Reflections on Uganda #1 Slum Life & Street Children.



On Sunday 24th September 2017 I landed at Entebbe airport, Uganda.  I was there to work as a volunteer for the charity Retrak.  Everyone said it would be a life changing experience.  It was, but not for the reasons that they expected.

Retrak Logo

If you don’t know, Retrak is a UK based charity that works to help children who live on the streets in African counties.  Children that literally have nothing other than the clothes that they are standing in (and sometimes, this doesn’t include shoes).  Children that are terrified, starving and abused by the adults that share the streets that they live on.  Sleeping by day to stay safe, these children aren’t orphans – they have been trafficked away from their families or have fled poverty to seek the bright lights of Kampala City.  Many are sexually abused or forced into slave labour.  Girls as young as eight forced into domestic servitude and prostitution – abducted from their families and villages.

However, Retrak doesn’t build orphanages for children that have parents, or increase dependency by creating funding streams that can’t be maintained.  That might make us privileged folk feel better but it isn’t going to address the needs of a people who are capable of making their own way in the world, with a little bit of love, support and taught skills.  Retrak is about empowerment.

So I joined a team of eight others under the banner ‘Connecting HR Africa’.  This enterprise is the brain child of Ian Pettigrew, the Chair of Retrak (on the left, below).  His idea is not just about asking people to donate money to a charity, but instead asking people to donate their skills in helping others within the charity.

Connecting HR Africa 17

(Me and some of the members of Connecting HR Africa ’17 Team at Club House, Kampala, Uganda)

I joined the team and offered my skills as a police officer and middle manager/senior leader; researcher in organisational psychology (particularly in helping people deal with the emotions of working in distressing circumstances), an assistant lecturer and facilitator, and HR qualified. Our ambition was to help the Retrak staff working in Uganda, to focus on their needs and coping and to give them some time, space, and support; to understand how they can look after themselves to be the best they can for the children they work to help.

As a police officer I have worked in Child Protection, running the Central Manchester Child Protection team when I was a Detective Sergeant.  I also oversaw the Protect Unit – the early Child Sexual Exploitation Unit for Manchester Central.  I have worked with domestic violence teams, and as a DI oversaw the coordination of services looking at prevention work around domestic violence and child protection – looking at causes and triggers, as well as the devastating outcomes.  I also ran the Sexual Offences Unit for Longsight and Moss Side and I have seen men, women and children in some pretty distressing and upsetting circumstances, so I felt pretty versed in what to expect.

However, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw and experienced.

Our first meeting with the staff and children of Retrak Uganda was at ‘Club House’.  A drop in facility for boys in Kampala City.  This is a centre that provides medical help, psychosocial support, food, a safe space to sleep, and a safe environment where kids can be kids and play games and experience the love and kindness of the Retrak staff.  The Retrak staff make regular visits, day and night, into the slums to spread the word of (and the directions to get to) the Retrak drop in centre, and to talk to the kids who are on the streets.  The hope is that with regular contact they will build up the trust of the children and they will in turn, visit the centre and accept some help and hopefully a hot meal.  You have to remember that these kids are living in a world where they will have been lied to and let down by the people that sought to traffic them, or abused by the adults that they meet.  They have no safe space in their lives, and are therefore appropriately wary.

Counselling Club HOuse

Lunch at Club House

The first contact with the children and staff was amazing! Both staff and children came out to meet us as we drove in to the front compound!  Everyone (children included) were so excited to see us and we were greeted by each one – with a fist bump from the kids and a handshake from the staff!  Each person who introduced themselves had a big beaming smile on their faces!  If only everyday was like this!

As is typical of the warmth of the Uganda people, the children wanted to welcome us with a dance which they had rehearsed for us.  It was here that I first observed three very important traits of the Ugandan people (traits which I repeatedly experienced many times during my short stay).  The first is that the Ugandan people are the warmest, kindest and friendliest people I have every met – this shines through in every person that I encountered during my stay – from the littlest child to the oldest adult).  The second is that they are extremely creative and all excel in the performing arts.  The third is that, boy, can they dance!


Club House Audience

(An attentive audience!)

So the boys put on a really expressive and energetic dance that was full of fun and bounce – and tricky moves.  A dance which was seemingly too complex for ones so little, but they kicked it out of the park (so to speak)!  Something I think we can all vouch for, as at the end they dragged us all onto the dance floor (centre compound) to bust some moves!  It was a great introduction and a wonderful way to observe how these kids, who until recently had been living on the street, pulled together and worked hard to agree and learn a dance to present to us strangers – a far cry from street life and a brave move from all.

Club House Dance

After our fabulous welcome we grabbed a bottle of water and sat down with the staff. Our first activity for the day was to go into the slums and get an understanding of where the children have come from and how they survive on the streets – and also what it is that the staff are exposed to on a regular basis.  After a quick chat and safety brief we left Club House accompanied by the staff and walked to the slums where the children would be.  I don’t have any pictures of this as we couldn’t take our phones for security considerations.  Our first stop on the edge of the slums was to ask permission to proceed from the commander at the local police post.  Clearly we presented a potential danger or ‘flash point’, as I would have described as an officer in England, and could draw on police resources if we got ourselves in trouble.  This is remembering that we were the only white people that I had encountered within the country, so we were at the very least a novelty and cause for interest.

Walking through the slums I was both reminded of the footage I have seen of various celebrities in Sudan or Ethiopia in small huts made with wattle and daub and corrugated iron rooves; and the medieval street mock up at the Jovik Viking Museum.  The intensity of the environment could almost be intimidating, I was amazed at how many tiny homes were packed into such a small place, rows and rows facing each other across four or five foot of winding mud paths.  There was so much life in the place, with people working or selling, moving goods on either foot on motorcycle.  There was such a strong smell of wood smoke, as everywhere people cooked or prepared food.  There were huge fire pits where people worked to roast ‘G-nuts’; a lovely snack, if ever you get a chance to try it.  I was amazed at how people worked so hard over these fires, in what is an already hot country – and in such small quarters.  Again, I was amazed by the creativity and ingenuity of the people, as they used the things they had around them to produce whatever it was that they needed.  People who had very little but managed to find a way around all sorts of problems.

After winding our way between the small homes (smaller than my bathroom – and I only live in a small apartment) and visible industry we came to an open area – a large square of land where the traditional Ugandan taxi’s parked.  The staff explained to us that the kids would hang out in this area as they felt safer as it was more open and observed.  We walked across the square of land, which was covered in huge piles of rubbish, and over to a handful of small huts.  As we walked across a kid of about nine or ten came over to us.  He was really friendly and clearly knew the staff, but it was clear from his eyes and how he was carrying himself, that he was high.  We had been told to expect this, but it is not easy to see – the streets kids in Uganda sniff aviation fuel because it staves off hunger pangs.  So yes, the very little that they can get from selling empty water bottles they find, they use to buy aviation fuel to escape the pain and distress of starvation.  This made me ask all sorts of questions about who was selling the fuel, had they told the police, what were they doing? But I also thought about the repercussions of taking the supply of aviation fuel away from these children – this was their only form of coping as they slowly starved.  The answer was to get them off the streets, or even better – prevent them from ever being there at all.

Child in slums

As we got closer to the edge of the open area and the group of huts we were approached by about five children.  They were dressed in shorts and tees, some had flip flops, some not.  All were clearly dirty, their clothes had holes and were thread bare and ripped.  These kids had nothing but the clothes that they were dressed in, and then that wasn’t much – but they all came with big smiles on their faces and a welcoming fist bump.  As I was talking to one kid I felt a small hand slip into mine – I looked down and there was a tiny girl of about two or three smiling up at me, eager just to hold the hand of an adult.  Quickly we were surrounded by children, eager to chat and learn our names.  At no time did I feel any threat or intimidation.   It was apparent to me that if I had been in the same situation in a number of other cities I would have been in a lot of danger – here in Uganda it was obvious that all that these kids wanted was to be friends and to be loved.

small child

We moved around the area talking to different children – again I could see different levels of industry going on.  In one hut there was an adult male weighing items that the children had brought in, it looked to me that they were selling what they had found.  Next we walked round to the side of an old ship container that was wedged in the sandy dirt, in here older teenage boys were hanging out.  These boys clearly had a relationship with the staff and chatted away with them.  One young man was selling animals carved out of black wood – I learnt that his name was Isaac.  He seemed really happy to see the staff and greeted us all with big smiles, he chatted happily away as we took in the impoverished surroundings he sought to exist in.    As I looked around me I could see the reddy black earth, typical of Uganda, and mounds of rubbish, some separated into empty water bottles, other; items that I couldn’t distinguish.  Behind an old barrel a dog and her puppies camped out, almost indistinguishable from the dirt that they lay in.  Children played in the earth with whatever they could find – laughing as they went.

Plastic bottles and child


Children sleeping under TEU









(Children sleep together in the day to stay safe).

I bought an elephant off Isaac, I don’t know how much it helped him, it certainly added to his smile.  For me it is a very much prized possession that is a constant reminder of these beautiful people existing in the most dire and terrible circumstances.

Isaac the Elephant


As we walked out of the slums two children of about three or four years ran along with us and one took my elephant out of my hand.  We all laughed as he showed his playmate, swooping the elephant in the air whilst making aeroplane noises – who knew elephants could fly?  Children play here like they play anywhere else in the world.  As we left, the staff asked the children to go back to whoever was looking after them – worried that they would follow us too far.  Without being asked, the child handed the elephant back.  What struck me was that this elephant was more than this child had, either as a toy or simply as a possession.  A child who had nothing sought not to try and keep what was not theirs, but happily handed it back with only a smile as acknowledgement.

Now that we had an idea of what conditions the children experienced on the street we were keen to understand what it was that Retrak could do to help them.

My next blog will cover the work of the staff at the boys transition centre Tuda; reintegration, and prevention services – working with families and communities.

If you want to help these wonderful children who can’t ask for help themselves – please donate at my just giving page – the money goes direct to Retrak, and from there to the children that need our help.  You would be amazed what £1 could do for a street child.



The Reflective Detective: Walking for Retrak.

Hi there! Thanks for looking in…  things have moved on a bit since I last wrote.  I have finally completed all the taught elements of my PhD. with a little help from my Anxiety Monster (see ‘Anxiety and the PhD’ post for more) and now my research is in full swing…

Using my research I am working harder than ever to truly understand the role of emotions in the mental health of police officers coping with exposure to trauma.

My personal goal for my research is not just to further academic understanding and theory, but to actually make my learning relevant and accessible – to make sure that my work is useful in helping others in their coping and positive mental health.

One of my goals is for my research to help others whom I wouldn’t normally be able to reach.  That is why I applied to the Retrak Connecting HR Africa programme.

Connecting HR Africa is the brain child of Ian Pettigrew of Kingfisher Coaching – who is also a trustee of Retrak.

Retrak works to transform lives and provide positive futures for the world’s most vulnerable children who live, work and sleep on the streets.  Connecting HR Africa brings together like minded professionals from the UK who can share their industry specific experience and personal skills to have a lasting impact on young lives – and the local staff who work to support them.

I have been accepted to join a team of volunteers to travel to Kampala, Uganda this September.  Whilst there I will be working with the young children helping them back to a life where they feel safe, valued and loved – and hopefully return to their family home (a lot of children are trafficked).  I will also be working with the local staff who have the very tough, and sometimes harrowing job of working with young vulnerable children who have survived living on the streets.  Like all those supporting others to cope with the traumas of life, it takes a toll on personal mental health.   Particularly when you are working to help children. Sometimes just acknowledging this can be a step to better coping.  I am hoping to use my personal experience and research to help the Retrak staff find ways to support each other through the difficult times.

The arrangements for the trip are that I pay for my flights and evening meals etc. whilst in Uganda.  The charity provide the accommodation.  I also have to raise £2000 for Retrak.

Gosh, that is a lot of money.  And not a lot of time.  But hey, I can do hard work, and I rekon that is what it takes..

So, I have signed myself and my husband (poor chap) up to the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge.  The YTP challenge (as it is now known…) takes on the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, in under 12 hours.  These peaks form part of the Pennine range, and encircle the head of the valley of the Rive Ribble, in the Yorshire Dales.

The route is 24 miles long and includes 5,200 ft of ascent.  *gulp* I have climbed Pen-y-ghent before – not so bad, probably took four to six hours (pleasant day out..).  But doing three peaks in under twelve hours… I think this might hurt just a tad.

I signed up with an official organisation – not just so that I have my time recorded, and get a medal (yes, I am partial to a medal…) but to make sure that someone is looking for me if I get lost/broken…

Yesterday I began my training (my husband came along in the capacity of ‘support vessel’ – his words, I’m a little concerned that he thinks I am swimming the channel).  I decided that it would be a good idea to walk The Wirral Way – there and back.  We have tried it before – but only made it there before our feet gave up and took the train ‘back’.

For some reason I thought it was 8 miles (there) 16 in total – and all flat.  An easy start to our training…


Begining Wirral Way

(Yep, you’re laughing now..)

In reality it is 12 miles out (what was I thinking??) therefore 24 in total.  Oops.  However, decision made; no going back – or not until we had got all the way out first.  I had thought that if we were really struggling we could always find a train/bus/taxi/ambulance home.

As it is, we are pretty stubborn, and 26 miles later (with a little help from a detour down to the sea at West Kirby) we staggered/crawled back to our car at Hooton train station car park.  Good grief! Well… I have chaffing in places that chaffing really shouldn’t be allowed, and my husband has blisters on the soles of his feet! (again, poor chap).  I can’t say what the monkey thought…

Walking Monkey

(doesn’t seem too bothered..)

This is my first training walk and today I am off to the gym for a pre booked yoga session; and a few crippled downward dogs…  (Note to self, work out mileage first…) You can see why I have booked with a company for the official challenge – no knowing where I will end up, or how..

That said – it is a lovely walk, I was lucky enough to grow up on The Wirral, and it is a beautiful part of the world.  I recommend the walk (only one way!).  It starts at Hooton Train Station and finishes at West Kirby where you can get great chips and ice cream (separately).  Along the way you can take in Neston and Parkgate – which are lovely little villages and you pass through the restored station of Hadlow Road – restored inside and out to the 1950s (loos if you need them).


Hadrow Point Box

(bikes not ours!)

Hadrow Train Station Inside

Hadrow Train Station

There is also Thurstaston Country Park, which has beautiful cliff side views to the sea – a great place to fly your kite.  Just remember to book your train ticket back to Hooton!


Ice Cream Wirral Way   Thurstaston Country Park, sea views, ice cream and kite flying.  10 miles in (still smiling)

Wirral Way views to Wales

The view to Wales across the The River Dee Estuary.

If you feel you can help and would like to support me in my endeavour to complete both the challenge of YTP and raising £2000 for Retrak, would you visit my Just Giving page and donate what you can.  With such a big amount – every penny helps.

Thank you. X (from me, and the Monkey)

SJ’s Just Giving Page

SJ and Bridge II

Anxiety and the PhD.

So, here I am, I have won a scholarship to study for a PhD. in my chosen area of emotions and mental health in the police.  My thesis title is:

Emotional In-authenticity: the psychological impact of emotional labour on police officers.

Yep, that’s right, I am widening my study from my MSc. dissertation.  As it happens, I did really well and got a distinction for my dissertation and for my MSc.

Okay, you’re right, this blog isn’t about how well I did in my studies…

..but I do need to give you some context so you can understand how high functioning anxiety plays out; and how it can be deceptive to the casual observer.

I think I can call this ‘high functioning anxiety’.. it’s pretty sneaky.  You shouldn’t really know how I am feeling.  You see, the little anxiety monster that runs around my head shouting, drowning out my own voice, tells me that if I show any sign of anxiety… I’m a failure.   In fact, anything less than perfecto! is failure.

So I am really practiced at putting on this convincing act of everything being just okay.. (you can guess why I study emotional labour – class act!).

But anxiety it is also a lot more clever than that (anxiety is, by self purport, smarter than it’s host) because it tells me that anything I did do right, was a fluke – and I will struggle to ever meet the same standard again, because really, I am just not that good.

So despite all my hard work and my results, every new dawn brings a new sense of self-doubt.

I try my best to rationalise my way round my anxiety, I mean, I am meant to have some intelligence; but you see, this is where I am disadvantaged by my creative soft spot – my happy day dream head turns into frenzied fantasy as I imagine every possible worst case scenario that could result of my last action/sentence/blog/tweet/breath…

A quick scenario for you… I have just submitted my first assignment for my PhD. taught element.  I have worked so hard at this, and I actually kinda like it.  I love the topic; I am so passionate about how police officers are allowed to deal with their emotions, and how this impedes their psychological wellbeing.  I care so much about this, it is a pleasure to read and to write about.  I also love the act of writing – the creation and completion of a piece of work.  I like how sentences sound, and how they communicate with other people in the world, it makes me feel connected and tangible.  I feel I have created something I like.

So I press the submit button.  And feel sick.  It is almost instantaneous.  My stomach is in knots.. my heart beat is raised through the roof, and I can feel my skin turn cold and clammy.. I feel the faint, pricking of adrenaline in my arms, and everything has just gained an impressive visual definition.





Kinda like the last time someone pulled a knife on me..

I reach about in my head searching for the thing that has set this off, wanting to emotionally touch the bad element of my assignment that will mean that I WILL FAIL.  I want to look at it and reassure myself that I have made it up, or it isn’t that bad, and I have over emphasised a negative point.

But I can’t, because I can’t find it, as it doesn’t exist.

But hey, let’s not stop there (because this is high functioning anxiety, and if I am going to be good at anything, it’s anxiety!).   This is not just a failure.  No, this is so bad that I will be considered unfit for carrying on with my PhD.  I will be summonsed to my supervisor’s office (my legs are actually beginning to ache with the flood of adrenaline, as I visualise my route to their office and standing in front of them; impeccably lit by the ceiling to floor window) and they will state their disappointment.  They will be devastated.  And I will be devastated for them.  This is after all MY FAULT, I have let them down. *whimper* I am sad.  Then, I am ceremoniously marched off campus and into my dull future.  No PhD. No Scholarship. No employment.  All I have to do is tell my husband…

Okay… so this is classic catastrophizing.  But I am so well versed in visualising my agonising demise that I have managed this scenario (in HD) in around thirty seconds..

So, I try it on again; just for size.. and, as I like to make sure that it is the perfect scenario for my sad little ending, I polish it a bit.  Add a couple of scenes (running into fellow PhD cohort, having to explain to my students why I can’t teach them – a thunderstorm for atmosphere – rain running down that very long window…) and repeat.

I know this is a really stupid thing to do, but I can’t explain to you that when you are in the grip of this fear, that it is very hard to shake.  Give me all the breathing and CBT in the world – fear feels like fear, no matter the cause.  And humans are programmed to react.

Okay I really am gonna breath now *sigh*..

As it was, I passed: 67 – and do you know what I thought?  Where did the 3 marks go that meant I missed a distinction!

Whatever.  This is exhausting; I wish I would give myself a break.

However, this is anxiety, and any moments I get for potential down time result in fear filled, gut wrenching agony that I am no longer relevant, and have no value in this world.  So, I work.  I work to seek reassurance that I am worth the space that I take up on this earth.

And so it goes on.. don’t get me wrong.  Life is a lot better now.  If you look at the above scenario, then apply that to my last death investigation, or shooting – you can see just how bad my little fantasy head can get.  It wasn’t just my PhD I could fail, I could fail at preventing a loss of life; and it wouldn’t have been campus I would have been marched off, but marched into my own trial and had my human failures highlighted to all who come to watch the spectacle (yes, I have convicted myself in my head many times for not being good enough – queue near break down, see blog post 1&2).

I now consider myself one of the luckiest people alive.  I can’t begin to tell you what a privilege it is to be able to study my chosen subject to such depth, and hopefully have a part in some change for good.


But to all those peeps out there with their own anxiety monster creating anarchy in their head; and to those that are seeking to understand those that do; trust me, it doesn’t matter what your triggers are or the context of your circumstances that lead you to curl up in a ball on the floor.. fear is fear, and when it triggers your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system it is very difficult to talk yourself down.  These are our warning signs – our security system; and we are programmed to react.  And it takes a lot to carry on like we are doing just fine – but I know we do, because anything else would be… well, you know what the monster says… but knowing this is my monster and this is how it works me, well it does help.  And it does help knowing I’m not the only one hosting in my head.. maybe I should start a support group: ‘monsternet’… any tips on social anxiety at networking events..?

So if you do suffer with high functioning anxiety, know you are not alone, and please give yourself permission to take some time out.  Even for a second, just take a moment to exist, rather than to pursue the next goal.  You will get there.

As for me… well, there’s the next assignment and a few presentations to think of.  But I did give myself time to write this blog, which for me is progress..

#5 Exploring Emotions At Work: Next Steps for the Reflective Detective.


It’s been a little while since I last checked in.  I hate to say that I have been busy, particularly when I speak to my colleagues still in the job, but I have been occupying my time and my mind, trying to understand what it is about the culture of policing that make it so difficult for us to talk about how we feel.

So where am I now? 

Well my exams have been sat, my assignments written and I haven’t done so bad, and now I am working on my dissertation – hoping for a distinction in my Masters.

So what is my dissertation?

My dissertation examines emotional labour in the police and how this is linked to burnout.

Title: A study into the relationship between emotional labour and burnout of police officers within Greater Manchester Police.

Okay.  Super.. but how does this relate to the experience of the Reflective Detective and the wellbeing of police officers at large?

Well..  emotional labour is the work we do to disguise how we are really feeling – but for a commercial (or in this case, a policing) reason.  Arlie Hochschild wrote a book called ‘The Managed Heart’ in 1983 and she explored emotional labour and its impact on the individual.

The Managed Heart

Emotional labour is divided into surface acting and deep acting: where surface acting sees us act out the required emotion without changing our internal feelings, deep acting is when we try and engage our internal feeling and align them with the required emotion.

What feelings the organisation requires us to experience or display depend upon the ‘feeling rules’ and ‘display rules’ of that culture.



…they are the times we want to scream and shout, or to dissolve into giggles when it just wouldn’t be right.  When we take a deep breath when someone else doesn’t manage their emotions towards us, and it smarts – but we don’t complain because that wouldn’t be right/corporate/professional or just polite (we are after all British).

For police officers it is what you would expect – not crying when you deliver a death message to parents, not running away in fear when someone more scared than you thrusts a gun/knife/broken bottle at your head.  Not being rude to the child sex offender you just convicted, but treating everyone with respect, even when they do spit on you..  It really is about keeping your head when the evidence around you suggests you should just run: essentially, not letting the people who depend on you see your fear.

But it is also the place where you stand alone in a crowded and busy locker room at the end of a shift, and everyone in your team (including you) is laughing and joking about the pub fight you just dealt with, where the main protagonists wielded knives and machetes, and really you were scared all along, and suspect they were too.  It’s the hours in the night, long after you should have finished your shift, and you are on your own in a deserted police station, pulling together a handover file for the prisoner you just arrested, who had stated that they wanted to kill you – and did their best to prove it – but now it is the accuracy of paperwork that seems the most pressing matter.. It’s when you walk into the station shaking, bruised and spattered with someone else’s blood.. and being asked to respond to a reported shoplifter.. it’s sitting down to dinner with your loved ones and discussing the latest episode of GoT, when really all you can think about is the kid you just stopped from jumping off the bridge.

This discrepancy between felt and displayed emotion is known as emotional dissonance, and it is directly linked to burnout..

Police Stress

There is no question that police officers have to manage their emotions in difficult circumstances: that is what the job is and that is what is needed to get it done.  Undisputed.  Sometimes police officers manage their emotions to influence the emotions of others (think angry man, scared child, the frantic parent) but there comes a point where they need to deal with all these emotions and all that they encounter in the routine of their work.

My argument is that there should be room, back at the station, back within the work place with other people who share the same experiences, for bobbies to be able to talk openly about how the work they do affects them.

…and then there is the ‘deep acting’, where officers time and time again empathise with the victims they support.. until emotionally, they are exhausted. Burnout.

At the moment we don’t just carry out emotion work when we most need to – out on the street holding the thin blue line, but it continues into our culture, back in to what should be the safety of canteens, offices, gyms, locker rooms..

Research demonstrates that just the perception that you are able to talk about your emotions post traumatic event is enough to start mitigating the emotional impact of that trauma – that’s all it takes, not even the talking but just a supportive atmosphere that indicates that it is okay to feel.

And I think that is the crux of my point.  It is okay to feel. 

It’s not weak.  It doesn’t mean ‘you’re not up to the job’.  It means you are human – probably a good skill to have as a cop..

And yes, we can’t always express our authentic emotions – there are times in all walks of life/organisation/society/lunch with the in-laws when we have to convey an emotion that isn’t authentic to our inner and truest feelings, but when these emotions are negative, impactive, distressing or just straight overwhelming, we need to acknowledge them, deal with them and let them go on their way, long before they hurt us permanently.

It is my belief that organisations who ask their employees to expose themselves to the most distressing, horrifying or terrifying aspects of life on a routine basis have a responsibility to support them with their personal outcomes, to support them with their mental health, their coping, their positive wellbeing.

So can I make a difference?

How can I hope to influence what is a large and complex organisation with a culture that stretches back almost 200 years..?

Peeler attitude

Well, it is my intention to try.

I am starting by giving my colleagues their voice – an authentic voice that gives them the opportunity to say how it is for them – but with the security of confidentiality.

But I want to do it in such a way that it can’t be ignored, that is credible and relates to a reality that goes to the heart of what it is to be a police officer.

So my research captures the emotional narrative of police officers living and breathing the job through the recording of diaries.

Each one has a story and I want them to tell that story, exactly as it is – inner emotions and displayed emotions.  Hidden fears, anxieties and frustrations.  And the passion for why they do what they do.

From this I am going to work out just exactly what the rules around feeling and displaying emotion are within our organisation.

Then I am going to take this collective voice and give it a platform, a place from where it can be heard.

And this is my dissertation.

…but also it will be my thesis.

Recently I have been really lucky enough to have been awarded a scholarship at Manchester Metropolitan University to undertake a PhD. programme, and yes my thesis is on emotional labour in the emergency services, authenticity of emotion and the impact this has on burnout.

I am not stopping here.  Not until we can speak, and be heard.


PS when I googled Police and emotional stress I got a picture of someone holding a glass of wine and another holding a pint of beer…



Story Telling at the ABP with Andrew Thorp

April 2015 North West Association for Business Psychologists Event:

Story Telling with Andrew Thorp.

Andrew Thorp is a talented and recognised speaker and communications coach.  Through his business, ‘Mojo Your Business’, Andrew has helped numerous leaders and organisations to tell ‘their story’ in a persuasive and engaging way.

In 2014 he received the award ‘Speaker of the Year’ from the Association of Professional Coaches, Trainers and Consultants, and has spoken at TEDx conferences and the Milan Expo 2015.

If you have read any of my earlier blogs you will understand that this is an area of interest to me.  I have recently taken to telling my own ‘story’ to try and engage people and to develop the conversation around emotion at work and personal wellbeing.  I also studied theatre at ‘A’ level, so I have a keen interest in storytelling and connecting with your ‘audience’, whoever they might be; so I was really interested to hear the ‘business’ perspective and how art and organisation combine.

Andrew is an engaging speaker and began his talk by telling a story of how he met the dad of one of his son’s friends.  He told the story of how he had never met the gentleman in question but bumped into him whilst out shopping with his son.  Realising who he was he went to introduce himself, but on seeing the man raise his arm he obligingly lent in for a hug… at the same time wondering why he was hugging this man he had never met before..  As it turns out, the gentleman was reaching out to turn down his collar which had been sticking up…. Ahh.. *awkward grimace* I think this was a good way for Andrew to break the ice, he also immediately drew the audience to him – he displayed humility and honesty in immediately admitting to an embarrassing incident that we can all relate (but might not always admit) to.

From then Andrew started to discuss how business can utilise storytelling to engage clients and customers.  I was intrigued to hear businesses now consider the ability to tell your story as cutting edge marketing and that company leaders are learning to give their companies a great story to tell about themselves.

I think the really key point that Andrew made here was that stories need to connect with people on an emotive basis, not just relay facts.  This matters when selling ideas and trying to get heard in today’s noisy media world: I guess you need to find a way to cut through and connect.  Andrew talks about a message that resonates with people, he termed this ‘wave length marketing’.


Andrew gave the example of Philippe Dubost:


philippe dubost


Philippe Dubost was an out of work web programme manager.  He was struggling to find work and to connect with companies.  So he created his own Amazon page utilising his CV, including delivery options (‘will travel’) and customer reviews (‘references’).  His idea was so novel that the mainstream media picked up on his work and as a result he ended up on CNN and the front pages of the main media outlets.  It turned out that Philippe found himself in conversation with the companies that identified with him and valued his approach – who were on his ‘wavelength’ – so Philippe had managed to connect with likeminded people, and yes, he got the job.

Andrew also talked about the importance of connecting within organisations, about creating a sense of purpose and communicating the big picture.  I have to be honest, when I hear the term ‘big picture’ I can’t help but roll my eyes – more corporate speak and for me, not authentic, but Andrew teamed his point up with the image of a picture of Emmeline Pankhurst:

emeline pankhurst

..created through a mosaic of tiny pictures of inspirational women donated by the public:



It is titled ‘Women Like You’ and is the work of artist Charlotte Newson (you can see it in Manchester Town Hall – well worth a peek).

Okay, that resonates – and it really is the big picture and the message is clear, bringing all women together to one cause.

Andrew talked of the disconnect between senior leadership and ‘everyone else’ and how organisations can become fragmented and disparate, with a ‘silo’ mentality – developed through corporate bureaucracy and operational optimisation…

But human beings, being good old us, we like to connect: so we will find a way.

Andrew told the story of Rank Xerox.  Rank Xerox employed engineers across the country to operate as single units responding to businesses whose copiers required their attention.  The company was horrified to discover that their engineers were meeting at service stations for coffee and a chat (can you imagine how lonely that job must be…).  In response Rank Xerox set up a time and motion study and sent in observers.. and found that the coffee meetings were the single most important event in the engineers schedule: it allowed them to share experiences and develop problems solving responses to issues.  From this the company developed Eureka! a knowledge management tool that allows engineers to upload their experiences and stories, and to receive recognition for solutions they identify.  As a result Rank Xerox saw a 10% reduction in labour and cost improvement – and a connection between its work force unlike before.

The problem is that the majority of knowledge in a company is in people’s heads (tacit knowledge) and organisations are vulnerable to losing or not recognising this knowledge if they don’t find a way to record and share employees stories.  This is also true for humanity: a point identified by ‘Story Corps’, an initiative that started with a ‘Story Booth’ in Grand Central Station, New York.  The ‘Story Booth’ allowed members of the public (anyone) to record their story, no matter what it was – just what they wanted to tell.  ‘Story Corps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world:

Gosh, this speaks to me.

There are similar initiatives around the world: The Listening Project on Radio Four; The Moth – an open mic event in New York, where people go and tell their stories – about anything, but with the same idea about connecting people through sharing.

The point that Andrew makes is that connection is made through relating to another person’s story.  The mistake that organisations make is that they start their story with the ‘what’ rather than explaining ‘why’.   This point was identified by Ted speaker, author and leadership guru Simon Sinek who advocates the ‘Start with Why’ concept – which he describes as the ‘Golden Circle’:



Andrew described the Golden Circle as a three layered cake:

The Big Picture: purpose, values, philosophy.

Machinery: how, facts – a bid dull.

Library: mini stories, models, theories, personal stories.


For an organisations story to resonate there needs to be a mission statement that is visionary and addresses the big picture: is there some injustice in the world that needs fixing?  The big picture needs to make people feel good about what it is you are trying to sell.. not just tell them what it is.

Andrew talked about Nelson Mandela and the media coverage after he had passed.  Andrew noted that there were three main angles that the coverage took:

  • What he had stood for.
  • His chronological history.
  • Stories from the people that he met.

Andrew told the story of Frank Dobson meeting Nelson Mandela for the second time.  He had met him some time earlier in a group visit, and as a result Frank Dobson didn’t expect Nelson Mandela to recall him, or the meeting.  As Frank Dobson went to introduce himself, Nelson Mandela greeted him, “Hello Frank, nice to see you again”.  It was no great surprise that Frank Dobson was uncharacteristically stunned into silence.  Displaying a great humility Nelson Mandela put a hand on Frank’s shoulder and asked “ do remember me don’t you?”..

Andrew went on to discuss how people have a tendency to get stuck in ‘machinery’ and don’t develop their ‘library’.  Showing a clip of Kevin Spacey speaking at the Content Marketing World Conference (have a nosey on YouTube, it’s great) Andrew spoke about the need to become the story and to bring the audience into your story, not just relay it.

As a close Andrew provided two mnemonics, the first was ‘PAL’.

The ‘P’ stands for ‘pain’ – this is the reason why people might need you and your idea to help them.

The ‘A’ is for ‘aspirin’ – this is to explain the journey that you will take together and what value you will create.

The ‘L’ is for ‘legacy’ – the happy ending that you will reach together.


The last mnemonic I felt was particularly useful it is called ‘LOTS’:






This appeals to me – I tend to tell my stories in terms of how I felt, thought I would feel, or how I think others feel.  I understand and relate to senses and emotions, but I guess we all do, we just need to feel safe and secure enough to share our story and to hear others too.

Thank you Andrew; that was quite a journey we took together.







#4 The Integrity of EI.

The Reflective Detective and Restoring the Integrity of Emotional Intelligence with Tom Rhys Evans.

As I began upon my journey I sought out those people and organisations that could help with my thirst for knowledge and education.  This led me to the Association of Business Psychologists (Manchester Branch), where I am now the student representative on the committee.

The Association of Business Psychologists (ABP) Manchester Branch holds regular events at the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School – and they are always very informative and entertaining.  They are also attended by a great group of people who are very informed and generate stimulating discussion – but are also very welcoming to lay persons like myself.

On one particular Wednesday in November I attended an excellent and intellectually challenging event.  Tom Rhys Evans, Lecturer in Occupational Psychology and PhD Student at Coventry University, delivered a stimulating presentation on the research he is conducting into Emotional Intelligence entitled: Emotional Intelligence: Restoring integrity through theoretical clarification.

You may guess from the title that Tom seeks to challenge the present ‘fashion’ of emotional intelligence in business and how it has been adapted into pretty much every aspect of life (including the female orgasm!) as the golden bullet solution.  A solution which is argued has always existed but we just haven’t been emotionally aware enough to recognise it: ‘old wine in a new bottle’.  Tom argued that business had picked up the two words ‘emotional’ and ‘intelligence’ and run away with them, without truly understanding – or being able to articulate – what emotional intelligence is.

Tom sought to educate the audience on the history of Emotional Intelligence and cited Mayer and Salovey (1990) as describing emotional intelligence as an ‘ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’.  Tom explained to us how the definition expanded through the work of Goleman (1996) and into a concept open to a multitude of interpretations (Caruso, 2003) until it became to resemble an inkblot..

Ink Blot

..not sure what it is, and what it isn’t.

Tom seeks to regain clarity of emotional intelligence and articulates emotional intelligence as an umbrella term with three different approaches:

  • Ability: Intelligence and knowledge
  • Competency: Practical skills and actual behaviours
  • Trait: Personality and typical behaviours.

The ability model has a four branch structure which defines emotional intelligence as the ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions.

It is suggested that emotional intelligence is a second stratum factor of intelligence – akin to constructs like verbal reasoning (MacCann, Joseph, Newman and Roberts, 2014).

The trait model is related to personality, and drawing upon the Big 5 personality traits, the trait model is very close to neuroticism but also draws on extraversion and agreeableness.  Importantly they are affective behavioural preferences not related to cognitive ability or the speed and accuracy of emotional processes (Felner et al. 2007).  The trait model acknowledges the subjective nature of emotion and can be assimilated into well-known personality theories.

The competency model identifies competencies as behaviours that reflect upon an individual’s intent upon a situation, they are behaviour manifestations of emotional intelligence (Ryan, Emmerling, and Spencer, 2009).  Competencies are susceptible to training and can easily be observed – so are popular commercially, but not particularly practicable as Tom argues; ‘there is no point teaching people to give tissues if they can’t recognise when people are sad’.

So it is at this point of our education that Tom reassures us that now that we know what it is that we are dealing with – we can now think about measuring and hopefully influencing emotional intelligence.

Tom counselled us to proceed with caution when being presented with a measurement for emotional intelligence and to consider which area it was that we would like to consider.  Tom recommended forms of measurement for each element of emotional intelligence.

The first was MSCEIT, which measures the ability element of emotional intelligence and identifies emotions through facial expressions and uses this knowledge to affect behaviour through understanding, managing and using emotions.  Here Tom talked us through the appropriate mood to meet our in-laws with, giving us the choices of ‘tension’, ‘surprise’ and ‘joy’… For some of us the answer wasn’t as clear as you would have thought…

Tom argued that, although this is the most commonly used measurement of emotional intelligence, it is flawed as it ignores other elements of emotional intelligence.

This led Tom to discuss measuring the trait element of emotional intelligence through the use of TEIQue (Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire, Petrides and Furnham, 2001).  This test uses situational questions that cover a broad spectrum from emotionality, wellbeing, sociability and self-control and comes in a short form (30 questions) which is free to use for research purposes.

To measure the competency element of emotional intelligence Tom looked at EQ-I (Emotional Quotient Inventory, Bar-On, 2011) which examines Self-perception, Self-expression, Interpersonal, Decision Making and Stress Management.  Unfortunately this test requires whoever administers it to be trained and is quite expensive!

Tom then explored the need for the integration of the different models and relevant measurement, quoting Seal and Andrews – Brown (2010) who articulate the need to validate arguments in support of emotional intelligence theory.

This is the element of emotional intelligence that Tom is addressing through his research.

Tom talked us through the situation of being stuck on a train for two hours next to two people who are arguing..

Tom purported that we would more than likely experience some emotional distress (irritation?)… that we would have the option of a range of behaviours (competencies) in response to our distress, which would be limited by our range of abilities (i.e. to negotiate?).. so Tom argues that we are likely to go for your most dispositional response.. tutting before moving seats (if you’re British).

Which brings Tom onto:

‘An Integrated Model of Affective Individual Difference’.  Tom’s research.

Simply put Tom’s argument is that abilities and competencies are like apples into apple sauce:

                                       Abilities and Competencies.

Apple Sauce

The theory:

  • Trait emotional intelligence captures our preferred or typical response.

  • Though trait gives an indication as to what behaviour we are likely to engage with, it is not determined by our ability: it is a preference, not the actual behaviour.

i.e. we could choose to ignore a distressing situation – but this may not be appropriate in the circumstances and we might not be successful in our attempt.

From this understanding Tom has developed his model of integration:

EI 1

but goes on to remind us that emotional intelligence is part of other models and can’t be seen in isolation:

EI Picture 2

which Tom explored earlier in the presentation.


So, how does this work in application?

Tom took a group of undergraduate students and took them through a lesson of recognising emotions through facial expression, moving from basics emotions to mixed emotions (recognising that emotions such as ‘bitter sweet’ can be difficult to identify).  Tom then asked the students to apply this to real life situations and emotions.  Next, Tom then took the students through a self-awareness exercise – identifying their own strengths and weaknesses and comparing them to what their nearest and dearest thought were their weakness and strengths, and to reflect on this.

So, Tom trained his students in emotional intelligence ability, equipping them with a greater emotional understanding of themselves and others which should influence which preferred response they select in future situations, which can therefore be observed by examining their emotional intelligence competencies (behaviours).  For Tom’s research he has elected to follow the undergraduate students through to employment to see if their learning has led them to be more successful in obtaining the employment of their choice.

I think Tom makes an excellent argument as to how we should approach emotional intelligence.  It seems to make sense to me (the lay person) that we shouldn’t be trying to examine emotional intelligence in isolated elements: there is so much that goes into our behaviour.

Some of the audience wondered if this process could be used in 360 assessments – which Tom thought would be very useful – self-awareness is very important in affecting emotional intelligence competency.

Others in the audience wondered how you could exclude environmental factors, and Tom talked about the importance of understanding and articulating the context of situations – i.e. being at work has an impact on emotional intelligence competencies.

After Tom’s talk many of us stayed behind to discuss what we had learnt, and talked about the importance of bringing emotional intelligence and awareness into schools, but also agreeing with Tom for the need to make sure that using and measuring emotional intelligence needs to be done in a controlled and ethical way –  there is a danger in applying these techniques if we aren’t sure what we are doing, and what we are doing could be creating harm.

It seems that Tom’s research will lead us further down the line to structured, holistic and rational understanding of emotional intelligence that can be applied appropriately in our places of work to positive effect.

Has Tom been successful in what he set out to achieve?  Well for me Tom has certainly given me theoretical clarity (and education) on emotional intelligence, and this is clearly the way to bring back integrity to the field – and hopefully more effective use in our organisations.  Thank you Tom – I will certainly take up your call to arms..

Call to arms

and fight for greater integrity in the assessment and application of models of emotional intelligence.







The Reflective Detective #3 A new beginning.

So what next…

I worked on the project for a while whilst I licked my wounds and thought about my future.  It was clear to me that I would have to leave the police.  A lot of people advocated using my status to get into a more ‘back office’ role, where I would be more protected from operational policing, but I knew this wasn’t me.  I need to be proud of what I do, I can’t hide for an easy life.  Whatever I was going to do, I was going to do it to the best of my ability and I wanted to hold my head high.

The things that I knew about myself were that I really enjoyed leading people and I cared passionately for the staff that worked in the police.  I had commissioned some work whilst I was a DI with an outside company to conduct some occupational psychological assessments on the sub division after the sudden loss of one of our Detective Sergeants.  I was really interested in how team dynamics played out in supporting roles and creating a sense of ‘family’.  This is one of the many ways that staff get through the daily business of being in the police, it is a powerful element of the organisation but one that is so undervalued and overlooked.

At the same time I became aware of a new initiative in the organisation: ‘well-being’.  This was news to me, there was an element of the organisation that was also identifying the need to look closely into how we support our staff to get through their daily lives as officers.  I made contact with the wellbeing team and learnt what they were doing and what they were trying to achieve.  I told them my story and they listened with understanding – one was an organisational psychologist and the other a sports and wellbeing psychologist.

They both supported me and gave me complete insight into the work that they were doing and I began my own research, I looked at the pressure that officers were under with the reduction of staff, the increase in work load (intensification) and scrutiny and the greater exposure to trauma.  I read all I could on wellbeing, the importance of leadership and support, autonomy in role and understanding of role.  I learnt about mindfulness (and began to practice) and the different coping mechanisms that were available.  At the same time I was exploring my own story with time in counselling and understanding how I had got to this point and location in my life.

I realised that the work that the wellbeing team were doing was invaluable if my colleagues were going to make it through the difficult times that they were experiencing, I also recognised that the service was due to experience another round of cuts – and that the wellbeing team and the work they were doing was vulnerable.  Having a good understanding of the strategic running of the organisation I knew that this team needed, in some way, to prove the impact that they were having and how this was important to articulate to the organisation: they needed to articulate the return on investment.  So I offered to work on an evaluation piece for wellbeing in the organisation. I exploited my learning from my MSc. study at Warwick and self-taught myself research methods, I wrote the methodology and rationale, spending hours after work researching current published writing; I immersed myself in the world of wellbeing and what it meant to not just the police but to any organisation and society as a whole.  I quickly became passionate about looking at how we experienced our working lives, how our long hours cultures, our meeting to meeting lunches, our criticism of mistakes – our fear of ‘failure’ our lack of support and understanding, our intolerance of difference – our inflexibility and our inability to talk to each other was crippling our health, our mental health, our productivity, our creativity, our happiness, our ability to be present with our families both physically and mentally…our lives.

It was here that I realised what it was that I was going to do next.

If I couldn’t work as a police officer helping people, then I could work helping the people that do.

And so this is where you find me.  I am now on a career break from the service, studying a MSc. in Human Resource Management at Manchester Metropolitan University.  I am also conducting research into the wellbeing initiatives at Greater Manchester Police, collecting and collating longitudinal data into the work that is being done to support those on the front line.  My intention is to take this into my dissertation, and hopefully a research PhD – to immerse my self in understanding what it is we need to do to support our emergency service workers..

This blog will detail my journey, my learning, experiences and discoveries.

Next week..Emotional Intelligence: restoring integrity through theoretical clarification a talk by the Association for Business Psychologists.