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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

The power of reconnection

This week saw the first gathering in person of ADCS colleagues for 18 months, when we held our Council of Reference meeting in the reassuringly familiar surroundings of the Midland Hotel in Manchester. Our President, Charlotte Ramsden, spoke of the emotions invoked by reconnecting with colleagues and ADCS staff in person again after such a long time, in the very place where we have gathered for our annual conferences for the last 15 years. Many of us have positive memories of inspiring sessions, supportive side conversations and joyful socialising and even, on occasion, dancing in that place. It somehow felt right to be reconnecting in person with each other again there, of all places.

We eagerly exchanged war stories of lockdown hair growth, weight gain or loss, and other more significant changes in our lives since we last were together. We were able to properly say farewell to past presidents Rachel Dickinson, Stuart Gallimore and Jenny Coles in a way we had been unable to during lockdowns. We gleefully raised our hands in person in the same room rather than a little yellow one on screen. There was some dancing. Above all we rejoiced in the powerful feelings of reconnection to our professional and personal networks we have in ADCS. As Joni Mitchell once sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. Despite the connections with each other we have successfully maintained virtually during the last 18 months, nothing compares to being in the same place to have nuanced conversations, get the sense of feeling in a room, read body language, and have a bloody good laugh together.

Most of us are going through some version of this restoration in our own workplaces, as we feel our way to the new hybrid working arrangements many employers are creating. In doing so, we will aim to make opportunities for our teams to interact in person and re-establish some of the social connections that have been lost during lockdown working arrangements, things that are the invisible glue that hold together high performing teams.

My own LA, Kent County Council, like many of yours, has also been focussing on reconnecting children and young people with activities they enjoy and have missed during lockdown. The Kent Reconnect Programme is a community-led programme to get children and young people back to enjoying the activities and opportunities they took part in before covid, and the chance to try new things. It has five domains it aims to reconnect children and young people to; Health and Happiness, Learning Missed, Family, friends and Community, Sport, activities and the outdoors and Economic Wellbeing (do those five sound vaguely familiar to some of you…?).

We launched the programme this summer and it runs until the end of summer 2022. This summer holiday we were able to offer, among other things, all Kent children and young people free bus passes and subsidised family travel, subsidised or free leisure centre passes, 82,000 online catch-up lessons, and access to a wide range of activities and programmes in their communities. The feedback we have had so far from children and their families has been very positive and speak of the restorative power of reconnection both with friends and communities.

It is an opportune time for ADCS to be able to reconnect with each other this week. At our meeting we discussed our position in relation to an entirely new ministerial team at DfE, the first multi- year comprehensive funding review for three years, the renewed focus on the role of local authorities in education, the social care review, the SEND review, and our proposals for a new approach to youth justice. Each of those present threats as well as opportunities. For us to tip the balance in favour of opportunities, we are going to need the bonds that are strengthened by the power of reconnection.

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