Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education


Leave a comment

Boss Bike Rides at the Switch Up Celebrity Fun Run: how not to be helpless in times of helplessness.

Today’s Boss Bike Riders came to support the work of Marcellus Baz and the Switch Up Celebrity Fun Run in Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham.

This wasn’t a day for emptying the personal petrol tank and pedalling along the sodden A6 for what seemed like weeks; or reflecting on civil wars, ancient and modern, up on Bosworth Hill; but a day to step back, change down a couple of gears and marvel at the acts of kindness of strangers and their desire to combat what seems to be an overwhelming problem: the mental health challenges that many young people have faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We’re all becoming increasingly familiar with that story:  the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a mental health epidemic for young people; front line services are overloaded; and voluntary organisations like Switch Up are filling the gaps by encouraging strangers to open their hearts and wallets and give of their time and money in the belief that these actions will benefit the young people for whom they are intended. 

Fanciful? Naïve? Unrealistic?

Not in the slightest. Whilst the pandemic has overwhelmed much of the world’s health care systems, the last 18 months has also seen a remarkable surge of charitable intent from all sorts of people in all sorts of places with all sorts of motivations generating all sorts of amazing outcomes and outputs. 

From those who swore blind they would never give to charity; to those who were determined never to shake a bucket in public; to those who argued that charitable acts were all in vain, tantamount to sticking an Elastoplast over a haemorrhaging economical system: the fact is that the actions of volunteers, and their acts of altruism, faith and optimism have been instrumental in helping many people overcome their sense of helplessness in what feels like an overwhelming crisis.

The apparent tsunami that the pandemic became, led to an overwhelming response in return from so many quarters: from the story of Captain Tom’s walks raising over £38m for the NHS; to The Scouts’ Hike To The Moon mass participation digital fundraising campaign which encouraged folks to hike a mile or more and raised over £700,000; through to Lydia from Aylesbury who performed songs from Oliver! to members of her church congregation via Zoom and raised £355, five times more than she had originally hoped for. The stories of how people’s response to the pandemic has generated overwhelming returns for an initial tiny investment of their time, their ideas and their creativity are legion.

Today’s Switch Up Celebrity Fun Run was no exception.  Hundreds of people turned up to give their time, their money and their expertise for the benefit of the young people that Switch Up work with. The spirits of Captain Tom, the Scouts and Lydia and the many other thousands of people who responded in their own ways to an overwhelming situation with their overwhelming responses, were never far away today.  Running along the tow path, sparring in the boxing ring or laying down gasping for breath by the side of the Burger Van, the participants in today’s Switch Up Fun Run showed yet again the altruism, faith and optimism people can generate when faced with seemingly overwhelming odds.

Switch Up will know in a few days about the financial outcomes of today’s event.  What will take longer to understand, and perhaps be impossible to measure, are the effects that today’s acts of faith and kindness will have for the young people Switch Up are focused on supporting.  One thing we can be certain of though is that they will be catalytic and provide countless examples of how to counteract a sense of helplessness in times of overwhelming crisis.

More about Boss Bike Rides here.

And more about Switch Up here.


Leave a comment

The Rule of Six: blame, bluster and betrayal

England is experiencing the largest rise in confirmed Covid-19 cases since May; there are fears of a second wave across the four nations; Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is pleading for older people to “be even more vigilant” (not vigilante as some people would like to have understood) and the UK is now even more split over how we view non-face mask wearers than it was over Brexit.

In recent days, government scrutiny has focused in laser like fashion on the cause of all this current mayhem on… guess who? Yep, people under 30 i.e. Young People.

The new legislation – known in common parlance as the Rule of Six –forbids social groupings of more than six people.  I once wrote a youth theatre play called The Rules of The Game, the central premise of which was that football had been outlawed to such an extent that no more than 10 people were allowed to gather to watch it.  My professional writer friend, Alan McDonald, suggested at the time that the script asked readers to believe too many things before breakfast so it needed a re-write.   I thought he was probably right at the time, but this new legislation has prompted me to blow the dust off the script, tout it around various youth theatres and see how well the play has stood up to the test of time.  Prescient?  Moi?  Who would have predicted that.

The Rule of Six and the subsequent blame games it has generated conveniently ignore the fact that the hospitality sector has been encouraged to throw open its doors and feed all of us who’ve been missing out on our weekly trips to the local pizzeria; that organised sports are still permitted (note the key word in that phrase ‘organised’) and that it’s still possible to meet your gran as long as she leaves her house and meets up with you completely by surprise in the pub and as long as grandad isn’t tow and you don’t have a sniffling younger sibling in the background and there’s a G in the day of the week.

This new, non-fictional legislation is intended to prevent Gangs of Six from gathering in an un-organised manner in which heaven forbid young people decide for themselves on how to get to grips with the challenges that Covid-19 has thrust upon them: in itself, yet another symptom of the educational and economic betrayals that have been visited on young people over the last ten years, never mind the last six months. As another writer colleague, Mike Harris remarked,

I can’t think I would have been doing too much shielding aged 18 if I knew I was threatened at worst by a dose of flu and if the post-war generations had eaten up all the metaphorical pies and left me with metaphorical tofu…”

Do you remember the Gang of Four?  I don’t mean that anarcho-punk band from Leeds, but the political faction composed of four Chinese Communist Party officials who achieved infamy during the Cultural Revolution.  It didn’t end well for them (or the Leeds band either for that matter) and it doesn’t look like that these attempts to batten down the viral hatches by insisting that Gangs of Six are going to be our salvation are going to fare any better.

To start singling out a particular age group as being singularly responsible for the sharp uptick of Coronavirus cases is nonsensical and the sooner we can get to grips with that fact, the better it will be for all of us: under 30s, over 30s and those over ahem ahem years old.