By Sophie Coles
“If we always helped one another, no one would need luck”, Sophocles

Sometimes it’s good to stop and consider why we choose to do what we do, isn’t it? Now, I’m not talking about why we order a large meal at McDonald’s, when we only intended to get a wrap, or why we didn’t get our motorbike licence twenty years sooner….(still a regret of mine). I’m talking about why we select the jobs that we do.

What brought me to a position where I consult and advise in the public sector?

Honestly? My love of love and kindness.  Nothing else.

I’ve often heard of kindness being perceived as weakness.  I couldn’t disagree with this more.  I am a strong, determined and business growth-oriented woman, but, I am equally a lover of people, a fighter against social injustice and a full-on, heart-on-my-sleeve kind of woman.

My parents talk about me loving people since I was tiny.  Young or old; it didn’t matter.  I was always curious about people and their stories.  It never entered my mind to view people differently because of their abilities.  I learned sign-language as a young girl and Makaton (probably because communicating is my favourite thing to do and I wanted to be able to do it with everyone!). From the age of 11 I enjoyed volunteering in many different settings at weekends.

At 16, I chose to pursue a career as a support worker and carer, both in the community and nursing home settings.  Throughout these roles, I worked in both residential homes and nursing homes, and in day centres as well as in people’s own homes.

In 2002, I decided to head abroad to India to undertake voluntary work in Bangalore in the most amazing place called Sumanahalli Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre. This really was a life-changing experience. And my love for people, inclusion, equality and social justice grew ten-fold as a result.

I spent time working in a centre for people with leprosy; undertaking survey, education and treatment work in slum communities, residential areas and schools. I worked in the on-site school teaching English, carrying out regular check-ups and running nutrition and hygiene programmes and training.  When you are living somewhere where there are next to no resources, you become very creative and learn to think so differently about solutions.  This was to prove unbelievably helpful in the next stage of my life.

On my return to the UK, my subsequent study of Occupational Therapy at Glasgow University gave me a thorough, in-depth understanding of the challenges and rewards to be found in health and social care.

Since qualifying in 2006, I have worked across a range of  fields. I have worked in learning disabilities, forensics, paediatrics, medical surgical, orthopaedics and adult social care, as well as spending a few years in the charitable sector, where I worked in Development roles and a Registered Manager role, setting up supported living services in Yorkshire.  I have managed Occupational Therapy teams and Social Work teams, and through my ability to solve problems and find solutions, a position was created for me as Practitioner Lead within a corporate Transformation team.  I am absolutely passionate about driving positive change in Health & Social Care.

Alongside my employment, I was a volunteer youth worker for 17 years, a respite foster carer for teenagers, a Trustee for two Social Care organisations and a volunteer with an incredible local charity which provides a focus for community-based initiatives to support people with learning disabilities and their carers, to enhance integrations, reduce social isolation and increase community awareness. Every other Thursday evening is spent with about 15 of the most fun individuals imaginable, where we do activities, laugh our heads off, put on themed events and spend time enjoying each other’s company.

Along with picking up a lot of knowledge and experience, I also became an adopted sister to my little ‘brother’, Paul.  Paul and I have known each other for over 20 years and his meaning in my life is second-to-none.  We have a scheduled ‘family-chat’ on FaceTime every Wednesday night for at least at hour, which now includes my dad and my son, who Paul views as his adopted dad and nephew, and they love him like a son and uncle too!

Not long before the pandemic, I met an older woman with whom I just instantly clicked. Veronica, known as ‘Nanny Noodles’, is 82, and has the most incredible story.  She nannied for over 50 years across the globe, and looked after some of the most famous rock-stars’ children.  She has lived all over the world and is the only person in my circle who has frequented the most exclusive hotels and yachts in the world through her work!  She and I became friends instantly the day we met in 2019, and we do a lot of life together. She is beyond able, so full of life and love and fiercely independent. However, she talks to me about getting older and the challenges it brings, and references are often made to the health & social care system.  At times, during our conversations, I just want to cry in frustration, because the issues being described are ones which I am so aware of, and crucially, are ones which I believe can be addressed.

To go back to why I started writing and asking myself why I do what I do for a living; Paul and Nanny Noodles are two of the primary reasons in my life that mean I will always advocate for system change. Why I will always advocate for instilling truly outcome-focused approaches within systems.

Why I will not advocate system wastage when resources are so stretched.  Einstein and I agree entirely where he said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.

So, onto my move from front-line work to consulting with CIPFA C.Co two years ago. Probably my best move yet.  Imagine working for a company with strong values and a strong social purpose.  A team that absolutely believes in the value that the Public Sector delivers to people and communities.  An organisation that believes a strong, efficient and effective public sector is an essential part of a strong and inclusive country.  I came to work here for these reasons, and because C.Co is viewed by our clients as a trusted partner, who organisations come to on a consistent basis.

Radical, fresh thinking…challenging and reshaping systems….organisational culture change…challenging the way things are usually done are all fundamental to sustainable delivery of public services in my view. I wholeheartedly believe that we can do better and I am never going to stop, until I see that happen.


(Pictures used with permission)