Radical Visions Podcast: Episode 1

Simon's Story - Out Now!

Welcome to the first of the blogs that will accompany the Radical Visions for Social Care Podcast.

Listen on Spotify: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/rvsc/episodes/Episode-1---Simons-Story-e2fpftt

Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/63-osQEWXpI

In today's very first episode we met with Simon Duffy, President of Citizen Network OSK and someone who has worked with John and Frances for many years. In this blog he tells us about his story, his family background, his university experiences and his early career.

My family - the Duffys – are kind of Manchester-Irish. They came from Donegal, originally, but I’ve never had the chance to get back to Ireland and get to know it particularly well. I've lived in various parts of the North of England, and spent the longest time in Durham. I've got two sisters, Ruth who lives in Italy now, and Jenny who lives in France. My dad lives in France and my mum lives in Ludlow, so I'm the only one who's stayed in the North, everybody else has left and I guess but maybe our Irish roots have something to do with that; if you look up Duffy in some dictionary it says ‘inveterate Tinker’.

My name's quite complicated because technically I'm ‘John Simon’ Duffy on my baptismal and birth certificate. All the Duffy eldest Sons were called John but as a result you are then known by your middle name so I'm ‘Simon John’. It's been a very complicated thing in life knowing what to do with the ‘John’!

My main influences: being a Christian: I’ve felt a belief in God from a very young age. I don't make much fuss about it (rightly or wrongly), but that’s the kind of ongoing bedrock of a lot of things for me. My family were a big influence: I loved my family and my grandparents on both sides and I inherited a strong sense of moral values from those roots. I loved where I came from. I was always genuinely interested in ideas. I know it sounds a bit weird but when I was at school I started reading Machiavelli. I wasn’t so interested in his most famous book, The Prince, which is how to manipulate power, but I was fascinated by his book: The Discourses, which is actually an account of how to create a community of citizens in the context of early Renaissance Italy. It asks questions like “What is a just society?” “How should people live together?” I suppose another a big influence on me was, thinking about things like the Holocaust and the evil human beings have done. I’m still shocked by the level of evil that human beings have unleashed on the world and especially by our unwillingness to even think about why we did those things. And so those are the constant threads that keep weaving around my brain at a value-level.

As a young boy I’d dreamt of being very involved in politics and, in our broken society, the way you do that is to go to Oxford to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics, then join a political party. I didn’t make it through the interviews to get into Oxford, but my 2nd choice was Edinburgh. I’d been to the Edinburgh Festival when I was younger so I kind of thought “Oh that'd be a really cool place to go”! Edinburgh had a good reputation for those subjects and I had a lovely time there, partly because, as an Englishman you get to do four years instead of three, you get an MA, and actually the style of teaching particularly at that time was very engaging, very personal. I had some lovely teachers in the philosophy and politics department. I left University having enjoyed academia but feeling like I needed to do something real, with no sense of what that was at all. I have a very strong memory of standing in the David Hume tower. My favourite Professor had just suggested that I go to UCLA in America and do a PhD. I just stood there and thought, "That sounds good but is that my vision of myself? Wouldn't that just consume you and then what kind of philosopher would you be?"

So I ended up going to London with no job, and had to hide from the landlord in a cupboard at one point because I wasn’t supposed to be living in the flat. I'd tried to get jobs but in 1987 the jobs that were on offer were like "Management Accountant with Arthur Anderson" and you'd apply and at the interview they would ask “What's your motivation?”. I think at that point you’re meant to say, “I want to earn lots of money!” But I think they could tell that I had no motivation to work for a firm of Chartered Accountants or Management Consultants, it just didn't interest me, but I didn't really know what I did want to do. We put so much pressure we put on kids to know stuff that they can't possibly know so young.

At university I’d done one of those things where you put your details into a computer and it tells you what job you should do, and because I was quite good at maths and things it did say I should be a Chartered Accountant or something. But after a few months of being in the real world in London I did those things again and they said I should be a primary school teacher or Social Worker. Maybe I am some strange mixture of primary school teacher and accountant, I don't know. I ended up working at the Natural History Museum, first of all packing plastic dinosaurs, and then, one day was leafing through these career manuals that you used to get before the internet. I came across Public Sector Management and the idea of becoming an ‘NHS General Manager’. I applied to that and miraculously got on. It was a really cool programme because a lot of the emphasis was on collaboration, about understanding organisations, about trying to think about what your real impact was.

During that training scheme I was shifted from London to Eastbourne, about as far physically away from where I really wanted to be as could be imagined. I visited an institution called Leighton Lodge and everything for me flipped around that day. I’d got to the age of 23 and I'd never met any folk like this ever. There they were, in basically a kind of modern form of hell that I had no experience of either. At the end of my training scheme I got a secondment to Southwark Consortium [later Choice Support]: an organisation that was a very early pioneer of community care and deinstitutionalisation. I spent the next five years of my working life there, working with Steven Rose – who steered the organisation through a number of difficult periods. It was also the first place I met John. In around 1993, as the profile of our organisation was beginning to grow, John came down with a Strathclyde Regional Councillor in tow to learn more about what we were doing.

At that time I was also working with Peter Kinsella who’d just started this Supported Living campaign when he was working with the NDT [National Development Team] as it was called then.

I met my wife Nicola, at my best friend Neil's wedding, up in Scotland. We met, we fell in love, dated from a distance and got married within a few months and Nicola (in her madness) moved down to London. We'd only met, I think about 13 times when we got married.

Then I secured a Harkness Fellowship opportunity, really off the back of some of the innovations that we'd been doing in Southwark. This was a fantastic opportunity. I gave up my job in London and travelled to Denver, where I went to school with two kids; Hayley and Danny. Primarily the plan was to learn about inclusive education. I had this notion that we would achieve inclusion through inclusive education but partially I've started to think education doesn't make much sense the way we do it. I ended up thinking “what are we trying to include people in?” “Are we including people in something good and functional, or are we including them in something that’s a bit broken and mad?”. I also spent a lot of time writing and thinking about the welfare state, disability, and eugenics. It was a chance to deepen my understanding what lay behind the inclusion movement. I was very lucky to meet John O'Brien when I was working in London and then to do things like the PATH training thing. I think the very first public training was at the TASH conference in Atlanta in 1994, and I just happened to be there with Nicola and so very early on I’d had that opportunity to learn directly from John and others who were really deeply immersed in that different way of thinking about planning and training. This was very useful for everything that came afterwards.

In 1995 Nicola and I were walking around a lake in America thinking about what we could do next. I knew I didn't want to go back to London but we didn't really know where we wanted to go but just said “We've both had good experiences of Edinburgh, let's move to Edinburgh!” Nicola's family were in Perthshire, so with no job or anything we just returned back in the summer of 1995, initially staying them. We just turned up not really knowing anybody, trying to make connections. I’d met Andy Smith through the work I'd done with Peter Kinsella so I set up a meeting with him and he told me about the Person-Centered Planning course that Scottish Human Services were just about to start. I joined that as a kind of co-trainer. I did some practical planning work with Frances as a part of that course.

One of the key lessons I tried to share as part of that course was that planning tools are only tools. They can be incredibly useful, especially when the moment is right, when people are calling for it or have have agreed to it. It can become an important step in their own thinking about their future. But planning can be disrespectful and a bit manipulative when it is used as an unwanted intervention by professionals into people's lives.

After this, I dreamt that the path I wanted to follow was to help close the hospitals and then set up a service provider. But I met with John, who was heading up the deinstitutionalisation process at Lennox Castle for Greater Glasgow Health Board. He told me that I was basically too late and had missed all the jobs closing the hospitals, but that they were definitely needing a service provider. I’d originally proposed doing something a bit ‘brokeragey’, but after a few months John managed to get some traction for starting a new support organisation. On the 15th of February 1996 he shook my hand and said “yeah we're going to do it.” I've got that on a little list of the key dates in my life; the day that Inclusion Glasgow came into existence, if not yet in any concrete form...

Stay connected to the Radical Visions for Social Care Podcast and blog for more episodes, including more from Simon's story!