I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the last few weeks of political comings and goings exhausting.
Torn between watching avidly as the drama unfolds and wanting to bury my head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening. Finding myself comparing the current situation with fictional programmes and books, as I watch with a sense of disbelief. I feel like I can’t get a grip of what is going on, I feel like I start to understand it only for it to slip from my fingers again.
So, when the opportunity came up to attend the New Frontiers: The Social Sector through Brexit conference, organised by NPC thinks, the Brexit Civil Society Alliance, Lloyds Bank Foundation and 10 GM Partners, I leapt at the chance.
Hoping for a sense of clarity and purpose off I went.
The first session looked at whether the social sector was prepared for Brexit.
We shared the worries we had about the loss of EU funding, the potential slowing down of charity donations at a time of expected rising demand. We reflected on a predicted flood of short-term funding and thought about what we could learn from the campaigners and influencers who got the case for a referendum agreed.
I feel like I can’t get a grip of what is going on, I feel like I start to understand it only for it to slip from my fingers again.
We heard rallying cries about how the sector itself and the leaders within it had been far too quiet. Scared by the difference of being political with a small and big P. We’re a sector known for speaking truth to power, for imagining a better future for those we work alongside, yet at the moment, in many cases, we aren’t helping shape the future of the UK but responding to the chaos in which we find ourselves.
We were challenged to stress-test our organisations to the max and think about the impact of Brexit (with and without a deal) to our organisations and the communities we serve. We were encouraged to think about our resilience planning, not just for ourselves but linked to local authority, or combined authority resilience plans.
As the conference moved on to look at the challenges, threats and opportunities for the sector we started to identify actions we could take:
- Offer solidarity and support to communities who need to heal
- Simultaneously look inward at our own organisational diversity
- Remain mission and vision-led
- Get outside of our networks; listening to understand, not just to hear
In the breakout session, I went to a session on ‘A No-Deal Brexit’ and it became clear that most of us in the room wanted to understand the facts about what this would mean. Amongst complicated discussions about the global supply chain, the intersection between economics and politics and the impact of borders it became clear that the impact of Brexit will be felt differently by different localities, different economic markets and different people.
We aren’t helping shape the future of the UK but responding to the chaos in which we find ourselves.
As a social sector leader, if I can start to understand the impact of Brexit on the people my charity works alongside then I can start to use my position to highlight this impact.
In the final session we looked at how the social sector can help shape a better future for all.
With calls to remember the radical roots of our sector, to embrace the radical and push for the practical and to change the conversation to being about economic justice rather than economic growth. I all of a sudden understood what I could do.
I can try and paint a picture of the post-Brexit Britain and future I want to see and be part of.
One where everyone is surrounded by a circle of safe, healthy and happy relationships.
One where children grow up surrounded by love and care, with enriching relationships with family, friends and classmates.
One where our schools and workplaces demonstrate love and respect.
One where our intimate relationships are a place of safety, a place of joy, a place of partnership.
One where friendships flourish.
One where families are loving and supportive.
A future where relationships are key to the way in which our society works and because those relationships are all safe, healthy and happy then our society is too.
So, whilst Parliament is suspended, Brexit is upon us and the social sector begins to prepare for what may come, I will be focused on contributing to that conversation and building the future I envision as a social leader.
Michelle Hill is CEO at TLC: Talk, Listen, Change —a relationships charity offering a range of programmes & services to help you have safe, healthy, happy relationships.