I’ve just returned from a fascinating, exhausting and inspiring four days in St Petersburg – two spent sight-seeing and two working with a group of teachers, social workers, psychologists, teachers and support workers, brought together by a dynamic charity called Caritas. Caritas are intent on improving the lives of people with learning disability. They are very aware that there are gaps in state provision but there was no room for me to feel complacent about provision in the UK; we all know that there are gaps here too. Through the workshops I run all over the UK, I meet many front line staff who are very focused and committed to improving provision, but the passion, determination and resilience of the 25 people I had the privilege to share these 2 days with blew me away. It is no surprise to learn that their motivation is “ The recognition of the absolute value and dignity of the human person”
The invitation came about through the work of a dynamic teacher (with a background in psychology) called Inna Ryazanova. Inna researched approaches that were more person-centred than anything that was being offered in Russia and discovered Intensive Interaction. She organised a lecture visit from Dave Hewett last year which participants found interesting and inspiring. To follow up the interest, she wanted a practical workshop that would “train people to use it themselves” and she approached Phoebe Caldwell. Phoebe promptly contacted me to say “She was too old to go to Leningrad!” and suggested me as an alternative who could translate inspiration into the perspiration of practice. As we all know at Us in a Bus, the way to be able to use Intensive Interaction is to…..use Intensive Interaction. As long as we are doing it with an open mind, open heart and a willingness to reflect on our practice, then we will find a way to connect on a meaningful level with the person we are supporting. That’s what I wanted the Caritas participants to ‘get’, so over 2 days, we looked at theory and the practice in equal measures, with a lot of discussions of case studies and much trouble-shooting. Of course all of this happened through the medium of a translator and I was incredibly lucky to have Varya in this role; her background in psychology enabled her to ‘get’ the subject matter and translate the spirit as well as letter of what I was saying.
I always end workshops by asking participants what they are going to go away and ‘do differently’. I was moved to tears by the mountains people were prepared to move to make change happen. I am convinced this brave group of pioneers will make a difference and will find ways of using Intensive Interaction to let the “value and dignity of the human person” come out to play. And – I am sure we will stay in touch and be part of that journey together.
Many thanks to Inna, Varya, Caritas and the wonderful city of St Petersburg – спасибо!
Janet Gurney, Director of Training
Thank you to Natalia Rumyantseva for the photographs and to Caritas for the video of Janet being interviewed after the workshop.