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Nigel Wilson Blog February 2021

Published on: Thursday 11th February 2021

Authored by Nigel Wilson

Group Chief Executive

Gentoo Group

Personal Reflections on Moving Forward

Written by Nigel Wilson | February 2021

Hello and thank you for taking a few minutes to read this blog. I hope it provides some useful reflections and maybe food for thought. These are personal reflections from my role as Chief Executive of Gentoo Group, a Housing Association based in Sunderland providing 29,000 houses, serving a wide cross section of the local population and employing 1,100 colleagues.

I will seek to offer thoughts across three areas - sustaining personnel energy and enthusiasm, after the initial buzz dealing with the long haul, and plotting the road to recovery.

Sustaining personal energy and enthusiasm

I love my job which is a help, fundamentally it is about people - my colleagues and the tenants we are here to serve. There are usually not too many dull moments and as with any business centred around people, stuff happens. I have been in post just over two years, so in many senses I am still learning the North East and its ways. It’s a great part of the world and has access to so many areas of beautiful coastline and countryside. This has been a key benefit to the last year for on the darkest, lowest, most miserable days; a walk on the beach, waves crashing in and bracing sea air, has a magical power to put the day in perspective. Someone reflected recently that we are sitting on a big mental health/wellbeing bubble. A lot of us have faced challenges, isolation from family members, loss, grief, loneliness and anxiety. However you wrap it up a Zoom or Teams call, it’s not the same as a friendly hug or an in-person chat over a pint or a pot of tea!

I seem to have fallen into the cosy camp. No boot camp exercise regimes, and the lockdown early morning walks tailed off with the return to the office, but I believe in whatever keeps your mind active, and somewhat distracted from the constant news cycle.

Projects, new hobbies, doing put-off jobs, which may have been started and some even finished, was great but I know it was hard work being stuck at home. Much as I love my family, the difference between work and home is something to enjoy. The new blend which sees people mixing home, work and schooling is a massive strain for many, and something that whilst easier with larger homes and faster broadband is more difficult with slower internet and a lack of space!

Perspective is something that is always important, whilst this has been a long year with the various lockdowns. For those that have lost friends, family and relatives it has been very challenging. The lack of space and time to be able to properly celebrate lives or get together and give folks the send-off they deserve, can never be caught up!

The ability to laugh - a friend said the other day that he struggled to remember when he had last had a great laugh and really enjoyed himself. It made me stop and think, and many of us will have had a laugh and a chuckle at something, but it does feel fleeting and the need to just let out the emotions is sometimes lacking.

So my observations - enjoyment of work, seeing actual colleagues even from two metres and making a rice pudding are all my hints at keeping the spirits up, and the restorative qualities of fresh sea airs helps!

After the initial buzz dealing with the long haul

Many of us have to admit, back last March when we entered the strange world of lockdown, we had a buzz from trying to keep our services and colleagues working! From discovering the strange world of Teams or Zoom to seeking huge quantities of tablets and laptops. Discovering the various delights of colleagues’ lounges, kitchens, dining rooms or spare rooms, the dreaded catchphrases that developed - ‘you’re on mute’, ‘try turning your camera on’ or ‘sorry the dog just barked at the postman’. We all adapted reluctantly and quietly, and the conversations about what you have done today, ‘walk’, ‘run’, ‘cycle’ and ‘cooked banana bread’ all drifted around, but if I am honest since the third lockdown and Christmas I’ve noticed the resilience and forbearance has waned. Folks are getting fed up and whilst the vaccine rollout is superb, the 100,000 deaths milestone is a stark reminder of the haunting impact on society. The scars will run deep and long especially for younger people who have missed exams, their friends, parties, proms and real learning.

As a business we have sought to keep a focus on why we are here, serving our tenants, doing the jobs that were needed, building new houses and supporting services that provided wrap around cover, as and when needed. Communication with colleagues has been regular, clear and honest at all times! Dialogue has been constant with our in-house Facebook, ‘Workplace’, whether successes, health advice or just somewhere to have a moan, it’s there and used by all.

No one knew when we kicked this off how long or challenging it would be, and those initial briefings and power points from No.10 seem a distant memory. We have adapted and survived in the main, we do so because we have to, we also have to allow ourselves to sound off occasionally, laugh at the moon and sometimes question why! It’s fine we all have good days and bad ones, we’re allowed whether a leader or not, it’s human, and accepting that and being authentic is fine. My view is allow yourself the space to be kind to yourself.

Plotting the recovery road

Who knows how long it will take and what shape the recovery will be, but we have to be as positive as we can. From my location in the North East the hope is that it’s one that ensures a fair and level approach, so communities wherever they are in the country, forgotten or left behind, benefit equally or receive substantial and much-needed investment. 

There has been an enormous community response to COVID-19.  People have seen the real benefit of a civil society and what it contributes in a time of need. This needs nurturing, support and resources. The love that has been shared and shown by people to each other, and community to community, should be built upon and not forgotten. The worst off, most excluded, poorest and most disadvantaged often suffer the most, so we need to respond in ways that help tackle those issues. COVID-19 will be around for a long time, we need to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance to have a healthy life and get the opportunity to succeed, despite location or background. 

Let’s be leaders that help build this and challenge inequality and bias where we see it. We should adapt what we do in the smallest and largest of ways, to constantly change and test if we are making a difference!


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