Riding in Swaledale

Swaledale, North Yorkshire
Looking East along Swaledale, from Crackpot

This month I revisited Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales, for the first time in 17 years on a bike. It’s a place that is very special to me.

Swaledale is a brilliant place for mountain biking. I first discovered this around the age of 14, so I think part of the attraction is nostalgia. Whenever I visit I get the same feeling of discovery and independence that I did as a teenager, being allowed to roam around the Dale without Mum and Dad in tow.

On subsequent visits I made new friends, reaffirmed existing friendships and found new confidence on the bike.

Swaledale is far enough from home for a weekend visit to feel like a stretch, but still doable without booking a holiday.

The added bonus is a hamlet round almost every corner, and less of the bleakness and crowds of, say, Scotland.

There are loads of great places to ride mountain bikes in the UK, but what makes the Dales special in particular are an abundance of trails, and loads of great viewpoints. I’ve come to realise over the years that regularly riding, running or walking to the top of a hill or mountain, and savouring the view in rain or shine, is really important to my wellbeing.


Celebrating the how, not the what

To mangle a famous quote:

I’m not always able to say who we delivered projects for, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back.

In the rush to hit deadlines and find time for the next project it’s easy to forget about the achievements. And the past few weeks have been full of those, thanks to an energetic team at Helpful.

I think I could get away with blogging about each of the projects below, but the specific brief isn’t the point. More often than not, the outputs are straight-forward to deliver, it’s untangling the organisation that demands patience, diplomacy and hard work.

Take a bow @kate_rawlins_ @alasdairdick and @claireturner18, who between them have managed to:

1. Persuade, train and guide a senior public servant, who works in a controversial service, on to social media. This was done while simultaneously negotiating a staff union and significant hardware and network challenges (as in there was precious little of either).

2. Step in to a live emergency response at short notice, putting a lot of our models, theory and training to the test.

3. Deliver a school classroom training platform, to inspire children in to careers in marketing and communications. The catch? We’re not delivering the sessions, so that platform had to work out-of-the-box, for non-techies. And it did.

4. Bring together a dispersed corporate comms team, with little confidence in their digital skills, and no experience, and have them producing video on Instagram and Facebook by the end of the day.

None of these are particularly exciting clients or projects in the conventional sense, but their needs are as great as many other complex organisations I’ve come across.

Working through those complexities and meeting needs is worth celebrating on its own.

The 5 stages of proposal writing

We’ve had some interesting opportunities come our way just recently. They’ve all required a formal proposal with strict word counts and very specific details, which isn’t always the norm for us.

I enjoy it, but for me these types of opportunities tend to be a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions and productivity. There is, however, a pattern:

  1. False dawn
    The brief I thought I was getting isn’t quite the same as I anticipated. Between that cosy chat with the client and publication of the official tender, other people have had sign-off, and now the scope is less liberal than I hoped. But who cares? The show is on the road!
  2. Procrastination
    A bit like writers block. I want to give this one 110%, but that means finding a moment to start writing where all the stars are aligned: coffee, headspace and inspiration.
    I’ve learnt that it doesn’t have to be like that, if I remember one simple piece of advice from Dave Trott.
  3. Confusion and fear
    As I get deeper into the proposal, I start to wonder if maybe I have completely misunderstood the audience and aims. The client’s language becomes a blur and suddenly I’m not sure if they’re asking for training or admin support. What if we have the entire premise of this work wrong? Cue furious reviewing of the opening letter and summary.Phew.I (think I) was right all along. Keep going.
  4. Denial – not letting go
    The substantive portion of the proposal was complete weeks before deadline, but that was only in draft. Now comes the self-induced pressure-driven tweaking and tucking, honing words, checking what we’re committed to and second guessing what the client will think.
    We’ve still got a few hours left to give this another polish. Let me have one more read, just to be sure…
  5. C’est la vie
    It’s in. Submitted.
    Yeah, whatever. It’d be a nice project to have but if we don’t get it, well, the brief wasn’t what it should be anyway. Or, we have better things to do.It’s not like I’m going to be refreshing my inbox every 2 minutes for the next fortnight. Not at all.


Hypnobirthing for Dads

Prior to my daughter being born in February 2017, we signed up for a hypnobirthing course, as a couple, to prepare us for pregnancy, birth and the first few months.

Actually we signed up to quite a few things. As Dad, I was interested to read a few books and thought NCT was probably something to tolerate rather than look forward to. I’d had a chat with a few mates who are long-standing Dads and picked up some tips. I’m afraid to say hypnobirthing was definitely something I was tolerating for my partner’s sake.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong: it was the single best piece of preparation we took on. In fact, it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had for a long time.

I’m not sure where the ‘hypno’ bit comes from. Don’t let that put you off. There are no swinging pocket watches.

Hypnobirthing is about understanding all the choices available to you, as a couple, during pregnancy and birth. It isn’t about forcing anyone to have waterbirths at home, or calling the child Sky or Spirit.

Winnie Westoby-Lloyd
Mouth-open air guitar pose

Hypnobirthing carves out quality time to prepare for birth, free of distractions and focussed on good practice and sensible, evidence-based advice.

I found NCT and NHS session a little chaotic as facilitators tried to keep up with ever-changing guidelines. Hypnobirthing simplified all that.

Most importantly:

  • it gave me a role as the partner, to provide really practical support. Things like massage for Mum, making sure the birth environment was quiet and calm.
  • some useful meditative practice, like better breathing (yes, for Dads too).
  • gave me an understanding of the NHS’s needs and how to meet these without compromising our plans
  • gave us options to consider. You can practice hypnobirthing, even with a C-section in hospital. Hypnobirthing is an approach, not a fixed process
  • this was a much more structured experience, than picking through a barrage of book and YouTube recommendations

If you’re a Dad-to-be, hypnobirthing is one of the single best investments of time and money you can both make during pregnancy. Take my word, as a cynic-turned-advocate.

Our hypnobirthing instructor was Bev Samways at Small Acorn. She was brilliant for us. I understand from other Dads that different instructors have different styles, so be sure to pick someone who’s right for you.

Getting better at training

From a recent proposal I wrote for some training projects:

We practice Collaborative Communication (based on Non-Violent Communication), to ensure that we make time to listen to the needs of participants, without making judgements, and are clear with our requests of them.

I think the client were mainly looking for information about our track record, handing out sweets to participants and what we’ll do if someone oversleeps. But I was keen, and proud, to include this too.

Training can be boutique, tailored, 121. Call it what you will. But it’s never personal unless we make the time to listen with intent, to what people need.

If not social media then where?

This is a particularly good blog post from Martin Belam.

There’s a paragraph that says:

I think part of the problem for – yes, I’ll bite – the mainstream media is that “what happens on the internet” is still not regarded as a specialist beat to be covered like you would healthcare or science. And when it is, it is usually more along the lines of “Here’s 10 jokes that made people laugh about recent event x”

This really resonates with me, because any time I read or hear mainstream media coverage, phrases such as: ‘news spread overnight on social media’ appear.

Clipping from Daily Mail citing online speculation on Prince Philip

‘on social media’. Where else was it going to spread?

As Martin says, audiences miss general coverage of internet developments through lack of widespread reporting. But worse, the internet itself is regularly cited as if it is an occasional or optional method of communication, rather than the central route by which all information is published and shared.