Throw Yourself Into the Road Gladly! The blagging of #WithnailWeekend

Now #WithnailWeekend has some pace we are getting a number of queries about whether we could run alternative dates and venues. The level of interest is great but the answer is sadly no we can’t. Why you SCRUBBERS (I hear you ask?). Because we are a pair of total amateurs with busy working and family lives (except Hugh who lives in a skip and drinks meths with the w%^kers off the site.) We don’t want to make any money out of Withnail Weekend we just want to watch the film with fellow fans. So, in the spirit of the punk rock ethic, here are a few pointers to try and encourage more folk to adopt a do it yourself approach in other parts of the country. We emphasise we aren’t experts and we have made it up as we go along so do not take this as textbook- have a bash and do it your way is the most important message. 


1) Make sure you have enough interest. Facebook is awash with Withnail fan groups and key word searching on Twitter can help find folk by location who love the film. @Withnailizer alone has thousands of scrubbers following! 

2) Have a recognisable Twitter handle. Having “Withnail” in it is obvious; the balance needs to be catchy and geographically relevant. Hence the uber imaginative “Brum” for us!

3) Find a venue – independent cinemas are more flexible and most allow private screen hire. The Electric in Brum has also helped us with marketing at no extra charge bless them. Here comes the tricky bit- someone has to take a financial risk as there will be a venue hire (this will vary so shop around) and a public licence fee (circa £85). The more of you there are to bankroll it and the more demand you have the lower the risk. Somewhere handy to bus stops and stations will help the cause. In our case we sold the cinema out (106 seats) in six days. It was only a £100 deposit and we have managed full cost recovery swiftly. 

4) Find people to help; the amount of comms involved will peak and trough quite significantly (mornings and early evening on weekends seem to be peak time alongside commuting time on a Friday.) Hugh and I opted to share the management of the Twitter account. People like Mike Ward @badsciencemonk have played a key role in generating twitter traffic and improving our “Tweet reach.” Richard E Grant and Ralph Brown have been lovely; their interest opened the door for many other SCRUBBERS to get involved and raised the profile of #WithnailWeekend significantly. Equally we have been at pains not to bombard with requests, I can imagine they get asked to do this sort of thing rather a lot!

5) Look for local groups that will support you with marketing. There are loads of Birmingham based twitter accounts and blogs such as VisitBrum who have been of immense help. We were also blessed by @_AleMary (pun intended) who kindly placed us in the Birmingham Post. Such people and orgs exist in all cities and are usually really helpful.

6) Follow back. You can’t possibly read all the tweets on your timeline for an account like this but the more you follow the faster your audience grows. To start with it is more about quantity than anything else, the quality follows! 

7) Take the pain out of payment. We used Eventbrite. The downside is the admin fee £1.07 per £8 ticket. However it can drastically increase marketing reach and also means you don’t have to worry about payment. There is also an early payout option that can help if you have cash flow issues. There are also really useful tracker tools (proportion of tickets sold, functionality to develop mailing lists etc). Finally the Eventbrite app enables a scan and check-in function on the day to ensure everyone gets their seat. 

8) Build around the film. We have had loads of ace people such as breweries, restaurants, street vendors, quiz masters, cake shops etc all coming forwards to help and pitch in. Our role is to signpost and co-ordinate wider activities- we haven’t spent a penny on venue hire once the film was booked people are only too happy to have the business. 

9) Be positive. It is a leap when you first post the event online. We have encountered nothing but positivity and offers of help. WithnailWeekend will be a shared effort and we really appreciate everyone who has pitched in ranging from a simple RT to offers of time and money. 

Best of luck- if we can help in anyway come and talk to us 



Matt Bowsher and Hugh Evans a.k.a. @WithnailBrum



Withnailed! From Pub to Festival in 24 Hours

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What f*cker said he wanted to screen this film in Birmingham?”

I met my mate Hugh (@HuBoyd) for the first time in a long time last week. We share a mutual love of the 1987 seminal (as in ground breaking not love wee) film Withnail & I. After a couple of beers we started discussing the challenge of stuffing a cinema full of like minded sorts to persuade a local picture house (to use the Victorian vernacular.) In years gone by this would be the bastion of the fanzine and the conference. Relationships would be carefully developed over years and eventually finding 108 folk with the same bizarre fixation may be feasible. Withnail fans are generally much less visible than train spotters or doggers (except for the Northampton branch where there is much crossover.) Thanks to the power of the “connection machine” (Seth Godin) that is the internet; and specifically social media we have achieved amazing things in 24 hours via the Twitter account @WithnailBrum. Namely: 

1) A phone interview with the Birmingham post tomorrow to help promote the cause

2) Personal support from a TV Dr. Celebrity sort and Worcestershire County Council

3) An offer of financial backing to pay for cake

4) Interest from four cinemas (including an outdoor one) in screening the film

5) Circa 200 followers on Twitter

6) A kind word of support from my teenage hero Ralph Brown (beloved in the Withnail World as Danny the Hippie) 

7) Pubs tripping over themselves to host the after party – including the excellent Mike at the Welly who seems to know every bugger in Birmingham and has got them interested

8) Free logo design courtesy of Hugh’s awesome daughter

9) Some suggestion of a splinter group in Nottingham

All of the above means we have stopped talking about a screening and are now using the hash tag #WithnailWeekend. The bit that I have enjoyed the most though is some of the banter on Twitter. E.g. @KevMcCready suggesting that Richard E Grant names his new aftershave range “Ponce” or “F*cker” and Hugh proclaiming to the Twitter sphere that Phenodihydrochloride Benzelex for breakfast is the best means to rid himself of a bastard behind the eyes. 

I am really excited about #WithnailWeekend and can’t wait to meet some of the folks we are already connecting with on Twitter. In a queer way it will be nice to acknowledge the passing of the genius that was Richard Griffiths with people who feel the same way about him. In the end this is all about a shared love of a film that is superficially the story of nothing and yet touches so many (even if it MUST be burglary.) Thanks for all your support, keep following the best is yet to come

Matt – @WithnailBrum

Social Care 2013: Right Between Two States of Mind

2013 in adult social care has been one of stark contrast and rapid change; of disconnection and connection; of fear and hope. I can’t recall such a volatile 12 months. The model of social care that has operated post-war from the National Assistance Act onwards is coming to a close as the Care and Support Bill moves closer to becoming law. A new and challenging future lies ahead.

The care system has experienced some disturbing lows across the last twelve months. Many adult protection incidents highlighted communication breakdown; such as the Serious Case Review into the death of Mrs. Gloria Foster, a lady who went without vital care and support for nine days when her care agency closed. Despite the Winterbourne View abuse and subsequent Report, referral levels to Assessment and Treatment centres have remained consistent since 2010. Chris Hatton’s careful and considered analysis focuses on why many of the key issues in the report remain outstanding If It Looks Like a Duck

Camcorders in several bedrooms documented appalling abuse and exploitation of people without a voice or means of protecting themselves. Institutions, from hospitals to care homes have been scrutinised and found wanting about the ability to deliver the basics: dignity, respect and compassion. These issues cannot be justified in terms of resources. Some of these examples are about the decisions taken by those entrusted to care not to do so, often compounded by the subsequent failure of  organisations and systems to identify and address such failure and abuse. These examples have rightly received widespread condemnation; as professionals we have a collective duty to act; learn from the past and ensure decency and better care- this cannot be compromised whatever the wider context.

Resources are of course playing a key role in shaping the future. The biggest sting in the tale of the Comprehensive Spending Review was the planned reduction of Revenue Support Grant to Councils from now until 2017-18; for many authorities the single largest source of income from government. The Leader of Birmingham City Council  Albert Bore has already publicly stated that the Council may not be able to deliver all of the statutory duties with the decreased resources available. It is not just about Local Government, parallel pressures exist across other statutory bodies (especially CCGs and the NHS,) voluntary and private sectors. The impact on people who use care and support services, carers and all providers of social care is already significant. By means of illustration a recent LSE report suggested that nearly 500,000 fewer people (primarily with moderate needs) are receiving local government funded domiciliary care; the era of rationing is sadly now well established.

Welfare Benefit Reform is another factor and many unplanned consequences are emerging. There has, for instance, been a rise in “sofa surfing” (kipping at a mate’s house when you can) amongst people aged 16-25 in many areas. People impacted do not appear on either homelessness statistics or the housing register. Anyone declaring a surplus bedroom in social housing is susceptible to decreased housing benefit. In some areas three bedroom properties are now proving harder for social landlords to let despite underlying demand increasing.

2013 was not by any means all about failure and cuts. I do not mean to trivialise the experiences of anyone impacted by the preceding issues by focusing on the many positives I also experienced during the year. Hope is essential and standing still and passively accepting defeat benefits no-one. Adapting to uncertainty and fear (i.e. what you do about it) has been a common theme that knits together many of my conversations, blogs and tweets. As Leonard Cohen puts it: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Hope and encouragement lies in human connection. The time and skill to understand the whole person, working out a new approach that makes a radical difference to someone’s life, rediscovery of a lost skill, increased confidence and improved self-esteem and finally the ability to exercise true control and choice, irrespective of the complexity of disability, illness or age. These are but a few of the skills and qualities that contribute to great quality care.  Whatever the context, these values will hold as encapsulated in Making It Real

Other inspiration comes in the form of volunteers who do without expectation of anything by return, the selflessness shown by carers for the people they put ahead of themselves day in day out and the professionals who doggedly battle on for the people and communities they serve.

I am surrounded by people who are motivated by driving positive change. Positive stories about care do not dominate the headlines. So I have decided to name a few of the folk who have inspired me over the past year:

Mike Hands (@mdhsupport) runs a micro provider organisation based in Brierley Hill called MDH Support. Mike offers a different  model of support to people with learning disabilities, autism and older people; including taking one individual to London for the first time in two decades.

Jayne Leeson (@jayneleeson) from Changing Our Lives has just been awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours list. Jayne is a long-standing advocate for people with learning disabilities and has supported a vast range of activity that genuinely changed people’s lives. It is absolutely superb that her contribution has been acknowledged

The relentless enthusiasm, passion and leadership shown by Eileen Fielding (@DudleyVols) and her army of  Dudley Volunteers both inspires and humbles me.

A very biased mention for my friend Mick Ward at Leeds City Council (@mickmodern) who continues to motivate, create and build new partnerships

Think Local Act Personal (@tlap1) continues to punch well above its’ weight and consistently publishes practical and useful tools to support the personalisation of care. Co-production runs through the  core of the organisation. I would like to pay special tribute to Clenton Farquharson (@clentonF) who has offered his warm and considered approach to Making It Real both locally and nationally.

The Carer (I don’t have permission to name her) who supported my 90 year old Nan on Christmas morning (her 11th year of working Christmas morning to help other people enjoy the day.)

All of the people who attended (and especially organised) @socialcarecurry. Folk have participated in droves on a voluntary basis; shared experiences ideas and built connections and it has been a blast. The simplicity of the format and commitment of all concerned to make it work is something I really enjoy.

Looking back there are times this year when I have allowed the scale of the challenges and extent of failures to overwhelm me.  The title of the blog is a corruption of a Bob Mould lyric “I’m on the centre line, right between two states of mind.” My resolution for 2014 is to spend less time on the centre line and more time on positive change and learning from the mistakes and successes of the past (see “Beyond the Brontosaurus” a previous blog if interested in amateur musings about what works in leadership.)

Happy 2014 everyone @mattbowsher1

Future Shock 2013?

The recession has been dominating my thoughts recently. I have not been financially impacted by the recession. I do not claim the experience of the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by food and fuel poverty, rising accommodation costs and fewer and fewer jobs. My experience of the recession is a discordant musak; setting a visceral tone; dominating the environment. I find myself listening to the news less and less; the closure of this or that company feels like a standing agenda item. Shop closures are normal, it took me an hour of wandering around on a recent visit to Cambridge to work out what was so strange; they were all open.

I am struck by parallels with the 1973-5  UK recession. An energy crisis, pitched battles between public sector and government and a cultural sense of other world-ism (think I may have made that expression up.) Britain struggled to adapt to the new world order and stumbled around punch-drunk and disorientated like a gin soaked ex-pat. Whilst the bin bags stockpiled, Bowie took stock and decided to contemplate life on Mars; they flocked to join him- couldn’t be worse than a night getting lost amongst the bin bags.


We are not yet at the point of a three day week but with energy costs projected to rise by 36% over three years this time our switch off may be voluntary. I find it fascinating how people perceived the future in the early 70’s. Classically, predictions either focus on mind-bending new technologies or intense pessimism. In 1973 James Burke predicted 1993 and the Audioboo is eye opening: Predictions included the proliferation of computer technology (as many as 300,000 terminals by 1993!) the end of chalk and talk in schools, IVF, greater acceptance of usage of personal data except take up of identity cards. His predictions were set in the midst of the Cold War when paranoia about totalitarianism were rife. He also predicted there would be no need for government and that we would prefer to live in small self-sufficient communities. 1975 saw the creation of TV programmes like Doomwatch and Survivors – both of which focused on a 28 days later post-apocalyptic world. One the one hand the future was disaggregated, smaller and more primitive on the other technology was irrepressibly on the rise; more often than not this was thought to be a threat. 

Fast forward forty years and the technical ability to connect has never been greater. We can find people with similar interests within seconds, irrespective of geography or language. We can all be journalists within a few clicks. Digital boundaries are fast and fluid and yet all the underlying tensions of atomisation and macro level events being somehow out of our control still exist. Where self-sufficiency was predicted, if anything many of us are more consumerist and dependent. Unlike Ted Heath’s struggles in the early 70’s the debate is no longer a national one. The world has become economically globalised; the 99% represent a majority in number only.

The title of this blog came from the Alvin Toffler book; subsequently converted to film in 1972. There is a version on YouTube (the sound quality does improve)  Orson Wells tells us at the start of the film that Future Shock occurs when too much change happens too fast “The feeling that nothing is permanent anymore… the premature arrival of the future. Choice and over-choice….” If you feel the full fear of Future Shock you may well believe consumerism  is hanging around on your street corner waiting to beat you up if you don’t buy the latest Raleigh Chopper!

Future Shock is effectively a eulogy for connection. Connection is the only means I can think of by which we cease to be passengers; “a witness to the slit wrist.” In this regard the 99% have it sussed. Brené Brown is a wonderful speaker and insightful human. “The one thing that keeps us from being connected is our fear that we are not worthy of it.” I wonder if rather than (like me) musing on alienation, exclusion and lack of ability to influence, it is time to stop being shocked by the future. It may be an idea to ask questions about how we build the connections to drive positive change. The status quo feels like a design by committee that no-one asked for. I, for one, would be delighted to turn the musak off. 

Leadership in Adult Social Care: Beyond the Brontosaurus

I do not consider myself an expert on leadership. I have spent the significant majority of my life not being a leader. This blog is an assortment of thoughts and observations, not a design for leadership life.

Disclaimer out of the way. “Oh what is my theory, that it is? Yes, well you may well ask, what is my theory?” (Monty Python- The Brontosaurus Sketch.)

 1) “I don’t know.” Most of us haven’t evolved into the breed of superhuman that the ever improving GCSE trajectory suggested was inevitable. If you set yourself up as the final arbiter of fact you will be both miserable and have the weight of the world on your shoulders.

The good news is that the answers are out there, the skill is in working out how to listen (there are many great co-production blogs out there at the moment; one of them is here with thanks to Debs Aspland from Parents As Equal Partners.) 

2) Know your weaknesses. We all have them; in fact I have loads (ranging from any form of DIY to understanding commitment accounting.) Unpack all your weaknesses in your head, assess the strengths of the people around you and be open about what you need. Then do not compromise in finding it.

3) Culture is King! One of my favourite maxims is “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can design the best strategy in the world, if people don’t shape it, buy in to it and then have a clear role in delivering it, expect it to be confined to the dustbin of history.

Strategies don’t change things, people and relationships do. The good news is that the Think Local Act Personal Partnership agreement already provides a means to design adult social care in the future.

4) Evidence first. Don’t be tempted by big shiny things with innovation labels slapped all over them

People who use care and support services and carers are best placed to tell you what is required. When large organisations invent solutions for people they do not always succeed. Listen to the evidence, learn from successes and failures elsewhere, speak to your communities and networks and use that evidence as your mandate for change.

5) Create space. Bureaucracy and process can be the enemies of creativity. As Seth Godin put it in the brilliant Icarus Deception “finding people to fix your typos is easy. Finding someone to say “go” is almost impossible.” People can achieve amazing things if they are allowed to explore and take risks, the job as a leader is to create space and the opportunity for change. This is not about changing processes within single organisations it is all about partnerships and the immense potential they bring. 

6) Be brave. Given that there are people brighter than you (point one) and that you have weaknesses like any other mortal (point 2) accept that you need people with different talent, views and skills to drive positive change. You can go a step further and expose yourself  and the folk around you to new learning and development opportunities. Developing people contribute more. Someone somewhere along the line took a punt on you; return the favour.

7) Change is hard. The range of barriers to change: resources, culture, politics, control, knowledge, traditionalism, fear (the list goes on and on.) Implementing positive change is very difficult; more people will tell you things are wrong than they will take responsibility for driving change themselves. Anticipate this, accept your role as a leader is to analyse, understand a range of perspectives that then use the skills, knowledge and passion around you to do it anyway.

8) Fail openly. Success all the time is impossible. Things can and will go wrong- understanding why is an opportunity. Making sure it doesn’t happen again is about good leadership. Establishing a finger pointing culture takes seconds, sticking your hand up and taking responsibility is tough. We don’t talk about failure enough; failure costs jobs and more importantly has a negative impact for the people and communities we serve not to mention personal reputations. Learning from failure can be really powerful; establishing a culture when openness is valued more than relentless success will be about the example you set and the expectations you agree as a group.

9) Be accessible. People will often see your role and status ahead of your personality. Talking to you can be intimidating. Many informal barriers exist that prevent folk from crossing your threshold. Equally your diary is evil, your emails soar through the roof and you have fewer and fewer people and resources to help you do the things you need to achieve. You cannot be available to everyone all of the time. Striking the right balance is difficult. Identifying the right means of two way communication is key. Use your judgement and trust your colleagues to escalate issues at the right time. Spending time alongside people at the front line can be very powerful albeit a limited insight into how your organisation really functions.

10) Look after yourself. It isn’t surprising with the pace of change and disinvestment in many aspects of social care that jargon like “resilience” is being bandied about. You can’t be an effective leader without being yourself. Equally you are not your job. Everyone has different lines as to where the personal and professional self converge. Be self aware; give what you can and protect the personal where it is necessary for you to do so. 

What (I hear you ask) was the theory about the the brontosaurus then? Simple: “All brontosauruses are thin at one end, much MUCH thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end.” 

Detroit; City of Hope

ImageCopyright Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre 2010

A few months ago I stumbled across Yves Marchan and Romain Meffre’s excellent photographic essay “The Ruins of Detroit.” The striking image of Michigan Station (above) is stark, visionary and yet tragic. Many of the other images capture faded grandeur, buildings spirally inwardly towards the earth, frozen ballrooms and dentist surgeries. I found myself fascinated by the decline of the place; the structures left in the wake the former Automotive capital of the USA. 

There is much of Detroit in its heyday that reminds me of Victorian England; more in a cultural and political sense than in design. The desire to show pace, creativity and power; buildings rising ever higher to match the aspirations of the day. The station above is a little like the recently re-opened Kings Cross in London; the context for both cities markedly different. There is something even more striking about them now standing empty, silent tributes to a long lost magnetism; the consumer fuelled rat-a-tat race for larger and greater just ran out of gas.



The 1965 references to “new horizons, vision and growth” in the following (failed) Olympic Bid captures the drive (deliberate pun) of the day. I find buildings without people in fascinating; a snapshot of human history with the world around them moving on apace. 

Julian Temple’s excellent  “Requiem for Detroit” fills in many social history gaps. Workers from the South flooded in as agriculture declined; the City was designed on the basis of racial segregation. The tale is underpinned by the spirit of the pioneer. At best pioneer spirit showed a relentless desire to create and progress; at worst it was a rootless transitory process – squeeze every drop of value out and then get back on the horse to the next opportunity; don’t look back. 


There are several groups devoted to preserving the heritage of the city and learning lessons from the past, I particularly recommend a look at the work of the care and civic pride is tangible.

On the 18th July this year, Detroit filed for bankruptcy, the largest municipal filing in US history with an estimated $18-24 billon worth of debt. The population has decreased from a shade under 2 million citizens in 1950 to 713,000 in 2010. In my ignorance I had no clue municipalities could go bust. Detroit has gone from boom to verge of oblivion inside sixty five years. The pace of growth is mirrored by its’ decline; what goes up must come down.

I feel a sense that the rules for Detroit from this point forwards are in the air. There is a sense of expectation to see what arises from the ashes. @danslee recently told me about a grass roots initiative for communities to drive improvement activity by investing in soup and ideas. are a group that increase access to healthy foods by supporting local growers and entrepreneurs and create public spaces where residents can connect. Urban farming is a growth industry with land in abundance. Many people are working hard to park mass industrialisation in the past and create local alternatives together. Whatever the answer is I suspect it won’t be cars.

As one resident puts it in Requiem: “The old American dream is dead, we are in the process of creating a new one. It is happening here in Detroit; city of hope.” Nice one Grace Lee Boggs, (pictured in the middle below); I like your style. I have never been to Detroit but am drawn to it; I would like to wander through the buildings and history then warm myself up over $5 worth of soup. @mattbowsher1