Going the first mile

I’ve enjoyed getting to know the Relationships Project recently and joined their Relational Councils network session this week. We share a lot of values, beliefs and practices between the Project and The New System Alliance. A phrase of the Project’s which I particularly liked was that, while most services and leaders value relational work (being human, listening, forming a deeper connection), they tend to describe it as ‘going the extra mile’ when it needs to be the ‘first mile’ in all of our work. This chimed with the way we describe the PTS Response as being ‘relationship-first’ (see the new messages on our updated website): we value and track outcomes, but our learning is that meaningful outcomes follow the right relationship, whereas starting with assessments & goal setting stops that relationship forming, which is self-defeating.

Another speaker at the Relational Councils Network from Kingsley Hall, a community organisation with a long and rich history in East London, said that relational working and community building happens where people laugh together, cry together, or break bread together. That brought to life for me something about a difference between genuinely person-led approaches, which go to where people are and spaces which are meaningful to them, in contrast to so many services which are offered exclusively in offices or “service settings”.

The session was focusing on the cost of living crisis and posed questions including, How can we focus on relationships when someone’s immediate need is cash? I’m often asked a similar question about Mayday’s work with people who facing a crisis like being homelessness. Our approach is not of course a substitute for a roof over your head, or any other kind of crisis response services. But too often, when services get into crisis mode, they park or abandon their relational, strengths-based or person-led thinking, in favour of acting quickly and taking charge. They may move from the places where we feel at home, to those ‘service settings’. The urgency and the under-resourced nature of many of those services creates a powerful impetus to act in that way. But there is a cost to putting someone in the passive role of patient or service user, asked only for ‘compliance’. For people who experience multiple crisis, that cost is cumulative.

We need to stop seeing more human approaches as only feasible in the realm of ‘prevention’ or ‘early intervention’, and start seeing the principles of forming a connection, seeing a whole person, and enabling rather than fixing, as being even more vital at those times in people’s lives where their confidence, independence and capacity for hope may be at its most fragile.


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