2021: The Making of a Year or What does not break you, makes you
For us in Community Navigator Services, 2021 was like most people’s: strange and disturbing. The veil of covid-19 hung over us all, curtailing our actions, locking us into our homes, while our interactions both person and profession moved from the physical world to the virtual platform.
We all lost someone close. Although it spared us, there were some worrying moments.
Especially for Clenton who was unlucky enough to catch Covid twice: the second time was very harrowing as he ended up on ICU fighting for his life. I am happy to report he is making a full recovery and is now getting back his “old” self.
It was not all doom and gloom for Clenton in 2021. He was rewarded for his continued work championing citizen rights and voices by coming top of the tree in the Social Care Top 30 Social Care Leadership Award. He did not tell us for several days and was typically self-abasing, commenting that he was not sure why he came out on top…
Naturally, we plied him with questions; here are some with his responses:
- Why do you think you got it?
- I’m not sure, it was a public vote! l’m hoping it was about my honest, humility, and courage to challenge the status quo.
- How do you feel about it?
- I’m absolutely chuffed but it about all the people who have helped and supporting me on this journey and my family and colleagues
- Can you use it to make a difference?
- My aim is to use this award to raise the profile of people who draw on care and support and influence the social care reform, on the kind of solid foundations that only real lived experience can provide, and we so desperately need. There a saying by Daniel Priestly, “Don’t try to be in the spotlight, try to become the spotlight!” — I’m trying to become the spotlight! So people with lived experience and people who draw on care and support, can be heard. Clenton talks about his honesty and humility; as someone who has known him as a friend and a colleague for over 25 years I would add humour to that list. A true champion of the disadvantaged citizen.
As proof of this, Clenton kept remarkably busy in 2021 even though he was twice struck down by Covid-19. He spent a lot of time thinking about new approaches to equity and inequality — and worked incessantly with various groups and on various projects. For example:
- The Social Care Sector COVID-19 Stakeholder Group
- DHSC Lived Experiences Reference Group
- And the DHSC Workforce Race and Equality Standard for Social Care.
I was affected by Covid-19 also, not to the same extent as Clenton, but it still knocked me for six. We isolated early as both myself and my Personal Assistant Mike recognised, we were in a “vulnerable position”. And for some time, we thought we had gotten away with it; unfortunately, somehow it found us and the whole house was affected.
I lost all energy, appetite, and, basically, the will to live. I slept morning, afternoon, and night losing so much weight I was forced to go to hospital — they soon sent me home not being able to cope with my additional support needs. During this time, my poetry and work at CNS were almost non-existent. I virtually stopped functioning.
It was my mental wellbeing that took a greater scarring; looking back, I could not face talking online at all, even to my closest friends. It took me some time to admit this to myself and others.
But, like Clenton, the year was not a complete ‘no hoper’. The lay-off allowed me to reminisce on my schooldays which resulted in publishing a series of blogs on our web site. The story starts here:
Although my poetry output was curtailed in 2021, I feel what I lacked in quantity I made up by improving the quality. When editing Jack could put aside his butcher’s chopper and deftly use his surgeon’s scalpel to reshape my verse.
Jack was the lucky one of the CNS “Three Musketeers” as he managed to swerve the pandemic curve ball. Unfortunately for him, this meant he was left holding the CNS fort! (He would like to apologise to anyone who noticed the downgrade in service…)
Unlike Clenton and I, Jack’s condition/impairment/disability (delete where appropriate) is less visible. However, in some situations, for example, put him in a crowded room (more than six people) and his stammer becomes apparent.
His experience in working with a stammer and overcoming the barriers this throws up resulted in him being interviewed by Central News as part of the Stamma 2021 national campaign, “No Diversity without Dysfluency”.
During these pandemic months, Jack supported many aspects of Stamma’s work: taking calls on the helpline, peer to peer support, writing for the website, reviewing research into stammering, and stammering in the media — and providing research for the Stamma successful campaign to change Apple’s infamous ‘stammering’ emoji. Outside of Stamma, he participated in activist groups exploring stammering and the social model.
As well as all this, collectively, we have managed to keep Better Lives Alliance, our peer support group, going through these difficult and trying times with weekly Zoom meetings. We have continued to provide Pursuit of Confidence workshops for Birmingham City Council, and began Community Circle of Support sessions, also for Birmingham: all done via Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
We continued working with Suzy Harris and Lynda Austin on our joint Community Pathways project via online meeting. This also was restricted by lockdown protocols but hopefully we can kickstart in 2022.
We also developed a leadership course for council drivers which we hope to deliver at Easter — face to face, real people, a real venue! Our first such for two years. We constantly look and work towards further opportunities to build on the building blocks of Social Justice.
I will finish where I began: 2021 was a strange and difficult year, but we emerge from it bruised but not broken, in many ways stronger for the experience.
Here’s to 2022 and beyond being a bright better place for everyone. We at CNS will do all in our power to make it so,
Rob Punton and the CNS Team
_Image Credit: from publicity still “The Three Musketeers ()1921)” source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Three_Musketeers_(1921)_2.jpg_Posted on February 7, 2022