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Your Dreams and The Pot

26 Sep

This time last week I was involved in a Sports Day with the kids at the Retrak centres in Kampala, Uganda.


They enjoyed playing football, pig in the middle, flying kites, volleyball, etc. I had forgotten how much fun it was to just throw a ball and run around.


What I really liked about all of the ‘play’ sessions and activities that the staff put together for centre kids and street kids, is that there was always a more of a relaxed sit-down learning session. This time last week I learned about ‘the pot’.


We all got into a massive circle and we were presented with a traditional clay pot. We were then given a piece of paper each where volunteers, staff and children had to write their dream on. We then started singing and dancing and passing the clay pot round. We dropped, one by one our folded piece of paper/our dream into the pot.


After we had all put our dreams in, we carried on dancing, singing and passing the pot to each other, until a member of staff dropped it and the pot shattered into pieces on the floor.


I was so upset. I was upset that the gorgeous pot had broken. I was upset for the kids that looked upset. I was upset for the member of staff that had dropped it. I felt a sense of impotence and confusion that is quite hard to explain. I was surprised at my feelings and upset at the sadness the kids were feeling when asked to describe their emotions.

broken pot

Little did I know that this had all been planned. Why be upset about the pot? Why focus your energy and emotions on that? What matters are our dreams and our dreams were there, they were fine, they were unbroken. It was an excellent lesson on resilience and not losing focus of what is important and what really counts. The sense of relief and happiness after their explanation was palpable. There was hope and determination in understanding that no matter what is happening around you, no matter whatever might be shattering or falling to pieces, if what you want to reach is clear to you and you are focused and committed, you will get there and achieve your dreams.


group with pot


Don’t be a D**k

25 Sep
It’s been hard to come back to reality and feel that I am not making a substantial difference to lots of people everyday. I was in awe of all the workers there, from the outreach team, talking to the kids on the streets and trying to gain enough trust for them to follow them to the Retrak centre. The nurses that deal with kids with nasty open wounds to potentially having contracted malaria/typhoid. The social workers that try and get to the bottom of any child abuse and explain to them what a ‘bad touch’ is and that ‘no means no’. The list goes on, they were all fabulous and working hard towards Retrak’s mission of ‘No Child Forced to Live on the Street’.
However today I witnessed something that both upset me and gave me some hope and purpose. My colleague Jonathan was walking on the street to the office when he witnessed someone verbally attacking and abusing a homeless woman on Peter Street. The individual was throwing her belongings in the middle of the road and asking her to move on from that pavement. Instead of walking off, Jonathan decided to get involved and urged the individual to stop his aggressiveness and leave. The person was so out of order that the police had to be called out and my colleague waited until they arrived.


This incident reminded me and really brought to life a conversation I had with one of the volunteers Sandhya Sharma. We were talking about coming back to reality, chasing business objectives and not feeling a sense of purpose. She told me that if only we looked after 10 people around us, then the world would instantly be a better place. This is obviously very true and we should all work harder to display more kindness to one another. Or to put it more plainly, just Don’t be a D**k to people! 

You don’t have to raise masses of money or donate if you can’t, you don’t have to give up your job and volunteer for no money. Just be nice. Be nice to those around you. The ripple effect that follows would surprise us all.



This time last week

24 Sep

This time last week I was in Uganda thanks to Retrak and #connectingHRafrica.


I had been looking forward to this moment for the last two years and I had massive FOMO in 2016 and 2017. When I was on the plane there I felt incredibly grateful for all the donations and support I had received over the past few months. My People Director and manager had actively encouraged me to apply and fundraising had not been as hard as I thought it was going to be. Kudos to my very generous friends, family and colleagues. I did it, I was on the plane, I knew what to expect as many people I knew had been on the trip in the previous years, but nothing had quite prepared me for how intense the experience was going to be.
We arrived on Saturday to Jevine Hotel and through dinner I got to find out more about the team that was with me. 10 HR professionals from across the UK, all excited to be making a difference. We were all together on the Sunday visiting Bulamu centre. This is one of Retrak’s centres for girls. Staff and girls gave us a warm welcome, although within the first hour I was brought to tears. First thing we did was an exercise amongst our volunteers: we were split into 3 groups. One group had to tie a balloon on them, one group were told to stay close to the person with the balloon and one group was told to try and pop the balloon. I had happily tied a red balloon to my neck and when group 3 started attacking me, I was left in disbelief that anyone would want to pop my balloon. I just stood there and allowed it to happen. Katrina also had a balloon and within seconds had ran away from the situation predicting that it was going to be bad news and that she had to protect herself and her balloon. It left us thinking that we both had a very different upbringing that left me trusting all people and possibly allowed me to become a bit naive. Katrina, on the other hand was always on the look out for danger and protection in unknown situations. This exercise made us realise what vulnerable children go through, how they are left confused and upset and how people near them are either not protecting them or not doing anything to stop the abusers. It was a simple, but very powerful first exercise. We then started meeting the girls, who one by one introduced themselves to us and shared their dreams and favourite subjects with us. I had to keep reminding myself that all of those girls, from the age of 6 had been subjected to sexual abuse. it was hard to comprehend as they looked and are children. When a 15 year old stood up and wasn’t able to say a word to us, that reminded me of what kind of traumas they are working with. She just stood there with tears in her eyes, looking absolutely petrified. Meeting the psychologists there and finding out about the group therapy and single sessions they do, gives you hope that some of them will move on from what they have suffered and will be able to lead a better life and achieve their dreams.
Next we played with them and whilst at first I was a bit scared of how I would be around a large number of children, spending only few minutes with them reminded me of how much fun it was to be a child and play. And I was pretty good at doing that. On my own or with other children. Some of these girls don’t know how to throw a ball and tell me that they simply don’t know how to play. To see their transformations in only a few hours and how much they were enjoying themselves and running around with kites, was one of the most rewarding things that have happened in my life. They were finally kids again.



They were having fun and grateful to be able to play in a safe environment with adults. The girls were also very keen to dance with me, so I suitably embarrassed myself, creating lots of hilarity amongst them. It was just a brilliant day that left me ecstatic about the impact we made in only a few hours, but deeply angry and upset at adults. How could anyone do that to children? How is this possible? In Kampala, in Uganda, in Milan, in Italy, in Manchester, in England, anywhere in the world… How does child abuse happen? Why? What type of monster would do that?

Monday and the slum walk helped me understand. You hear about slums. You know it’s going to be bad, you know a lot of people are crammed in small spaces and you know it’s going to not be hygienic, however, nothing can prepare you to experience it first hand. It was dirty, it was grim, it felt dangerous and unsafe, but also at the same time it felt bizarrely homely. There was so many kids and toddlers around and you couldn’t have known how far away from their hut or families they were. There were babies looked after by 5 year olds, there was poverty like I have never quite seen before. Small houses with 15 people in them, kids looking for scrap, women cooking, unbearable smells, brothels with children in them, children and young people sniffing jet/aviation fuel, adults working in terrible conditions. Despite the shock of seeing what I saw and being escorted by two armed policemen, I couldn’t stop smiling and interacting with the very amused kids of the slum that followed us round. It was clear that they didn’t see a ‘muzungu’ (white person) everyday. They chanted ‘muzungu’ and quickly the word spread and we had many children and people around us. They know no different, that is their reality and they are still smiling. No point in getting upset or feeling sorry and as we all know, smiles are infectious. Once we left the slums I understood why children can be abused and are abused, when adults and families are living in those conditions. This is what I imagined Manchester to be like after reading ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’ by Engels. When he described the dirt and misery in Ancoats during the Industrial Revolution and how children, if they didn’t die were used in factories at a very young age. We are talking about survival, poverty and no other option but to be trying to survive yourself. So much so that sometimes kids are forced, but also have no choice but to volunteer in activities such as prostitution to help their families or single mums. We met Sonia in the afternoon, in a football pitch. She was an incredible girl, about to turn 18 and thanks to apprenticeship programmes offered by Retrak she was able to start hair dressing, get the tools to do so and stop prostituting to help her mum out. She now has a stable job, speaks amazing English and captains and coaches a girls’ football team. She was a great leader that luckily was able to change her situation and work with the charity to now support other kids and talk to them about the benefits of apprenticeships.



Monday last week was a whirlwind of emotions. From the upset of Sunday to the realisation of how much work there is to do for the charity, how the reality of the situation actually is and the amazing work of the apprenticeship programmes that really help families make a sustainable change. it was truly inspiring and eye opening and I have felt very blessed to be able to witness the situation with my own eyes and come to my own conclusions. It was definitely a powerful start to the trip.

The Power of Values at

4 Nov

I love attending conferences as it is an opportunity not only to learn more, but to realise how much more knowledge and confidence you have around the HR/L&D/OD and Recruitment topics that are being discussed.

The CIPD Annual conference has always been a great opportunity for me to do this. I can look at my progression and knowledge each year and each year learn something new or cement even further what I already know.

At all the HR events I attended in the last couple of years I heard the words ‘values’ and ‘culture’ a lot and was always fascinated by the stories around these. However, until recently, I did not understand how powerful these concepts would be for me and for my organisation.

I was involved in helping articulate its values and we did it in an ‘anything but ordinary’ way. We launched a week-long event called V-Festival (V for Values) in order to involve as many colleagues as possible in a number of different activities to get meaningful feedback and data. If you heard our People Director Ryan Cheyne speak at #cipd15students on 3rd November 2015 you will know all about the bunting and the activities, however if you have missed it, have a look at this interview.

ryan c

It was a truly historic moment for and thanks to an interactive format, live music and by having lots of fun, we discovered what truly glues us together, our DNA and what makes us act like we do. Having those defined will make us work on an even better culture.

But what is culture?

Ryan defined it as something hard to nail down. Something that you can’t touch, but you can definitely feel. Culture is also about the stories. Some might not be true, but they help build the culture of businesses. If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories. If you want to change the culture, change the stories.

Culture is ingrained and developed over time and of course what made so successful over the past 10 years is still important, therefore involving the team in articulating our values and culture was an essential exercise in order to include the past, present and future of Rentalcars. Over 1000 colleagues (out of 1200) took part in the events. Themes were pulled out and by involving everyone in recognising the company’s past and getting excited about our future aspirations. we started our journey to drive cultural change.

no repeats car word cloud

10 years ago was founded and some ‘long for those days’, but the majority look back at the journey with a smile on their face and a sense of achievement. Most see that without the stories and the past we wouldn’t be where we are and we can progress even further by using the same principles, the same ‘know how’ that led us to where we are.

What will keep us on the right track, what will remind us of ‘how we do things around here’ are the values. Values that were relevant then, are relevant now and will be relevant in the future. However much we change, we expand, we grow, values are the glue that will hold us together and allows us to feel as one company. Embedding them now, showing how important they are and how they led us to our success, will make us even more successful and unique.

Our values will make us remember where we have come from, live the present, launch us into the next step of our exciting journey and help us build the right culture to create an amazing place to work.

Rational & Humane Approach to Mental Health

29 Oct

It’s Geek Mental Health Week, so here are a few reflections over the biggest unaddressed health challenge that we are now facing.

mental health

Our approach to mental illness over a number of decades has been based on what I would call the psychiatric model. The model has medicalised mental illness and treated it as something to be dealt with using drug-based therapies.

Is this the right approach for this day and age? Social circumstances are obviously a big factor. It is clear that someone who has been made suddenly unemployed might feel miserable and hopeless as a result. The Greek Ministry of Health reported a 40% increase in deaths from suicide over the same timescale and studies have demonstrated how 1000 deaths here in the UK in 2012 could be specifically attributed to the economic crisis. This has several profound implications. It means that our psychological wellbeing is as much a problem for politicians as for health professionals. And it means we need to think differently about mental health itself. It’s obvious how the economic downturn could affect our mental health. It’s clear that someone who has been made suddenly unemployed might feel miserable and hopeless as a result.

These feelings might be so bad that they begin to interfere with other aspects of that person’s life, and it may be that they would benefit from some kind of professional help and support. But it makes little sense to describe their distress as an illness or a disorder. And we need to apply social and psychological – not medical – solutions. This means focussing on prevention and early intervention, on a ‘life-course approach’ and reducing inequality and tackling stigma.

Biological factors, social factors, circumstantial factors – our learning as human beings – affect us as those external factors impact on the key psychological processes that help us build up our sense of who we are and the way the world works. Good mental health is a consequence of how we make sense of and understand the world, primarily our social world. How we make sense of and understand the world is largely determined by our experiences and upbringing. Mental health services should be designed and commissioned to that end. We should simply drop the language of ‘disorder’ and think about we can help people fulfil their potential and maximise their personal well-being.

A more rational and humane approach

We should be commissioning and delivering much more fully integrated services. We should be linking with Jobcentre Plus employment advisers who are delivering what are effectively wellbeing interventions for people. We should be working with the education services. And we should be working with the physical health services. Employers should be involved as there’s plenty of evidence that interventions aimed at improving people’s well-being, not curing their mental illnesses is productive for employers. Evidence-based psychological therapies will be a key part of this picture, but we need a much more thorough-going psychosocial revolution in mental health care. It’s great that mental health is back in the news; and discussed in more positive terms than ever before. This is an opportunity not only to press for greater understanding and investment in science and care, but also to argue for a more rational and humane approach to the problem.