The end of March is bringing some big changes into my life as I leave Leeds City Council and begin working for myself.
I've been spending a bit of time reflecting back on my past nine years as Member Development Officer. I've loved this job (hence the nine years) so thought - in true Big Brother style - I would share the 'best bits'. So here, in no particular order are my top 5 favourite moments in the job:
1. Baptism of Fire! (New Members' Induction, 2004)
The 2004 elections brought some pretty significant changes to Leeds City Council - 26 seats changed hands, resulting in a massive influx of new councillors. I had only started the job in January, so inducting and supporting all these new faces was a major project and very daunting. During all this, control of the Council changed from Labour to the 'rainbow' alliance of Conservatives, Lib Dems and Greens, so it was a stressful and turbulent time all round. Steering me through it all was my manager, Alan Theaker, who gave me my first grounding in political awareness. Alan sadly passed away the following year but I'm really grateful to him for showing me the ropes in those early days.
2. Member Development Charter, 2007
In 2005 we set up the very first councillor-led steering group for member learning and development. This cross-party group worked hard to develop a coherent Strategy and training plan for Leeds Members which resulted in us getting the Member Development Charter award. I was chuffed to see the award presented in front of full Council, but what made me most proud was the way that the councillors worked across party lines to get it.
3. 'Total Respect' training, 2010 onwards
I'd always been keen for members to learn about their roles and responsibilities as 'corporate parents' so introduced this programme to newly elected members in 2010. 'Total Respect' is different from usual programmes in that the actual kids who've been through the care system deliver the training. That course was the most powerful session I've been involved in. Three girls shared their feelings, hopes and experiences and helped us to understand exactly how it feels to be in care. It was a real privilege to work with them. And better still, a number of Members went on to take an active role in supporting local looked-after-children as a result.
4. Time to Change, 2012
Another great learning programme, this time on mental health. It was great to work with Tricia Thorpe (Time to Change manager, Leeds) and to hear about her journey from High Royds hospital to recovery. Councillors shared their experiences of mental ill-health too, either as individuals or carers. Volunteers gave up their time to talk to councillors about the reality of living with an often stigmatised or mis-understood condition. It was another great moment that transcended politics.
5. Political Awareness training, 2011 onwards
Out of all the courses I've delivered over the years, I think this one is my favourite. Around 300 staff have attended and had a chance to reflect on and consider their roles within the Council as a political organisation. Bringing a councillor in at the end has provided an opportunity for frank and honest discussion about relationships and how to make them better. I've learnt so much from the members and officers taking part in the course, and also it has been great fun!
So, just a few highlights from the past (almost) decade. I'm sure there's loads I've missed. Not surprisingly my favourite moments have been all about people and learning.
I hope to have as many great moments in the next ten years.