The conversation with David Lammy’s office took 48 hours to sink in…”the only money in the UK at the moment is to be found in the City of London”
These words struck me as true. But depressing!
It was 48 hours later that I had already made up my mind to go the “The City” and see if I could engage “The City” with the philosophy and ambition behind the OnlyDads project.
…that sounds mad, doesn’t it? I knew it was too!
But the thing is, when you have fire in your belly, you are able to swallow pride and you can become prone to the occasional madcap brainwave!
At its heart, I know that OnlyMums and OnlyDads do good work. Our non-political and non campaigning stance; our emphasis on offering mums and dads the best possible direction and support regardless of circumstance, coupled with our passionate belief that children benefit from having both mum and dad in their lives brings with it positive outcomes. Mums and Dads (and as importantly their children) benefit from what we do.
Our Panel of Experts free advice service is running at absolute capacity. We know our “pop-up” advice surgeries should be appearing in every town in the country. We know our Dad’s groups – a place where men are able to receive a quiet and reflective space to work through the emotional and practical steps they need to take following a relationship break-up offer amazing support are needed. We “know” all this because people tell us. We are under a lot of pressure to do more – provide more – and generally spread out network.
All this knowledge stokes that fire in my belly!
…Finding myself in a suit, standing on the corner of Fenchurch Street at 7.00am on a freezing cold February morning armed with 2,000 letters spelling out what OnlyDads does, and what support we need, did indeed, feel mad! Thankfully I had the supportive words of MJM ringing in my ears “Bob, it is mad. In fact it’s completely f******g mad. But, if anyone can pull this off, it’s YOU”.
20 minutes into my task of handing out my letters had resulted in me being walked passed by hundreds of people – none of whom bothered taking one off my hands. It was time for a quick strategic review of what I was doing (wrong).
The internal dialogue went like this…
…”Bob – transfer the fire in your belly to your head. Hold it up high. Stand in the way – get yourself noticed. Engage eye-contact with the people walking by!”
For a shy bloke – let me tell you – this was NOT easy.
But for the next 10 hours I did just that. I was still largely ignored, tutted at, avoided, and generally made to feel that I was a nuisance and in the way! And I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that this was the hardest thing I have ever done.
But I want to recall two specific incidents for you:
Standing outside an office with “Gold Merchant” above the door, I noticed the proprieter come outside for a fag. (he looked like a kindly individual who dined on pheasant and good Bordeaux every night) He took a letter from me. He read it, and read it again, and then read it for the third time. We chatted a bit and I was able to explain to him more about what we do. He listened carefully and punctuated our conversation with really insightful questions. He ended the conversation by folding the letter up and putting it into his back pocket. “Good luck” he said, “sounds like you are doing good work”.
5 minutes later, he popped back out. For a fleeting second, I thought he was going to slip a Sovereign into my palm and I could come back to Devon with my very own Dickensian / Dick Whittington story. Sadly, no. He came up to me and asked a very simple question….
…”how has it come to the point that you are now having to stand on street corners…!?”
The second incident I’ll tell you is perhaps more interesting!
By 8.30am (now with head-held high after giving myself a good talking-to) I handed a letter to a smartly dressed woman who seemed quite intrigued as to what I was doing. She came back to me a little while later and uttered something like “I think what you are doing is amazing”.
I can’t tell you just what a lift that gave me.
Climbing into bed that night, totally (I mean TOTALLY) exhausted I checked on my emails. One jumped out at me…
…It was from this lady who came back to me in the street. It read “I have taken the chance to look more at what you do. It is fantastic. I will support you as best as I can. I will be asking my boss to meet you”
Her boss, as it happens, is one of the most senior people in the City. He has a number of key roles and is very well-connected. He has agreed to meet me and in the next few weeks I will be going back to London with the hope that I can convince him of the worth of what we do, explain to him the facts that our funding isn’t there, and tell him frankly (hands-up) that our “business skills” are not what they might be.
I can end this post by saying I couldn’t come up with an answer to the Gold Merchant’s final question. I simply didn’t know what to say to him.
What I do know is Rebecca and I were talking about our work the other day in Dartington. One of the Dads from our group came cycling by. He stopped and told us he had fitted a new child seat to his bike and was off to pick his daughter up from school. It was going to be the first time. He was concerned that his daughter’s feet may dangle and get caught. He demonstrated to us his proposed solution. This dad’s eyes were alive and twinkling. He was positively “beaming”.
…and seeing that is way more precious than gold.