Home! After a hectic and mind blowing few days. Though the reality is more like a whirlwind two years. An idea from ‘the man that dreamed a dream’, Ian Dickson’s vision was to ‘organise a national conference for care experienced people and care leavers of all ages to try once more to get ‘our’ view of the care system heard at last’.
Going back in time to the latter half of 2017, the team were agreeing that the conference would be for anyone who had experienced residential care, foster care, adoption, kinship care or long-term placement away from home in a residential school or boarding school and who wanted to be regarded as care experienced.
It would be held at Liverpool Hope University and there would be workshops that would possibly lead to some sort of research. Research put together by the care experienced people of all ages, a sort of mandate for government and councils. 60% of attendees would be care experienced and 40% professionals though this soon changed after the phenomenal amount of #CEP applications. The whole way through the planning, the emphasis was on creating something special for those with a care exp past. This would be the first time a gathering of this size, a conference would be held.
I had a lovely email from Ian saying: “I want you on board, Rosie…your learning, experience and commitment are greatly valued“. Put like that, I could hardly refuse.
From the beginning my interest was in having an art exhibition alongside the main event – creative outpourings from the care experienced community. I was coupled or tripled with Yusuf McCormack and Rod Kippen, two amazing artists and an absolute privilege for me.
After travelling to Liverpool Hope University for one of the early conference meetings, we decided on a format. To promote the art exhibition side of the conference and get care experienced people to submit artworks.
We were aware the organisation would be quite complex because pieces of art work would need to be in on time, moved about, stored safely, and then eventually properly displayed. We would also need a timeline, a countdown to the big day, 26th April. And the art team would meet to discuss the logistics.
Meanwhile the rest of the team were busy thinking about raising funds and a JustGiving page for £10,000 was set up. Within the core group, smaller groups were forming: research, website, publicity, pastoral care, workshops and fundraising.
Artwork Submissions were beginning to trickle in and ranged from poetry, spoken word, videos, paintings, sculpture and photographs.
The organisation of the conference was overseen by Ian. There is not enough space here to go into all the details. To understand the amount of work that went on behind the scenes, I don’t think there was a day that went by that we did not receive an email about some aspect that needed our attention whilst whatever was in the email would be being carried out by someone. I can honestly say that Ian and the team were absolutely amazing, professional, committed and an absolute delight to work with.
Three days before the conference I travelled to Liverpool to begin the putting together of the art exhibition. Once arrived Yusuf and I walked round the space to get a really good feel of where we could place the art pieces. I felt it was important that Yusuf’s ‘child’ and coat of many labels had a prominent position and could be seen as people entered the Eden Building.
The following morning it was all hands on deck, Rod arrived early and the three of us chatted for a while and then went over to Rose Deveraux’s room to pick up art pieces that had been posted and our wonderful selection of donated books by care experienced authors for care experienced readers. Rose very kindly stored any post that arrived.
There was a minor worry when I realised that the paintings I’d posted using next day delivery two days previously and a box of even more donated books still hadn’t arrived! The chaps at security kindly kept a look out and when they finally arrived brought them over.
We worked throughout the day and into the night. As well as art works to be hung there were author displays to be finalised and a collage of 100 books that featured orphans and care experienced characters. And a raffle that combined donated books, some artworks and some lovely goody bags supplied by Open Nest.
“The art display was phenomenal, so emotive . The young person I brought took home an amazing piece as his raffle prize, he was in tears over it on the way home because it was so meaningful. What a lovely and generous gift to pass to young people.”
There are particular moments throughout the actual day of the conference that will stay with me for a long time. For example when I looked up and realised nearly every seat was filled and still more people were arriving, I had an overwhelming Rosie moment.
The strains of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now‘ by Queen, began and Lisa Cherry danced onto the stage. The conference was well and truly underway.