Last Christmas a worker at a NHS health centre for the homeless rushed through the streets of the city centre loaded down with carrier bags. In the bags were Christmas gifts and tins of chocolates. She had hoped her colleague would accompany her but the colleague was drawn away to clinical duties due the demands on the service.
The destination was the local refugee drop-in. The idea was for the refugee children to each receive a small present – a colouring book and pens – and gifts of chocolates for everyone there. The money was raised, the gifts bought, donated and duly wrapped. The clock was running fast so the worker decided the best bet was to walk across town.
The city centre bustled with people and shoppers. Halfway through the journey the handle on one of the bags burst. Our friend sighed, grabbed the bag by its body and ventured on. She was stressed – she had so much work on back at the centre and was behind with things too. She arrived at the drop in centre – flustered and out of breath. She was happy to put the bags down.
The refugee drop-in was full – adults and children filled the centre and sat around tables. People who had endured unimaginable experiences a short time before in the war torn areas of Syria were here and were safe. She started to distribute the chocolates on the tables and gave the presents to the children. The children opened the gifts and got down to the colouring and drawing. Colleagues from the local authority arrived with presents too. As our friend stood there she started to fill with emotion and well up with tears. Something was unfolding before her – something very simple yet incredibly significant. It was an experience that touched her heart. She stayed a short while and then returned to the busy, never ending world of NHS healthcare.
On her way back she reflected on what she had seen. For a short time at the drop in centre, she had stopped her rush-a-day work life and been given a clear message. There were three parts to this.
The first was she recognised in that little church hall what really matters. It’s people who matter. Seeing the joy in the faces of those children was what both Christmas and work was all about. Seeing people with nothing, happy to receive and to find joy in simple gifts. Caring for others and bringing joy to those near and far from us was the most important thing. It is what we do to others that teaches us most about ourselves and what our services should do.
The second reflection was that we are all in this together. The local authority, third sector, shops that gave free chocolates, good hearted individuals who helped and the faith community who hosted the sessions. It said that we work best when we work and learn together. Each bringing their own contribution to make something greater than the individual parts. In that room she saw how cities and services must be in the future – moving from silos to solidarity. Solidarity comes from the French for ‘interdependent, complete, entire’. Solidarity here was a unity for change and care in the heart of a city.
The last reflection that struck our colleague was that we all have a part to play and that a public service ethos is a powerful connector. She had seen it in the busy colleagues who couldn’t attend but who spent time meticulously wrapping the presents; the local Co-Op manager that donated chocolates; the fact that the city was working to support the most marginalised. This wasn’t just a Christmas tale but an everyday one – people in the NHS and with a public service ethos everywhere – united in a shared purpose to do good and make a difference, whatever your circumstances, wherever you are form. This was an event perpetually happening in so many places.
Public services sometimes get things very wrong. At other times they shine like diamonds. Public service is a deeply held belief and drives people to create the best they can. This is one of the main reasons why we think so many go the extra mile and work outside of hours to try to help. This wish to publicly serve is something to value, cherish and celebrate. It is about making a contribution to build a better world. A world without social workers, therapists, nurses, doctors, support workers, porters, drivers, chaperones, hostel workers, advocates and everyone who chooses to serve people as a public good would be a lesser place. Public service is a commitment to social wellbeing, development and cohesion.
At this time of the year we hear and see the great Christmas tales. Books like ‘A Christmas Carol’, films like ‘Its a Wonderful Life’ and the story of the health worker at the refugee centre remind us what really matters. When it comes down to it, it’s all about people – like you, like us and everyone else who makes a difference to those we care about. The writers would like to wish everyone a great Christmas and happy 2017. We hope it will be a time of great joy for you and yours. We dedicate this blog to all those – families, patients, carers, staff and volunteers and people out there who every day show us what true humanity and care is all about – thank you – you inspire us to keep on hoping and going.