Katie Sparkes

on ‘compassion’ & ‘inclusion’

What does compassion really mean and how does it support a sense of belonging in the world for ourselves and others? Find out in this episode with Sam and charity change-maker Katie Sparkes.

Katie is an incredibly inspiring human being – she founded her own Corporate Social Responsibility consultancy at the age of 22 and is also the founder and CEO of inclusive dance charity Flamingo Chicks, amongst other things!

Today she shares not only what she has learnt about compassion and inclusion through her professional career, but her own personal experience of how compassion can make all the difference.

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View Transcript

Show Notes

Content warning: miscarriage and baby loss

Find out more about Flamingo Chicks: flamingochicks.org

Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram

One of Katie’s examples of compassion: TikTok users provide innovative solution for Parkinson’s disease medicine

Guest Info

A photo of Katie Sparkes. She has long dark hair and is wearing a coral jumper. She is standing against a light grey plain background and is smiling at the camera.

Katie Sparkes

Katherine (Katie) Sparkes (she/her) is an entrepreneur and charity change-maker with an unrelenting work ethic and passion for ambitious ideas.

At 22, Katie founded a Corporate Social Responsibility consultancy bridging the gap between companies and charities with hands-on, engaging projects that are all about leading social change. She provides consultancy services to charitable organisations to advance them towards operational excellence and position them for growth. Her work has transformed many of the UK’s best loved non-profits by turning around finances and overseeing major structural change.

Whether it’s building schools in Kenya, maternal health programmes in Brazil, or the installation of student-led science labs in Ghana, Katie is committed to helping people empower themselves through long-term sustainable solutions.

Katie has worked with global organisations such as KPMG, Accenture and Credit Suisse, as well as with the British government, where she has been a regular speaker at the Cabinet Office. She founded the charity Styleability (now part of PROPS) and is Chief Executive at #STEM #SEN charity Lightyear Foundation.

In 2013 Katie started Flamingo Chicks giving disabled children the chance to dance – now 15,000 have been through its doors! As well as growing rapidly in the UK, Flamingo Chicks, through its outreach programmes, is already challenging the perception of disability in countries where those with additional needs face significant cultural barriers.

Katie has won numerous awards for her contribution to the global community including the Outstanding Young Persons of the World Award, a Point Of Light Award from the UK Prime Minister and the Independent Newspaper’s Happy List of people who make the country a better place.

Transcript

[music]

Sam McCormick:

Hi, everyone. Sam McCormick here, and welcome to Curious e-Motion.

Today, we’re joined by my good friend and colleague Katie Sparkes to further explore inclusion, particularly the role compassion plays in this.

Katie is an entrepreneur and charity change maker with an unrelenting work ethic and passion for ideas. She has worked with global organisations such as KPMG and Credit Suisse, as well as the UK government and at the age of 22, founded her own corporate social responsibility consultancy.

In 2013, Katie started Flamingo Chicks, giving disabled children the chance to dance. Flamingo Chicks is a charity and in its seven years of existence, has grown from a small community group to having 15,000 children through its doors. As well as growing rapidly in the UK, Flamingo Chicks, through its outreach programs, is already challenging the perception of disability in countries where those with additional needs face significant cultural barriers.

I am proud to say that I am part of the Flamingo Chicks journey too. I met Katie in 2014 and quickly joined the flock, as we call it. I taught classes for them in London and then Flamingo Chicks followed me north when I moved to Calderdale. I’m now their Head of Dance, which I do alongside my work for Curious Motion. That’s the beauty of a freelance career where you get to use your skills in multiple ways.

Katie has inspired me personally and professionally throughout, and I regularly look to her for guidance in challenging times and with social issues. So I was really keen to include her as a guest this series, and I was so glad when she said, yes.

This is a really honest and open chat and just a heads up that there are some challenging subjects included. So you might want to check the show notes for further information before listening.

Okay, here’s Katie.

Hi, Katie, nice to see you.

Katie Sparkes:

Hi, Sam.

Sam:

It’s so lovely to have you here. This is different for us, isn’t it? [laughter]

Katie:

It’s really exciting, and I’m such a fan of the podcast. I’ve been really enjoying listening to them. So it’s such an honour to be a guest.

Sam:

Oh, that’s really kind. Yeah, it’s an honour to have you as well. So we’re chatting a bit today. We’re looking at inclusion, which I’ve been looking at with a few different guests, but we’re also mixing in a little bit around compassion as well, aren’t we? So can we start with a little bit about your professional background and also how you started Flamingo Chicks because I know it kind of all links together, doesn’t it?

Katie:

Yes, of course. So I’ve had quite a creative journey to where I am. I’m actually a journalist by trade. I started off, age 16 working for Radio Bristol, and I was incredibly lucky that I had the most inspiring producer who was blind and working really closely with him was just a delight and a real eye-opener for me. This really shows my age, but this was back in the times before digital editing. Everything was done manually, so when we used to edit radio content, we would use razor blades and sellotape on the [inaudible], and I remember we used to have competitions. We’d sit next to each other editing and he would just beat me. He was so quick and his edits were so clean and crisp, and for me, it was just such a lesson that yes, he didn’t have the power of sight that I did. But he had so many other talents and heightened senses. He was an incredibly compassionate individual that gave me so many opportunities and really held me up and enabled me to flourish and grow.

And I’ve really tried to take that learning throughout my life as I’ve grown and developed. And everything that Alan taught me has very much stayed with me. So I was incredibly lucky that at a very, very young age I had that opportunity. And I actually managed to negotiate with my school to get Monday afternoons off school. So I had a– I used to go along to Radio Bristol. And the program was on a Sunday night. And it was all around social issues. So I met a raft of different people from all backgrounds, all walks of life, lots of different disabilities facing a whole range of challenges. And it was just such a joy and inspiration to meet so many people at such a pivotal time of your life where you’re growing and absorbing and learning and navigating the transition into adulthood.

So I went off and did the journalism degree, went to BBC London TV Centre. But very quickly when I was 22, I actually gave up my work in media. I was working in PR in media at that stage. And I started my own consultancy. I wanted to do more good in the world. Eventually, I did a lot of volunteering. I’ve always volunteered throughout my life. And I wanted to create a way of being able to earn a living and help people because we spend most of our time at work. And that’s what I wanted to do. I was full of creative ideas. And the value of compassion is hugely important to me. I’m one of those people that if I see– I feel very deeply. And when I see people having challenges or facing struggles, I find it very difficult to walk on by and not do anything. I’m very practical in my approach.

So the vision of my consultancy really was to go in and make change, to make practical solutions, to do exactly what Alan taught me to hold others up and enable them to be change-makers. And I’m now 40. So it’s been going for a really long time. [laughter] And I’ve been lucky enough to work all around the world. I’ve done a variety of different projects from maternal health programs in Brazil, building schools in Madagascar, all sorts of different things, met an absolute incredible range of people and feel incredibly lucky, the experiences that I’ve been able to have. And part of that journey is Flamingo Chicks.

So life never quite takes you where you think it will. [laughter] When I was 26, I met Poppy, my daughter. So I adopted Poppy when she was six months old. Poppy’s mum very sadly passed away in childbirth. And Poppy has cerebral palsy as a result. And whilst I’d obviously, I’d had that experience working with Alan when I was younger, I suppose other than that I had not met anybody with a learning disability or the kind of physical challenges that Poppy has. So bringing Poppy up was a really interesting learning journey for both of us. And I quite naively thought I could just bring Poppy to community groups, playgroups, all the things that you think you would do. And actually, our experience was really difficult. So when Poppy would go along she would quite often feel overwhelmed. She would struggle to access the activities both physically but also the emotional side. We felt very judged at times. We felt like we didn’t fit in, we didn’t belong. And I really wanted to give her a place where she felt valued. She felt that sense of belonging. But also I figured, if I could do that for Poppy, there must be loads of other children and loads of other mums and dads in the same position.

So Flamingo Chicks was supposed to be a small community group. I hired a local preschool. I found a ballet teacher. I chose ballet because I think it’s quite synonymous with little girls. And Poppy, it was her choice. She wanted to do ballet. It’s a sort of  rite of passage, all her friends were putting on the ballet gear and going off and doing ballet, and she wanted to do the same. I didn’t know anything about ballet. I’m not a dancer. And I love dancing, but not in a professional capacity. So it was a really new journey for me. And what really appealed to me about ballet was– it’s such an amazing, beautiful genre. You’ve got so many layers there. You’ve got the storytelling, the composers, the costumes. It’s more than just the physical expression. I love the whole creation. So I found a ballet teacher, and we worked together. We sat down, brainstormed loads of creative, accessible ways that we could open up ballet for kids with additional needs. And this was when, I guess, social media was in its infancy. So I didn’t really tell a few people. I put a post on Facebook, very, very small scale. We were offering 15 places, and 200 families applied. [laughter] It just goes—

Sam:

It’s amazing.

Katie:

–to show the need.
Yeah. It really does.
So we had this incredible first session. It was so joyous. We decided to make it like a real celebration. But for us, it was very much an experiment. So we had this fabulous session, and we created T-shirts for everybody. I was really passionate about branding because I wanted something that felt aspirational and beautiful and created that sense of belonging that people felt part of something. And so we had this session. We used loads of sensory props. So it was magical. It was colourful. It was gorgeous. We worked in physio. So most of the children that came were doing physiotherapy in one way or another. And I know, as a Mum, trying to get your young child to do their physio exercises is really tough. They were doing it in a way that feels like a game. It feels fun. You’re doing it with friends. It was much easier. And so we had this fabulous session. And at the end, we basically had a party. So we had loads of cakes. We had a real celebration. And everyone was just– the energy in the room was just on the ceiling. Everyone felt so happy. And that magical feeling was the first seeds of Flamingo Chicks.

Obviously, fast forward seven years, and 15,000 children have now danced with us. It’s been an incredible journey. And as well as our programmes across the UK, of which, obviously, meeting you was the most fortuitous moment. A little bit like Flamingo Chicks. We’re supposed to be a small group, and it’s ended up being this force to be reckoned with. And so I know that when we first met, you were covering for someone who was poorly, and then– that was such a lucky moment for us. Because having your skills and expertise and just your fabulousness has just been such a privilege to learn from and have in our flock.

Sam:

Oh. And I love being part of the flock. And it’s a privilege to learn from you, hence why you’re here. Because I just think your background and experiences is so integral to Flamingo Chicks. Flamingo Chicks is really unique in what it does. And so, yeah, I feel very lucky to be part of the flock as well.

Katie:

Oh. Thank you, Sam. I think one of the key things for me, for Flamingo Chicks, was having that point of difference, so that it is a 360 holistic approach, so as well as the– obviously dance is at the forefront and that’s so important for our children to have that way of expressing themselves and to test out what their growing bodies can do. But also, it’s about providing a peer-to-peer support network for parents. It’s about providing opportunities for children to celebrate their successes. It’s about advocacy, so campaigning to break down barriers to inclusion. It’s about encouraging volunteering with kids. It’s been a lifelong passion for me. So we have over 500 volunteers in Flamingo Chicks, and we’re really passionate about intergenerational volunteering, particularly first-time volunteers, to inspire a lifetime of volunteering. But also older volunteers, particularly socially isolated older volunteers, are the real joy that comes from intergenerational volunteering, having people of all different ages and backgrounds working together. So we have all of those strands of our work and they weave in really nicely to create this magical organisation. And we are just so lucky with the people that we have in our flock. I would say, if you cut everybody down the middle like a stick of rock, everyone kind of breeds magic and sparkle. [laughter] It’s amazing.

Sam:

I absolutely love that. I always talk about Chicks’ magic and sparkle. That is the best way to describe it because it is quite hard to put into words. Because like you were saying, it is a feeling, isn’t it? That belonging, that community. And it’s just so special, it’s really difficult to describe it in words. So, yes, stick of rock. Okay, I’ll remember that now. [laughter]

Katie:

I think also I was listening to the last podcast in the series with the fabulous Caroline, and I loved how she talked about using the word belonging instead of the word inclusion. And to me, that’s exactly what I wanted to create with Flamingo Chicks. Inclusion can sound quite sterile, and I think the word belonging, it’s what it’s all about. It’s about that sense of being part of something. I know my journey with Poppy was quite different to most parents because it was intentional in the sense that I knew Poppy was a disabled child. We didn’t know what her future would be like. We were told it was unlikely that she would get off her tummy. She wouldn’t be able to hold herself up or stand or walk. And we were also told she wouldn’t be able to talk. However, she’s made incredible progress across all of those areas, and I do think that Flamingo Chicks, and dance, and being able to take part in that has strengthened all of those areas of her development.

But I know a lot of parents often it’s an unexpected– often cerebral palsy is caused by issues at birth or things like that. So, for a lot of parents, it’s coming to terms with being on a different journey, and that strength, and having other parents to be able to help you navigate that and realise the real positives and celebrate the joys that come from our children who face challenges but also bring incredible, incredible joy and happiness as well.

Sam:

Yeah, definitely. It’s been wonderful seeing how you and Chicks have done that holistic approach. So that’s truly that sense of belonging, I think, isn’t it? Because you thought really carefully about the whole of each child’s life, not just that individual child in a dance class, for example?

Katie:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that before I came on the podcast, I know that you have mentioned the value of compassion, and I’ve done a lot of thinking around compassion. And actually, one of the key things around compassion is the fact that actually it’s quite deliberate. Empathy is quite impulsive. I guess empathy and compassion are actually very different, and actually, they’re represented in different areas of the brain. So, with empathy, we join the suffering of other people who suffer, but we actually stop short of helping, whereas with compassion we take a step away from the emotion of empathy and we actually ask, “How can we help?” So empathy is impulsive, but compassion is deliberate.

And to me, that’s always been very important to check your intentions, so making a habit of checking your intention before you go into help. And that’s why it’s so important to consult with the people you’re trying to help and hearing their voices, getting their input, making sure it’s a collaboration rather than a solution that you’re putting onto somebody, making sure you’re helping in the right way, in a way that’s actually true and helpful and sustainable. And that’s something that I really, really have learnt through all of the different projects that I’ve worked with, just how important that is. And I think compassion is a way of joining in other people’s challenges, irrespective of their social or personal identity, having a perspective and understanding what other people are facing, that kind of common humanity. The recognition that no matter what a person’s cultural background, sexual orientation, age, you are like that person in the moment.

With compassion, I guess we make that conscious choice to turn our emotion into action. And that’s always been my approach, is that very practical approach, is listening, feeling, understanding. But then what can I do to help? How can I practically make this better? And sometimes that can be a really small thing or it can be a huge thing, and we all have that power to make real change, whether it’s in one person’s life or lots of people’s lives.

Sam:

Yeah, that’s so interesting because I think compassion and empathy can get muddled up into the same thing sometimes, as well. And actually, when I was looking at Curious Motion’s values, and I write both of these down, and I thought, “Oh, why have I written both of them?” And I was like, “No, I know that they’re different.” And actually, just hearing you say that has kind of solidified that a little bit for me, because I’m not sure I was 100% clear on that. But now you’ve said it, that makes complete sense.

Katie:

Yeah, and though empathy can feel good at first, it can also make you feel stuck because you were joining in other people’s suffering, but not taking any action to resolve or remedy the issue.

Sam:

Yeah, good point. Really good point.

Katie:

So actually, with compassion, you can help others but it actually helps you as well. [laughter]

Sam:

Yeah, that’s the beautiful thing, isn’t it? And volunteering is one of those. That’s one of those things that’s– often we’re really aware of what somebody is giving voluntarily, but also we know that by volunteering you get something back because you feel good about yourself, or you might meet new people. There’s lots of benefits for you as a volunteer, as well.

Katie:

Yeah, absolutely. Volunteering is enlightened self-interest in many ways. [laughter] I don’t think I’ve ever volunteered or had a volunteer experience that has not brought me a huge amount of benefits as well. I mean, that’s not the reason you do it, but it just is so rich in the return. The people you meet, the lessons you do, the different experiences. It’s just such a fabulous way of being.

[music]

Sam:

So whilst we are on examples of compassion, one of my questions that I gave you that I thought, “Oh, this could be really difficult because there’s probably lots of them.” But I wondered if you had an example of compassion that most stays with you?

Katie:

Yeah. So I have a really strong example of compassion, which is very personal to me. And I would just say a trigger warning for anybody who has experienced miscarriage or lost a baby just before I talk about it, because I know that it’s a really hard topic to cover.

So I lost a baby very late on. And I don’t think anything quite prepares you for coming home from hospital with a little tiny white coffin. And I just remember it being such a bleak, difficult time and feeling a real loss. And I remember I wanted my baby to be in a place of safety, so I wanted it to be buried with my nana. And I remember getting in touch with the church where she’s buried. And within 24 hours they had everything sorted. They practically made all the arrangements for me. I didn’t have to do anything. And I remember turning up on the day, and this is a hillside in Somerset, it was blowing an absolute gale  really, you know when you get horizontal piercing rain, practically blown off your feet. It was so cold.

And I remember turning up and there was five or six ladies from the local community. None of them knew me. I didn’t know any of them. They didn’t know who I was. They didn’t know whether I was religious or not. They didn’t know my background. They didn’t ask me any questions. They just showed up. And I remember they stood around the grave and they kind of naturally– I can’t even remember particularly engaging, having any words exchanged between us, but they just formed a circle. And at the point where the little coffin was being lowered into the ground, they just instinctively all linked arms and just formed this little circle. And the strength I felt at that moment just absolutely stays with me in my heart. And it was just, just incredible. These ladies I didn’t know, I had never met for the fact they just decided to show up and be there and support somebody just blew me away. And I think they made one of the truly hardest moments in my life. They made me feel that sense of belonging that we’ve been talking about, being part of something, even though I didn’t know them. And they said they were there, and it was just incredible. And it really touched my heart. And I think, for me, the lesson that I took away from that is that was a really tough thing for them as well. I don’t know what their personal circumstances were with individuals, whether they’d experienced anything similar or not. But the fact that they’re taking time out to be there and showed up and helped us just meant the world. And so, for me, that was just such an example of compassion with that practical action of showing up and making a real difference to somebody else. And, yeah, that will always stay with me. So I think, for me, that’s a really strong example of compassion.

Sam:

Wow. Yeah, that is incredible. Whoa, what an amazing, amazing thing. And I think too, just hearing you talk there, it gives you hope in the sense that there are really good people out there, aren’t there? And you don’t have to know them all. And they’re there, and people can do things like that. And it just makes all the difference.

Katie:

Yeah, definitely. And I think also sometimes we think we have to know the right things to say or the right things to do. And I think that’s a great example. But actually, it was a physical presence. It was that linking arms, holding this solid, strong circle. Actually, for me, that was just so powerful. They didn’t really need to say anything. They didn’t have to have all the answers. There’s nothing really you can say that makes that better. But it was just showing up and that physicality of being there and holding me up physically that was just incredibly powerful.

Sam:

Yeah. Wow. Thank you for sharing that.

[music]

Sam:

Do you want to give your other one as well? Do you want to do another one?

Katie:

Yeah, I can talk to you about my other one. Well, my other example of compassion I spotted on social media this week, and I thought it was just brilliant and a really practical example.

So a gentleman that has Parkinson’s disease posted on TikTok, saying that he was really frustrated about the tablets for Parkinson’s because they’re so small and fiddly, and it’s very, very difficult for him to take his medicine. And having a daughter with cerebral palsy, I really understand that. And it was just brilliant that another guy called Brian Aldridge saw this. He wasn’t a designer, as far as my understanding is. And he just worked out a solution. So he created a design for a 3D principle bottle, which basically would make it dispensable for somebody who has tremors. And he created this amazing design, put it back on TikTok, and said, “Okay, I’ve come up with this, but I don’t know how to print it.” And immediately, loads of 3D printers got on board and basically they created this prototype. And I think now it’s been manufactured, but at the same time they’re also offering to print it for individual people whilst that’s happening.

And I just thought that that was just such an incredible example again of compassion, where somebody had really heard somebody else’s challenges, really felt for them. But rather than them just doing nothing, actually had thought, “What can I do?” And this was somebody that wasn’t a designer, didn’t have those skills just, I suppose, a little bit like when I started Flamingo Chicks. I wasn’t a dancer and I didn’t know how to do it, but just with that little bit of consideration, and thought, and creativity, it’s amazing what we are all capable of. And the fact that this guy put himself out there and then inspired so many other people to support him and create the solution that now will make a massive difference in the daily life to so many people, it was brilliant. And the other reason I particularly love that story is because, probably like most people, I find social media really overwhelming at times. There’s so much negativity on there and sometimes it can just feel so much. And so for me, seeing a really positive example of how it can be used for a greater good was really powerful and very uplifting for me this week.

Sam:

Oh, yeah, I love it.

[music]

Sam:

So in terms of the future, then, I wanted to ask you what your hopes are for disabled children being really fully included in the world in a sense that they feel that they belong like other people do and not only in some places. And I know that’s an absolutely massive question because we can’t just make a perfect world all of a sudden, but yeah. I would just love to know what your hopes are for the future for disabled children.

Katie:

Oh, it is a very big question [laughter] and I think– I suppose for me, I was incredibly lucky having that experience with Alan at such a formative, younger part of my journey, that that has stayed with me. And I think that’s one of the things that I hear from so many of our volunteers and so many people I work with is the fact that, until they’ve come to Flamingo Chicks, they haven’t actually directly engaged with disabled people before. And that’s my biggest hope, is that, actually, we all just spend time and get to know each other and that’s the thing. We’re all complex beings. We all have so much to offer in different ways and disabled people are no different, but society is too segregated. So for me, breaking down those barriers to inclusion or breaking down those barriers to belonging is really, really important.

And just in a really simple example, one thing I thought that was quite powerful from my journey with Poppy. When she was really small, she was the most popular kid in nursery. And then when she started infant school, all the other kids absolutely loved her. They wanted to mother her. I remember at pre-school, they would stick her in a little– in these little buggies that the kids cycle around on their trikes and they thought it was brilliant. They would all sort of love her, and look after her, and everyone wanted to be to be there. And then as she grew up, suddenly, very quickly, she went from being the most popular girl in the school to suddenly the opposite. And once they started growing up and having their own friendships, then I guess her disability became more obvious, and children are more aware. She then became incredibly isolated very quickly. It always breaks my heart and you hear it so many times. She was never invited to birthday parties. All of those kind of things. And I think that was really, really difficult for her, going through the two extremes.

So I guess my biggest plea is just remembering these children and I think sometimes it’s just the fear of people are afraid to say the wrong thing. They’re afraid that you will literally drop your child off and leave them with you to look after and that’s not the case. As parents, we recognise, we understand that, and we’ll always be supportive and any opportunity we will be there. And I also personally don’t think anyone can say the wrong thing to me. I think if you show up and you tried and you’re there, that means a lot more than if you’re a bit clumsy in your language or maybe ask direct questions or things that you’re– if you’re trying to understand, that means everything. And that’s really important.

I think also the other thing from a parent’s perspective is that as parents of disabled children, there is so much you’re dealing with. And I think one of the hardest parts of having a disabled child is the sheer volume of phone calls, paperwork, and organisation that can dominate your life. There are endless forms, applications, letters to read, emails to send, phone calls to make, appointments, supplies, practical things that you need to get for your child. Sometimes it feels like it never stops. So I think having that support network around you, having friends that understand and actually keep asking you out for social occasions and not getting fed up when you repeatedly can’t make them, really means the world. And just having the understanding that the will and the desire is there, but sometimes it is a real juggle trying to fit everything in.

And also you are dealing with really challenging things like sleep deprivation, challenging behaviour. And it does take its toll. So I think friends that are nonjudgmental, that are there, that listen, and just practical solutions. So, again, going back to compassion and those practical things. So if you know somebody who’s a parent of a disabled child and you’re doing your shopping, just sometimes even just offering to get them a bit of shopping or something can be so, so helpful because if you’re at home with a disabled child, it’s not easy for you to go to the shops. Just those little practical things.

But also, the other thing I would really say is about remembering siblings. So siblings of disabled children. They absorb a lot. They have to deal with a lot. They naturally and want to take part in the caring. I know I have a three year old. He’s just incredible. He’s got such kindness to his sister. He’s already cutting up her food, trying to help her put her shoes on, all of those things. But he does take on so much. He has to come to endless appointments with me. He has to see her challenging behaviour at times. He has to help her navigate, and it’s a lot for a little one to take on.

So, again, simple things about remembering siblings and maybe inviting the sibling out to a play date in the park or having those respite opportunities are just hugely valuable and important as well. So, again, I think it’s just the simple things. It’s just thinking about other people and these practical, simple solutions that we can all do. And nobody expects people to do it regularly. It can be just sparse little opportunities, but it really does make a difference. Helping families feel less isolated and more part of the community and supported is really important. And I think a bit of cheerleading like you do naturally amongst friends as well, and telling people when not doing really well and that motivation and that kind of support and just being there just means the world.

Sam:

Yeah. And I really like what you’ve said about how if somebody shows up and they say all the wrong words, they’ve shown up. And that’s the main thing. That’s the thing that really means the most. And we can learn and get the words right, but the showing up is really important.

Katie:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s the best point. I’ll always take that over someone not being there. And I think we can all be clumsy in our approach. We can all say the wrong things. But I think that just being there matters. And somebody has just that desire to give you that time and just listen and understand your experiences and understand what life looks like, and in that nonjudgmental lens as well. I think sometimes with learning disabilities, it can be quite tough in terms of challenging behaviour. And I know as a parent, it’s really hard to understand that that’s caused by the learning disability and not the person. But also then it’s not you as a parent either. And again, you can feel incredibly judged by a whole host of people, and yet as a parent of a special needs child, I know that we’re probably– I mean, if you’re looking at kind of academic parenting, we’re probably up there in terms of we do everything in terms of visual timetables, social stories. We’re doing all of the techniques and tricks. And sometimes you can do it absolutely perfectly, and yet it still doesn’t work. And that’s just because it’s the nature of what it is, but it’s really, really difficult to come to terms with that sense of not feeling judged and feeling that you are good enough. And I think that that’s something really, really tough for all of us, is just to know that we are giving 110%, doing it with such open hearts full of love. And it is good enough, and I think it’s really difficult and my own worst enemy in accepting that sometimes we are good enough. And we all do our best.
[music]

Sam:

I’ve got one last question for you. This is the one that we’re asking all of the guests, which is, which three things would you like to spend more time on in your life? And what about less time?

My three things that I would like to spend more time on. My number one is dreaming. I think, historically, I’ve always been quite goal-orientated, always had those targets that I was working towards, aims I wanted to achieve in life. And I think with COVID, I have got so stuck in the moment of sort of surviving and going from day-to-day that actually, I’ve forgotten dreaming and coming up with what I want to achieve next and thinking ahead and having those things to aim for. So for me, I really want to broaden those horizons, have dreams, get new, exciting things to aim for. So that’s really important to me.

The second thing is also linked to COVID. It’s remembering the learnings from COVID, that the simple things, the simple pleasures that we learnt to really appreciate and enjoy. So being present is very, very important to me, particularly being present with the children, getting out into nature. All of those things, I want to make sure that I don’t forget and actually take those learnings and make sure that they stay with us and improve our life moving forward, because I think, looking back, it’s very easy to quickly return to that very busy, cluttered, filled life.

And actually, one thing that we really discovered was just how important creating space is and that kind of simplicity and appreciating particularly nature. I mean, referring back to Caroline, your last guest again, when she gave that beautiful example of the tree and the wind and stopping to just enjoy it. We’ve had some fabulous moments just out in nature exploring trees and woodland and splashing and little streams and things like that. So for me, doing more of that is very important.

And my last thing is exercise. So Flamingo Chicks this month, we’re doing our May 100 campaign, which is all about getting people fit and active. So inspiring people to move more during May. And so I have been running every morning and also doing sailing and some cycling with the kids, so I’ve created– we’ve got an adapted tandem. Well, I say a tandem; it’s more like a trio. I’m cycling and I’ve got both kids in the back.

Sam:

Amazing.

Katie:

Yeah, it is amazing. It’s really hard work, though, because I’ve got a 3-year-old on one side and a 14-year-old on the other side. [laughter] So the weight balance is not in my favour. It’s the wobbliest bicycle you’ve ever seen. [laughter] So we’ll be doing that at the weekend, but exercise is so important for all of us, just that getting moving, the physical wellbeing benefits. And certainly, as a family, we’ve really seen that, and May 100 has given us the opportunity to do that.

Sam:

Love it.

Katie:

And then the three things I’d want to give up– so the first one is beating myself up. We’re all too hard on ourselves, and I’m definitely too hard on myself. So just actually giving yourself credit where credit’s due and just acknowledging the small wins, acknowledging what we do achieve, and that it doesn’t always have to be perfection [laughter] is very important. So being kinder to myself.

Sam:

[crosstalk]. Yeah, I’m so similar to you on that, the perfectionism thing. I think I’ve said this before. Oh, I think everybody beats themselves up a lot, and more people that remind us that we don’t need to do that, then the better.

Katie:

It’s really interesting because we’ve talked so much about compassion today, and actually, the focus on compassion is always about helping other people, but actually, it’s really important to be compassionate with ourselves, and by being compassionate with yourself, you’re then in a better position to help other people as well. So that is definitely something that I still need to learn and work on. [laughter] It’s on the radar, which is my starting point.

And then two practical things is, one, I would love, love, love, love, love to be strong enough to leave my phone downstairs at nighttime and not take it into the bedroom with me. I know lots of people say that that would be really good, but that just disconnect before bedtime, resisting the temptation to go into social media before sleep, I would love to do less of that.

And then the last one is ditching casual clothes. So with COVID, well, we’ve just had a year of just not going out and things like that. And actually, the other day, at Flamingo Chicks, we were very lucky to get presented with our Queen’s Award for volunteering, which was such a proud moment, but it was so nice to have your make-up on, have a nice outfit, find some shoes that weren’t flat, and a handbag. [laughter]

Sam:

Oh. [laughter] I love it.

Katie:

That jolliness of getting dressed up and actually seeing other human beings was just– yeah, it was just really fanciful to just think about different clothes, and yeah, just feeling a little bit more back to normal was a real lift.

Sam:

I love it. Thank you so much, Katie, for sharing your thoughts on this. I’ve just learned loads, and I speak to you all of the time. I mean, [laughter] you’ve just taught me even more stuff. I love it. [laughter]

Katie:

There’s so many people that I’ve been lucky enough to have on the journey with me, and I don’t think there’s many people that have taught me as much as you, so I’d like to say a thank you in return.

Sam:

Oh, you’re so kind.

Katie:

[crosstalk] you do. You do inspire me on a daily basis, both personally and professionally, and I’ve also just got so much out of this podcast as well. It’s so calming but so inspiring at the same time. I mean, yeah, it’s always a joy when there’s a new episode out to listen to, so I very much enjoyed being a listener, but now, how exciting to be on it as well.

Sam:

Oh, thank you Katie. That’s lovely to hear. It’s our absolute pleasure to have you on as a guest and probably have you on again at some point, I’m sure. [laughter]

Katie:

Thank you, Sam.

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Sam:

Thank you, Katie, for such an honest and informative chat.

I’m so grateful to her for sharing her personal story with us as well as her professional experiences. She really is one amazing person.

Katie’s explanation of compassion in relation to empathy really got me thinking too. Taking action to support others is something we can all do, and I hope this episode has helped you process some of that too.

Flamingo Chicks’ May 100 campaign runs until the end of May. It’s all about breaking down barriers to encourage us all to get active, supporting our physical and mental health. Do check out their website for more information; you can find it on flamingochicks.org.

Okay, we have one episode left for this series. Next week, I will be rounding off our exploration into values and inclusion by chatting to Kate Auker, who works at the Welcome Centre in Huddersfield and specialises in equality, diversity, and inclusion within communities who face discrimination.

So hit the subscribe button to make sure you don’t miss it.

Have a great week, everyone, and remember to tune into your body, be kind to yourself and stay curious. Bye.

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