For some time now the things I have done within my working day but not directly related to the IT work I do generally have been more rewarding. I feel useful in my union work and have been part of setting up and participating in committees at a national level within this part of my day. I also serve on two workplace committees locally, something my line manager sees as interfering with my day job. I find this a little ironic since I would have thought being part of university administration and governance would be seen as a very integral part of the day job. I do it anyway which says much about my relationship with my line manager as anything. One of the committees looks at funding worthy schemes in the local community with a sum of money made available for such purposes by the university following the savings they had made using a tax loophole that they were going to pocket until we got wind of it! I could choose to see the amount of money as small in comparison to the university’s turnover or even the amount of money they deducted from staff following our day’s strike in November but it would be churlish and a disservice to the causes not to try to make sure the money is well-spent and furthers the inclusion of disenfranchised members of local society.

We fund two particular schemes within two of the most deprived areas of the town (the town has 4 out of the top 10 most deprived wards in the county) these provide drop in centres for people to access internet, legal help, meet the local fuzz and just have someone to talk to. This is done almost exclusively through the funding of the council and donations such as ours but would not function without a truly astonishing level of work by the people, or sometimes person, running the schemes. We also receive bids for up to £1000 from a variety of projects from around the borough. It is often difficult to whittle it down to within the amount of money that we have available and it is quite a responsibility to know that you control the well-being of such causes for a period of time. Sometimes schemes such as chairs for a village hall or money for groups that are somewhat niche and already well-served, like scouts for example, or where there are other parties who could and should be more active, may have to be given only a portion of or no money if it enables the schemes that are unlikely to receive little external help. A decision of whether able-bodied people have somewhere nicer to sit juxtaposed with funding a project getting teenagers off the streets and into groups where they can learn and be given opportunities for wider involvement is a bit of a no-brainer, at least in my mind. Fortunately in other cases we are able to give all the requested money to a project that is clearly going to make a tangible difference. Today I got to witness one of these.

Music therapy is something I have been aware of for a while, in fact I knew someone from college who had gone into this field, but whilst on paper it looks clearly laudable and valuable you cannot really get a feel for it or the difference it can make. As I had made the case for the funding of the scheme at the committee meeting I was dispatched to hand over the cheque and do the publicity bit. No big Comic Relief style cheque in this instance but one no less important. Visiting a very grateful centre armed with some funding to help them they invited me to stay for the morning session. I was only too pleased to grasp an opportunity not to have to return to the office and I thought it might also be interesting and valuable to report back on what our donation was going to be used for. I do not find it terribly easy to know how to sit with people that have in some cases little and in some cases no standard method of social interaction, you feel a bit of a spare part and ill-equipped to be of any use. You also don’t want to disrupt the equilibrium or the routine of something they clearly look forward to. It is not a question of not wanting to be there it is one of not wanting your presence to be a negative factor. For the majority structured linguistic verbal and written communication are their only ways of being understood and in truth I’m very often not especially at home with new people regardless of the group or the location, it usually results in my saying nothing or babbling incessantly. However structure in this way is a very subjective concept it just means parameters that we acknowledge and are comfortable working within. It is easy in this sort of context to see just how alike we are with all people regardless of their personalities, our diversity is what makes us interesting but sometimes it can make it a barrier to communication. I might be interested to know someone from Outer Mongolia but if neither of us can speak one another’s language then we have to look for other methods of communication and recognition and the same is true for those with physical and mental conditions that make their communication less conventional.

The more enthusiastic participants to a great extent remedy your passiveness and any unease by engaging using the instruments they have and at times singing loudly. The structure of the sessions involves introduction of each member of the group to one another followed by free play and one-to-one attention and assistance to each in turn and at the end a group farewell focused on each individual member so that all feel they have their own personal time as well as that within the group. I was included in the welcome and farewell songs and acknowledged and made to sing during the session and felt only the embarrassment I have felt in many such team-building exercises! Only in this case people were pleased to see me. It is a stimulating environment for them, you can see this in their engagement and each has their own way of expressing some form of enjoyment, some interact directly with the session leader and even those of us observing, others are intent on their instruments but can replicate pitch showing capacity to listen, comprehend and an ability to reproduce, something many people would struggle with. I am told that some of the current group have been together for 3 years whilst one is quite new but this friendly atmosphere is evidently conducive to relaxing and being part of things and some beam from ear to ear for the entire session, it is an infectious pleasure.

At the end of the session one young man who had taken very little open part in the session said “no” very loudly and forcibly when told it was time to sing the farewell song to him. I found myself somewhat disappointed too, and this was not related to the fact that I had to return to work. I can see how leading such a session must be a challenging but so rewarding a job, it will be highlighted every day what a difference you make to people’s lives and how you are able to get through to someone who would otherwise be locked within their own world. We are pack animals, we work together, protect each other and have something to learn from each member of those around us. The simple unadulterated fun that this group demonstrated shows me how much we get bogged down in daily crap and fail to spend any time just appreciating other people’s company and making music or conversation with them, being glad that we are here is something we forget and showing others we are glad they are here is perhaps an action we should communicate a great deal more often. So who is it that really lacks the capability to express themselves…?

Song Of The Day ~ Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter