at this time.

People who are already accessing NHS mental health services, who tend to have much more serious mental health conditions are seeing some of the NHS provision they’d had available to them being moved to work on the Covid-19 response. In some instances this means people who are still unwell, being discharged from acute awards to make space for Covid-19 patients. As priorities for Crisis in the Community teams also shift to the Covid-19 response those with acute mental health needs are being displaced.

For those people who are not currently in touch with the NHS but do have existing mental health issues like anxiety, OCD and mild depression — they’re experiencing a heightened layer of anxiety. Some of this is because ‘protective factors’ are disappearing e.g grandparents finding momentary joy in hugging their grandchildren, whilst ‘risk factors’ are increasing — worries about money, uncertainties about jobs, fears about domestic abuse etc.

Schools, now closed, were often where lots of young people accessed mental health services and resources, so how will young people’s mental health needs get met now?

In the wider general public group, mental health voluntary sector organisations have seen a surge in demand for information about how to look after yourself and your mental health. One charity I spoke to had seen a 600% increase in traffic to their website in the last week, and some of their specific Covid-19 and mental health materials already have 2 million views.

People will be experiencing things they have never experienced before and as a result there is also likely to be a new cohort of people with mental health issues in the general public.

In the medium term there are likely be new audiences that will need a particular focus —

  • Children and young people
  • NHS workers — so much of what they are witnessing and experiencing is likely to need a trauma response.
  • Grieving families — already we are hearing the most upsetting stories of people not being able to be with their loved ones at the end of life, and in some instances watching those people dying via screens. This is a whole other (and quite new) kind of loss.
  • Workplaces that need to piece themselves back together again.
  • Welfare — those dependent on the state for their income e.g. Universal Credit

In response to all of the above, organisations are trying to set up peer-to-peer support in local communities, increase their phone line support, move services online, expand their capabilities to create new information and content, and extend existing online communities to be available to a wider group of people.

This is all being done as they try and move their own organisations online, so that they are able to work remotely and are able to address new needs, alongside losing lots of revenue — with all charity shops closed, one organisation was going to lose £4 million this year from that alone.

Lastly, I have never done a job before where people have had so many opinions about how that job should be done, but so little curiosity about what people in those roles might have to say. For all those people writing ‘briefings,’ blog posts and tweets about what funders should do — can I suggest that you ask them what they are doing. What they’re thinking, what they’re having to consider, what trade-offs they are aware they are making — and ideally don’t lump us all together as one amorphous blob.

Definitely ask us how we plan to be accountable, but telling us what to do without even knowing what we are doing, feels like a very odd thing.

Run UK Portfolio at National Lottery Community Fund, Co-founder of the Point People, Policy Fellow IIPP, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.

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