#12: Stopped in our Tracks

It’s rare that I stop for somebody in the street.

If a rough sleeper asks me for change, I apologise whilst walking on. When I see someone I know, I might slow down (and even pause to say hi), but even if I love you to bits, I’m often looking for a quick getaway. And if I’m walking past the rows of charity reps on Fargate, I like to be on the phone, or have my headphones in.

More than anything else – a possible sense of self-centredness; the fear of disappointing someone; the fact I actually might be quite busy (even though I sometimes use this line when I’m not) – I pin this down to my anxiety. Not that I have to have anxiety to feel anxious, but the obsessively compulsive worrying of should I have said that? or should I not have said that? or did I come across right? or am I a bad person? (or so on and so on) can often linger with me for hours after the event. Apparently, this is not ‘normal’ – you could’ve fooled me.

So anyway, I’m walking down The Moor, my headphones have just broke, and I’ve just got off the phone (an actual phone call this time) when I make the rare mistake of walking right into the path of a bubbly lanyard-carrier called Tina (pseudonym, ofc). She’s wearing a red Shelter jacket and a bright (if not fragile) smile. Shit. No turning back now.

I tell T8na that I’m running late for a stall in the market, and that I can’t stop – so when she asks me for just 30 seconds, I stop, of course, for something like ten minutes. She was incredibly passionate about resolving the enduring homelessness crisis, and had a cavalcade of stats to back it up. It was, in a nutshell, the perfect pitch; I was shocked when I later discovered that this was only her third day in the job.

Third, and probably last.

Now, I’ve heard some BS sales pitches in my time (“we’ve got another couple ready to sign the contract”; “no spray no lay”, etc.), but when this seemingly brilliant rep told me that she would almost certainly be fired by the end of the day for not signing up the required five-donors-a-day, I wholeheartedly believed her.

I was politely frank with Tina, and told her that signing up to a regular donation was something I wouldn’t feel right in doing unless I had a proper chat with my partner first. CharnĂ© wasn’t with me at the time, but even since we saw I, Daniel Blake two years ago, we had made a joint pledge to do our bit. Alas, life happens, and neither of us can say we’ve managed to do what we set out to back in 2016. Two years on, donating to Shelter may well do a lot to remedy that – but it wasn’t a decision I was going to make alone. We’re a team.

Sadly, in Tina’s team, this result is regarded as a loss. Infact, worse than that: there’ll be no record of Tina’s intervention anywhere, even if me and CharnĂ© do decide to donate as a result – a fact which what spurred me on to write this post today.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Shelter do some fabulous, fabulous work. Quite frankly, they deserve far more backing and support than they already get, so they can help even more people who currently are, or may well soon otherwise be, without a home. But the idea that a person who could leave such an imprint on me, could well be without a job because she “didn’t hit her targets”, is a thought bereft of hope. I was left even more downbeat when, midway through our conversation, two of Tina’s colleagues told her to “hurry up”. It was clear to them that I wouldn’t be signing on the line today, and they “had a train to catch” – or so they said.

How much of our work is judged by hitting targets and checking boxes? In an academy where the Research Excellence Framework (REF) increasingly dictates what work has impact (and what work doesn’t), how can I possibly justify slowly slugging out blog posts that only reach a few dozen readers a time?

It isn’t about that for me. It’s never been about numbers. I said this when I did my first ever community engagement project back in 2014, and I’ll say it again now: if my work inspires just one person to think again, no matter how long that work takes, then utterly regardless of what anyone else says, I can be satisfied in the knowledge that I have played my part in a troubled world.

So, here’s to Tina – the woman who took the time to play her part.

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