Essential dates for your diary

By Gail Hopper

| 06 March 2019

I can't be the only person walking around with a smile on my face, enjoying the longer days, seeing daffodils appear and generally enjoying the warmer weather.

The year is moving forward at a pace and today I had reason to look forward in my diary to make sure Our Big Day, Rochdale's celebration event for our children in care, on 6 July was booked in. It's that day of the year that makes my heart sing. I'm afraid it reduces me to a snivelling heap every year, relying on my Chief Executive's tissue supply, who then snatches them back for his own use.

What caught my eye was that Our Big Day is preceded by the ADCS Annual Conference, another essential diary event, which takes place on 3 - 5 July. Truly a week to look forward to! Conference is something I prioritise every year since I first had the opportunity to attend back in 2007 and I always look forward to it, knowing the benefits I get from taking part. It makes me stop spinning plates for three days and gives me time to think and reflect on the challenges we face alongside others in a similar position - those who understand what my job feels like because they feel it too. It's also a chance to learn from some amazing contributions that I wouldn't otherwise come across (or have time to read about after a long day /cabinet /budget council meeting).

You may have heard local authority colleagues talking about the importance of sector-led improvement, working regionally, and cross regionally, to share learning and best practice so that our services are the very best they can be for children and families. Conference is an ideal time for this and creates opportunities to work with other people who I respect or those I have never previously met but am glad I did. It even provides time to talk with colleagues from other local authorities who we always mean to have that conversation with, but somehow never get around to.

Conference is open to all ADCS members but I know that some colleagues may choose not to attend and that's a decision I respect. I recall during 2010/11 a number of colleagues felt that financial pressures meant that attendance was a thing of the past, something I considered myself at the time and reached the conclusion that it was something I couldn't afford not to do, because the huge benefits from attending were not worth missing out on. It also caused me to ask a question about whether we know our worth? Don't we advise others to prioritise their well-being and professional learning? Sadly, we don't always apply the same for ourselves.

Those of us in senior leadership roles can be a commodity that struggles to last for any length of time. It occurs to me that if we want to be the best we can be in our respective roles, develop strong teams around us, get better at succession planning, understand what sits behind some of the issues and pressures we manage every day and help to deliver the best for our children and young people, we probably need to take time out occasionally. We need to reflect, to use the research that we advise our staff to use, to get a better understanding of what evidence tells us and to understand that in these challenging roles we are not in it on our own.

I recently had an interesting conversation with colleagues at an ADCS event about what we gained from attending conference. The striking point was that the colleagues I was talking to were from other parts of the country and people I would never have met, let alone worked with, had it not been for the fact that we met at conference. Those meet-ups created chances for us to build effective relationships, share ideas, offer peer review support, contribute and gain from policy opportunities, developing skills that helped us make career decisions. Importantly there is even the chance to spend time over a glass of red, putting the world to right, with some lovely people.

If you haven't previously given conference a try, I can thoroughly recommend it. If you do come along, approach a complete stranger and have a chat. You never know where it could lead.

Gail Hopper is DCS at Rochdale Borough Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website

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