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From Sandpit to Sandstorm – a whirlwind of a year

By Jenny Ridge

A quiet breezeJackie Marshall-Balloch presenting at the first Long Term Care Revolution meetiing

This time approximately sixteen months ago I was at work going about a normal day, well as normal as it usually gets when running a social enterprise. A few months previous to that I had applied to be part of the Long Term Care Revolution sandpit. It had been suggested to me that I apply, as through our social enterprise we work with a number of older people’s charities, and apparently the Sandpit assessors were looking for ‘different’ people to those that they usually worked with. Whilst not really knowing how I felt about the description ‘different’, I applied. However in the July I found out that I hadn’t got through and had been placed on the reserve list. As such by early September with the sandpit due to start on the 16th I’d pretty much discounted it and was expecting to have five free days back in my calendar to get on with other things.

It was then I received a call from the then TSB to say that someone had dropped out and was I still free. I said yes and then immediately started constructing a mental list of everything that I needed to do beforehand to be away from work for a week. This now also included a 1500 word essay as to what I believed to be a future that I would want for myself for Long Term Care. Still, I got all of these things done and out of office on, managed to leave on time to enjoy my relaxing birthday weekend before joining the Sandpit refreshed on the Monday.

The Long Term Care Sandpit event

As usual life didn’t go according to plan, this time in a lovely way, and my boyfriend proposed to me on my birthday, the Sunday before the Sandpit. After a day of celebrating with family and friends, I found myself on the Monday at the Sandpit location with no signal, minimal contact with my new fiancé for a week and a week full of ‘challenging’ activities to immerse myself in. To say I was feeling a bit dazed and confused was an understatement! All I wanted to do was read wedding magazines and talk dresses, instead (although previously passionate about the subject) I was discussing care homes and adaptations!

The wind grows

As I look back on the Sandpit it does all seem to be a bit of a blur. The main memories of the first half of the week are a random mixture of getting to know people, long days, switching very quickly from one activity to another and engaging in new ways of generating ideas, such as ‘cathedral thinking’ or ‘world cafes’. I think for the majority of us the most prominent, and probably most poignant, memory of that week were meeting the ‘witnesses’. These were four different people that came into the Sandpit environment as visitors to share their thoughts and experiences of long term care in the real world, their world. We heard from Rudy* who worked with older people, Jane* who worked in a care home as a carer and Alex* who was 19 and had been brought up in care. Also with Alex was Agatha* who was the Mum of one of his friends and had tried her best to support him where she could/ or should I say where regulations allowed her to. Their stories were vivid and also scary. Although many of us on the Sandpit had experience with these situations and maybe had our own family members in care, hearing the experiences of these people first hand, particularly Alex, brought it home hard as to why we were all there. There was one comment that Agatha made which I have never forgotten; “if we looked after people as well as we looked after money we wouldn’t have any problems.”

It gets gusty

After three days of intense activity to challenge our ways of thinking we were then set what felt like the most impossible task. To split into groups and come up with radical solutions to the problem of long term care. I was instantly back in the school playground, worrying that no-one would want me in their team and that I would be picked last. Many of the Sandpit inmates (as I like to call us) had expertise in terrifying areas such as computer programming, psychology and even robotics, none of which I had! I could not think of any radical solutions to our futures at all, the one thing that I felt strongly was that nothing would happen until people realised the situation and actual wanted these solutions. Did everyone even feel there was a problem? Were we all struck by ‘it-will-be-sorted-by-the-time-I-get-there-itis’? Fortunately I wasn’t left alone in the playground. Arguably the most revolutionary project of them all, as the only non-tech project in the Technology Strategy Board Sandpit, Project Sandstorm was formed. Our vision was based on the concept that it took a Sandpit to change the hearts and minds of 25 individuals, but that it would take a Sandstorm to change a landscape.

A Sandstorm begins

Our journey (very X Factor) as Team Sandstorm has been turbulent to say the least. At concept our idea was to commission a marketing campaign with the end result being that everyday people would see the need for a revolution and see the reason to unite behind a common aim. As we had our lightbulb moment in the Sandpit, we felt that for the Long Term Care Revolution to be a true revolution we would need everyone to see the need for change, and want to change and have that lightbulb moment too. To realise that when we are sitting in our chair in our nursing home, wanting something different, it will be too late, for this one we can’t put it off, we need to make the change now.

Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan and we were unable to fulfil our ambitious aims. However one thing that the Sandpit has taught us is that Sandstorms are resilient, even if only a few grains keep stirring we can keep changing that landscape.

Steadily building

So a whirlwind of a year on, I’m now a married lady and our role is now to try and involve as many different types of people as possible in the Long Term Care Revolution, and the next stage of it, the National Challenge. I know from the work that I do with our social enterprise that there are so many wonderful organisations and ideas out there, already in existence, that can add huge value to this revolution, but that may not know about Innovate UK and the opportunities with the Long Term Care Revolution. 

So can the dust settle?

I don’t think it can yet, and maybe it never will. There are still many stories of poor, shocking care that come to light every day that shouldn’t happen. However there are many wonderful, heart-warming stories of great care, amazing people and great innovation that also aren’t celebrated enough. The Long Term Care Revolution National Challenge aims to bring those great ideas to the fore and get rid of the horror stories for good. Want to be part of it or have a great story to share?

Please contact us if you'd like to get involved. You can also join us on Facebook or Twitter.


Jenni - Team Sandstorm