Building organisational resilience with the Noble Truths during COVID-19

Building organisational resilience with the Noble Truths during COVID-19

Building organisational resilience with the Noble Truths during COVID-19

By Lucy Colwell RN (MH) PhD student CRSJ

I am endlessly curious about the interactions between creativity, children, young people, families, mental health, resilience and social justice and in my roles as a Mental Health Nursing lecturer, PhD student with the Centre of Resilience for Social Justice (CRSJ) and Researcher with the social enterprise Eggtooth, I feel very lucky to have found spaces to consider it all. In this blog, I explore recent goings on in Hastings during COVID-19, and how Eggtooth as an organisation has made a resilient response using the Noble Truths from Resilient Therapy.

Hastings is a medium sized town on the South Coast of England.  As a young person growing up in Hastings in the 00’s, many odds are stacked against you: the odds of achieving educationally, not living in poverty, escaping the impact of violent crime or having an adult in your life die prematurely. Public health England in their 2018 report highlight the reduced adult life expectancy and below average attainment for children in Hastings most deprived areas.

When people talk about resilience, some take a very individual view and in the circumstances described here, would focus on what individual young people can do to overcome these adversities. Eggtooth draw on the work of Boingboing (BB) and the CRSJ to understand resilience through a social justice lens. This means supporting individuals whilst also seeking to address the inequalities and systems which are contributing to the adversity in the first place. This is particularly important when considering COVID-19’s abrupt arrival which brings with it new challenges for children’s mental health. Given the starting point for many young people in Hastings – advice to stay connected, have a routine and tap in to strengths may well be an incompatible match with real world experience. A systemic resilience approach encourages us to consider systems that children live within, with much of the attention in Hastings currently focused on Whole School Approaches. However, with school premises, skateparks, play parks, swimming pools and gyms closed due to COVID-19; social distancing and isolation for many has created challenges  that restrict opportunities for children and young people to build resilience and move towards good mental health.

 An egg tooth is the small, sharp, cranial protuberance used by hatchlings to break or tear through the egg’s surface during hatching. It is also the name of a social enterprise working with children and young people in Hastings, East Sussex who have taken the name in order to represent what their work endeavours to do. 

Eggtooth, the social enterprise, does two things. It offers therapy and facilitates creative activities for children, young people and families. This is done through media/ film, spoken word, outdoor activity, music, performance, counselling, art, peer support and mentoring. Although the people that make up Eggtooth are a collective of diverse individuals coming from a multitude of perspectives there is just one vision, which is to improve the quality of life outcomes for everyone they work with.

Eggtooth are familiar in applying the noble truths of Acceptance, Conserving, Commitment and Enlisting to underpin their work with children and young people. The impact of COVID-19 led us to think more specifically about how the   were used in relation to Eggtooth as an organisation.  This blog post considers Eggtooth’s work between March and June 2020. 

ACCEPTING; How did Eggtooth respond to the news that face to face contact was no longer going to be possible for the children and families that we work with?

Our responses included a range of feelings, described by the Eggtooth team as a combination of going into retreat and attack. In retreat mode, the focus was on our own immediate family members and less on the community and Eggtooth’s work. The attack mode included an upsurge of energy but with a sense of not quite knowing where to put it and a frustration at not being able to share with others. Initial thoughts were that due to the face:face nature of the work it may not be able to continue, however, this shifted as options for working in different ways were explored.

It was just over a week when avenues of communication opened and a sense of not wanting to let people down prompted a discussion of how Eggtooth could to do some things differently. Our team investigated how other parts of the world were impacted by COVID-19, which we saw as a step towards thinking about where we were at in Hastings. Despite some understandable worries about online communication, a digital open meeting was set up and facilitated, which 30 members of the Eggtooth community attended.  In collectively accepting the starting point of needing to do things differently, we were able to move beyond the feelings of retreat and attack and started to purposely plan ahead.

CONSERVING; How did Eggtooth conserve strengths during lockdown?

Working creatively means moving from comfortable places to a less sure footing and this is how Eggtooth has worked for the last eight years. Courage is needed to suggest a creative idea and then to work in collaboration with children, young people and families. For Eggtooth, this is what co-production is. The focus has been to spot what is needed and to build on that which comes through careful and attentive listening. The initial online meeting asked what people thought of their work, what they might like to see happen and to discuss observations of how it felt to work together online.

The Eggtooth team refer constantly to the people that are attracted to the work they do and the value they place in them. This includes people who both receive and deliver support. They describe working relationally as important, which includes work with mentors, local schools, community projects, creative therapists, teachers, academics and artists. Through the process of listening to those who have always worked with them and being open to new ideas, new people stepped forward to contribute. This included creative workers who had been furloughed from regular work.  Words such as ‘unconventional’, ‘robust’ and ‘kind’ used by those at the meeting sat well with how we saw ourselves. This first meeting was pivotal as to how the therapeutic and creative work was able to move forward to include online services. The real-time feedback from people who had worked with us for some time enabled Eggtooth to see the strengths to be conserved: their relational perspective, creativity, experience in co-production and  openness to new ideas and ways forward.

Alongside this, a funding bid that had been submitted some months before turned out to be successful soon after the initial online meeting. For the first time, core members of the team were able to have a salary. This included a participant who has been co-creating projects through Eggtooth since she was 13 and is now 21. The administrative office set up, that was already there meant there was the ability to mobilise new practices such as drawing up new employment contracts and risk assessments for online services.

COMMITMENT; How did Eggtooth demonstrate commitment to children, young people and families?

Ongoing Eggtooth projects include a widening participation project, which means working with underrepresented learners and their supporters, empowering them to access, thrive and succeed in higher education. The group meet on Wednesdays with a widening participation worker from Kings College London and continues to have meetings online, with parents facilitating activities such as cooking the same dish at the same time with online peer support.  It has been so important to keep this connection going so that young people who are already being disproportionately affected by Covid-19, continue to be supported to plan for their future and can consider learning and university as a longer term option for them.

Little Gate Farm is an employment project that works with young people with learning difficulties and autism. When staff there were furloughed, there was already a connection with Eggtooth who were working to coordinate a festival at their working farm. The festival moved online and 13 of the Little Gate young people were able to access online workshops with Eggtooth’s creative teachers and mentors.  This allowed young people to maintain relationships and continue to have a sense of belonging and purpose.

A safe woodland outdoor space was being created with blacksmith and mentor Leigh Dyer. The work carried on throughout lockdown in collaboration with a local bee keeper. This has brought with it a thought-through space, part of which has offered a haven for young people who are living in care and are part of the virtual school created by Eggtooth. This is in addition to work with two young people who have autism and had restrictions on so many of their usual activities. Careful listening and responding to their Mum who was needing to isolate due to vulnerable health status meant a creative mentor and bee-led regular activity.

Incubate – part of Eggtooth’s initiative for supporting spoken word and music talent, continued to facilitate performances online. A collaboration for Stephen Lawrence day brought with it  “To sea or not to see” a co-produced film exploring attitudes to race with young people from Hastings, and Isolation Station Hastings offered another space for young people to show work that has emerged through Eggtooth. A decision by schools not to go ahead with the year 6 transition Summer school was reversed, Eggtooth commitment meant that they were able to respond and arrange alternative summer school activities at short notice.

Enlisting support

Eggtooth pay attention to the nuances of enlisting support and how this works for them. They are mindful of supporting those who may commit to more than can be realistically given and so become detrimental to personal wellbeing. This has been an area of learning for Eggtooth. An awareness has grown that there are gaps in their collective knowledge and skill base, some of which they may be conscious of and others they will not yet know. They have actively encouraged outside influence. However, there is clarity in that that the support needs to fit with the Eggtooth philosophy, one that grows and evolves with their work and does not shy away from being unconventional, robust and kind. They have been able to create links with charity mentors, those with expertise in branding and marketing, and have made the decision to say yes to people with needed skills and knowledge to become part of an advisory board.

How do Eggtooth consider the idea of changing the odds whilst beating the odds?

On reflection, Eggtooth consider how they have worked with the adversity that is COVID-19 and talk about how the focus of their work remains despite the initial odds not being in their favour. The therapists, collaborators and mentors who work freelance have continued to be paid for the work they do. Those approaching Eggtooth to work with them can now book and pay online. There are other tangible changes, several parents have applied to go into higher education following the widening participation project, Incubate’s performance work has increased its reach, new collaborators have joined the crew, meetings are happening in the woods and there is a new appreciation that being unconventional, robust and kind are too strengths to be conserved.

Eggtooth already work with child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), social services and foster care services to offer additional support. They also consider the children and young people who have not had access to the work they do and how the odds for them could be changed. Keeping your community in site is important to Eggtooth, we chat about “looking across rather than up or down… seeing what’s there and appreciating it”. We talk about the idea of having a permanent indoor space for therapy work and activity where safe spaces for a young person to explore their creativity and inner world become as usual as getting your hair cut. Who knows where this vision might go? A culture that seeks to normalise and enjoy creative and therapeutic support for young people.  Why not?

Further thoughts

To appreciate the value of these responses, COVID-19 can be seen as a threat to what was already there. In order to reach a place of acceptance, it is more difficult if structures for communication are reduced or significantly changed such as through social distancing.  In comparison to the rapidity of disasters such as bombings and shootings, COVID-19 – although equal in danger – is slower paced. However, there are parallels that can be drawn. There is an initial “Impact phase” which recognises emotional intensity, where a sense of altruism and rescuing behaviour can be high which alongside social identity can be used to mobilise collective action, thus allowing communities to thrive (Zunin and Meyer 2002, Drury et al 2019). The process can be eased through an acceptance and by responding to each other, which can then create some shared understanding around what can happen next.

In using the Noble truths to think about Eggtooth as an organisation, we see the mechanisms that have enabled our work to continue. There is a commitment towards children and young people, including checking to ensure plans that have been made can be kept – both when experiences are positive and negative. Eggtooth’s sense of social identity encompasses relational values. With communication compromised, relational values that include a search for meaning, learning, listening, courage, trust, risk and well-being may have contributed towards Eggtooths ability to use initial responses to plan their work. (Hyatt and De Ciantis 2012). From this view-point, individuals take responsibility for developing their own potential as well as the quality of relationships with others -a seemingly good fit with ideas of belonging and developing core self as part of resilience therapy (Hart and Blincow 2008).   

Furthermore, children, young people and  families need space for learning and coping which is where Eggtooth’s  therapeutic and creative work continues to hold individuals in mind. Systemic practices also include influences such as good enough housing, transport links and safety within the lives of young people. These need the additional drive of policies that seek to reduce inequalities – which although beyond the scope of a social enterprise working within a neo conservative dominated political structure -need to be intertwined as the resilience revolution continues.

References

Drury J, Carter H, Cocking C, Ntontis E, Tekin Guven S and Amlôt R (2019) Facilitating Collective Psychosocial Resilience in the Public in Emergencies: Twelve Recommendations Based on the Social Identity Approach. Frontiers in Public Health 7:141. DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2019.00141

Hart, Angie , Blincow, Derek and Thomas, Helen(2008) ‘Resilient Therapy: Strategic Therapeutic Engagement with Children in Crisis’, Child Care in Practice, 14: 2, 131 — 145. DOI: 10.1080/13575270701868744

Hyatt, K. and De Ciantis, C. (2012). What’s Important: Understanding and Working with

Values Perspectives. Tucson, AZ: Integral Press.

Zunin, L. M. & Myers, D. (2000).Training Manual for Human Service Workers in Major Disasters. 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services; DHHS Publication No. ADM 90-538. [available online] http://www.mentalhealth.org/publications/allpubs/ADM90-538/tmpreface.asp

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