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Podcast Season 3: Episode 8 – Darlington Borough Council’s approach to life story work

In this bitesize episode of the Creative Life Story Work podcast, we chat with Martin Webster, Workforce Development Manager at Darlington Borough Council.

In this bitesize episode of the Creative Life Story Work podcast, we chat with Martin Webster, Workforce Development Manager at Darlington Borough Council. He shares some of the feedback he’s received from children, young people and carers, and explains how Darlington is putting a framework in place to help its staff embed a creative approach to life story work.

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Please note that this transcript is auto-generated and therefore will contain some errors and natural pauses in conversation.

DAWN: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Creative Life Story Work podcast, where we explore how to make life story work better for all care experienced children and young people. Creative Life Story Work is an approach which can improve children and young people’s lives and their relationship with others at home and abroad.

It’s based on the Rose model of therapeutic life story work. Every month we’ll explore a different aspect of creative life story work and we’ll give insights into how you can use this approach to help care experienced children and young people make sense of their past and build a brighter future. In this episode, we’re back at the Darlington Extra Conference.

We’re experimenting this month and we’ve got a shorter episode. It’s designed to be more [00:01:00] digestible for busy people on the move, so please do let us know what you think.

We’re going to be talking to Martin Webster. Martin is the Workforce Development Manager at Darlington Borough Council. We’re exploring Why creativity has been so critical to the Darlington approach for life story work.

Martin Webster, welcome to our podcast today. Martin, you are the workforce development manager at Darlington. And I wondered if you would like to describe. Darlington’s approach to life story work.

MARTIN: Okay, thanks Dawn, that’s a bit of a big question. I like

DAWN: a big question.

MARTIN: Um, and thanks for inviting me onto the podcast as well, it’s much appreciated.

Um, so, my kind of work across the local authority people group, the [00:02:00] people directorate, um, Involves working with children, young people, adult services, um, public health, education, commissioning right across the board. So I get a really good view of everything that’s kind of happening across the directorate.

Um, and I guess from a creative life story work and a life story work perspective, we’ve been on a bit of a journey with Darlington, um, and with partners across the Northeast, um, and with Blue Cabin and it’s been a fantastic journey to be part of. Um, our approach from, The whole creative life story work side of things is around making ourselves as sustainable as possible using the support and all of the partnership work that we have with Blue Cabin and with other partners across the board um, to make a fantastic journey for children and young people and to capture their real life story because it’s so important for children and young people to understand who they are, where they are And where they came from as well, and that’s what [00:03:00] we’re trying to do.

DAWN: What would you say the values are that underpin creative life story work in Darlington?

MARTIN: Um, it’s, it’s a pretty simple answer I think to that question because it’s about empowerment, it’s about ownership, it’s about voice, and it’s about children and young people, um, capturing and recognising and identifying.

themselves as an individual, um, and that they are part of, whether it’s their direct family or whether it’s their, the people that support them across the board, um, whether it’s foster carers, whether it’s adopters, it’s really about ensuring that children and young people are heard and are seen, um, and that we do something about that and that we capture their fantastic views and the brilliant things that happen to them and also the things that happen across their lives that have a big impact on them.

Because they need to remember that and they need to take that on board because it forms part of them as an individual.

DAWN: And have you, [00:04:00] can you give us any examples of what some of the children in Darlington say about taking part in creative life story work?

MARTIN: Well I was involved um, At the very beginning of the process, which was during lockdown, and I was in a building called North Lodge in Darlington, and I was the only person in that building during lockdown, and when we started the Creative Life story work, a lot of it was, in fact, all of it was online, and the artists used to drop off their boxes of things to me.

Um, and I was like, Postman Pat, and we had a room next door to our office that was kind of floor to ceiling of these boxes, um, and they were just amazing. I wanted to open them all myself because they look like Christmas presents, and the children and young people, the social workers and the staff that were supporting the children and young people would come around and pick these boxes up and then take them to the children and young people’s house.

And they would open them, um, on the camera with [00:05:00] the artist and go through the activities with the artist. And we got letters from children and young people as part of the process. We got letters from carers, from family members, right across the board. And it was just amazing to hear and to read the content of those letters.

Just about the appreciation of Being able to do something really different to capture their life story. Something really creative, something that was quite innovative and that they’d never done before. Um, I think life story work’s gone on for, for years. Um, and people often kind of create a life story booklet or whatever else it might be or a memory box.

But the innovative approaches that the creative artists took with the children and young people, um, really made a difference to them and it engaged them. And we’re trying to kind of mirror that with our staff across the board in Darlington and help them to be as creative as they can be. And put the structures in place to allow that.

DAWN: One of the partnerships that we both have, or the person that we have a partnership with is Richard Rose. The [00:06:00] model for Creative Life Storywork is based on his model. And I know that some of your social workers are taking his model. And I’m just wondering, um, how this is supporting relational practice in Darlington.

MARTIN: Well, relational practice is our practice methodology across children’s services. Um, and it focuses on, um, the relationship that we have not only with children, young people and families, but the relationship that we have with our partner organizations, with each other. Um, and there’s a little saying that we use, which is about connect before content and how we connect with people.

Um, how we form those relationships initially before we go into the, the specific work that we’re, that we’re doing with them. Because I guess the children, young people and families that we work with often come to us at the most vulnerable time in their lives. Um, and we have that responsibility to work with them through those vulnerable times to help them to become as independent as possible.

Um, across the board really. And we [00:07:00] really have that, um, that emphasis. On the relationship and the work that Richard’s done is just kind of, I mean, I can’t, I can’t praise Richard enough. He’s such a fantastic guy and his methods and his ways of working and his approach and his generosity to share things across the board with our staff and partners and foster carers and adopters and children and young people.

It’s just amazing to see. Um, and Richard’s here at our staff conference today, delivering some training for us. And we’re really, really grateful for. for the work that he does because it fits so intrinsically and so securely and safely with our whole relational approach. It’s about how we work with people and the impact that we can have as practitioners working with families.

I wonder if you

DAWN: wanted also just on that because the other part of Richard’s work that he’s been doing, um, as part of our work with Blue Cabin and Darlington is his role as critical friend, which was something that we haven’t, we hadn’t done before. And I wondered if you had any [00:08:00] reflections on, on that role, uh, which is slightly different to him coming in and delivering training in terms of the approach to the whole of the authority.

MARTIN: Yeah, I think the role of critical friend is It’s really integral, and if you’re not scared of the criticism, if you’re happy to take on board the suggestions, the approaches, and intertwine them into the work that you’re doing, then it just makes a much more informed approach to the work that we’re wanting to do.

We’re um, we’re really kind of focused on our quality assurance approach in Darlington. And Richard helped us, uh, in terms of some of the kind of key elements of what we should be looking for from a, from a QA sort of perspective. How we can engage, um, children and young people and their voice much more in, in our quality assurance work.

Because I suppose that the voice of children and young people is, is hugely important. And we need to make sure that it’s, it’s rooted throughout everything that we do. But to have someone [00:09:00] who can look at things from a slight distance and see the approaches that we have and the things that we do well and then build on them has been, has been fantastic and long may it continue.

I think that, um, the role of a critical friend helps us with our whole system and our whole processes around the quality that we bring to, to life story work and to creative life story work.

DAWN: And finally, what are, what would you say the priorities are? Going forward for life story work in Darlington.

MARTIN: Well, I think from a Darlington sort of perspective, um, we have a real passion for life story work and creative life story work.

We’re really appreciative of all of the work that Blue Cabin are doing with us, um, because they’re our benchmark. They’re the Blue Cabin, um, the people that we look to for support and, um, for, for all elements of how we move forward really effectively. I think from a Darlington side, we are working on making sure our policy is refreshed and it’s in [00:10:00] place because there’s people talk about policy and processes as the boring sort of stuff, but actually it’s your framework.

And if we can get that in place and support our staff to understand these, the expectations, these are the key things. This is where you can get support. This is the resources. These are the tools. These are the techniques making it online and offline, making it face to face and with links to really kind of creative places.

That’s really important to us. So if we can get our frameworks and our, our house in order, which we are doing at the moment, um, then, then that’ll lead to fantastic practice and fantastic practice leads to brilliant outcomes for the children, the young people and the families that we work with. And that’s what we’re all about here in Darlington Borough Council.

DAWN: Thank you, Martin. On that note, enjoy the rest of your conference today. Thank you very

MARTIN: much. Thanks for your time. Cheers.

DAWN: Thank you. Whether you’re a foster carer, someone who has experienced Experience with the care system or you work with children and young people. We hope this episode has given you an [00:11:00] insight into how we can make life story work better for young people and how you can use it in your own practice.

Next month, we’re going to be talking to Richard Rose. We’re considering the role he’s played as a critical friend with Darlington Borough Council. You can find out more about creative life story work on our website, creativelifestorywork. com And you can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter or X as it’s now called at creative LSW, please do get in touch there with any comments or questions as we’d really love to hear from you.

And if your podcast app allows, please do leave us a review as it really helps others to find our show. So until next month, bye for now.

TRAILER: We want people to gain more of an understanding about what it’s like to be care experienced and to have a better understanding of what it actually means. Could creative life story work make a difference to the care experienced children and young [00:12:00] people you work with?

Maybe you’re a social worker. I think we forget at our peril that actually telling a child the story of their early life is one of the most profound uses of social work power that we could ever operate. Perhaps you’re a foster carer. You know, when they say it’s all about the child, it’s not because our experiences, it’s about the carer and the child.

And it just gives a new angle to our relationship because we’re learning about each other together. A creative life story work membership will give you, or your whole team, access to resources, including activities you can use in direct work with children and young people, training with life story work experts, and lots more.

And I think a lot of our children are looking for meaning, looking for, you know, well why is it I feel this way when my You know, my friends don’t. Why is it I get angry internally and my friends don’t? The greatest thing we see is when we are able to say to young people, this [00:13:00] is your story, this is about who you are, and then children towards the end say, it’s not my fault that these things happened, but it is something that I can do something about.

And once we have that, then we know we can move forward. Find out about our membership for individuals and for organizations on our website creativelifestorywork. com


Produced and mixed by Will Sadler of Anya Media. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts by clicking one of the following links:

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