“Courage is not having the strength to go on.
It is going on when you don’t have the strength.”
This quote from the inimitable Teddy Roosevelt is pinned to the back of our toilet door in the Onion office. It’s been our mantra for five years.
Whenever the going gets tough, whenever it feels like we can’t see a way through, whenever the tidal wave of shit threatens to wash us into the Bristol channel, we go back to Teddy…
And honestly, sometimes — often even— like right now, I am not sure I have the strength.
In the current in-vogue organisational jargon this is all about resilience. Those who want to help the community sector – whether public authorities, CSR divisions in corporates or funders of many kinds – talk a lot about how to help build resilience in community businesses, in voluntary sector organisations and in social enterprises. How might they help us to continue in the face of adversity? Help us to overcome the lack of resources, the risk of burnout, the financial pressures or, more often, the weight of all these and more at once?
But the thing is, I am really not sure what we need is help to build resilience. I mean how much more resilience do we need?
· Is it not enough resilience to persevere building a £3.4m youth centre when you’ve just had your first baby and your sister has been diagnosed with cancer at 30 years old?
· Is it not enough resilience to set up two social enterprises at the same time as battling severe depression and holding down a ‘real’ job to pay the bills
· Is it not enough resilience to keep smiling in the face of unfair, personal attacks on social media because you stood up and tried to do something?
· Is it not enough resilience to work for four years and spend thousands of your own £s getting a major regeneration scheme investment ready for a perfect funding pot, only to find the goalposts have been changed by Brexit and you need £2m more by October to secure it?
· Is it not enough resilience to give up your lucrative, hard-fought, careers to focus instead on serving your community, only to be accused of being ‘in it for the money’?
· Is it not enough resilience to keep going in the face of all these obstacles and a hundred more? To cry as often as you laugh and to keep pretending its always wonderful?
Is all that enough? It needs to be, because I, we, haven’t a huge amount left to give.
But it’s not resilience I need help with. What is making this journey absurdly hard is not a lack of resilience it is a lack of agency. I don’t need help to find the strength to keep on with the process of hauling myself over the countless barriers that have been placed in front of me– I need help to move the bloody things out of the way, or better still, to work with me so that they simply don’t exist.
Imagine how much less ‘resilience’ we’d need if the obstacles weren’t there to be got over in the first place, or if we were all pushing them aside together. Obstacles represent power. So how about the people and organisations with power use some of it to bring about a genuine, meaningful shift of some of it in our direction? So we don’t have to find the strength and 'work on better strategies for dealing with the process' of climbing the damn obstacles all the time! That’s what help we need.
And we do need help. We can’t do it alone. In West Somerset, this place that we are fighting for has the lowest social mobility in England…and the lowest SME productivity…and the lowest wages... in the whole country. All three. The market sector isn’t interested in what happens here and the public sector claims it can’t afford to do anything anymore.
Instead, it is up to us in the community and social enterprise sector to make the difference. We will have to be resilient because no-one else is left anymore. (*That in itself might give a clue to how resilient we perhaps are).
And we will find the strength to carry on of course. Not just because I can’t bear failure and don’t want to let myself down, or because I don’t want to let my fellow Onions (whom I admire more than the world) down, but because I simply cannot bear the idea of letting this community down.
So I will channel Teddy and find the strength.
About a million more times until it is done.
Is that enough resilience?
Image: Jess, 30, and her daughter Mabel, 5 months, in matching headscarves - halfway through Jess’ successful treatment for breast cancer.
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Onion Collective work with communities and organisations across the country to help them to be the best versions of themselves. We offer tailored business support and speak from a position of 'on the ground' community development experience. We continue to develop our own projects and deliver a host of community services in our home town of Watchet in Somerset.
We have wide expertise and long-standing experience of the sector. Between us we have backgrounds in financial and project management, social research and impact, environmental sustainability, heritage and arts development and marketing and communications. We have worked with a whole range of organisations—from local authorities and funding trusts; to youth charities and community housing developers; and to art galleries and skate parks—always with a focus on social impact