My family and other superheroes
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John Wade, director at Bromford, explains how there are superheroes living closer than you think and that it’s our job to help them connect.
Gerald Durrell’s book ‘My Family and Other Animals’ is currently being dramatised on TV as ‘The Durrells’. It tells the story of his eccentric family’s adventures on Corfu in the 1930s. I had to study it for my English ‘O’ Level. I loved it. Whenever I’d had enough of revising inorganic chemistry or knife-edge ridges I’d reach for ‘My Family...’ and read it again and again.
One episode that has really stuck with me is Gerald’s birthday. He asks his family whether instead of them choosing his birthday presents, he might suggest the things he would like. In this way they could be sure of not disappointing him with their gifts. He then very cleverly comes up with gift ideas for each of them which he knows are things they are interested in and will get pleasure from seeking out, shopping for or making.
Gerald was already a budding naturalist so everything on his list was to help him follow his own passion… exploring the island and collecting wildlife specimens to study.
From his sister Margo he requested yards of white calico, pins, cotton wool and pints of ether. All stuff he needed to help build his naturalist collection and things he felt sure she could buy from her favourite shops on the island.
To his elder brother Larry (who went on to be a successful writer in his own right) he gave a long list of titles, authors’ names and publishers of all the natural history books he could think of. As long as his list had some sort of literary leaning he felt sure that Larry would approve and apply himself to the search.
Hardest was his ‘out-doorsy’ adventurer brother Leslie. He loved to make things, carry out experiments and explore the coves and inlets near their home in his boat... the Sea Cow. He had to pick his moment carefully but Gerald’s inspired request tapped in to Leslie’s sense of identity and passions. Gerald asked him to build him a boat.
What Gerald had worked out for himself was that people are far more motivated, and far more engaged with something, if it is an activity that interests them... Margo liked to shop; Larry loved hunting out English language books on a Greek island and Leslie loved to make things.
I recently came across a collection of poems by Jonathan Edwards called ‘My Family and Other Superheroes’ it reminded me of the birthday story and something important we are trying to do at Bromford with the Bromford Deal.
It’s so tempting for those of us who provide services... social workers, housing managers, GPs, community workers, health visitors, support workers, bereavement counsellors... to see ourselves as the ones with the gifts; the ones with the solutions. We are the superheroes ready to swoop in and save people. We want to do good and make a difference but too often we see those we seek to help purely in terms of what’s not working in their lives. We focus on the things they can’t do... their failings... their mistakes... their deficits.
This is a world of scarcity where access to our limited supply of superheroes needs to be guarded and rationed through eligibility criteria, targeting and assessments.
But what if we looked at things a different way?
“Start with what you have, with where you are” says Cormac Russell
Imagine if we started by asking people what they could do; what they liked to do; what they enjoyed doing? Imagine if we asked them what gifts and talents they have to share? Imagine if we had a conversation not about where they’ve come from but about where they are going?
Maybe we’d start a very different relationship.
With a better sense of what they already have there will still be things they need. But maybe they don’t have to get these things from a paid professional. Maybe there is someone in their community, just a few doors away, who has a gift to share... Mr Smith next door or Auntie Trish round the corner; David at the allotments or their daughter Gemma.
This is a world of abundance where there are already superheroes living on every street, in every community. Our job is to get to know them and to help them connect.