The other day I was sat at Love Barrow families around the table with everyone and Diane made a witty comment about us Barrovians being “common”. My first reaction, as always was defensive “no we’re not!”. But as I sat listening and thinking I changed my mind-maybe we are common and maybe that’s alright.
Jarvis Cocker was my hero and “Common people” made me feel fiercely proud to be working class. Growing up in poverty leaves a trace of shame. I’d been used to feeling like a fish out of water-a poor working class girl attending a grammar school, became pregnant at 17 and went on to become a social worker, living alongside the families who came to us for help. In those days social justice was a given-everyone knew that the families who came to us were discriminated against. It was explicit and it was what brought us into the profession.
My own family were not political, it was my mother in law who passed on values and wisdom that came from desperate times and I have never forgotten this. As a young parent I was a part of the labour party family in Barrow where I was looked after and learned from good people working together to do their best. The kindness shown to me and the sense of being a part of something important has never left me. Proud and kind people who knew how to stand together and help one another. That fierce feeling again!
Becoming qualified, training, more qualifications, more knowledge, working in services that are set up to serve their own purposes- the helpers on one side and the “helped” on the other. I was one of the “helpers” and this brought status, satisfaction and a salary. It was a comfortable place at times. There is some security in knowing that you are the “professional”, the one who focusses on others problems. It is much easier and more comfortable to look outside one’s self than to look inside.
This artificial separation of “them” and “us” goes against the principles of coproduction that have been such an anchor for Love Barrow families. All the training and qualifications in the world do not teach you how to sit with and really hear another’s pain without blaming or fixing. I have been very lucky to have a number of “wise owls” who keep my feet on the ground and teach me something about how to be myself in relationship to others, to feel held and safe enough to look at what has made me me and how that affects others, particularly those families who seek my assistance. Pat Crittenden’s Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation is fundamental to Love Barrow families. It provides a framework for understanding difficult and concerning family situations without denying the complexity of life and seeks to understand the underlying distress, trauma and loss that motivates behaviour.
I was interested and touched to read Leanne’s blog from New Beginnings. It reminded me of how important the supervisory relationship is and also that there are a number of us that have some responsibility to pass on our own wisdom and learning this way.
Many of us who come into the so- called helping professions are motivated by our own reasons and history. Many of us also have complex lives. Being a foster parent many years ago and now a special guardian provides insight into what it is like to feel frustrated, sad, angry and uncared for by the services that are supposed to be there to help. Like many of the special guardians and adopters that are sharing experiences through twitter I know that what I thought I was setting out to do all those years ago as a foster parent was different to the reality. Two things occur to me here, firstly my need to trust and rely on others to help me to be brave and see what sometimes lies outside of my awareness so that I can change my contribution to my relationship with my child. Secondly a growing awareness and fear of the context that we live in, for services and for us as human beings.
Being Barrovian brings with it a sense of belonging and loyalty. We know who we are, we know that we are isolated and poor and we know that we are a strong community that historically have stood together when needed. Our most vulnerable citizens are being demonised and locked into a cycle of poverty with serious consequences for the future.
It seems to me that now is not the time to bury our heads or stay in the “them and us” mentality. Social justice needs to be back on the agenda, out there, recognising the impact of poverty upon our families, neighbourhood and community. Love Barrow families is feeling a sense of belonging now to a wider community, a group of people who truly believe in what we do and share our values. Surely this is a good thing.
So back to where I started…common people. A few years ago I ran a group in Barrow for parents and children using play therapy. One day my co worker burst into tears witnessing one of the play sessions. She had been overwhelmed by the fierce love, loyalty and protection that shone through between the young mother and her child. She said it taught her that there are some things that money can’t buy. If this is what it means to be common count me in.