Change – what does it mean?

Christine 002 business photo (2)Change is constant. If this sounds like a contradiction, well it is! Humankind has always been developing new ways of doing things, whether new medical treatments, new ways of transport, new technology and leading from that the one which has changed our existence irrevocably, the world-wide web. It is estimated by 2020 even the poorest African village will have internet access. Personally I would rather they all had clean water.

We are in danger of losing personal contact with the arrival of Facebook, Twitter and even email. In many office-based locations now we find people at adjoining desks sending emails to each other, instead of speaking. Now, one may say this provides a record of whatever issue needs to be resolved. But research has already shown what we may send as an electronic message will not be the same as it would through talking face to face. Eye to eye contact can, and often does provide an entirely different experience from electronic methods. There is body language to consider. Is it defensive for example with arms folded, deceitful, not looking the other person in the eye. Even a handshake can make a difference to the positive or negative outcome of an issue. On the other hand email, in particular, is a useful change in that it enables communication between people in different locations all over the world.

The recent press “scandals” as well as phone hacking were, in part, caused by the unwise email and Twitter communications. It may sound as if I am being very negative about new technology but I don’t see it that way. If we didn’t have online communication you couldn’t be reading this, but more importantly the change in virtual communication methods enables people to be in touch with each other, wherever they are in the world.

What about other changes? Some things never change. We still have wars over territory, religion and the ownership of natural resources, including oil and gas. This behaviour is, sadly, I believe embedded in the human psyche.

I am a feminist and welcomed the introduction of the contraceptive pill. I wonder, though, if this has not irrevocably changed the natural balance between the two sexes. In one way women have been “freed” to do two full time jobs, raising children, organising households and working on a career outside the home. I’ve always done this but would never say it has been easy.

Tangible positive results do come from change if implemented in a positive manner. For example when I became a magistrate in 1989 in Edinburgh I was disturbed to find there was no training available before you were let loose to judge admittedly lower level crimes and were supposed to reply on advice from the Clerk to the Court. As I was then a member of the Secretary of State’s committee on the appointment of Justices, I managed to get him to agree to my putting together a ten session training programme for new JPs. This change seemed to work very well. A condition of the programme was you had to attend nine out of ten sessions, or start again, or give up! That was the school mistress side of me coming into play.

To end on a more positive note I would like to share with all of you some recent very positive experience of change. I took on the role of Chief Executive of a child care organisation in a poor part of Edinburgh. We were a social enterprise looking after 200 families, with babies from six weeks to after school clubs for primary school children. The local authority gave most families support with fees and we had seven different locations. For the previous five years the organisation had been operated in a rather laissez faire way. Oh dear, then I arrived, full of ideas for change involving everything from food, to live art and music sessions conducted by real artists and musicians. Members of staff were trained to supervise outside play, in all weathers, not previously done and not universally popular even though I obtained private sponsorship for clothes and equipment. We managed to get the Council to donate fresh fruit daily and the children learned about nutrition and helped to plan menus.

The middle managers, who were all women well known to each other rather resented all these changes and ‘extra work’. I won some of them over with one or two champions and support from some of the Board, especially the parents whom I recruited. We formed partnerships with the local schools and used their sports facilities when they were free and started breakfast clubs in schools.

One of the most enjoyable changes I introduced was the Graduation ceremony for children going from us to Primary school. They devised the theme themselves and wanted to be pirates. So we built a pirate ship and all dressed up as pirates (including me, now that was a sight). The children’s names were read out and they literally walked the plank, carefully assisted by staff, and at the bottom I presented them with their scrolls. There was lots more I wanted to do but sadly the money ran out and the organisation is now part of the private sector. I am sure the new owners benefitted from the changes and I certainly enjoyed the experience.

In conclusion, it is clear change is always with us and whilst we can influence only a very small part of our lives and those of others, let’s try and embrace it with confidence and use it for good.

whitwallsChristine Richard has over 25 years’ experience in public life in Scotland in the fields of politics, education, public relations and charity work.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and in 1992 she was made an OBE.

She is currently involved in the group, Changing the Chemistry of Scottish Boards.

She has recently released her first novel, Whitewalls, a contemporary Scottish family saga about the lives of one family with four generations featured.

2 Comments on Change – what does it mean?

  1. I think there is a great lesson in here Christine which is, as you rightly say, that we can only do what we can do. I think that your experience as a magistrate is a good example of that too. I found it difficult to believe when I read your piece that there had been no training for the job! Thank goodness that you had the sense to understand how important that was, not least for justice to be done, no matter the level, to get training implemented.

  2. Such a shame that a social enterprise had to revert to private sector, particularly with Edinburgh becoming a co-operative council and childcare/social care being high on their agenda for co-operative business models

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