I’m just back in the UK, waiting for my train and the final leg home. Toronto Pearson airport was absolutely rammed last night, this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving. I’ve got so much I’d like to blog about still but for now I wanted to post a quick post of thanks.
One of the absolute most affirming things about being awarded a WCMT Fellowship has been how thoroughly decent, efficient and supportive the staff have been. This may seem like a strange thing to comment on but when you work as a freelancer the sheer joy of people actually paying you on time leaves you feeling like the planet has shifted on its axis, like planets have realigned, and things are as they should be. When I realised at the end of last year, on return from my Phase 1 in Australia and New Zealand, that I wasn’t going to be able to finish my fellowship that financial year (because Richard and Danny’s inquests were both happening), I emailed the office and got an immediate, understanding reply and the offer of an extension. While at times the fellowship has felt like a pressure (it’s important work, it takes a lot of organising, the fear of how to capture what everyone has shared – that last one remains), the staff at Winston Churchill Memorial Trust have always made things better. I’ve never once forgotten what a privilege it is to be awarded this opportunity and I just wanted to acknowledge how lovely it is to deal with decent people.
Another aspect of having this opportunity is the reassurance about humanity. For a number of years I’m aware that I’ve been (publicly) challenging lots of people and if I’m totally honest it’s been hard at times to be sidelined and ignored, not to mention the utter frustration at the lack of meaningful change or progress. The wonderful thing about having a WCMT Fellowship was people were prepared to talk to me. I’m sure a visiting person from oversees presents less of a threat to anyone, and maybe some people were just humouring me, but it was good to know that if you reached out and asked for help/a contact/a meeting, the vast majority of people responded positively. I should also add a particular thank you shout out to Chris Hatton and Kirsty Liddiard who offered introductions to several people on different continents working in this space.
I have so many people to thank who made the time to meet with me and share their thoughts, knowledge, ideas, experience and outrage. I honestly don’t want to try and name everyone here because I don’t have my Phase 1 notebook with me for a start. It is possibly blatantly obvious, but without people gifting their time to meet with me I’d have had no fellowship, so everyone who met or spoke with me has been key. A special mention should go to those family members who shared with me what happened to their loved one. Talking about anyone’s death is challenging, talking about the deaths of loved ones when their deaths are premature or preventable is a whole new level of challenging. I carry their stories and experiences with me. So often in Canada I found myself thinking of Finlay and Olivia, and of course of Connor, Richard, Danny, Laura, Edward and so many others. I left Canada with stories of Samantha, Matthew and Becky, not to mention those of institutional survivors Antoinette, Carrieanne, Cindy, Harold, Marie, Pat and William.
In addition to those who gifted their time to make my fellowship meaningful, some people also made efforts to make my fellowship enjoyable, as well as meaningful. I’m grateful to everyone who offered me their time, opinions and expertise. I’m doubly grateful to those who offered me their friendship and hospitality. It can be a little lonely and exhausting dragging yourself around distant places, dealing with jetlag, trying to juggle life at home and life away; when people make an effort to share their town/city/social life/dinner/family/home with you, it makes all the difference. So thank you to everyone who did that, especially Aine in Oz.
I couldn’t finish this post without a special thank you to Marilyn and Jim Dolmage. Many people helped arrange my visits when I was in Canada but Marilyn and Jim went the extra mile, time and again. They generously shared their home, food, gorgeous dog, time, thoughts, ideas and contacts all readily, time and again. Marilyn’s knowledge, her history and contextual background, her contact book, her passion, advocacy and values, they mean so much. There are many times over the last few years where I’ve questioned my choices and approach to activism, its not easy standing for something, meeting Marilyn and Jim was a tonic, a reminder that its alright to be me.
The weekend before I left for Canada I was named as one of the Nesta/Observer New Radicals 2018 for my open justice work. It was lovely to be recognised, and I hope it also provides some recognition to my funders and gives some legitimacy to the work. That said I was a bit conflicted about receiving the award. Spending time with Marilyn has dispelled any lingering doubts, I’ve returned from Canada completely and utterly committed to continuing working in this space, and I intend to hold my head up and do so proudly.
My final thank you is to you, yes you, for reading and caring. Solidarity 👊