A Tribute to a Pioneering MeshWORK Project
written with input from Christopher Cooke
inspired by an original report by Matthew Kalman
Updated: 8 October 2017
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‘HemsMESH’ was the first major Gravesian-oriented project in the UK. Technically, it was a ‘pilot’ – which meant in reality things were being tried out as the project went along – which also meant that it was an awesome learning experience for all involved! There was never any official ‘follow-on – but the project was far from a failure as all the key figures in the project went onto to further work with the principles involved. Indeed, for many years afterwards Christopher ‘Cookie’ Cooke, the project leader, carried out work with both individuals and agencies that were involved in it.
It also brought to a climax a remarkable 3 years which had seen Wakefield Training & Enterprise Council and Business Link Wakefield & District, 2 organisations rooted in BLUE bureaucracy, not only embrace the Gravesian approach – in part, at least – but also Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)!
The architect of much of this was Business Link’s Ian Lavan, a Master Practitioner & Trainer in NLP who, at the beginning of 1998, flew to Texas to train in Spiral Dynamics which Don Beck & Chris Cowan at the National Values Center had ‘built’ on Clare W Graves work. Following on from that, Beck & Cowan were brought over to the UK that March to present their Spiral Dynamics courses in Wakefield…and life was nevermore to be the same for a number of people who attended those workshops!
One consequence was that the 21st Century Group – a business network I had been running for the Business Link with the help of that organisation’s lead advisor, Steve Beevers – upped its game considerably, As a result Ian got heavily involved, the network became highly radical and was soon being described in terms such as “worldbeating”. At the time Business Link brought Don Beck back in June 1999, I was also carrying out a contract for them as a part-time advisor to businesses in SESKU & Hemsworth – SESKU being the villages of South Elmsall, South Kirkby and Upton grouped together as the beneficiaries of an ‘SRB-1’ scheme. These were all former pit villages in the south east of Wakefield Metropolitan District – Hemsworth was officially a ‘town’, though in reality it was little more than an overgrown village.
The demise of the coal mining industry had devastated the local economy and the social fabric had soon started to wither. By the time I was working there, unemployment – much of it long-term – was well above national average, burglary, petty crime and minor violence were endemic, and drug abuse was rife. (Nearby Grimethorpe, just across the border in South Yorkshire, had the dubious distinction of being the first place in Britain where bags of heroin were sold for just £5.)
Ian Lavan remarked that the thing that, to him, most summed up the sad state of the area was the South Kirkby Miner’s Institute reduced to putting on dog training classes. (He was very conscious of the proud (PURPLE) traditions being demeaned.) A similar moment for me was a man reluctant to walk his dog on the grass outside the closed South Kirkby colliery gates because of all the syringes on the ground. The conversation was held next to a dilapidated sofa the junkies used in the Summer to ‘bliss out’ on after shooting up.
Inspiration at Minsthorpe!
Some £35M – £20M from the Government’s Single Regeneration Budget (SRB), plus another £15M from the European Union and other sources – was going into SESKU under SRB-1. Unfortunately many of the projects developed under the scheme seemed to connect only marginally with the local people. Take-up and involvement with projects were relatively low.
Perhaps most tellingly, after nearly 3 years of SRB-1, there was little new business in the area and unemployment remained stubbornly high. In May 1999 a couple of local businessmen made mischief by going to the Yorkshire Post with the story that SRB-1’s £35M had been effectively wasted!
Almost from setting foot in SESKU, I pushed for the Gravesian approach to be used to inform and improve decision-making in the area. With Ian Lavan, I tried putting on a Spiral Dynamics workshop; but, to the frustration of those who did attend, they couldn’t get most of the key decision-makers there. So, with the Business Link committed to bringing Don Beck back to Wakefield, we angled for him to speak in SESKU.
With heavy promotion emphasising Don’s role in the early-mid-1990s transformation in South Africa from Apartheid to multi-cultural democracy, 65 ‘influencers’ turned up at Minsthorpe Community College on the hill outside South Elmsall on 17 June for his lunchtime address.
Don spoke eloquently and passionately for an hour about the need for MeshWORK solutions to free the ‘coalminer identity’ to do other things.
Among those fired up by Don’s speech was TEC Chief Executive Iain Wilkinson. He convened what we called a ‘MESH Group’ of those in the TEC, Business Link and Wakefield College with knowledge and interest in the Gravesian approach and Spiral Dynamics, with a view to creating a ‘Wakefield MeshWORK’.
After several meetings of very excited talk, the MESH Group finally buckled down to the fact that we actually had to do something! We felt we needed a ‘real-world’ project to demonstrate the power of the MeshWORK approach.
It was then that Steve Beevers and I put forward an issue we had been discussing for some time. A factor holding back the development of SESKU & Hemsworth businesses, I had been told repeatedly by local business people, was the quality of school leavers from the area’s 2 secondary schools, Minsthorpe and Hemsworth High. In short, in an area of high unemployment, many local employers considered the school leavers unemployable. They preferred to employ older, more responsible people. It was even alleged that some desperate business people were bussing in workers from the nearby city of Doncaster – though later investigations failed to find hard evidence for this claim.
So the MESH Group decided to set up a Graveisan-oriented project to examine youth employability issues in that area. “Oh, good,” commented Ian Lavan, somewhat incredulous at the naïve audacity of the scope, “let’s start with something easy!”
The start of HemsMESH
I felt I didn’t have sufficient knowledge at the time to design a MeshWORK project and Ian Lavan had other commitments – so it was given to Christopher Cooke to take the lead. The consultancy he then co-led, Hidden Resources – Chris now leads 5 Deep Ltd – had arranged the 98 Beck & Cowan and 99 Beck visits which meant he could draw upon Don’s expertise in overseeing the project from a distance. It was also Chris who coined the ‘HemsMESH’ moniker for the project.
Since SRB-1 was winding down, it made sense to target funding from the new £20M SRB-5 scheme (with a core of £8M SRB), for which Hemsworth was eligible – having missed out on the SESKU SRB-1 due to some arcane manipulation of demographics.
Cookie and Steve Beevers first of all won over Hemsworth High headteacher Richard Dunn who, having presided over a considerable improvement in A*-C GCSE grades, in the previous few years, announced: “It is unlikely that we can improve academic standards without engaging the broader community.” With Dunn’s support, they were able to get the bid through the various SRB-5 approval and scrutiny stages – committees and public meetings, etc.
Hemsworth High, where the project was to be centred, in many respects represented a near-perfect opportunity to ‘road test’ the Gravesian approach and its Spiral Dynamics build. Between 16-19% of their 16 year-old school leavers neither went into further education nor into legitimate employment, compared to the national average of 14% of school leavers who got ‘lost’. (The issue of such school leavers is discussed more generally in the Blog post: NEETs – are the Tories on the Right Path?)
Since the project would involve a lot of data collection and analysis, Wakefield TEC donated the services of Donna James, their leading researcher. As the TEC was the ‘lead body’ for managing the funding, their European Manager, Tim Goodspeed, became the project’s coordinator. He set up a ‘HemsMESH’ page on the TEC’s web site. (Unfortunately the TEC HemsMESH page disappared along with the TEC and the site in 2001.)
In accordance with Don Beck’s concepts, a ‘Vital Signs Centre’ was established at Cherry Tree House in the grounds of the school and Cookie persuaded Intergraph, a leading designer, to donate some geographical information software (GIS). This enabled data (such as location of businesses, houses banded for council tax, households receiving benefit, burglaries, incidents of violent crime, traffic accidents, etc – and eventually vMEMETIC information) to be coded and layered onto maps of Hemsworth. Wakefield Metropolitan District Council contributed data, as did the West Yorkshire Police whose Chief Inspector Ray Helm became an ardent supporter of the project. In the interests of confidentiality and data protection, identification of data was mapped only to street names and post codes rather than individual buildings.
To avoid the core delivery team of himself, me, Henrie Lidiard (a Hidden Resources associate), Tim, Donna and Vital Signs Centre manager Jan Cassidy falling into groupthink, Christopher set up both a Steering Committee of representatives from local organisations (public and private sector) with an interest in the regeneration of South East Wakefield and a ‘Wisdom Network’. This last allowed Cookie to draw on expert opinion well away from the project. It included Don Beck and South African Loraine Laubscher who had worked with Don there in the early-mid-1990s and remained a trusted confidante.
To promote engagement with key local influencers, interactive debriefings were arranged every fortnight in the school library.
Although Chris’ first real efforts to promote the project were at the Business Link-sponsored ‘Business Marketplace’ event at Minsthorpe in January 2000, HemsMESH formally kicked off on 3 February with an Induction Day at Hemsworth’s Vissett Cottage motel. Cookie and Henrie led this basic introduction to the Gravesian approach for local influencers which included ‘Walking the Spiral’ – a powerful exercise for fast-tracking appreciation of the Spiral’s different worldviews. Amongst the attendees were Martin Clay (from the SRB-5 project team) and Annie Mars, from the Hemsworth Community Initiative, who took a keen interest in the project all the way through.
Interestingly, after walking the Spiral, ex-miner Jim Haley (from the Hemsworth Christian Fellowship) said with real conviction: “The problem here in this town is fractured PURPLE.”
Identifying the issues
As well as providing general support to Cookie, my role was to liaise with local employers and to assist in building a stronger relationship between them and Hemsworth High. Essentially this was an extension of the work I had been doing for the Business Link. Unfortunately their office in South Elmsall was closed (due to shortsightedness amongst Business Link management over continuing funding) around the time HemsMESH really began to attract attention. Thus, a major opportunity to link in economic (business) interventions with social interventions was missed.
Amongst the business people I recruited to the 1 April Open Forum were Tom Dyer (from South Kirkby’s Dempsey Dyer Ltd) and wife Anne (a governor at Minsthorpe), Paul Sikora (Upton’s Frigoscandia), and 21st Century Group members Roger Carey and Garry Fox (South Kirkby’s Carey & Fox), Peter Dawson (South Kirkby’s PD Engineering) and Steve Smith (Knottingley’s EMC Ltd ). I was also instrumental in getting police inspector Tim Ruse and Liz Gledhill from the South Elmsall Express to the event.
In all just short of 50 people, ranging from local politicians to senior representatives of regeneration agencies to teachers to business people to community activists to people straight off the street, attended what was essentially an Open Space session in structure. Don Beck, who was over to lead some vMEMETIC surveying, worked the PURPLE and RED in the room like a magician delighting children with his ridiculous ‘truth meter’ – a supposed electronic true-or-false voting system that could tell whether people were expressing their real views. There was indeed something of the shamanic priest in the way Don defied clear rationality and fed the need for a powerful figure able to command the ‘spirits of technology’. Meanwhile Cookie put forward themes in a more cerebral manner for the BLUE, ORANGE and GREEN present.
A huge amount of information was gleaned about key issues inhibiting the development of South East Wakefield and this was distilled into a report which was posted on the TEC’s ‘HemsMESH’ web page.
Streams of data Don started the team collecting on 1 April identified ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ places in Hemsworth. This was fed into the GIS mapping system and led eventually to rumours that the team were “capturing people’s emotions in a computer”. Reputedly the rumours were stoked up by Hemsworth & District MP Jon Trickett who had never been convinced of the necessity for HemsMESH. If so, it seemed like RED was manipulating PURPLE’s superstitious fears! (In the end the various streams of data were said to represent the views of over 2,300 persons sampled, aged between 11 years and 78 years of age.)
Beyond Today: an Adventure in Time…
On 18 May I facilitated a meeting at Hemsworth High between a group of local employers and Richard Dunn and some of his senior management team. More than anything, the meeting revealed significant gaps in values and understanding between the 2 sides but an action plan to build closer relationships was agreed. The school was also pleased to establish a relationship for the first time with Frigoscandia which would enable Year 10 Work Experience placements at the company. July proved to be the most intense month of the project.
On the 5th Cookie and I delivered an Adizes LifeCycle workshop at the Broad Lane Business Centre in South Elmsall. (That workshop represented my first efforts at mapping the vMEMES of of the Gravesian approach to the LifeCycle stages.) Feedback was generally highly positive, with Claire Burton (South Elmsall’s Evolve Electronics) even declaring it a life-changing experience! (Business Link Wakefield & District was meant to be involved and engaged in follow-ups; but, by that time, the organisation was starting to fall apart, faced with the imminent certainty that it would shortly be incorporated into the proposed West Yorkshire ‘super Business Link’.)
On the 13th the HemsMESH team – enhanced by Gerri Moriarty, Dave Yaffey and Richard Royce – staged ‘Beyond Today: an Adventure through Time…’ at Hemsworth High. This was a day-long session for the entire Year 7, designed to stretch the students’ perception of their lives and their environment. The morning centred on the past and the present, with sessions on mining (by ex-miner Ian Oxley), farming (by farmer Graham Moxon) and a full-scale mock-up of a Victorian classroom – complete with a cane-wielding spinsterette teacher! The afternoon, initiated by Cookie playing a time lord to music from the Dave Clark musical, ‘Time’, took the year group on a ‘magic carpet ride’ into the future where the students were encouraged to develop stories, playlets, songs and dances about how their lives might work out.
The sheer size of the exercise was breathtaking and the team were glad of the ability of Steve Foster and the other supporting teachers to corral over-excited Year 7s! The 19th and 20th saw the same team taking on an even tougher challenge – that of a 2-day workshop for the Year 10s who weren’t going on Work Experience. The theme was ‘Taking Responsibility’ and it involved some of the most disaffected students – mostly boys – in the school. They were placed in teams and taken through stories, plays and trust exercises to build co-operation and positive self-esteem. My team, ‘Keith’s Killers’, won the ‘Strategy Game’ handsomely!
It was during theses sessions that we first began to realise just how openly accessible drugs like heroin were to these young people – a couple of ‘playlets’ included explicit modelling of older brothers or older brothers’ friends shooting up. Some of these sessions also gave us our first hints at there being an underbelly of incest and child sex abuse half-hidden amongst the local community.
Later in the Summer, I arranged for some of the students to recreate their materials for a live broadcast on Ridings FM, the local radio station.
After the Summer my role in HemsMESH decreased somewhat, apart from generally chasing up loose ends and working with Sue Richards, the school’s Work Experience Co-ordinator, on a report making recommendations to improve the experience for both school, students and employers.
Meanwhile Cookie and Henrie Lidiard were occupied on community issues and delivering an NLP Diploma programme as an empowerment exercise for the Hemsworth Community Initiative and the West End Residents Group.
Over the Summer the emphasis moved onto data collation and analysis – and it was here that the delivery team began to have some differences with our Wakefield TEC counterparts.
Donna James had developed an excellent and very structured series of questionnaires. The problem was that they were essentially BLUE in nature.
Those put into Hemsworth High returned a high return of BLUE and ORANGE values. From my experience of talking with teachers in the school and with teachers at other schools, I seriously doubted that so many students were centred in BLUE and ORANGE. My argument was that a BLUE structured approach would tend to return a BLUE-plus response from those capable of stretching that far; while the 40% of non-returns told a story of students not doing the ‘right thing’ since they had been instructed to complete the questionnaire.
The return rate of the questionnaires put into the community was so low that there was doubt as to whether any statistical significance could be drawn from them.
From 2 years of working in the SESKU-Hemsworth area, I was convinced that the preponderance of thinking in the local populations was in the PURPLE-RED zones. Since PURPLE and RED do not place a high value on literacy, I felt other means than paper-based questionnaires were needed to track these vMEMES.
In response to my concerns, Cookie conducted some walk-about informal interview sessions in the town centre during the early evenings. From these, he gleaned some valuable information from the kind of youngsters hanging around on street corners that don’t complete paper questionnaires. Sadly this and some some of the work Chris and Henrie Lidiard had been doing in the local community brought about further evidence of incest and child sex abuse. (For parents to abuse their own children…? Jim Haley had been absolutely right when he had identified one of the principal probems of the Hemsworth area as being ‘fractured PURPLE! It was a PURPLE that kept the abuse within the in-group family – to be sorted by the family – and avoided the intrusive attentions of outsiders which a BLUE response of contacting the police and social services would have brought.) Both Cookie and I were frustrated by the sheer amount of time and money HemsMESH put into reports and project meetings. As the ‘lead body’ for the funding, the TEC had to demonstrate accountability; but the BLUE Move-Away-From and Procedures meta-programmes we had to deal with drained resources we felt could have been used more productively.
HemsMESH as an active project effectively came to an end with the ‘Convergence’ sessions at Hemsworth Christian Fellowship on 3 October (which focussed on designing future scenarios for Hemsworth in the form of newspaper mock-ups) and the 17-18th when Don Beck gave a rather rambling but inspired presentation on the critical relevance of Spiral Dynamics. (Beck might not have stuck exactly to his brief – but what he had to say had more than a few jaws dropping to the floor!) The final HemsMESH session was on 15 November when Cookie led an Open Space session to identify recommendations for further action.
Final Report disseminations took place in November 2000 and January 2001. However, by this time Wakefield TEC was in the process of being closed down and the Business Links were preparing to be taken into the Small Business Service. (Wakefield would be subsumed into the proposed West Yorkshire ‘super’ Business Link.) Consequently, despite the enthusiasm of many in the SESKU/Hemsworth area, there were few people in influence interested in taking HemsMESH forward. (Hidden Resources even had to put 30% of their fees back into the project to ensure the final stages happened.)
If some of the research data collection was flawed, nonetheless HemsMESH was a project which touched lives in a very real way. In a 2014 interview with Russ Volckmann (2014b) of Integral Leadership Review, Cookie gave an example of how HemsMESH had broken down some major barriers to communication between different groups in the community: “…we asked the elderly to describe a map of the safe places, the unsafe places, the respected, the disrespected places, the happy, the sad places. We had the youngsters do the same thing and we brought their maps together. They could see that they were both seeing the same things from their own perspectives. Previously, each was blaming the other for the problems they were experiencing. Meshing together these conversations helped them to let go of the previous barriers to start to have new conversations that they weren’t able to have previously.”
Personally I took much that I had learned first into Humberside – see Humber MeshWORKS – and then into developing the Integrated SocioPsychology approach. Richard Dunn, Iain Wilkinson and Tim Goodspeed all joined Cookie in his new venture, 5 Deep Ltd, a key developer of the PeopleSCAN and CultureSCAN concepts. (Over 4,500 documents had been processed during the project – and from this a new analytical approach and software had been developed.) Cookie also forged ever-closer links with Don Beck; and they and Dave Yaffey set up the ‘Inspiral World’ project.
While HemsMESH as a project terminated in January 2001, strands of it continued. In Autumn 2001 Cookie delivered a series of 6 community coaching sessions to a group from Hemsworth – the result of which was an action plan the group implemented over the following 3 years. In Summer 2004 they approached Cookie to undertake a feasibility study for further work.
For a number of years he also continued to do some occasional work with Steve Foster at Hemsworth High. In 2002 the school claimed only 10% of that year’s school leavers – now below national average – had got ‘lost’.
How much that reduction was influenced by HemsMESH is, of course, a debatable point – but it’s a point that begs for serious investigation.
Perhaps the final word on HemsMESH (at this point) should be left to an ex-coal miner who told Cookie at the final meeting: “Finally, I can brush the coal dust off my shoulders.” (Volckmann)