Positive social change, creative facilitation and compelling organisational narratives

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Creative Facilitator

Creative Facilitator

I’m committed to supporting organisations in complex and challenging situations across the public and third sectors as they determine what needs to change and how. Time is tight and the pressure is on to deliver more and better with less. It’s critical in facilitated sessions for you to have enough structure to meet your goals, but also a creative and engaging process in which to imagine and explore new possibilities. Facilitation gives you the space to think and to have conversations that matter to you in a fresh and innovative way – a way that delivers something different.
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Story Activist

Story Activist

The speed and volume of change we all experience can make it difficult to make sense of the world, and to connect with what we’re trying to achieve and why. It makes it difficult to shift mindsets and behaviours. Stories are a powerful tool that help us understand what change means for us. They influence how we feel, what we think and how we act. I’ve developed a story-based approach that supports leaders and other change-makers looking for different outcomes to plot a new route. Through facilitated workshops, creative interviews and training, I work with you to produce lasting materials – books, blogs and video content – that support your change agenda.
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I believe we need more stories and a wider range of them that reflect the breadth of contemporary society in the UK. We need to turn around the dominant negative narratives about public life and create positive, thought-provoking and entertaining stories that explore what matters and what’s possible. I’ve curated and published four books exploring aspects of public life and two novels. My articles have appeared in The Guardian and I was the Writer in Residence at the Chartered Institute for Public Finance.
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New Novel

New Novel

About the new novel: A girl searches for her missing brother, a council leader fights to hold on to her principles and a chief executive battles to hold back the tide of cuts. Over them all looms a threatened football club and the sinister shadow of its chairman. As identities shift and allegiances are tested, how much will each of them risk to save the city, the club – and themselves? Dawn’s book launch and story workshop tour takes in conferences, public organisations, book clubs and libraries.
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We’ve got this.

Ethics public service and art

I’m really excited to be curating my first mixed media art exhibition exploring the theme of ethics in public life. We’ve never needed a debate like this more. What’s so compelling about the show is the creative connection between artists and public servants. It’s stretched thinking, created possibilities and shines a light on what’s still right and relevant about the principles of public life.

We’ve Got This – speaks to both the ability to hold firm and the sense that we’ve got all of this, the grit, mess and the challenges. Fantastic project to work on, great art and thinking, commissioned by the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

Here’s some more info and we’ll be sharing pics throughout next week.

Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, Leadership – 25 years on from their inception, chief executives and artists collaborate to ask if the Nolan Principles are still a guiding light in public service today.

We’ve Got This: ethics, public service and art is an innovative mixed-media art exhibition that connects council chief executives with artists from across the country. 

The collaborative artworks are responses to the Nolan Principles – the 7 principles of public life first set out by Lord Nolan in 1995 and included in the Ministerial code to this day.

The seven principles apply to everyone who works in the public sector, from a front line social worker, to a chief executive or councillor to the Prime Minister himself. The project reimagines these principles, putting them in a contemporary context.

14 artists and chief executives have collaborated on the artworks, which range from reconstructed metal road signs by artist Richard Knight to ceramic coffee cups by Emma Buckmaster to a punk song by band Cockwomble. Following interviews with their assigned chief executives, the artists took inspiration from the principles to create innovative artworks.

Martin Swales, President Solace and Chief Executive, South Tyneside Council said, “This exhibition is stunning. Chief executives and artists have been collaborating to start a new debate about ethics and principles in local government. In these difficult times where ethics can seem opaque at best, a creative approach makes us engage and think in different ways. We’ve Got This – is about the heart of public service, it’s about why we do what we do.”

Merran McRae, Chief Executive of Wakefield Council said, “We need a creative conversation about Nolan, public service and what that means for us in these challenging times. It’s been fantastic to work with local artists on the project. As individuals and organisations, we need to be more creative, imagine the future, spot patterns, make the invisible visible.”

We’ve Got This takes a fresh look at ethics: re-inventing the Nolan principles in public life through a cutting-edge cross disciplinary art exhibition. The project aims to make sense of the challenging contemporary context, as well as celebrating the good stuff at the heart of public service.

The exhibition will be presented at the 2019 Solace Summit in Birmingham 16 – 18 October, with plans for it to tour in 2020. le 3 Ac

This Leader Can… make a difference on equalities

Graphic novel style free ebook

Powerful and personal tales about the battle to achieve equality in leadership are at the heart of a new book collaboration.

“This Leader Can…make a difference on equalities includes true stories, told by senior leaders working in local government, highlighting how leaders are making a difference in their organisations – and where mindsets need to shift to deliver a step change on equalities and diversity.

We’re really proud of it, enjoy the gorgeous illustrations and please share. Big thanks to Solace and Agilisys and all the writers.

Stories that show how to make change – creative facilitator

The stories are about: *senior leaders coming out about disabilities and sexuality, *diversity and the bottom line, *the serious challenge on race diversity, *dealing with political pressure, *unconscious bias, *gendered attitudes and bullying, *serving diverse communities and managing conflict.

Here’s the press release: Dawn Reeves, co-editor of the book and director of Shared Press, the publishers of the book said: “These stories pack a real punch. There are tips on how leaders are using their influence to make change in really complex situations and insight into the benefits that equality can bring in organisations that are really committed.”

“What make the stories so compelling is that they’re told by people who have been there, done that and know how it feels – these people are putting their heads above the parapet to make real change happen faster.”

Jo Miller, Chief Executive of Doncaster Council and ex-President of Solace – the inspiration for the book said: “Great leaders know the importance of building truly diverse organisations where people trust and understand each other.

“This Leader Can is full of stories about people who are doing just that. Some of the stories also show how difficult it can be and how far we still have to go. But by sharing our stories and experiences in the way we’ve done in the book is an important first step in delivering change.”

Andrew Mindenhall, Chief Executive at Agilisys, who sponsored the publication added: “ It’s long past time for us all to recognise that diversity in leadership will help build stronger and more resilient public services. Together we can all help challenge the norm in local government and encourage under-represented groups to aim for the top.”

This Leader Can also includes practical advice and tips from experts on delivering equalities in organisations.

The book is available from https://www.sharedpress.co.uk/books and can be downloaded as a free PDF from its website.

How to generate energy in 2019 – for ourselves (and as a facilitator)

“I wonder if any year ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole race were indulging in a kind of species introversion — as though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we see isn’t very pretty…”  

John Steinbeck, writer and advocate for the disenfranchised, wrote that in 1941. It resonates for me right now, with storm clouds amassing and divisions running deep.

Steinbeck’s response to the dark side (which you can read in full on the fantastic brainpickings.org) encouraged me to face the year ahead with a bit of oomph, openness and a positive focus on what can be done. So here are my top three tips for generating energy and thinking differently. I’ll be doing these in 2019 to boost my motivation, curiosity and creativity; I hope it sparks something for you and the teams or groups you work with.

1. Think like artists and try a new process

I’m always interested in creative techniques and love designing innovative processes for me and the groups I facilitate. I’m starting next week with a trip to Cologne, Germany to collaborate with Philine Velhagen, a radio and theatre producer who works in public spaces. We’re developing a new approach that uses aesthetic transformations (the way artists work and think) to help people and organisations who don’t normally think of themselves as creative.

I was lucky to meet Philine at a brilliant summer school at the Universitat der Kunst in Berlin last year that used the city as a source of inspiration. In the same way our starting point is using what already exists, our own thoughts, what’s in front of us and how we relate to it. It’s definitely not about sitting in front of a blank page waiting for inspiration or being a creative genius with amazing technique. I’m looking forward to mixing things up, producing sparks and looking for what we don’t normally see.

Artwork by Manuela Dos Santos – also at UdK

2. Be a story activist – get the stories that matter out in the world

Stories are a main theme of my work, so this won’t be new to people who’ve read previous blog posts. Sitting at my desk on these first quiet days of the year, I’m reminded of how much energy I get from writing and collaborating with others on story work. For me stories make sense of the gritty tough stuff and amplify the positives.

Today I’m writing about public servants in Bexley children’s services, assessed by Ofsted as outstanding. These are extraordinary tales, from social workers, educators, children and families, told about themselves, their work and the triumphs and tragedies they encounter every day. No need for an academic treatise on what outstanding looks like – these tales powerfully illustrate why Bexley is special and the people who work there very special indeed. A new book of their stories will be out in the spring.  

In 2018 we published three books: Boldly and Rightly, Town Hall – buildings, people and power and This Leader Can – make a difference on Equalities (find out all about them at www.sharedpress.co.uk) We also helped Bradford Leaders Network pull together their own collection, “The threads that bind.” That’s 170 people who’ve told their stories, seen them published, honoured and out there and more who’ve taken part in organisational story-telling workshops. Every story I’m told or read lifts me up and has an impact.

facilitating a collective story with 15 writers in 8 languages

3. New conversations in new forms – an art and literature festival about our moral compass

We all know people in our networks whose conversations energise us and make us feel alive. I always get a boost talking to multi-disciplinary artist, Arts Council assessor and friend Sarah Tutt about the art of process. I love Sarah’s questioning and inventive spirit. We are different personalities in different worlds and the crossovers are magic.

Before Christmas we tested out a new idea of mine based on ethics; although it’s not fully formed it’s based on the need for a new moral compass and standards in public life. We’re thinking about having the debate in the form of an arts festival with the themes of integrity, selflessness, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The themes are the Nolan principles that everyone in public life signs up to – even our politicians. And my question is do they give us all a moral compass? I don’t where the conversations or the idea will take me but it’s already exciting. If you’re curious and want to join the conversation let me know.

different/creative starting points for new conversations facilitator

Writing this blog has helped me think myself into the year and I’m ready for it all, the highs and the inevitable lows. John Steinbeck never lost hope in the human spirit, we shouldn’t either. It’s our experience and engagement with people, their lives, stories and ideas that helps me keep the faith.

Town Halls, Civic Centres and Council Houses – Architecture, history and power

A new book project that tells the story of local government through it’s buildings.

This might be a bit niche but if you’re interested and might be persuaded to write something or send a photo – pls email me dawn@dawnreeves.com


Town halls are the most visible symbol of local democracy in every town and city. Whether they’re grand Victorian edifices or brash 70s redbrick blocks, they occupy a unique position in the fabric of a place. This project will focus on a selection of town halls, Council Houses and civic centres across England and examine what they tell us about the role of councils when they were built, their role now and their future – through the voices of the people who work there or care about local government.

In the past, town halls were grand reminders that our towns and cities were governed by people who, like us, came from the places they represented. Town halls said; “Look at us, we’re important, so we have a building to match our importance.”

Today we still need to say, “This place is important and we’re important,” but we’ll need to say it from places that aren’t so grand and don’t look so imposing. We have to find other ways of showing people we’re important and we matter.


We value and respect local democracy. Today this is particularly important because of three specific challenges: many town halls are under threat due to financial pressures; many people don’t understand what the buildings (and local government) are for; local government is stuck in the grip of dominant negative narratives and can’t get its case across. We’re also reflecting on: What we want our buildings to say about us going forward? What is our future story and how might we use our buildings to say something more, different…or tell it better?

We will produce a beautiful coffee table book (and ebook):

–  fantastic photos (both architectural and people focused that form a social documentary), intriguing stories (first person narratives, opinion pieces and flash-fiction, folklore and creative interpretations of history) available digitally, as videos etc

What’s the aim/result/outcome we are after?

We hope the project will help people to see local government and its town halls in a new light, to value the heritage and their local democracy, to think openly, question what’s in the media and get engaged in decisions that affect their area/their own area.

What will be in the book?

We aim to illustrate the different tiers/types of council – a county council, a district, a big city hall, a combined authority, a local parish, to show the distinctiveness /beauty of the buildings and some of the achievements and to show the importance/significance for the town /place. It won’t be a typology, wouldn’t attempt to make it exhaustive but will be illustrative, starting with the Victorian era and the beginning of civic society in England. We’re aiming to include the main phases of town hall buildings and link it explicitly to the role of local government then, what it was there to do.

i) Victorian grandeur 1850s-1890s – post industrial revolution

ii) the first half of the 20th century and earlier post-war era – 1920s/50s

iii) post-local government re-organisation 1970s

iv)- 2000s onwards – where we are now including refurbishments, split functions, one public estate, the trend towards universality e.g. universal credit, the opportunities, links to housing, the combined authorities and devolution, and the tensions between bespoke services and places and costs in benefits and services

v) and where we could be going/the future, some principles we have discerned through doing the project.

vi) Might also have a small section with photos of what we’ve lost, the town halls that are now Wetherspoons etc

What are looking for:

200 words on why this town hall/civic centre is significant and 400 words on what it tells us.  For each town hall featured we might include:

Two pages of lovely photos and include some beautiful artefacts. A story by someone from that place – could be a councillor/ member of public/someone who works there. If possible a story that says something about the history/context. A story or piece from one of us as the steering group on what this town hall tells us, why we’ve included it – the context and questions

Get in touch – Thanks again…


Facilitation, future plans and messages from Local Government in Japan and London 

Fantastic City Osaka Japan











Negotiating with tomorrow’ s people

How do we plan for a sustainable future that meets the needs of generations to come? It’s a massive and complex global question that often falls into the too-difficult box. It’s also tricky at the local level for local authorities and specifically for planners trying to set a spatial framework for the next twenty or thirty years. During 2016 & 2017 in Osaka and in a number of London Councils (Brent, Barnet and Tower Hamlets) I’ve been facilitating groups of local councillors, local authority managers, communities and researchers to get under the surface of the problem.

There are so many unknowns in public life at the moment that thinking ahead so far can seem like a futile exercise. Yet for Planning Authorities in the UK it’s the fundamental basis of the Planning Framework – the strategy that should inform and support all other strategies. Equally planning a sustainable future means we need to tackle the question of inter-generational conflict? And one of the big problems with future generations is that we can’t involve them in consultation processes because they don’t exist yet.

At the two week RENKEI Collaboration programme in Japan (involving 7 UK universities and 7 from Japan) we were joined by colleagues from Osaka City Council and Professor Hara of Osaka University who shared research from a futures project carried out in Yahaba Town, Iwate Prefecture.

The work involved a series of participatory workshops where stakeholders created “imaginary future generation” groups to represent tomorrow’s people and asked them to negotiate with present generation about the vision for 2050, the priorities and decision making. It was a fascinating approach (see link below) and one that I’ve taken three key lessons from to use in the UK.

People want to do it

It was clear in all the London sessions that whilst stakeholders were initially apprehensive, they absolutely saw the need to think about the future and there was no shortage of engagement. There was a real dynamism about the conversations focusing on their future families and the legacy they would leave. Framing the questions in personal terms invited deeper and more creative responses and although the elected Councillors involved had limited time on this, they still came up with very useful responses in terms of policy direction. In Osaka the participants were very keen to role-play their future selves.

Creating an imaginary resident is easier than you think

Another way to support long-term visioning is to work with participants to imagine a fictional resident using a guided vision technique. It can be very straightforward and involves asking questions about the character, their daily lives in the future. The trick with this technique is to ensure participants don’t imagine themselves, to let them flow freely and see/feel how others might live. This technique ensures more diversity; it surfaced useful ideas and priorities.

You have to go a long way into the future to let people go from every day now…

The visions for London and UK based authorities look forward to twenty or thirty years. The project in Yahaba looked much further to 50 years ahead on the basis of research that shows that people often get stuck on the here and now, and to properly image future sustainable places, the gap needs to be bigger.

It’s been a fantastic opportunity for me to work across cultures, in London and Japan, to share and apply learning with highly useful results including: content that informs the development of Local Plans in the UK and in Osaka, the RENKEI work came up with proposals for social enterprises that bring generations together.

Here’s a link to the Japan Osaka University research


And a link to the inspiring Innovation Hub at Osaka City Council


And thanks to Japan Local Government Centre for publishing this blog too.

100 places to find hope in 2018








100 places to find hope in 2018

“There’s no hope.” “There’s every hope!” “It’ll all be fine.”  “Except the sky will fall in by the end of January.”

In 2017 I had lots of fascinating discussions about hope as part of the book tour for my thriller, We Know What We Are. People found hope in good conversation, in making connections, in the love and support of friends and colleagues. Others found hope in opposition and down the pub.

Writing a novel with a hopeful aspect to it tested my own thinking on the subject. I’m not usually a list person but I challenged myself to write a list of 100 places to find hope in 2018. Admittedly I had a head-start on this task – but thought I’d start the year by sharing a few of my favourite hopeful places.

i) Hope in uncertainty – Life isn’t fixed or inevitable. Possibility lives in the grey areas, not the black or white. I don’t know what will happen and I definitely don’t want the future to be the same as the past. Uncertainty is where we can make change, experiment and be creative.

As a writer, I can’t ever be sure that what I write will come out well. If I was, I’d either be kidding myself or it would be boring or safe. Equally if I believed it would all end badly I’d never put pen to paper. There’s always the chance it might touch somebody and that it could even be great, who’s to say?

ii) The rebellion – I find hope in standing together to shout when something’s wrong. The #metoo movement in 2017 was so important. I also went on the massive impromptu women’s demo to protest against Donald Trump’s sexist attitudes. It was awesome, yet people in the US still voted for him. As a half-full kind of person, I know life isn’t all bad, but when it’s appalling, I find the motivation to get active.

I also love writing rebellious characters, outsiders who question the status quo. I find hope in sharing different understandings of any problem, looking under the surface of issues and telling it as I see it.

iii) The work – If hope is what gets me to start any project, I’ve learnt that it’s hard work that makes the difference. Writer and activist James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Sticking at a project pays dividends. Books get written, services get delivered and the work done for free by people in communities up and down the country because they believe in it, always gives me hope.

In 2018 I’ll be collaborating on more stories and developing at least three new book projects. I’ve registered Shared Press (our publishing imprint) as a Community Interest Company and will be supporting more people to tell their stories. I’ll keep working towards making a TV series of my first novel Hard Change (there is a script now and a schedule, if not a fully funded programme!) And I’ve signed up to a sculpture course. Whatever I produce it’ll have something inherently wobbly about it and I’ll probably love the process if not the results.

Here’s hoping we’ll connect in some way this year and I look forward to finding out more about your hopes too.


(And for anyone who likes lists –here’s my top 100 places to find hope… not in order except for the end?!!)

100 places to find hope – from where I sit… 

  1. In being together – and in being alone, in quiet reflection
  2. In changing course, being flexible, evolving
  3. In moving – escaping my office/spare room and experiencing other places/cultures
  4. In being mindful – which for me is making a great breakfast everyday
  5. In our good intentions – which we all have, even when we get it wrong
  6. In our ability to heal ourselves – mental and physical healing
  7. In letting go of things… like duty or ego – it’s a work in progress
  8. In learning – I love learning, fishing for new ideas and seeking out new stuff
  9. In shining/letting your light shine
  10. In really connecting – and in the super-connectors who make it easier for the rest of us
  11. In laughing – because and about our mad world
  12. In being the same as everyone else and different too
  13. In accepting what is and that I’m part of it, good or bad,
  14. In touching, I love shaking hands or the clumsy half hug/embrace of a colleague
  15. In being well, and being ok for now– in living pain-free
  16. In the mess of life, it’s where creativity starts/thrives
  17. In creating meaning/s – thinking critically, sharing understandings, applying our own filters
  18. In uncertainty – where there’s space for different endings, for movement
  19. In opposition – in the courageous people who organise, agitate, don’t accept the status quo
  20. In anger – there can be passion and the potential for release (not when it’s expressed as violence.)
  21. In expression/our voices matter – #metoo is a powerful e.g. of being heard, individually and collectively
  22. In sharing vulnerability – because we all wobble and although difficult talking about my emotions can be hard, it makes the tough stuff is bearable and it builds trust
  23. In creativity – in everyone’s ability to think creatively and to make creative choices
  24. In sharing the load – I’m confident in the knowledge that other good people are thinking about the big problems in the world that I care about and can’t always imagine a solution to
  25. In seeing and seeing through – that we are all becoming more conscious of how we see what we see
  26. In collaboration – together we are stronger, it’s always true
  27. In conversations – that get under the surface
  28. In being surprised and being wrong
  29. In ideas – theories of change, sociology, philosophy and experimentation
  30. In the image – in visual communication
  31. In our individual and collective imaginations – to see ourselves in a better world we can create
  32. In the vibrations –that we give off and sense, in trusting our gut feelings
  33.  In a fragmented and flexible sense of the self – I’m trying to hold on lightly to the things that make me me  (and I’m hoping that my alter ego’s will teach me more about myself?!)
  34. In human nature – the bit about us that recognises our interdependence
  35. In doubt and fear – because they stretch us, give us useful information and remind us we’re human
  36. In the potential to live life well  and the potential to begin again, to re-imagine myself
  37. In the balance shifting – as it will, as it must
  38. In our differences – which I love and aren’t as big as we like to think they are
  39. In forgiveness – in our ability to forgive each other & in the hope you forgive me
  40. In international solidarity – with people around the world, the friends I haven’t met yet
  41. In those fighting for liberation and self-determination – and the small successes that we can grow
  42. In teenagers – who think and do amazing things, including volunteering in local library projects and reading to younger kids
  43. In young people – who do inspiring things
  44. In third agers – people who continue to volunteer in their 70’s
  45. In the anarchists and ecologists – small and somewhat chaotic things matter
  46. In the people that lived here before me and succeeded in creating the Islington Eco Centre
  47. In Jeremy Corbyn – as a principled and passionate politician (and the good women of the Women’s Equality Party and the active collaborators of the Progressive Alliance)
  48. In the work – that we all do to make things happen/to live life
  49. In the fantastic community responses to tragedies in 2017 – here in Finsbury park and across London, the Jo Cox meet-ups, the Grenfell survivors and too many to mention
  50. In the team – the awesome Malawi netball team
  51. In people trying to change the system from within – the heavy lifters
  52. And in people outside trying to change it too
  53. In those trying to bridge/cross communities
  54. In the existing green shoots of change – examples everywhere spread inspiration
  55. In the collective – never under-estimate the power of a small group of people to change the world
  56. In those who endure and continue the fight – like the Gay and Lesbian Society Zimbabwe
  57. In sport – especially at grass roots
  58. In the supporters – of competitors and of fan owned clubs like FCUnited amongst others
  59. In the carers
  60. In the healers
  61. In the volunteers
  62. In the men that are feminists
  63. In art – and the artists who manage an artistic life
  64. In taking control of the means of production – the indie-authors, musicians et al
  65. In families of all sorts /shapes and sizes
  66. In the good people who work in public services, their amazing ability to hold it together and make positive change
  67. In social workers, planners , front-line staff – all the under-valued & under-staffed
  68. In the regeneration of places – Like The Piece Hall
  69. In our ability to deal with crisis – and the specialists involved in London Bridge/Manchester
  70. In the ability of leaders to let go of command and control
  71. In the queuing to get on the train –there is hope in order
  72. In democracy – because it’s the best of the worst system
  73. And in local democracy – because it really matters
  74. In town halls! And anything that supports/contributes to/ makes visible civic life
  75. In the Nolan principles – and everyone who lives the standards in public life
  76. In letting people choose – both individuals and subsidiarity (at the lowest possible level)
  77. In partnerships – too many good examples – that’s for another blog
  78. In education for all about everything
  79. In writing – the ordering of thoughts on the page
  80. In the dance /movement to convey things – the first world war piece by Akram Kahn &DV8
  81. In alternatives – it doesn’t have to be like this
  82. In those that don’t fit in
  83. In creativity in unexpected places
  84. And in surprising allies
  85. In cities like Nottingham and Wolverhampton (and those outside the core cities movement)
  86. In the spoken word – especially the inspiring Kate Tempest
  87. In the collaboration – the magic mix of artists and scientists
  88. In the shadow – the dark side of everything that’s always with us
  89. In reading quietly – the beauty of the word
  90. In laughing loudly
  91. In the story – of course
  92. In justice and equality
  93. In the chain passed down – the work that went before so that we can continue
  94. In everyday resilience
  95. In getting to the starting line
  96. In being kind.
  97. In being alive, right here, right now.
  98. In hope itself
  99. In love
  100. And in you.


(the photo is a card that came from a friend who sings in the fantastic and hopeful @commonerschoir)

London book launch invite

Book launch – London Invite









London Book Launch – Sunday October 22nd 2-4pm Park Theatre, Finsbury Park London N4 3JP

I’m really looking forward to the book launch in London and wanted to invite you along. Please let me know if you can make it.

The book is available now for order from all bookshops and online stores and there’s a kindle version.

The DIY tour has been going really well, very enjoyable for me and a big thanks to everyone that’s helped out and turned up so far in Bristol, Brighton, Exeter, Reading and Mansfield.What’s been great are the conversations the book has started. There’s been a lot of digging into the story and the big ideas in the book: loyalty, tribes, identity, hope (and the horror in politics at the moment), what does football  mean to women and men, how women operate in men’s worlds and what keeps our communities and cities afloat. I’ve enjoyed the questions people have asked about the characters – who are starting to live off the page too – and the curiosity about the writing process. Great brain food and creative connections.

Here are the future dates in the diary

Thursday 5th October – 7.30pm-9pm        Redhill, Surrey

Saturday 14th October – 3pm-4.30pm       West Bridgford, Nottingham

Sunday 15th October – 3pm-4.30pm         Beeston, Nottingham

Tuesday 24th October – 12.30pm-1.30pm Rococo Room, Archives Centre, Wolverhampton

Thursday 2nd November 12.30pm             Solace Conference, Old Trafford, Manchester

Saturday 4th November 3pm-4.30pm      Heaton Moor, Stockport

Sunday 19th November 3pm-4.30pm       Leeds venue tbc

Friday 26th January 2018                           Wolverhampton Literary Festival

Email me for more details and hope to see you somewhere along the way and there will be more events to come…


We Know What We Are – or do we? My mini book tour starts tomorrow.

The new novel has arrived!

After 4 ½ years my second novel is finished and ready to take on tour. Couldn’t help wondering if I should get a t-shirt printed with a list of tour dates? It all feels a bit not rock n’ roll – sort of – although you really don’t want to hear me sing! I’m seriously excited about it. I’ll be loading up the car tomorrow and heading off to Bristol City Council, then to Exeter to meet a curious group of readers at my friend Thara’s place, and then on to Reading University for the CIPFA Summer School.

The tour will also take in the varied delights of Emmeline’s Norwegian Café in Abergavenny, the Society of Local Authority Chief Exec’s Conference at Old Trafford, a marvellously kitsch pub in Brighton, and then Nottingham, Mansfield, Leeds and Brum. And I’m still open to offers! In the run up to the book launch (October 22nd) and to Xmas, if there’s a group of 8 or more people, I’d be delighted to visit you.

Being an extrovert, the long hours of sitting alone writing have been hard work. I’ve done as much as I can to make writing into a team sport – and I can’t thank everyone who’s supported me in getting to this point enough – but in the end, there’s been a lot of me and my computer in the spare room. So, partly the tour is my reward to myself to get out and about, engage with friends and colleagues, to meet new people and to spread the word.
On the tour, I’ll be doing a bit of reading, talking about the big themes and sharing ideas on how the stories we tell ourselves and others affect our lives. It’s also about how (and if) we can create a world we want to see and what do we risk to make change in the places where we live and work.

As some of you will know, I’m on a mission to write entertaining stories (thriller-ish/grit-lit) about the messy edges of public and personal life. I love exploring what’s under the surface, how power and politics (small p and big P) affect us all and I wanted to write something hopeful – a big ask in crazy current times, and, a contested idea in itself. So I’ve created an odd bunch of characters; a feisty community activist drawn into the spotlight of local politics and given a poison chalice, a young girl in care looking for her missing brother, and an accountant with a gambling habit – and thrown them in the deep end to see what happens.

The title of the book We Know What We Are – comes from a Shakespeare’s Hamlet quote, “We know what we are, but not what we may be?” and also from a football chant sung by fans in many clubs around the country. It captures for me one of the questions that sits beneath the story: how does our identity affect the decisions we make? Do we really know who we are? Throughout the writing of the book, I’ve thought a lot about who I really am too.

The books themselves are beautiful things. The matt laminate cover feels soft to the touch and it’s just the right weight, heavy enough to reflect the time it’s taken to finish and light enough to Tube. The cover painting by Ben Kelly (L S Lowry Prize winner and Simon’s cousin) captures the dynamic of the story fantastically. The house is full of boxes of books that we might well be making in to furniture, but in the meantime I’ll look forward to meeting as many people as I can on my DIY tour.

Contact me if you’d be interested in a tour visit, and/or would an advance copy of the book and I’ll be blogging details of the launch and how to get the book shortly.

Magicians, warriors and wise sages – the universal and unique stories of public finance leaders

Alchemists create new stories

Alchemists create new stories

It’s been a great privilege for a storyteller like me to work with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA) as a Writer in Residence. Through the Voices project I’ve been immersed in a complex, challenging world with big numbers and courageous and – sometimes – glamorous public servants who rarely get their moment in the spotlight.

I’ve had the opportunity to look beyond the usual stereotypes, dig out stories that get to the heart of the human condition and tell tales that illustrate the gritty underbelly of the economic and political issues of the day. What’s stood out has been the fantastic, talented and infinitely varied people I’ve met as I’ve done this work.

To give you a flavour of the stories and people, I’m using the writer’s staple of Jungian character archetypes – the sub-conscious patterns or roles we play in society that go beyond personality to deeper character traits. They’re recognisable in all cultures, communities and public sector organisations.

There are alchemists in CIPFA who have the ability to turn stories of scarce resources into positive developments and generate real value. They are magicians who have also changed their own approach to leadership; Sean Pearce’s story of unleashing the power of the balance sheet, Andy Burn’s provocation about turning data into gold and Hamza Yusuf’s thought piece on re-casting old narratives into a pioneering transformative story for local government are all powerful examples.

The Visionaries make visible a deeper reality – and so shape the future. These include Chris Naylor, whose use of insight is driving a new form of organisation in Barking and Dagenham. The transformation of councils as platforms for creative change is envisaged by Leigh Whitehouse, who also talks about S151 officers pushing transformation further and faster. Donna Herdsman’s piece speaks of a world where diversity is mainstreamed and public finance benefits from a much wider pool of talented thinkers.

Amongst these CIPFA members I also recognised the Warrior archetype – the practical enforcers of what is right and those fighting to protect the public purse; George Clarke was a formidable force as a forensic auditor sniffing out fraudsters. There are Wise Sages, brave members highlighting the awkward truths about what we can and cannot afford as a nation. And well-argued pieces on NHS finance from Esther Giles and Bill Shields are well worth a read.

The Everyman character trait came through in Pam Dyson’s human story about pedestals, perfection and performance; none of us are perfect but we get out there and keep on making things work. I also loved the Advocates, in particular a couple of stories revealing CIPFA members as powerful champions of their place; Carole Mills in Milton Keynes and Mark Taylor in Wolverhampton. And busting another stereotype, Chris West is the Jester, demonstrating the importance of warm humour and sharp edges.

The Voices project was designed to increase influence, provoke debate and inform decision-making. The work has resulted in more than thirty articles, stories, blogs and flash fiction collaborations and over a hundred members attending creative thinking and writing workshops at CIPFA conferences – smashing another stereotypical view of dull, uncreative accountants.

These stories show great leadership, potential and opportunities everywhere to make change – and I think the characteristics that come to life in these stories could form an alternative person specification for future leaders.

And of course, the stories and people have influenced me too. Although we are more used to seeing city bankers in novels and films these days, (there’s even a recent successful Ben Affleck film called “The Accountant”) my new novel is probably the only thriller with a public finance chief as one of the main protagonists (more on that shortly!)

Finally a big thank you to all those who’ve contributed to the project and shared their stories, to Drew Cullen for the opportunity and to Saskia Black for all the help at the publishing end. It’s been an inspiring and enriching experience.

To read some of the pieces mentioned see:

And more info: dawn@dawnreeves.com

I’m going to make a pilot for a TV series this year … (argghhh)

Proper tv

Public service – stories that matter

How’s this for a (big hairy) New Year goal; I’m going to make a pilot for a TV drama series about local government, a proper one, Borgen meets Wolf Hall/real life politics – like Our friends in the North)

It’s not meant as a boast, it already fills me with an uncomfortable mixture of dread and excitement that wakes me up at night. But I’m making my intention public because I believe in the power of telling stories to make things happen and I believe I’ll be telling a story that matters.

Of course the chances of a first timer getting this type of script produced are slim to say the least – miniscule, really – but life’s too short. There’s no point waiting for a TV executive to suddenly think, “What we need is the next South Riding!” (that’s the series and film based on the 1930s novel by Winifred Holtby with its brilliant depiction of local government in those long ago days.) So I’m going to crowdfund the project, bring people together and have a go. (Expect to hear more on this during the year)

As a writer and facilitator of change in organisations, it feels like the next stage in thinking deliberately about the kind of stories I’m telling – and the way I tell ‘em. I was delighted to read and get a mention in Janet Sillet’s LGIU article on Telling Stories, seeing the photos and links to great novels and priceless TV spurred me on and made me itch to chip in to the debate about great stories and social change.

Over the last three years I’ve facilitated hundreds of public servants (friends and colleagues) to develop their own voice and to structure their stories in a way that I hope helps make change possible. So here are three things I think are vital to telling stories that help change the ending.

Grit and hope
Like many people, I found the political environment in 2016 seriously challenging. But I drew hope from seeing first hand the difference people working in public services make; from writing and hearing stories about small and important interventions in people’s lives and the brave work of managers, policy makers and local councillors behind the scenes. I know dark stories are really popular at the moment, but the sort of stories I’m interested in have both light and shade. The hope comes from experience, not a vague belief that everything is or will be okay. The grit comes from reflecting on the harsh realities of the times we are in. As writer Maria Popova says, “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naivety.” It’s a message for life and great story telling.

The best stories have a specificity and an authenticity about them. They are personal and connect at an emotional level. I think readers or viewers need to have the confidence that the storyteller knows about their world and cares about it, otherwise why would they spend time writing about it and why would people read it? That doesn’t mean all we need are stories that are 100% correct. Stories are always filtered by their writers and readers, but they need to be right enough to allow people to suspend their disbelief.

Mixing it up
There are so many different ways to weave a good yarn. I’ve experimented with fiction, from novels to 350 word short, short stories – flash fiction. I think first person opinion or statements can pack a real punch, while writing in the third person gives a measured distance that gives readers space to think themselves into. In 2016 a publication I worked on focused on visual imagery as much as the text that accompanied it with a series of photographs that illustrated the many, fascinating stories of life in the public sector. We asked people to take “shoesies” (www.dawnreeves.com/walk-tall-fantastic-ebook-is-launched) – pictures of their shoes – and the result powerfully represented the diversity and individuality of the public sector.

It’s about bringing a creative approach and mixing it up. So this year I’ll be exploring TV and I’m doing an evening class in narrative poetry. Who knows what a narrative poem about public services could be like – and if anyone will read it? My aim is to keep telling stories that matter in different ways with different endings.

To get a real sense of what I mean here are three stories – a fictional story dealing with a youth offending team, a metaphorical story about austerity and a frontline story of key workers in Wigan.
Let me know what you think.

Still walking tall

Still walking tall

Flash fiction

(Light) bulb moment

Sue Hawkins, Psychologist, Youth Offending Team, Children and Young People’s Psychology Service, Stockport Council (in collaboration with Dawn Reeves)

“It was only a sandwich from Boots. I was hungry.”
Dirty nails scratch the corner of the table. Slowly she lowers her cheek onto the birch-wood desk.
“Please don’t tell me off.”
The brash teenager disappears and a six-year-old girl looks up at me, sleepy, pleading. The file says: young offender, homeless, violent boyfriend.
“Are you hungry now?”
This morning’s headache travels down the back of my neck, through my shoulders and into my chest. In her 17 years, not one agency has heard her story, a pitch-black history of neglect, physical and sexual abuse.
“We can see what they’ve got in the machine if you like?”
“In biology once, we did this experiment where we planted bulbs. One we put on a windowsill and the other stayed in a dark cupboard.”
She’s a visual kid.
“You were the bulb in the cupboard, weren’t you?”
“Yeah I was, wasn’t I?” Her surprised smile says, ‘You nailed it, Miss.’
“And what happened?”
“Course the bulb on the window was the best.”
“And the one in the dark?”
“Well,” she pauses. “Just about poked its head through the soil.”
“The capacity to grow is inside the bulb, even if it’s not in a good place. We all need the right environment. And a bit of watering, now and again.”
The girl tips her head back on her neck to look through the high window in the meeting room.
“Straining for the light. Wasn’t I?”
My fully teenage client says, “I need a job.”
“Sounds good. What sort of job?”
“Do you think I could work in a nursery?” Her eyebrows are raised, her gaze questioning.
“Tending plants?”
“Ha!” We both laugh more in the sessions now.
“No, I meant with little ones?”
The bulb has been in good, nurturing soil for a year now, watered with compassion and fed with empathy. And now she wants to pass that experience on.
“And I could buy my own sandwiches.”
I take her to a local café.
“This one’s on me.”

Flash Fiction

The mother of invention

Andy Burns, Director of Finance and Resources, Staffordshire County Council (in collaboration with Dawn Reeves)

Necessity sits at the kitchen table, head unusually heavy, shoulders slumped. If she’s said it once, she’s said it a hundred times… “It’s time to leave home.” In the lounge the daughter, headphones in, finger flicking across a tablet. The son, a grown man, football kit dumped on the floor, sprawls half-asleep, half-watching TV.
Am I a bad mother? All I want is for them to be happy, healthy, do their own thing, whatever that turns out to be. They’ve seen what it’s been like the last few years. We’ve got by, but it hasn’t been easy. “Treat us like adults,” they say. Well that’s all I’m trying to do now.
They’re just like me those kids. Creative and resourceful, they don’t want to be dependent on their parents. But then again, maybe I haven’t exactly helped matters, always being there for them, happy to be the provider. Necessity bends down to pick up a smelly sock, wondering why she’s still doing that.
No good reminding them they’re clinging to something they don’t actually want anymore. It’s in one ear, out the other. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Better to remind them how they felt coming back from that festival, confident, walking taller somehow. And maybe take a leaf out their gran’s book. She wanted to be in her home right to the end – and she was.
It’s scary to fly the nest, she knows that. Life’s hard and expensive. It would be good to wrap the parental arm around and say everything will be OK, but realistically they aren’t going to have their own bedroom to come back to anymore. At least not permanently. When they are in a jam, yes, of course, always. But still it weighs heavily.
Necessity puts the kettle on. The strong tea revives her. Let them complain it’s not fair, she thinks. We live in a democracy. That’s the way it is. Deep down they know it’s time to stand on their own two feet and do things differently. And I need to sort myself out as much as they do, so I can help them when they really need me, not just because it’s what I’ve always done.
Switching off the TV, Necessity stands before them. “Look kids,” she says, “it’s time to get real.”

Andy Burns, Director of Finance and Resources, Staffordshire County Council (in collaboration with Dawn Reeves)

We asked people to take selfies of their shoes - fabulously diverse and individual We asked people to take selfies of their shoes – fabulously diverse and individual[/caption]

Still walking tall

Still walking tall