Community Empowerment needs Community Investment

Localism and community empowerment have become very popular ideas across the UK, and indeed internationally, when thinking about how to design and deliver public services. However, the localism agenda has been tackled very differently in Scotland compared to the Rest of UK (RUK). In particular it’s important to note that the community empowerment agenda in Scotland maintains a commitment to tackling inequalities – which the RUK agenda does not.

This agenda in Scotland is founded upon the assertion that,

Scotland’s communities are a rich source of talent and creative potential and the process of community empowerment helps to unlock that potential. It stimulates and harnesses the energy of local people to come up with creative and successful solutions to local challenges. (Scottish Government, 2009, p. 6)

In this underpinning logic, in the commitment to tackling inequalities, and in many other respects this seems to be a laudable policy as discussed elsewhere (see Lawson and Kearns, 2010).

What hadn’t, until now, been explored in any great depth is the extent to which local communities are aware, prepared and willing to engage in the opportunities that might arise through the community empowerment agenda. This research draws on 61 semi-structured interviews with MSPs, MPs, local and community councillors, Audit Scotland officers, public service managers and local residents and activists in a single ward in East Scotland. The findings uncovered three factors that must be in place for community empowerment to be effective: 1) shared strategy; 2) shared resources; and 3) shared accountability.

1. Shared strategy

There was a sense within the community that they had been largely forgotten. It was strongly felt that local residents could not influence decision-making and, even if they could, it wouldn’t make any difference. Even elected politicians recognised that there was little by way of social progress and that any investment that was going into communities was largely maintaining the status quo rather than leading to any positive change.

As such community empowerment might help alleviate some of these problems by devolving more decision-making and enhancing collaboration between communities, community group, local government officials and elected politicians. But this also requires certain skills and expertise in order to be effective. Thus a shared strategy is not enough – shared resources and shared accountability are also required.

2. Shared resources

Many participants highlighted how the current system was one based on disempowerment and that resources were centralised and that there were major disparities between the resources of local councils and community groups. Whilst the community empowerment agenda does include opportunities for communities to take ownership of more resources there was also a fear from participants that this move to greater sharing of resources had only come about as the council were attempting to make significant service cuts and therefore this was motivated by offloading costs to communities rather than truly from a sense of empowerment.

3. Shared accountability

Much of the discussion highlighted a long-standing cynicism and mistrust of the local council by residents, activists and public service managers. It is notable that Scotland has one of the highest levels of centralised power in Europe (32 municipalities compared to 434, 98 and 342 in countries of a similar size – Norway, Denmark and Finland). Thus many participants expressed a significant lack of enthusiasm for community empowerment and indeed there was a questioning of the idea of ‘community’ at all. Largely, those from affluent parts of the community had little appetite for community empowerment as the system was seen to work well for them already, whilst those in less affluent parts of the community had little appetite for community empowerment due to a lack of trust.

Overall the research highlighted a wide range of problems within the current system: around the lack of representation; the lack of engagement with communities; the unequal distribution of resources; and a widespread lack of enthusiasm for greater community empowerment. The Community Empowerment agenda in Scotland represents a positive move towards tackling some of these long-standing problems within the current system. Yet without systemic investment in a shared strategy, shared resources and shared accountability mechanisms the potential of this agenda is not likely to be seen.

 

This research was conducted with Violetta Fejszes and Mariola Tàrrega and has now been published in the International Journal of Public Services Management. The article can be downloaded for FREE up to 50 times via this link: https://www.emeraldinsight.com/eprint/YIXHQUNF6XVXCPNRVQXI/full

When free downloads are no longer available it will also be available here:  https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/IJPSM-03-2018-0080 

 

 

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JUC Centenary Event – Opening Address 18 October 2018

Good morning everyone and thank you for coming to the JUC Centenary Event. I am Ian Elliott and I’m Vice-Chair of the JUC. I am standing in today for Sam Baron, our Chair, who unfortunately couldn’t make it.

The first meeting of the JUC was in London 100 years ago. To mark this milestone we wanted to come back to London to consider the role of the JUC for the next 100 years.
The day has three key purposes.

Firstly, we wanted to recognise the achievements of the JUC over the last 100 years. Many great figures have been associated with the JUC and it is important to acknowledge their legacy and how much has been achieved since 1918. So we have Professor Viv Cree who is going to talk us through some of the history of the JUC based on her own research. I would also recommend that you read the excellent history of the JUC by Professor Richard Chapman which is published in our own academic journal – Public Policy and Administration.

But we can’t allow our future to be dictated by past events. We wanted this event to bring people together with a common interest in public services encompassing public administration and social work. We all are here because we believe that the JUC is a valuable learned society and that the study of public administration and social work are essential to improving our communities. It’s important to consider why we are here and the current state of public administration and social work.

My motivation comes from my parents. Particularly my mum. I few up in a rural sub-post office in Northern Ireland. My mum worked from 8am in the morning until 7 or even 8pm at night serving the local community. Often there would be a line of people queuing up outside in the morning waiting to get their giros or to post some letters. It wasn’t a particularly well paid job and even when held up at gunpoint by a masked gang the Post Office wouldn’t pay for extra security – it had to come out of the household budget. After 40 years of service my mum was forced to retire due to the onset of Alzheimer’s. The modest savings that she had built up over those 40 years, along with her pension, all went to pay for her full time care. The rural post office, like so many public services in our most isolated communities, remains shut. This is a story that sadly has been replicated right across the UK. Should we not be aiming for better than this?

I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I can, with colleagues, help to inform change in the way our public services are designed and delivered in order to hopefully develop a more caring and compassionate society. We know how much public administration and social work matters. Many of you will have similar storied to tell and similar motivations for being here – let’s not forget that. And let’s not forget that regardless of our background, our research interests or our teaching areas, we have much more in common than divides us.

So the second part of today is for you. It has been specifically arranged as an (un)conference so that we, the JUC officers can shut up and listen. We need to listen to what you have to say, to your priorities and to your ambitions for our learned society. You can tell us your story. What matters to you? And what should the JUC be doing in response? We need your galvanising issues or questions to inform what we will then discuss in the breakout groups. You’ll all have had advance warning so hopefully some of you have some ideas already. If you don’t yet have a key galvanising issue that you would like to raise then have a think just now. But this isn’t an opportunity to whine or moan or to create a TO DO list for someone else – we need people to do things. Get involved! Help us to influence positive change. So I would add to this second key purpose of today – how can you help us to achieve a renewed purpose over the next 100 years?

That then will finally lead into the last part of today, to turn to the future. By the end of the day we will have a set of ideas, or instructions to take forward to our executive meeting in November and then to the AGM in January. The next 100 years starts here – you are all part of it. Please do get involved, discuss your ideas and most of all please enjoy the day! Thank you.

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How to prepare for your viva (PhD / DBA / DProf)

There are already quite a few excellent blog posts available on how to prepare for a doctoral viva. I don’t want to simply repeat what has been said elsewhere but thought I would provide some of my own thoughts on the doctoral viva. I have been a PhD student, PhD and DPA supervisor and PhD examiner. My thoughts are based on this experience though I would also freely admit that I am still learning. Being awarded a doctoral level degree does not mark the end of a process – it is a recognition that you are ready to start on the next stage.

This post was inspired by a question at the recent Doctoral Workshop at the PAC Annual Conference (a free workshop for doctoral students from PAC member institutions). The question was about how best to prepare for the viva. I hope some of the below will, at the very least, provide some reassurance if you are about to have your viva. Do though speak to your supervisors regularly in the run up to your viva – they will always be best placed to advise you.

1. You are ready

The first thing I would stress is that, by the time you have submitted your thesis, you will have spent anywhere between 3-7 years preparing for your viva. All the time you have spent reading, writing and researching is preparation time. No-one will have prepared more for the viva than you have – and no-one will know more about your thesis than you do. That said, there are some things you can do to help get ready for your viva and to avoid some of the more common pitfalls.

2. Be active in choice of examiner

It is important that you contribute to discussions around the selection of examiner. You should by now have presented at a number of academic conferences and you may have a view on who you would, or would not, like to have as an examiner. It’s important that you have a discussion with your supervision team about potential options and that your views are taken into account. That said, the final decision is likely to rest with your director of studies and will need to be ratified by a committee within the university.

3. Know your examiner

Of course an examiner cannot be a close friend, family, co-author, former or current employee. But you should get to know your examiner through their academic work. For example, some academics are very interested in methodology and philosophy of research methods whilst others have a much more pragmatic approach to research. This will significantly alter the type of questions you might expect to get and even the type of answers the examiner may be looking for. Likewise some academics have methodological preferences with some highly focused on quantitative methods, others have a strong preference for qualitative and (you guessed it) some lean towards mixed methods. This is something that your supervision team should take carefully into account when selecting an examiner – but again it’s important that you input to these discussions.

4. Reference your examiner

It is also important that you know your examiners academic publications. What journals have they published in, which editorial boards do they sit on, what are their most cited articles, what is the general theme of their research? Yes, do reference the work of your examiner, also reference their journal (if they are a journal editor) and it’s also worth taking note of their co-authors.

5. Do a mock

Again your supervisor should set up a mock viva for you but if this doesn’t happen then you should be proactive in organising your own mock viva. Ideally this should be with someone who has significant experience of examining doctoral work and the mock should be as true to life as possible. This will help you practice your answers and overall approach to the viva. It’s worth getting someone to observe or you may want to record the mock in order to review back.

6. Think about your answers

When it comes to the viva it is likely that you will feel nervous, excited, energised or all of the above! Undoubtedly adrenaline will be taking effect. In these circumstances it is really important to take a breath before you answer any question – don’t just rush in with the first thing that comes into your head. Silence in the room can seem daunting and you may feel the urge simply to speak in order to avoid awkward silences. But it is important to listen carefully to the question, think carefully about your answer, and then speak.

7. Answer the question you are asked – not the question you want to answer

So take your time, think, clarify, think, reply. I really want to stress the importance of listening carefully to the question being asked. It’s essential that you understand the question, think, and then answer the question. If you are not sure what the examiners mean by their question then ask for clarification. It can be quite frustrating for an examiner when a doctoral candidate gives political answers to viva questions (in other words answering the question you want to answer rather than the question you were asked). Likewise it is important not to digress or ramble as this can also be quite frustrating and you run the risk of opening up lines of questioning that the examiner hadn’t anticipated by addressing other topics or issues. So remember, listen to the question, clarify if needs be, think, and then answer.

8. Accept flaws and bounded rationality

A PhD is by nature an in-depth study of a highly specialised topic. That means that you will be expected to be highly proficient within the area that you have studied. You will also be expected to have some understanding of the wider academic literature and methods and how your work is located within the broader field. But should absolutely not be expected to be expert in everything.

With particular concepts or bodies of literature that you have used within your thesis you will be expected to be highly knowledgeable. There may be key authors within the wider academic subject-area that again you would be expected to be familiar with. Doing some relevant teaching while you are completing your doctoral research can really help with this broader preparation. But you should not be expected to be expert in all literature, all academics, all concepts. We all have limits to our knowledge and it is important that we acknowledge those. Therefore it is ok to say that you don’t know, that the examiner has raised an interesting point that you hadn’t previously considered or that you had considered it but had chosen to focus on something else. What you should do in these circumstances is try to shift the focus back to what you did do – not what you didn’t do. So, for example, yes, I hadn’t considered that particular analytical framework but within the scope of this piece of research I did focus on this analytical framework and that was relevant for this particular research because x, y, z.

9. Stick to what you did and not what you could have done / didn’t do

One, fairly common, type of unhelpful question goes along the lines of “why did you not do a questionnaire” or “couldn’t you have used Foucaulian Discourse Analysis” or “don’t you think you should have conducted more focus groups”. These are unhelpful in that they focus on what you have not done rather than what you did do. It’s not your job, strictly speaking, to defend what you didn’t do – but to defend what you did do. As noted above there may be things outwith the bounds of the thesis that you should be familiar with – but it shouldn’t be necessary to defend what you didn’t do. Nonetheless this type of question may well come up so it’s important to be prepared.

10. Own the process

The PhD / DBA / DProf is a process, it is a product, and importantly it is a person – you are receiving a doctorate on the basis of your knowledge and ability to conduct academic research. So you may be asked about things that are not within your thesis. It is important that you can engage in these questions. You should also be prepared to acknowledge the things within your thesis that you would do differently if you were to do it again – you should recognise that the thesis represents the result of a learning process. That learning process does not end with the production of the thesis but will continue far beyond your formal doctoral studies. You should therefore be able to reflect on the process and the journey that you have taken. But first and foremost you represent the doctorate moreso than the thesis so it is ok to diverge from what was written, don’t be overly defensive of the work, and demonstrate that you are continuing to develop and learn as an independent researcher. You will have spent many years preparing for the viva. Undoubtedly there will have been many ups and downs. The viva is your opportunity to talk about that process, about what you have learned, what you did, what you didn’t do, what you would do differently and how your work represents an original contribution to knowledge. You will be discussing this with examiners who are also experts in your subject area, who have read your thesis and who will be really interested in what you have to say – that may not happen again! So yes, enjoy it!

Some other useful sources

General guides:

https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/presentations/viva

https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/jan/08/how-to-survive-a-phd-viva-17-top-tips

https://www.jobs.ac.uk/careers-advice/studentships/633/ten-tips-for-getting-through-your-phd-viva

https://labcoatlucy.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/how-to-prepare-for-your-phd-viva-10-top-tips/

https://blogs.kcl.ac.uk/kingshistory/2018/01/08/viva-preparation-tips-advice/

http://salmapatel.co.uk/academia/phd-viva-preparation-steps

https://researchandinnovationblog.stir.ac.uk/2017/02/02/preparing-for-the-phd-viva/

Example questions:

https://ddubdrahcir.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/is-it-a-phd-or-not-a-phd-unpacking-the-viva/

https://ndphblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/40-practice-questions-for-viva-preparation/

https://susansellers.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/a-guide-to-preparing-for-a-ph-d-viva/

http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/ResearchEssentials/?p=156

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Who cares?

No-one cares anymore. About anything. At least, nothing that really matters. It’s all style and no substance. It’s all cost-cutting, down-sizing, automating, agile, lean, do-it-yourself. Want to speak to someone? Forget it. Fill in a form – online. How about a cardboard cut-out police officer – just as good as the real thing. And, of course, cheaper.

Just take a moment to scroll through Instagram; browse through the magazines that adorn your local newsagents or flick through the TV channels. Nothing is about what people are doing – everything is about what people are consuming. Ask not what you can do for anyone – ask what filter is best for your selfie. Because you’re worth it.

Of course I know this isn’t true. Or at least it’s not the whole truth. I’m lucky, because I am a public administration scholar and in my job I get to meet incredible people every day. People who do care and are making a difference to the most vulnerable in our society. Social workers, teachers, nurses, police officers, fire and rescue officers, local government officers, policy officers, researchers and academics who are all bound by their passion for public service delivery and their strong commitment to civic duty.

Yet so much of the work of our public servants is undermined by their political masters and the media. Those who are less fortunate in life are classed as undeserving and are parodied or seen as sources of entertainment or amusement (take for example the case of so-called Slum Tourism or ‘Poverty Porn‘ on TV) . Those who work to support them are pilloried for being over-paid, clock-watching (by Michael Gove MP), lazy or self-interested. Yet politicians can lie, make fun of ethnic minorities or the disabled and can even threaten our economic and social security without impunity.

One hundred years ago the world was a very different place. The Great War was coming to an end. Women were beginning (albeit slowly) to secure their right to vote. In the midst of growing academic interest in management science and concern for the implementation of policy a group of esteemed scholars, activists and practitioners, including Professors E.J. Urwick and Sidney Webb, met in London to discuss what was to become the Joint University Council. Today we need a new vision and purpose to reflect current challenges and to ensure we maintain our relevance for the next 100 years.

It is important that this new vision and purpose reflects real life. After all, public administration is where politics meets real life: it’s the delivery of political decisions in local settings. The term has been cause of much academic debate in the last thirty years. Academics have argued over traditional public administration, New Public Management and, more recently, New Public Governance. There have been debates about whether New Public Governance exists? Is it a useful concept? How does it relate to New Public Management and Public Administration? Do New Public Governance and New Public Management represent paradigm shifts or do they represent a continuum? But often these debates serve little more than to increase citations before the next REF cycle comes along. Really, we need to set our ambitions a bit higher than that.

Meanwhile our public servants, who increasingly cannot afford their own homes, are actually trying to make a difference to communities through effective service delivery in face of political and media contempt for their work and for the people they serve. They want to know what works, they want validation for the work they do, they want to know how they can do it better. From this perspective some academic debates can appear to be little more than academics picking fluff from their own navels. Academics are no longer at risk of being seen as out of touch – that is the common perception.

That’s why our centenary event will not be a traditional academic conference. Yes, the academic community will be an important part of it. We need those voices. But even moreso we, as academics, need to listen. That is why it is being arranged as an unconference. But in order for this to be effective we need YOU to come, to get involved, to speak up. This is likely to be the most significant meeting for social and public administration since that very first meeting of the JUC in 1918. Just like that first meeting we need academics, activists and practitioners to come. We need people who care. So sign up now, invite others, and let’s set the agenda for the next 100 years.

Click here to help set our agenda for the next 100 years.

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Happy New Year

There are many diary formats including the standard 12 month (Jan-Dec) diary and the ‘academic’ (Aug-July) diary (some nice ones listed here). So for many of those who work or study within universities the traditional New Year (or Hogmanay) celebrations simply mark a mid-point. Indeed many academics find themselves working through the festive period either marking, prepping for the next term / semester, completing grant applications (many of which inexcusably have deadlines early in January), writing research papers or editing / reviewing.

So for those who live by the ‘academic’ year the 1 September marks the beginning of a ‘new year’. There will be freshers coming with excitement and perhaps some trepidation about commencing their studies; there will be students returning to study, looking forward to their new courses and anxious to achieve good grades; there will be returning academics keen to try out new course materials and looking forward to meeting new students; and many others who either work with or are associated with universities ready to start the new year.

For me it is a particularly exciting time as I’m starting a new post as Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership and Management at Northumbria University. Northumbria is one of the top 50 universities in the UK and it’s Business School is double accredited with AACSB making it one of the top Business Schools in the world. Along with being an outstanding institution and having a world-leading Business School the university has a long history of public administration scholarship. Former members of staff include the late Professor Howard Elcock. Currently there are many public administration scholars working at the university and they are due to host the JUC Public Administration Committee Annual Conference and Doctoral Workshop from 10-12 September this year. I’m really looking forward to helping them expand their teaching and research in public leadership and management in my new role.

Whatever you are doing this academic year I wish you all the very best. Happy New Year!

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One Week To Go

It’s been a tough summer. Lots of ups and downs. A fair amount of pain. At last there’s only one week to go. I really couldn’t have got through this without a lot of support from family and friends. But finally it’s almost over.

Since April I’ve been taking part in the Running Down Dementia Challenge for Alzheimer’s Research UK. The challenge was to run 100km and raise £100 by 31 August. Having done no running in four years I figured it would be a big challenge but that I might be able to do it.

Please give here: https://runningdowndementia2018.everydayhero.com/uk/ian-4#

Initially I started run-walk-run and the first few weeks were really tough. A group of friends started a Sunday morning run and this really helped keep my motivation up. What also helped was the huge amount of generosity from friends and family in donating to my fundraising page. With every pound donated I ran a little further and tried a little harder. Soon I was able to run my first 10k in quite a few years. It wasn’t easy – but I did it.

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My fundraising total kept going up and local press were very kind in raising the profile of my challenge. Thanks to the Edinburgh Evening News and the Ballymoney Times in particular for featuring my story. I’ve also received very generous support from Newbridge Financial Planning and even my aunts have helped in the fundraising efforts in my hometown of Ballymoney. It’s been a big team effort!

Help fund research into prevention, treatment and cures for the diseases that cause dementia here: https://runningdowndementia2018.everydayhero.com/uk/ian-4#

All the time I’ve been thinking about my mum and others in her position who are living with dementia. While she is happy I know that there is so much more she would want to do. Living with dementia has really restricted what she can do in her retirement years and it has been difficult for all the family. Right now there are 850,000 families in the UK facing similar challenges. Alzheimer’s Research UK fund research into treatments, prevention and cures for the diseases that cause dementia. Every pound donated will support this effort.

At the start of this journey I was hoping to run 100km and raise £100. With one week to go I’ve ran 227km and raised £2134.80. I am hugely grateful to all my 87 donors and with every step I run I can feel 87 people cheering me on. It’s an incredible feeling.

It has been a tough summer. There has been a fair amount of pain, blisters and sore legs! But I’ve loved it. And it’s not over yet. So please, if you can give anything to help fund the amazing work of Alzheimer’s Research UK click on the link below and give what you can.

Thank you!

https://runningdowndementia2018.everydayhero.com/uk/ian-4#

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Save Scottish Public Administration

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Interview with Steven McCabe, Master of Public Administration (MPA) student.

This post first appeared on the QMU website: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/student-stories/steven-mccabe-master-of-public-adminstration-20180518/

I was looking for a course that would build on my previous qualifications and work experience, as well as increase my understanding of the issues facing public sector professionals and how to best overcome these and deliver high quality public services. This was part of my continuing personal development through my job, but I also wanted to study a course that would allow me to progress in my career as well. Initially I considered studying an MBA, but the direct relevance of the MPA to my work, along with the course focus on social justice and equality really attracted me to study at QMU instead. The fact that the MPA was a taught course, with weekly classes where students could learn from each other’s experiences and engage with each other was a major factor in me choosing to study the MPA at QMU. The programme leader’s knowledge and understanding of the issues facing the public sector was another reason for making this course selection.

There is a level of commitment required to study the MPA, and the workload at times has been quite high, especially as I’ve been working full-time as well as studying. It has been stressful at times, especially when I’ve had really busy periods at work and there’s been assignments due for the course, however, it’s never been completely overwhelming and the level of support, from both tutors and other students, has been fantastic. There’s a real togetherness and camaraderie between students on the course, with the part-time students especially understanding the pressures we’re all facing whilst juggling full time work with study. Through the course we’ve all supported each other, ensuring that we’re all coping with the demands of the course. We regularly chat outside of university if we have anything we’re unsure of. The course really has been a great way to network and make new friends!

The tutors on the course are all extremely knowledgeable and happy to spend time with you if you have any additional questions or need help or support.

This will be my third university degree and the overall learning environment on the MPA at QMU has by far been the most supportive, engaging and inclusive that I’ve experienced.

The course is constantly evolving and improving, with the tutors and the course director especially taking a real interest in the thoughts and needs of students. There have been numerous changes to the course in the two years that I’ve studied the MPA that have been made after suggestions or comments from students. There are regular tutor/student meetings to discuss what could be improved upon or what’s working well, and feedback is always well received and fully considered. Students on the MPA have a strong voice and can directly influence how the course is delivered.

There is also the opportunity for students to go on a fully-funded (well, apart from beer money!) field-trip to Brussels, as part of the MPA. This really brought students and course tutors together as a group, and had a real positive impact on how we supported each other and learnt from each other. There was an important practical element to the trip as well, with it being a great opportunity to see how the things that we’ve been taught in class were being applied in the European Parliament. The field-trip definitely enhanced the engagement and understanding I had of the concepts that we learnt about during classes.

The course has absolutely equipped me with additional skills and knowledge which have been directly applicable in my job. The course also has a focus on improving students’ leadership skills, with students undertaking a leadership exchange through ACOSVO as part of this. I feel, quite strongly, that my performance at work was improved by studying on the course, and becoming aware of wider issues in public administration that I perhaps might not have been aware of prior to studying the MPA. I’ve also been lucky enough to have progressed to a new job while studying on the course, and have just started a job as a Policy Manager with the Scottish Government. I can honestly say that the MPA definitely helped me develop my career and played a part in me getting the job.

 

You can find out more about the MPA on our course page here: www.edinburghmpa.co.uk

 

Make sure to LIKE our Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/EdinburghMPA

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My mum

My mum and dad married in 1965. Soon after they bought a small cottage just outside the town of Ballymoney. My dad has often recalled the time my mum first saw their new home – she cried. It was, by all accounts, a complete ramshackle with lots of damp and wallpaper peeling off the walls. They had bought two cottages that sat side by side with the goal of putting them together into one modern bungalow. In the meantime they lived in a cold and damp 1960’s caravan in the garden.

 

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My mum worked in the NHS. She attended training in Belfast. She was respected and liked by all staff in the Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ballymoney. By all accounts she was on the fast track to a senior administration post in the health service. During the day she would work in the hospital and at night would help my dad, uncles and friends to convert the two old cottages into a modern 1970’s bungalow.

In 1973 my brother came along. There was no maternity leave entitlement back then – which meant she had to leave her job in the NHS. Instead she took up a part-time position in the nearby rural sub-post office.

My brother started primary school and then I came along. My mum was by now sub-post mistress and looked after us during the day alongside running a very busy sub-post office and shop.

I remember people queuing outside the post office early in the mornings. It would often be opened before 8am and seemed to never shut. When it was shut people would ring the doorbell. Day and night mum would always answer – always putting her customers and the community before all else, fuelled by a bottomless tea cup.

Holidays were restricted by the needs of the post office. So Bank Holidays would be used in order to get a long weekend. Every now and again there would be a trip to Scotland or to different parts of Northern Ireland. But we’d always have to be back in time for opening the post office. Sick days were even rarer. The post office really never shut.

Any money that was saved went to furthering mine and my brothers education. Piano lessons, singing lessons, private tuition, Encyclopedia Britannia (Google it). Anything that would help us succeed in life.

As if all of this wasn’t enough public service my mum also gave blood. She donated blood for many years and received a Gold Badge for donating over 50 times.

In the late 1990’s the post office was robbed. Masked men entered the house. My mum was tied up with cables pulled from the back of our old TV set. A gun held at her head. But she wouldn’t give away the keys to the safe and instead tricked the masked gunmen into sounding the alarm. They were caught. The gang leader was son of a lottery winner. He got five years in prison – out in three.

My mum continued to serve the community. A new alarm system and safe were installed at personal expense. We got a dog.

My mum continued to run the post office for many years while both me and my brother moved out, went to university, got jobs, families. Over time her memory started to fade. Then her mood changed. Then things that she’d always done, like washing the kitchen floor every night, stopped being done. I didn’t notice at first. Then it became hard to ignore. Running the post office eventually became impossible. After forty years of continuous service it closed.

Later, even living at home became impossible. Too dangerous, and too onerous on my dad, who had his own health problems to manage. She now lives happily in an amazing care home (paid for by her pension and life savings). It’s not a life she choose. It’s a life dictated by Alzheimer’s Disease.

My mum doesn’t have the retirement she deserves after more than 50 years of working life. She hasn’t got to know the grandchildren she always wanted. She doesn’t get to play and look after them as she would like. The crippling nature of dementia has stripped all that away. She is happy, happiest in the company of visitors, and there are still wonderful moments of clarity and lucidity. But so much has been lost.

Looking back now I can’t help think of the endless sacrifices she made but at the same time I know that to her it wasn’t sacrifice – it was love. This is why I am raising money for Alzheimer’s Research. For every £1 donated 84p goes towards research to fight dementia. It may be too late for my mum but hopefully the work of Alzheimer’s Research UK will help millions of people in the future.

Please donate to my fundraising page listed below. Every pound helps. Thank you.

https://runningdowndementia2018.everydayhero.com/uk/ian-4

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Academic Posts Available at QMU

Queen Margaret University are currently recruiting to the following posts:

  • Senior Lecturer in Marketing
  • Senior Lecturer in Finance and Accounting
  • Lecturer in Business Management
  • Lecturer in Finance and Accounting

We are one of only two universities in Scotland to run an MPA programme. We also have a professional doctorate in public administration (the DPA). These are very successful and growing parts of our activity within the Division of Business, Enterprise and Management. As such we really need people who can work across our core business management programmes as well as the MPA and supervise both PhD and DPA students. Please circulate this message to anyone you think might be interested in applying.

I am also happy to discuss these opportunities with anyone who may be interested in applying. The closing date for all applications is 19 February.
Full information including how to apply can be found here: https://www.qmu.ac.uk/footer/vacancies/vacancies/

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