A New Beginning



I shared some reflections on the Covid-19 crisis and the sense I could make of it a few weeks ago. The link is here. This morning has been my first opportunity to reflect, process and think again. As usual, I’ve captured my most recent conversations and experiences have taken me. Would be grateful for further input, challenge, stretch, examples as we move through the storm together….to a better place.

A colleague shared the visual above with me a few months ago, as I prepared to transition to a new role and our team transitioned to a new beginning together. It has been valuable and I’ve come back to it often.

During this Covid-19 crisis, I also find it useful. As I sit here today and try to shift by thinking to a new place once again, I was reminded of it and compelled to focus on the detail of the new beginning phase. I know we’re not there yet. We might still move from ending/letting go, to the neutral zone and back again. But it’s so important that me create time and space to take our thinking into the new beginning now, or we will miss our opportunity to ensure that we don’t just spring back to our old ways.

We have a window right now. If we can lift our heads up and vision it. As the diagram describes, this is a time for new identities, new energy and a new sense of purpose to make change begin to work. The timing of a launch of a new world is critical. Some may react negatively to this post, pointing to the fact we are still in the middle of a crisis. But we can be in it, and imagine a world beyond it at the same time. It’s important that we do.

Key to our leadership and thinking now are some of the points set out below. Let’s explore them together in the coming weeks. 

The New Beginning: Clearly explaining the purpose

Our latest conversations within GM Moving have danced around these words (and others, which feel less right to me this morning). These feel helpful. Of course, this ‘process’ isn’t linear or step by step. We are not on a straight trajectory to recovery. We will dance between these as the circumstances changes. Someone with better graphic design skills than me can redraw it to show that… (please?)

The R's

My reflection is that we have mostly been in the response phase, and still are, in the main. We dance around with re imagining, in our dinner table conversations, our reading, dreaming and in our meetings. We need to make space and time for this now, so that we can quickly move into redesign, recover and building resilience.

The New Beginning: Painting a picture which brings it to life

We need to paint a picture and describe every aspect of life as we re imagine and redesign it. We need to consider all the layers below. We need to paint a picture of our places and spaces, our organisations, our homes, our social worlds and our individual behaviours.

We need to do this together if we are to create culture change for the long term. Top down guidelines have been necessary in the crisis, but how do we shift into a co-design phase now so that we all have the opportunity to imagine and design a new beginning together?

Influences 2020

The New Beginning: Plan and outline the steps and schedule of what will happen to who and when.

These include, but aren’t limited to

  • Spend time now just CAPTURING (not necessarily analysing or coming to a judgement on) what we are seeing, hearing, noticing from a range of different perspectives.
  • Use data and insight from a range of sources so that we can seek to UNDERSTAND changing attitudes, behaviours and perspectives.
  • Look to countries that are ‘ahead’ of us on the curve, to OBSERVING AND LEARNING FROM OTHERS. Notice what is happening as they emerge from lockdown. For example, car sales have grown massively in Wuhan as people have emerged but don’t want to use public transport to get around. What can we do to avoid this response here? There are opportunities with work being done now around the country on pop up bike and walking lanes. This conversation is gathering momentum close to home too. We need to work quickly to redesign the world for active travel as people head back to work and school.
  • Quickly TRANSLATE all this the insight, learning, data and understanding INTO ACTION. Don’t wait for the perfect time, conditions or evidence. This is a time for rapid test and learn, honest and ongoing assessments of what is helping and working, sharing freely what works and having the humility to stop, change, start again, say sorry for what hasn’t worked, if that helps.
  • In that translate, test and learn phase, we need to explore what the potential situation might be for different sectors and parts of the system. For example, for GM Moving’s ambitions, we need to explore the potential situation for the physical activity and sport sector; our leisure trusts, our clubs and community infrastructure. In the VCSE sector more widely, we need to explore and test for the different scenarios as we emerge from lockdown. We need to be proactive in exploring. Let our minds run free about what the world might look like and explore tactics for difference emergence strategies. Our colleagues in GM Active, VCSE leadership group members, colleagues leading Made to Move are already doing this. Conversation and exploration is vital work in this phase, and needs to be recognised and valued as such. It’s important that there are diverse voices and perspectives in these conversations, and we don’t go ‘inward’ in our silos, sectors and bubbles.

The New Beginning: Clearly define the way people can contribute and participate in redesign

This is important all the way through. It began for all of us in immediate response. Because it had to! The best of what has happened over the last month has been people powered. It is evident in the community self help groups, the way that schools are making masks for hospitals, in the way that our teams have mobilised and reimagined their work. Our biggest mistake now would be to put everyone back in their box and tell them to wait while we sort out the new beginning from the top down.

Linden Rowley talked about this in her feedback to the original blog. It’s worth another read. She said:

I am also drawn back to the work of a New Zealand academic, Kevin Clements, who uses the term ‘compassionate communities’ – which place a higher value on trust, equality and welfare than safety and security and that more analytical and political attention should be paid to bottom up strategies (for peace) and how these connect to the long-term structural; prevention (of violence).  He argues that there is more to be achieved from a deeper attention to relational ethics and egalitarian community building than imposed macro-level development initiatives.  So I think the parallel here is about putting the focus of the lens on human relationships and individual and community wellbeing.

I think there are undoubtedly big lessons from this pandemic for how we approach and mobilise around some of our big challenges. The immediately obvious one is of course climate change and the amazing reduction in carbon emissions globally.   But also physical activity and community relations generally.  The other thing that has struck me is about marginalisation – those who are already and those who have become so”.

Let’s unleash that people power; the best of what has been in recent weeks and take that forward with us as we redesign places, spaces, organisations, teams and home lives together, from the start.

This will require us to use our best approaches to meaningful engagement of our families, communities, teams and members.

Reinforce the New Beginning by being consistent, ensuring quick successes, symbolising the new identity.

Our ability to develop and keep constancy of purpose is more important now than ever.

A strength of Greater Manchester has been its clear purpose and the alignment of outcomes for a cleaner, greener, healthier, happier, more productive place to live, work and grow older. It was mid February when we came together to explore how to grow GM Moving, and reaffirmed our sense of shared purpose and what matters. Re-reading this piece about that day feels an age ago and yet still relevant and helpful.

We need to stay consistent and move together towards this, as we re- imagine and redesign, but through a new lens and with a fresh perspective.

If Covid-19 in all its horror is going to serve any purpose for us amidst the pain, suffering and loss, it has to give us the courage to do things differently again. Bolder, more radical moves towards sustainable, healthy, happy communities with inclusive economies and a more equal equitable society.

What Matters

The New Beginning: Celebrating the success that the new era is here

Success isn’t a moment in time. It will be many moments, many changes and many positive outcomes.

We need to shine hundreds and thousands of lights on every decision, behaviour, action and move that takes us towards that stronger, healthier, happier, more resilient new world.

We have seen some of them already and we have shone some lights. Let’s notice them all and keep illuminating.


Also well worth reading this blog from Dave Boulger on a population health response to Covid-19.

And this one from Donna Hall


A final note: what will this take of us as individuals?

I couldn’t write another blog without sharing the three things that have been helping me the most in recent weeks. Because all this responding, re imagining and redesigning, at the same time as we juggle our lives around it and deal with personal struggle and loss is tough.

The first thing I would recommend is our Weathering the Storm podcast with Rene Barrett and Eve Holt. This has saved my sanity over and over again. Please listen to it and share it with your teams.

Secondly, a diagram was shared a couple of weeks ago (no one seems to know who did the orinigal, despite me searching far and wide for someone to credit). It helped me to understand what was going on in my mind a little better and become more conscious and intentional about where I was directing my thoughts. I added a few things to it and Caz Whittle made it look beautiful. I hope it helps you too. Again, this needs to be visualised as a dance between the spaces, rather than a linear journey. But you’ll get the jist.


And finally, something I wrote a long time ago, which I have just reminded myself of. Having written this and processed what was keeping me awake early this morning, I am going to take some of my own advice to myself: Be Kind to your Mind.

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