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People matter to MutualGain


I have been working with MutualGain for the last three years and I reflected on my experiences with them while spending time with the team down in London on a ‘Team Development Day’. Susan Richie (our Director) and Andrew Fisher have been such an empowering influence during that time. That influence is both personal to me and to the impact they have had on communities across the U.K.

As a consultant I have played a part in a number of the MutualGain projects, all of which have been positive and uplifting. I have also observed my colleagues as they work on the other programmes, and I have seen the same wonderful impact that they are having. So, I wanted to explore what it is that MutualGain has that makes all this so special for everybody involved.

There is no doubt that the depth of quality in the programmes available helps (link to the new brochure). The experience and knowledge base from all Associates is underpinned by a solid evidence base and academic rigour. But there is also something else that makes MutualGain special – the team itself.

During our staff away day, we had a mix of experienced Associates and some potentially new colleagues.  They came along to listen to our plans and our progress with a view to seeing whether there was a synergy with their ideals and areas of work. As an icebreaker we were all asked to bring with us a book, item or song that we felt captured part of our personality. An interesting experience, and the others had clearly put as much thought into this process and I did.

We have always had a very diverse and interesting cohort of associates but “wow!” it definitely stepped up a level at this event – the variety and breadth of knowledge and experience was exceptional. I am a tenacious note taker – maybe I should stop now, but on days like today it is worth the ink! So back to the physical article or title of a song that represents our personalities.

I know I am a bit weird, but I always feel it is a privilege to hear anybody reflect and bear a small part of their souls.   I have been a little creative here, and I have tried to anonymise the narrative, but I thought it would be interesting to give you all a small flavour of what I heard.

  • While keeping this anonymous, the first presentation was by a colleague who I have a huge amount of respect for. We have met at MutualGain events on numerous occasions, but he has always remained private but quietly confident. So, it was intriguing to hear him present a moving R & B song (Home is where the Hatred is by Esther Phillips). He then describes how the lyrics have motivated him, to remove the ‘hurt and pain’ in communities while being cognitive of his childhood memories of ‘the hot hot summer of 1976’ – I remember that summer very well myself.
  • Gosh – our second speaker was a woman not to be underestimated! A shock of long purple hair and a personality to match! Our speaker presented a 1970s reggae song, ‘Police and Thieves‘ by Junior Murvin, that clearly took her back to a carefree time in her life. The irony was that she has 40 years later gone back to work in the community that she was brought up in. It was so refreshing to hear the raw emotion and appetite to get it right for her community. I know it’s not new, but I still love hearing people focusing on diversity and how we should centre on those common things we share and not our differences – an inspiring individual that we would love to work with.
  • After the Storm’ by various artists – the selection from our next speaker was not a surprise. An uplifting and positive song that reflects the personality of the person. What was inspiring was she was so conscious of the lyrics and her interpretation was that it represented young people making a better life for themselves; simple but true. This colleague spent a lot of time during the day on her feet talking to the team – for a young inexperienced colleague she was so impressive as she spoke with confidence, great sense of humour and totally gets the underpinning principles of MutualGain.
  • Our next speaker presented a Tibetan Manuscript from his time as a Buddhist Monk (yes you read that right). I’m sure I had a look on my face that would have made a perfect ‘gif’ for Twitter. I was engrossed to hear about his experience living for years in a monastery in France. What an interesting character with a passion for humanity and how right he was when he told us that we needed more ‘wisdom’ in our democracy.
  • This was definately the most unique presentation of an article (s) …. ‘a broken hard drive tenderly cradled on an Indian pray mat’. We were told about the perspective that we put so much of ourselves into our computers that we should make sure we care for that memory just like you would a diary. I found myself agreeing and wondered how many memories had been lost on my old computers.
  • Our next speaker admitted that she struggled with this task and sought help from her daughter. So, we got a perspective of a child on a cartoon character that she considered most represented her mum – which was apparently ‘Judy Hop’. Judy was a quiet but tenacious character who had ambitions to ‘better herself’ against the odds. We heard how this member of staff wanted ‘to challenge the system from the inside’ to make life better for others – her daughter had seen her determination and seen the similarities with her favourite cartoon character.
  • A big personality the shared The Pointer Sisters ‘I’m So Excited’ and brandishing a large calculator – because her role in life was always to ‘add value’. She described herself as the ‘mustard on the hotdog’ – telling us that adding value to people/communities is not about money more about what is important to them – interesting!
  • This next person made a real impact on me when we met last year. And her choice of a theatrical song called ‘Defying Gravity’ from the show ‘Wicked’ was a bit of a surprise but very moving when you hear what she has been through recently and how the song gave her strength and changed her; I’m not sure she realises how good she already is. A moving story from a young member of the team that we need to keep in the fold and continue to nurture as she is going to be awesome in life.
  • One of my favourite punk rock anthems presented next ‘Babylon’s Burning’ by The Ruts. Our speaker describes the summer of 1977 as he saw The Ruts live a few days before the lead singer dies. Memorable for him for a number of reasons, but interestingly as he recalls being a police officer working in a challenging and turbulent area of Liverpool, Babylon was a contemptuous term used for the local ‘police’. He now uses all that experience to work with citizens across the country.
  • Sticking with the cops & robbers theme we had ‘A Beautiful Mess’ by Jason Mraz. We got a passionate and rousing oratory on an approach to building social capital and democracy. I loved the acknowledgement that democracy is ‘messy,’ working with communities can be ‘messy’ and we have to learn to love some of that chaos. I am intrigued to hear an insight to a challenging early adulthood and how she received advice from a ‘stranger’ that influenced the rest of her life . . . . I want to know what that advice was!

For my contribution, I brought my favourite ‘go to’ novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressel. I rarely recommend a book to people as I always think it’s very personal, but for anybody interested in the struggle for those that lack opportunity and their frustrations with the greed and dishonesty of capitalism – this is the book for you. I loved my childhood, but I came from a community with low expectations and few opportunities, and this book gave me hope and made me force myself out of the ‘jungle’. However, it also made me reflect on those left behind that had immense talent and possibilities. That has had a lasting impact on my approach to life.

So, there it is, a sneaky look at some of the diverse and interesting people behind the scenes at MutualGain. Each person comes with a genuine appetite to get it right for our communities, and there is a diversity, and depth of experience that helps us to understand different generations and sections of our community. This feels like the perfect storm and it is exciting to be involved with what feels like a ‘movement’ to empower organisations and communities for the mutual benefit of all.

Written boy Brian Roberts BSc (Hons)
August 2019