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Monday, 9 December 2013

Return to Work Bucket List


In an attempt to stem the dread surrounding the imminent end of Mat Leave, I am endeavouring to cheer myself up and pull together a "Return to Work Bucket List" to give myself lots of things to look forward to both before and after returning and to distract me from the transition.

Here is what is on my list already:
1. Celebrate first christmas with little man and start some new family traditions
2. Plan little man's first birthday party
3. Attend a "Bach to Baby" concert
4. Go "Tumble in the Jungle " soft play before little man is 12 months old
5. Go to Discover centre in Stratford
6. Finalise 1st Year photobook
7. Design a baby montage film with music
8. Have a haircut
9. Label all of little man's clothes
10. Bake cakes (for party)
11. Take little man swimming again

I'd welcome any great suggestions from anyone else whether you have been in the same predicament or not. Please help me to stay as positive as possible :)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

"It's better to give than receive" - my experiences of being a World Book Night giver 2012

World Book Night 2012 took place on Monday 23 April 2012 for the second year running. Read on to find out more about what it involves and my own experiences.....

What is WBN?
The aim of this initiative is to share the joys of reading to non or light readers or those who can't afford to buy books. The whole event is a one day giveaway of free books. Its all built around a very simple idea and action - personally passing on a book to someone and thereby sharing the joys of reading and books.

It is all made possible by publishers funding the cost of printing 480,000 books to be given away for free. Just as importantly it relies on the enthusiasm of over 20,000 volunteers putting their names forward to give away one chosen book title (from a selected list).

'Free'? You said 'Free'? Really??

This all sounds like both a mad and brilliant idea......
.....who gives anything away for free anyone? what's the catch?

Why WBN is needed? The context

The fact is there is no catch - the books really are free to give away and for the most praiseworthy of reasons. As highlighted by the press and research, the UK is facing a literacy 'crisis' where one in six people struggle to read or write (source: "Literacy: State of the Nation"). At the same time, adults engaging in literary activity is at all time low where a third of people have not bought a book in the previous 12 months and 34% never read (source: "Book Marketing Limited Study 2005").

People who don't read for whatever reason are potentially putting themselves at a disadvantage in life in terms of their health, well-being, employability and confidence.

Statistics from the National Literacy Trust give food for thought:
  • 22% of men and 30% of women with literacy below entry level 2 live in non-working households
  • 63% of men and 75% of women with very low literacy skills have never received a promotion at work
  • Individuals with poor basic skills are much more likely to report being ‘not at all’ interested in politics (42% for men and 50% of women with poor basic skills compared with 17% for men and 21% for women with good basic skills)
  • Women with low literacy skills are five times more likely than those with average or good literacy skills to be depressed.
In this context, World Book Night is an inspiring iniative which was great to be part of.

How WBN works in practice

An esteemed panel, led by author Tracey Chevalier initially chose a range of 25 book titles to be produced as special WBN editions in 2012. People were then invited to volunteer to give away 24 copies of one title from this selection.

With more applications to be givers, you have to justify where and to whom you intend to pass on the books - this is to ensure that you act in the spirit of the initiative and don't just take the easy option and give them to friends or big readers. I am pleased to say that my application succeeded and about a week before WBN, I proudly collected my chosen book title - "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho from my selected pick up point.

Why give away "The Alchemist"?

Paulo Coelho, who is a Brazilian author likens giving away a book as an expression of the soul. For me this was the essence of why I chose to give away this one title - since it is a thought provoking, uplifting story.

Watch here what Paulo Coelho says about the importance of World Book Night -


My experiences: 1. It's not easy

Passing on books is like sharing a fine wine (or like a flower according to Coelho) which you want to be enjoyed and savoured.

However, it's not as easy as it looks. In my experience, the organisations I initially contacted were very sceptical about the whole idea. (Why are there so many doubting Thomas's, I wonder? Also, I didn't even consider handing out the books in the street - my local area is not high falutin' and I would have felt very exposed).

One idea which I thought might be a great match to WBN aims was to give the books to a local housing association given that people living in social housing accommodation might have less immediate resources available to buy books. (I guess there is some logic there!) Disappointingly, however, the organisation weren't that keen, maybe because they thought it was a sales pitch or because they didn't know where to store the items. (Who knows?). Based on this experience, I think organisations need to be 'warmed up' to the idea a few months in advance and you definitely need a plan of 'attack', so to speak.

My experiences: 2. Finding a suitable home

Changing my approach and undaunted, I then contacted the Enfield Women's Centre, and started my conversation with the immortal words 'Do you love reading?'. I spoke to the wonderfully engaging co-ordinator, who mercy of mercies knew about WBN (they had been the recipients of books last year) and were more than happy to take hold of the copies. I think this is actually an excellent destination for the books given the group's purpose in increasing empowerment, improving mental wellbeing and combating social isolation.

My observations about WBN 2012 and suggestions for future

Compared to 2011 (when I was chosen as a giver but due to logistical problems never received my chosen book titles), the 2012 event was much better organised. For instance, it centred around an improved website with resources and frequently asked questions about the event. I also particularly liked the personalised bookplate with the giver's name, source of the book and a unique reference code to track its travels as it is passed on and read in the future.

In terms of improvements, I'd definitely suggest more advice on how to win over sceptical organisations such as a top tips guide to giving away books based on others positive (and negative) experiences.

I actually think that the WBN giveaway will gain more momentum and interest if there are periodic ongoing events or reminders about the initiative throughout the rest of the year by engaging with pre-identified organisations and finding ways to get them to think WBN is in their organisational interest and they can't do without it. In this way the impetus behind the event won't be lost amid other media, cultural and news agendas.

Despite some minor frustrations, I'm more than ever encouraged to take part next year and pass on the joy of reading to local people in N9.

And finally here's to a brighter future and less scepticism in the world! That's the personal message that the copies of 'The Alchemist' I've had the pleasure to give away will take with them on their journeys into people's lives.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

In praise of rain

raindropsSince the British famously love talking about the weather, that's what I want to do prompted by the wonderful (tongue-in-cheek) stuff we are having! In case you have missed it, April 2012 is officially the wettest April in the UK since records began. This all deeply ironic given that much of the country is faced with a hosepipe ban.

Sitting indoors and mooching about has made all philosophical. In this context it is entirely appropriate to marvel at the wonders of rain as captured by some beautiful poetry and a classic movie:

The Rainy Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Raindrops by Helen H Moore (1921 - 2005)

rain
drops
drip
down
all
day
long.
drip down,
slip down,
splashing out their song.
thunder-crashing
splishing
splashing,
slipping,
dripping,
raining down
their rainy
raindrop
song.

Considering rain in the context of these and other rain poems certainly lifts the spirits and makes you look at the world in a new light!
As Bill Graham, author of the Patterns in Nature blog sums up:

"The rain drop offers layers of beauty. First, the glistening sparkle of reflected light. A sparkle that sometimes dances. A closer look reveals a reflection of the raindrop’s surroundings distorted by its spherical shape. These mesmerizing and addictive designs are abstractions far more beautiful than ones created by the hand of man. And, represented in this beauty is the power of rain. It is a life force required by all living things. It is a shaping force that defines both our earth’s surface and how we live. And, it is a connecting force because water is central to everything."

Maybe, just maybe with these positive pictures in mind, I'll soon be singing in the rain, a la Gene Kelly!
Singing in the Rain movie poster

“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass…it’s about learning how to dance in the rain!” –Vivian Greene

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Business, community, schools and what we can do to make the world a better place

On Wednesday 9 November I attended an inspiring talk delivered by Dame Julia Cleverdon for the Bromsgrove School Foundation Third Annual Lecture in the sumptuous surroundings of The Lansdowne Club in Mayfair, London.

Who is Dame Julia Cleverdon?

To be honest, I was not aware of Dame Julia before this event, which is my fault because she came across excellently as someone of great wisdom, compassion and realism.

For those who are unaware of her, Dame Julia Cleverdon is actually a renowned speaker on corporate responsibility, leadership and career development. She is Vice President of Business in the Community, a movement of 800 top UK companies committed to improving their positive impact on society and is also a Special Adviser to Prince Charles's Charities on responsible business practice. Dame Julia's work at Business in the Community led to her being listed by The Times as one of the 50 most influential women in Britain!

Dame Julia is also Chair of Teach First, which coaches exceptional graduates into effective, inspirational teachers and leaders in all fields. In the last two years Julia has led a review for the Government on Education and Business partnerships and more recently led a three-month Taskforce on Building Stronger Communities in an Economic Downturn.

Additionally, Dame Julia chairs RWE NPower's Corporate Responsiblity Committee and is also a member of Carillion's Sustainability Committee and a Business Adviser to Marie Curie. She is also a Board Trustee for the NCVO and chairs the Newnham College Advisory Board, a Patron of Volunteer Reading Help, the Helena Kennedy Bursary Scheme, and the Teacher Training Awards. She is also an Ambassador of the World Wildlife Fund and a member of the Commonwealth Study Conference Committee.

The world needs more people like her who understand both ordinary people and business and can understand the motivations of the Occupy London protest camp at St Paul's Cathedral (and other protestes worldwide against corporate greed).

Learning from words of wisdom

Dame Julia invited the audience to collectively rewind, pause and fast forward to reflect on what impact we have as a group and as individuals in society. She inspired us to think about what we could do if we could rise our eyes beyond our day to day activities.

Rewind

First we were encouraged to look backwards. There is much that we can learn from studying lessons from the past from both a personal and work point of view (a sentiment I share being a former history student).

One particular example of the insights that we can gain about how people behave, cooperate and inter-relate in business and as leaders, is demonstrated by the experiences of Lord Browne, the former Chief Executive of BP. Lord Browne's memoirs, "Beyond Business" published in 2010 provide a personal, human view of business and leadership. In these memoirs he refers to how his passion and study of history and in particular that of Venice and eighteenth century Venetian prints helped him grow as a businessman and leader. BP during Browne's time at the company could be compared to what was happening in Venice in this period - a hermetically sealed and inward looking society.

At a more personal level, Dame Julia reflected back on her education history - via Camden and then Newham College, Cambridge - which was clearly marked by great inspirational teachers (although careers advice was absolutely hopeless...and often still is to the detriment of many young people).

Pause

Next we were encouraged to pause. In this section of her talk, Julia reflected on her time working in the industrial relations team at British Leyland during the 1970s. The personal experience of working at Leyland absolutely demonstrated that leadership is THE key to making things happen. Across society there is a need for outstanding leaders.

Julia then took time to focus on some simple but effective examples of demonstrating leadership practically and where we all have a part to play (as in the phrase that 'takes a village to raise a child'). Her examples included
  • setting up of a school breakfast club with the involvement of the bakery firm Greggs providing disadvantaged primary school children chance to have healthy, nutritious food and impacting on educational attainment levels.
  • a meeting between a KPMG senior partner and a head teacher which resulted in a twinning arrangement and support between leaders and ultimately led to the Teach First programme.
Fast Forward

Lastly, we looked forward and Julia considered the issue of how do you create great schools. She judged the foundations to be built on a talent and cohort of excellence, building on success and building our being fortunate while also seeking to help those less fortunate.

At was clear at the end that we all could go away and do something - whether it be running a breakfast club, being a mentor, running a training apprentice scheme, being a school governor, volunteering for a 'uniformed' organisation like the CCF or the Scouts who are calling out for adult leaders, offering work experience.

I left the whole event feeling extremely empowered and motivated to do more....and hope that feeling stays for a long time to come.

(See photos of the event at http://www.bromsgrove-school.co.uk/third-foundation-lecture-2011/ and a video at: http://www.youtube.com/bromsgroveschool)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

CPD23 Things Programme in 6 words!

A summary of the CPD23 Things programme of career development learning......

"Keep calm and never stop learning"

Now that's a record -my shortest post ever!



Tuesday, 18 October 2011

CPD23 - Thing 23 - Final Reflections and what next for this blog?

It's impressive how much we've covered throughout the CPD23 Things programme which has involved learning not just about new tools and services but also crucially about ourselves and our impact on others.

Throughout the progamme I've tried to be thorough and reflect as fully as possible on each topic, hence some exxxxxttttreeeeemmeeellllyyyy long blog posts (must surely have won the award for the longest posts!).

Overall, I'm pleased to have kept up my personal commitment and to have seen this through to the end of the programme. Surely that stands for something good!

As a specific result of CPD23 Things: I'm now using LinkedIn and Twitter more, have signed up to Google+, have created my first Prezi presentation, used Screen-o-matic and advised others to do the same, reflected (no stressed) over the concept of 'personal branding' - so there's a lot to answer for.

CPD23 Things has also helped make me feel more engaged with other information professionals (sometimes can feel isolating in my current role).

But is it really an end?

October is now mid-year appraisal review time so seems like an appropriate time for the programme to end.

However, I feel that there is much that CPD23 didn't cover and should have done - for instance, such as accessing information via mobile apps and analysing modern search engines - so potentially there is much that could be covered in a follow up programme.

I'm also quite sure that the CPD23 programme could be rolled out much further to other organisations and sectors. For instance, there is room for a dedicated CPD23 Things programme just for government information professionals.

My personal next steps though, are to follow the suggestions and do a SWOT analsyis which will hopefully make my thoughts clearer on where to go next (really don't know). I'm also still planning to revalidate, for what it's worth!

Now that CPD23 Things has come to an end, the question is should I carry on blogging?
For lots of reasons, the answer is yes. As I am increasingly coming to appreciate, blogging is a great (although scary) form of self-expression and dialogue. Being part of the CPD23 Things programme has felt like a community and I hope to continue with this feeling and sense of support.
In continuing to blog, I want to post meaningful thought provoking posts, so I've been thinking about some future topics to blog about on both personal and work related issues:
  • Government consultations
  • Stakeholder management
  • Preparations for Government Libraries Conference 2012
  • Managers - the good, bad and the ugly
  • Internal communications
  • Alpha.gov.uk project
As writers say, the best advice about writing is to write for your own pleasure first and from that everything else will flow....so onwards and upwards.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Yes, I really want to join a book group!


Do you feel like this?
On Saturday 8 October 2011, as part of the first East London Literature Festival, I attended the Reading Group Conference which took place at the University of East London.

At the event, Dr Roberta Garrett (a Senior Lecturer in Literature and Cultural Studies) considered the value, impact and cultural importance of reading groups. She raised the contraversial question of whether reading groups make a useful contribution to literary culture.

In considering this question, we have to remember several things. First that reading groups are not new and in fact date back to the creation of the novel in the early 18th century. Second, reading groups are not homogenous - they reflect different literary trends, age groups and membership groupings. Reading groups can very broadly be defined into those that meet political or educational needs such as feminist or marxist reading groups and those that are more commercially orientated.

The modern trend in joining a book group is part of this second commerical definition, as demonstrated by the commercial success of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club in the United States (originally set up in 1996) and the equally popular UK equivalent, the Richard and Judy Book Club (set up in 2004).

Like them or not, these groups demonstrated the power of book clubs in relation to publishing. It is estimated that the books featured as part of the Oprah Book Club (70 titles) resulted in an estimated 55 million copies. A prime example is that after featuring Leo Tolstoy's novel "Anna Karenina" as part of the club's selections, the book went to the top of the US bestseller lists. Likewise in the UK, the Richard and Judy Book Club has had an equally powerful effect, so much so that Amanda Ross, the show's producer was listed as the most influential woman in publishing (The Queen of TV Bookclubs Amanda Ross).

Oprah and Richard & Judy are only the tip of the iceberg and it has been estimated that there are around 50,000 book groups in existence in the UK. So why are they so popular?

Roberta Garrett presented various factors for the modern development of reading groups including the end of the price fixing resulting from the Net Book Agreement, the rise of e-commerce, the expansion of graduate and literary education, expansion of literary prize culture.
This is before even touching on some of the most fundamental reasons for book groups:
  • the opportunity to meet others
  • chance to expand our reading experiences
  • it's fun to chat and socialise
The very reasons above are what critics of reading groups find fault in. They dismiss this very social aspect of reading and are inclined to agree with Virgina Woolf's belief that "The pursuit of reading is carried on by private people".

Roberta Garrett highlighted some of the critics of reading groups which primarily seem to focus on a snobbish, elitist view of reading. These critics include D J Taylor or Giles Foden. These criticisms seem to focus on different approach to literary analysis and reviewing which upholds style and technique as the arbiter of judging a book's value.

Reading groups in comparison, by their very nature, are driven by a different agenda. They are more driven to look at context, topics and themes.

Garrett believes that criticism of reading groups is founded on two aspects - class and gender. In terms of gender, it is particularly noticeable that approximately 78% of reviewers in the London Review of Books are male. In comparison, it is estimated that about 69% of book club members are women. Another notable statistic is that 48% of women describe themselves as 'avid readers' compared to only 24% of men.

The presentation offered a really great foundation for a more in depth conference examining the role and power of book groups. Given that the UK's National Reading Group Day took place on 25 June 2011, I personally think there is still room and space for reading groups as part of our reading and literary landscape and there should be more examination of their roles in our society.
The Reading Agency's campaign - National Reading Group Day
Now it's over to you:
  • What is your opinion of reading groups?
  • Are you a literary snob who would never join a book group?
  • If you are a member of a book club what type of member are you and how do you contribute?
  • How do you think reading groups help libraries and reading? 
  • Does the idea of joining a book club conjure up images of a "troop of bored housewives sitting around their local Starbucks weekday mornings after they’ve dropped off their kids at school, killing time together by offering their empty insights on the latest Nicholas Sparks novel"?
  • What books would you recommend for a great book club read?
Join the debate.......