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Colleagues at the Social Policy Research Unit at The University of York invited me to a workshop – part of their HOPES project which seeks to learn about best practice in supporting older people who need help but are difficult to engage.

Getting there: right time, right place. All information provided by email in good time. Travel by rail – flawless booking at the railway station – extraordinarily inexpensive with a senior citizen’s rail card. First train – Northern Rail – heavily criticised and about to be nationalised. All seats taken but train on time – to Manchester Piccadilly and onto a Trans-Pennine train to York. Booked seat – which I found – but there was a problem in that the plan was for four carriages – and there were only three on the day. People with seats booked in coach D were disappointed and had to find space in A, B or C – along with others who had not arranged a booked seat.

So the beginning of a story or parable of getting things done when success, or simply coping, depends on links across different organisations, all with their ambitions but also constraints and limitations.

I found myself sitting across a table from a young man and younger woman who work together for a company. They were Coach D people – irritated that their foresight had not been rewarded by certainty – but glad enough to have somewhere to sit together. Both had laptops open throughout the journey and worked on them without breaks, though they did talk. The talk was office, and office related gossip and socialising. For the first half of the journey the talk was intense, earnest and personal. Meetings, plans, relationships, costs, dress, pleasure, frustrations: a whole world of what is important – in a world of meetings about stuff and interpersonal attitudes rather than anything practical. He made occasional references to home life. I reflect on a world of offices and meetings and laptops – and in all this people struggling to be themselves.

York station to the university – Taxi – Asian Taxi driver with what I learn is a York accent. He knows the way faultlessly, we see glimpses of the wonderful buildings of the city, smile at the prospect of the House of Lords moving here – But learn of his political view that the House of Lords, as currently constituted, should be replaced. Now finding your way in the maze of grey, flat-roofed buildings which is the University of York was difficult even for this experienced guide. We found a notice with words similar to the title of our desired endpoint. We were helped by a lady who took us part way and pointed to another block – ‘Just go round the end of the building and you will find a door..’ It was not quite that simple, but we got there to a warm welcome.

The workshop included about 30 professionals – researchers and staff of several multidisciplinary teams based in Yorkshire or Lancashire/Cheshire. All lovely people and dedicated to their work in supporting older people who have problems in coping at home. It was impressive and heart-warming to hear them discuss and analyse their approaches to situations which are challenging – Salt of the earth, making best use of experience and flexible resourcefulness to create individual models of care for individuals in need. Disbelief that they are often constrained by management (government) directives that each contact should be limited to a series over six weeks before discharge. For some people it takes six weeks to establish any contact, a basis of trust and the possibility of progress. Mostly they would find a way around this.

Return was with another taxi driver – but he and my first driver are long-term (from school days) friends and had been talking about us. This was more than a job to them. ‘I talk with him more than I talk with my wife’.

Trains back were a bit of a muddle – opting in the end to use tram from Manchester – A good illustration that there are more ways than one to get there.

Lessons from the day: People are making things work despite the fragmented structures they work in. We might do better, but we couldn’t have better people.

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