Which City?

Friday, 14 December 2012

Homelessness: What's New?

Last night's Panorama on Homelessness started by saying that we were seeing a new kind of homelessness, affecting groups of people who had never been homeless before.

Short memories. When I started as a Housing Adviser in a west London Borough in 1980, it's true many homeless people were poor, young, unemployed, or older, disabled, addicted - the usual stereotypes. 

But others were not - the elderly couple returning from an ex-pat life unable to live with a daughter in her one bedroom flat; the young woman out of work following a car accident and treatment for depression; the family thrown out of their home tied to a pub tenancy which didn't make a profit; a young couple in a bedsit with a toddler and another on the way...

With interest rates at 15%, people camped out for a week to put a deposit on Council houses being sold off to first time buyers, private landlords put people's belongings outside without notice -  these stories were commonplace then  so what's different now?

The scale of mortgage repossessions is higher, because of the post 1980 boost to home buying through the Right to Buy and the extension of mortgages to those on lower incomes before the crash. More people are vulnerable to job losses, frozen incomes and a stagnating market. The volume is greater.

And we talk more about it. I didn't need to watch Panorama last night to know before it ended what had been shown - my friends on Twitter told and reflected on it all. It's good, we all know more, but don't let's pretend it's all that new.

I'm most distressed that we seem to learn nothing in more than 30 years. Eviction is costly and destructive for almost everybody involved, including the banks and mortgage lenders. 

A woman in Dagenham returned to her empty home to find it still languishing - what a waste, she could have been living there, paying interest on the mortgage from her Housing Benefit. By selling now the bank just recovers capital, which is always secure as long as the mortgage is in place and prices keep reasonably stable.

The family with six children had clearly made some mistakes - but they seemed mostly to be about paperwork. Do you make yourself intentionally homeless if you can't face, understand or read a mountain of forms about your benefit, your arrears, your eviction. Of course people are difficult, they're not coping.

With a dad with his pride back, the family had a good prospect of settling down, but not by being passed from hostel to hostel, the kids missing school, the mum lurching between outrage and despair. A very bright girl aged 10, needed to be in school in September to make the most of her potential, and the memories being cast for the younger ones don't bear thinking about.

The investment banker fell furthest, maybe there's some poetic justice in that. Eventually he was safe - let's hope he can get back on his feet, in work, paying taxes and contributing to society in a positive way. Good luck to him.

The hard working, self-employed, clean and tidy middle class family fallen on hard times was an indictment of the government's purported support for hardworking families. These are not the underserving poor, but homelessness takes no prisoners, however upright they might be. Lucky to have family to support them, but unable to find a way out themselves, this is the case that none of us could say, 'It could never happen to me'.

Why can mortgage lenders not be required to reduce payments to interest only, deferring capital until the house can be sold by the owner, allowing them control their destinies?  Interest only payments should then be eligible for benefit, subject to downsizing within 12 months, say, if the cost is beyond the HB cap.

Why not?

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Open Channel Newsletter October 2012


Welcome to The Open Channel
Newsletter October 2012
We are delighted to welcome you to the latest edition of The Open Channel Newsletter.

The Open Channel is a venture borne out of a passion for supporting change and our belief in the strength of people and organisations. Janet Dean and Steve Loraine are senior practitioners in public sector service delivery and work collaboratively with private sector, voluntary and community organisations.  Do contact us to find out how we can assist you to manage your change challenges.

Led by Janet Dean and Steve Loraine, two highly respected and experienced independent public service advisers, The Open Channel has a fresh and highly cost-effective approach to helping you lead and manage change. We understand the challenges you face and appreciate the financial constraints you cope with.
Our approach is based on the view that people and organisations are inherently strong and capable and that supporting your strengths in times of change is a particularly positive and a more sustainable way to lead and manage.
If you are a public body, private service provider, voluntary and community organisation or social enterprise, you will find the services we offer just right for your needs.
We report on our Leadership Development Programme for a County Fire and Rescue Service, where we are using a mixture of executive coaching, action learning and strengths models to develop the leadership capacity of the Service.
Find out how we use the SOAR strategic planning model to assist clients to create appreciative strategies and how this powerful approach to planning can benefit your organisation.
Following publication of the Joseph Rowntree Report on Creating a Dementia Friendly York, The Open Channel is partnering with AESOP Consortium to offer Accelerated Learning Programmes on this topic.
And we offer some reflections on recent experience in helping a local authority review its approach to performance management

We have been working with a County Fire & Rescue Service for a number of months, supporting a team of senior managers in their leadership development as the Service navigates the inevitable and challenging consequences of public services reform and resource cuts.
Our work has involved a series of individual executive coaching sessions and strengths profiling feedback; personal development action planning; action learning group sessions and senior leadership event.
The executive coaching sessions have been set in the context of the demands senior managers face in leading complex change and how a team of managers can work collaboratively, supporting each other to achieve individual and mutual goals.
In addition, the learning set sessions have provided a group setting where the collective talents and strengths of the team are brought to bear on shaping and leading organisational change.
As the individual and group sessions took place, another element was added - the Strengthscope profiling tool. This is a powerful model that provides individuals with a high quality report accurately identifying their top seven strengths in a work setting. With this knowledge, the leaders optimise their strengths through the activities they carry out in their own functions and in combination across corporate, strategic projects.
The feedback from the managers about the value of the coaching has been highly positive and their managers, i.e. the Service’s Principal Officers, have commented on the productive change that both the coaching and action learning have made to the strategic outcomes the team is achieving.
Tellingly, the Service also used the Strengthscope profiles to assist it in making decisions about the reallocation of functions and strategic roles to each manager during a recent service re-alignment. This is the first time we’ve seen the model used in this way to help guide a leadership team in the alignment of its members’ strengths and the Service’s activities. We will encourage the service to share their learning from this innovation when they are ready.

For many years now SWOT has been a popular strategic planning tool for teams and organisations. This model has provided structure and focus to future planning conversations in organisations across all sectors. What’s noticeable though about the model and how it’s used is that, whilst at first sight it’s a 50/50 split between negative/positive elements, in practice we find that the conversations tend to focus overly on the negative elements, i.e. weaknesses and threats and less on the positive elements, i.e. strengths and opportunities. So much so that the proportion of the conversations was towards 75/25% negative/positive, concentrating on problems and deficits, tending to drain energy and lacking a compelling preferred future. 
Now there is an alternative; SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results). SOAR is a strategic planning framework with an approach that focuses on strengths and seeks to understand the whole system by including the voices of all the relevant stakeholders.
Focusing on strengths means that SOAR conversations centre on what an organisation is doing right, what skills could be enhanced and what is compelling to all of those who have a stake in the organisation’s success (and not just its leaders). Also, when you use SOAR, you needn’t abandon SWOT, because SOAR and SWOT have a ‘both/and’ relationship, i.e. SOAR leverages the strengths and opportunities from SWOT as a foundation and then adds Aspirations and Results – the critical connection between our imagination and the innovation of implementation.
We have used SOAR with Boards of Trustees, leadership teams, divisional teams and strategic partnerships. When people use SOAR they see the ‘whole’ and their part in delivering the vision. This is how SOAR creates greater alignment and energy to move quickly to implement strategies.
For more stories about SOAR and how to use it to create and deliver your strategies, then contact Steve Loraine

The Open Channel Newsfeed

Dementia Without Walls Project Report Published
Following a year- long action research project, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published its report ‘Creating a Dementia Friendly York’ this month. Led by Janet Crampton of AESOP Consortium and Janet Dean of The Open Channel, the report was co-authored by AESOP Director Ruth Eley.

Whilst using York as a Case Study, the report draws examples from across the UK and the world to make the case for a dementia friendly approach. Janet Dean’s contribution in developing the Four Cornerstones Model which uses Place, People, Resources and Networks as a way of understanding what communities need to do, can be applied everywhere.

To help local authorities and their community partners across the public sector and in business, culture and the voluntary and community sectors to make fast progress in making dementia friendly communities a reality, AESOP and The Open Channel has developed an Accelerated Learning Programme for senior decision makers. Over the course of six months, participants can combine their own experience with practice from outside and use the Four Cornerstones to develop their local action plans.

At the moment, the Accelerated Learning Programme is being offered to interested pilot authorities who need only fund part of the cost. Please contact Janet Dean if you would like to be considered for the Programme.

Janet has been working on a project for a London Borough advising on Performance Management in Housing and Social Care. Here she reflects on the conversations she has had with staff at all levels in the organisation.
‘When you ask people what Performance Management means to them, there are as many answers as there are people – no wonder it’s hard to find a way of making it meaningful.  Some people think immediately of systems – data in, information out at best. But there is seldom one system; if there are many, they often don’t speak to one another, and if you put in bad data, bad information will come out.
Some people talk about process – who collects what, where it goes, how it is communicated and understood. It is not uncommon to find that processes don’t wire round the whole system, they may go so far and fizzle out. People at the sharp end who are inputting data, sometimes don’t recognise it when it is presented at the top. It’s hard in this case to get everybody to buy into the process.
Others emphasise the culture – are people interested in performance, do they want to improve, and are they genuinely trying to work across the organisation to make it happen. How are service users and the public involved, can they influence performance directly? Are elected members interested in the same issues as people delivering services, and do they all want what customers want?
My feeling is that data and even information (i.e. analysed data) are not going to help without knowledge – this comes when we communicate what is happening, and understand it in the same way. But even then we can find ourselves in the same loop. Improved performance comes from wisdom, learning from our practice, doing more of what is good, what is going well, so that we do less of what is going wrong.
In our experience people often start with what’s going wrong – at The Open Channel, our emphasis on strengths means that we will ask you what is good and help you to understand how to make it even better.’

You can keep up to the minute with The Open Channel through our blogs and Twitter feeds. We engage with our clients and stakeholders at @janetdean and @steveloraine and via Linked-in. Check out the links in this newsletter, visit our blogs or add us to your favourites’ lists via www.theopenchannel.co.uk

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Open Channel Newsletter

If you missed The Open Channel's new format Newsletter last weekend, I've reproduced it here. We would really like to have your feedback on the issues that are challenging you at the moment; if you think we can help, do get in touch.


We are delighted to welcome you to the latest edition of The Open Channel Newsletter. 

The Open Channel was created from the germ of an idea in February 2011. Since then we have launched our website, set up our regular blogs and social media links and delivered services to clients. 

This newsletter brings you quality content on a regular basis. Do contact us to find out how we can assist you to manage your change challenges. 

Find Out More 

If you are a public body, private service provider, voluntary and community delivery organisation or social enterprise, you will find the services we offer just right for your needs. 

Led by Janet Dean and Steve Loraine, two highly respected and experienced independent public service advisers, The Open Channel has a fresh and highly cost-effective approach to helping you lead and manage change. 

Our approach is based on the view that people and organisations are inherently strong and capable and that supporting strengths in times of change is a positive and more sustainable way to lead and manage.


We report on our Leadership Development Programme for Harborough District Council, where we used a mixture of coaching and facilitation techniques to develop the leadership capacity of the Council. 

Find out how we use Action Learning and Appreciative Inquiry with great success and how these approaches can benefit your organisation.

We also update you on our involvement in various new projects. 

Contact Us to Find Out More 


Initially invited to bid for a short intensive programme of support for the Senior Management Team, Janet Dean introduced The Open Channel to Harborough District Council in July 2011. Our involvement has lasted for a year during which the organisation has faced one of the most transformational periods in its history.

Our work has fallen into three phases:

An initial programme of support for a Senior Management Team facing change; we provided three themed workshops, three Action Learning Sets and telephone and Skype coaching for the Chief Executive and six senior colleagues.

In phase two we were commissioned to provide a programme for 30 senior employees including the Senior Management Team. 

Based on Harborough’s Leadership Competencies we delivered four one-day interactive workshops on Managing Change, Leadership, Working with Others and Communication and Strategic Focus.
Between the workshops we facilitated four Action Learning Sets linked to each of the themes, enabling participants to bring practical issues from the workshop to a shared problem solving arena.

Phase three, which uses Appreciative Inquiry to explore leadership themes is focused on the Council’s new Leadership team, which includes senior leadership posts shared with neighbouring local authorities.

This is what participants told us:

‘I felt it gave a common language and a platform from which to challenge (appropriately) others when behaviours could have been better’

‘The Action Learning Sets were the most positive outcome for me and I intend to continue to commit to them.’
‘It introduced me to new concepts with regards to leadership – and I found the appreciative inquiry element particularly interesting.’
‘I feel more confident in my leadership style and the impact I have on those around me.’
‘I found working with others especially useful and I feel now that I have a much better working relationship with colleagues and will be in better position to share issues and problems.’  



Training your people to support one another through Action Learning

Action Learning is a method for developing real-world solutions and the reflective practice skills of employees at all levels through the shared exploration of workplace challenges. It is particularly suitable for people who need support for the difficult leadership and managerial challenges they experience.

At a time when public services are changing rapidly and resources becoming ever scarcer, Action Learning is a cost-effective method for building the capacity and confidence of your key people.

We offer Action Learning on site or through webinar-style meetings. Sets work best with between four and eight people in the group. We not only facilitate the Action Learning; we also transfer skills to the participants enabling them to self-facilitate their sets in the future. In Harborough DC for example, we provided over 20 Action Learning sets through the year. 

Finding your Strength through Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a view of the world which enables organisations and communities to cooperatively explore what is working well, understand their strengths and address challenges based on the best of what is. It provides a balanced approach to change that does not over-concentrate on weakness or failure, as so many other frameworks and models can. 

Our clients tell us this approach really releases energy and enthusiasm through the appreciative conversations stakeholders have, capturing what works well, imagining their future, followed by creating shared goals. The actions focus on harnessing a community or organisation’s productive energy and aiming it at measureable and positive outcomes. Concrete actions, real results and sustainable change are several of the benefits of this approach.

We provided an introduction to AI for Harborough and then used it as an approach in the Workshops, Action Learning Sets and Executive Coaching. 

Elsewhere, Steve has introduced AI to and worked with clients to realise the benefits of AI in Fire and Rescue Services, city Councils, strategic partnerships, voluntary and community bodies and individuals. We will share the stories from these in future issues. 




The Open Channel co-founder Janet Dean has been appointed Chair of Compass UK with effect from the 1st September 2012. Compass UK is a charitable social enterprise which delivers almost £10m of services to families, young people and adults who want to become free of drug and alcohol dependency. Janet’s experience as a commissioner of health and social care, her wide public sector knowledge and extensive networks and her commitment to supporting people to live fulfilling lives will all help Janet in her new role.


You can keep up to the minute with The Open Channel through our blogs and Twitter feeds. We engage with our clients and stakeholders at @janetdean and @steveloraine and via Linked-in.
Check out the links in this newsletter, visit our blogs or add us to your favourites lists via

Friday, 14 September 2012

What's Another Year? A personal and professional look back

I'm always full of ideas; there's plenty I want to talk about. I know I keep putting it off, never making the time to sit down and write. But today I have been shocked to see that it is more than a year since my last post on this blog. I feel like I am emerging from a long - not all dark - tunnel. What has happened in the past year?

September 2011, I know, was busy - a Leadership Development Programme for Harborough District Council for The Open Channel was just gearing up, as was an exciting new project for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation called Dementia Without Walls

In October, I moved across from the Board of Yorkshire and Humber Strategic Health Authority to support North Yorkshire and York PCT as Associate Non-Executive Director in its final 18 months as NHS Reforms began to be implemented. I started another project with Innovations in Dementia looking at Dementia Friendly Communities which was part of the LGA Ageing Well Programme Sheffield Council began the consultation with tenants to decide the future of Sheffield Homes, where I chaired the Board.

In November our daughter was looking intensively universities and we visited Liverpool, Newcastle, London (LSE and Goldsmiths) and Hull to understand their Psychology and Sociology courses and what else they had to offer. The hard decisions about fee levels had already been made, and at Sheffield Hallam University I had just started my term as Deputy Chair when we decided on £8500, just below the £9000 threshold.

In the run up to Christmas, I was busy with all this - some extremely creative and stimulating work, some difficult challenges. Family concerns were uppermost - we hoped our son would get through his degree without further illness, and I heard just before Christmas that my brother's health was deteriorating.

As it happened, in January he was in intensive care fighting pneumonia, a serious alcoholic with advanced cirhossis. I got to know Palma de Mallorca well over the next few months, visiting him in hosptial and a nursing home. I tried to see that experience in such a lovely city as a gift from him, rather than a burden. Charlotte applied to Liverpool, first and second choices.

February, March and April were dominated by my brother and there was mutual support from colleagues experiencing family tragedy whilst trying to work professionally. In particular my friend and colleague Janet Crampton's husband died sooner than expected after his diagnosis of lung cancer, prompting some deep reflection and a bit of crisis management. Sheffield tenants voted to get rid of the ALMO and go back in house, or as some said 'stay with the Council'

We went to Paris for my birthday in early March as we always do, but this time with friends - more joyful but also a bit more stressful! At Easter we rented a flat in Palma's Arab Quarter behind the cathedral and combined visits to my brother with trips to Valdemossa and Soller. Our son and daughter joined us for the Easter weekend and the spectacular if lurid parades.

In early May, whilst birdwatching at Spurn Head, my brother checked out of his nursing home and flew home. Later that month he moved to York. He is chronically ill, but active, cheerful, grateful, which is wonderful. Having survived earlier resits and panics, both our children faced final university and school exams in May. It was a stressful time, but they did it and I was proud of their effort regardless of outcome. At the end of May Dementia without Walls reached a climax with a Sounding Board event in York where our stakeholders gave their robust response to our findings

In June I spent a lot of time finishing fieldwork and writing up, helping my brother to settle in, and supporting our daughter through A levels. The financial position of the PCT was in sharp and public focus, the university's future was less clear at that point, but the waters everywhere were choppy. The Olympic flame started to move around the country, and the rain which followed it tolerated.

By July the LGA work was complete, the Dementia Without Walls report written and The Open Channel was reflecting on the success of Harborough and taking stock for the coming year. Charlotte went off with a friend for a month in Thailand and Tom secured a prestigious JRF paid internship. I was really pleased to have been offered the role of Chair of Compass UK which provides support to help people become free of problems with drugs and alcohol. Based in York, the charity works in London, the Midlands and the North and has a great range of services for young people, adults and families.

We enjoyed the Olympics from the cycling road race to Ellie Simmonds - we had tickets for the Olympic Stadium won in the ballot in 2011 when I used to write a blog. So much has happened in this year, both personal and professional. It's been great to work with brilliant colleagues and friends and to make some new connections - The Velresco Boys (yes we do call you that, you are so young!), Richard Bryan and QA Research and LinkedIn Regeneration Leaders' Group, to which I was introduced by David Marlow of Third Life Economics

It's September again, not a new year, but a new 'term' for many. Charlotte is going to Liverpool tomorrow, Tom two weeks into his internship. I've got a new piece of work with the Jo Webb of Webb Enables, which is a great re-connection, the prospect of some coaching and some facilitation through other networks, and a new Board appointment which I hope to announce soon.

Yet these are hard times for so many people, I see that everywhere, shops are empty again, people live on the streets, welfare reform is looming. This week I have been sad and angry this week about the Liverpool 96 - a blight on our generation. Over this past year I have often felt concerned for my own and my families future, and will continue to do so. But having looked back, I am going to try to be positive and optimistic about the next 12 months. I hope it won't be that long before I blog again.