Thoughts from TEDx Brum

by Debbie Needle

I went to TEDx Brum this year because the Future Council programme team pitched for a stall and secured a small space to connect with other people attending the event.

For most of us this was a very new type of event, we didn’t know exactly what to expect or if anything would actually be produced from being part of this collaboration. But – wow! By the end of the day our senses were on overload and our minds were spinning.

It was a bit like ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ where contestants arrive with bags of unknown ingredients.  In this case my “bag” was overflowing with poems, stories, feelings, songs, science, art, pain, pleasure, laughter and power, filled up by all of us together, talking and tweeting and sharing our thoughts, ideas and actions.

After, when you have tipped out the contents of your bag, you don’t immediately see what you can make from such an overwhelming mixture but slowly as the days pass after the event, you start to create a menu of ideas from what everyone had provided.

You don’t arrive on the day with a problem to solve or a thing to make, you don’t leave with a solution, you simply continue in a changed state that is now inspired and innovative.

I continue to watch cookery programmes and one of my current favourites is Master Chef, where the contestants have an “invention test” so as I look forward to cooking with all sorts of new ingredients in a life beyond Birmingham City Council I hope that we will all be able to work together in the future council to make spaces to find inspiration in what other people do, meaning from the information we share and innovation through experimentation, after all it would be a great shame if we never chose something new from the menu when you know there are so many different things to try.

Reflections, learning and relationships

Strategic Director for Integrated Support Services and Change Angela Probert takes stock after a busy start to her life at Birmingham City Council.

beach rulesAfter a busy few months I’m taking a break in Portugal in a small, unspoilt village near Lagos, taking every opportunity to sample the local fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. Why do tomatoes from supermarkets at home not taste like this? I’m also becoming a fan of locally-produced (and very inexpensive) wine, alongside improving my knowledge and experience of different brands of gin, courtesy of daughter and friends. It’s probably good I’m only here for a week!

Life is good, and having space gives me the opportunity to unwind and re-balance with family and friends. My early morning walk on a deserted beach this morning has prompted this blog – as always, walking helps me reflect and put things into perspective. It’s been a challenging few months at Birmingham, culminating in a long night last Thursday and the outcome of the EU referendum, which made me reflect on why some people feel so disaffected and feel no benefit in being part of the EU (leaving aside the propaganda over the last few weeks).

The launch of the West Midlands Combined Authority this week in Birmingham was a key milestone, and I get a sense through social media that the audience really felt Mark’s passion for the leadership role we need to take to realise the opportunity this brings. My ask of Martin, Mark and other colleagues is that we learn from the EU referendum. The WMCA, and the potential positive impact this will have are enormous, no one would disagree. But what we need to do is ensure we keep asking the questions: How will citizens of the region benefit? How will the CA work and connect with staff in partner organisations? So that designing the future is not passed down, but evolves through involvement and shared purpose. People will then feel connected and understand how they will contribute to future public service across the West Midlands, rather than deliver an outcome they had no involvement in forming.

When I started in January people were keen to give me their advice and guidance on working at BCC. Some I took, and some I left on one side.  It’s good not to be insular, and to listen to an external perspective – being on a peer review for a London Borough in early June I did just this. But sometimes you have to trust your own intuition and judgement based on what you see and feel, using experience and learning from many years of working, and, indeed, living! In essence, I have just tried to be ‘me’. My dad gave me the drive and outlook to believe that anything is achievable, and it is only down to hard work, teamwork and belief that it will happen. I’ve learnt in my personal and working life that that not everyone feels this, and while I set high expectations of myself, I am mindful I balance this for others. Hopefully I am doing just that, and colleagues feel that the contribution I make is rooted in my desire for the best for the citizens of Birmingham and the staff who work at BCC.

Successful organisations are able to withstand churn and instability by having a common and uniting purpose. Team work is key, and the England v Iceland football result on Monday night demonstrated this: being the ‘best’ individually and assuming that the result you expect will be delivered will not guarantee a positive outcome. It’s how you operate as a team, having a shared belief and purpose, alongside understanding roles and individual strengths, that brings results. I believe we’re getting there as a senior team at BCC, and we need to work hard to withstand the constant challenges that are being thrown at us on a weekly basis. Being successful (not necessarily ‘winning’) is euphoric and infectious, as the celebrations in Portugal last night demonstrated! As leaders at BCC we have to build the confidence and positivity of our teams in the belief that together we WILL win through the challenges we are facing. We are not alone in this but somehow, at BCC, some of us have stopped believing.

I also believe I am holding to the resolutions I made and shared in the New Year. I’ve worked hard to build a strong and positive relationship with my colleagues, members, team and partner organisations. They’ll tell you whether I’m succeeding! But relationships aren’t a one-off event and require support, commitment and respect to make them work and thrive. The culture we need to embrace is set out in our values, and I’ve agreed with Corporate Leadership Team colleagues and my Directorate management team how I will personally live by BCC’s values in order to: put citizens first, be true to my word, act courageously, and achieve excellence.

Life in Birmingham is exciting, as we play on an international, national and regional stage, all with a key purpose to make a positive difference to people’s lives. Hopefully I’m starting to make an impact through how I do my job on a day-to-day basis; a relentless focus on the golden thread that links our vision, purpose and day-to-day activity; keeping an eye on the small but significant changes that need to be made; and building a talented team to give capacity and confidence as we move into the next phase of the Future Council programme.

What will I miss from my week in Portugal?

  • Beach walks, long lazy lunches and wearing no shoes.

What I am looking forward to when I get back to Birmingham?

  • Now that I live in Birmingham I want to get to know better a European City that celebrates diversity and difference.
  •  Taking on a mentoring role as a Corporate Parent.
  • Getting to know and learn from my ‘reserve mentor’.
  • Getting on with the job I feel privileged to hold.

Now back to my hedonistic lifestyle for a few days longer.

Whatever you do over the summer… Divirtam-se! (Enjoy yourselves).

Orlando – We are by your side


In Birmingham we see diversity as a core asset; we invite, celebrate and promote difference because it’s what makes life so rich and rewarding. Orlando, and all the other dreadful events we have had to confront in recent times, demonstrate that you can’t take anything forgranted however. The freedom to be who you want to be, whilst doing no harm to others, has to be defended. In a city proud to advertise that it is a place of sanctuary we need to be clear that we go further than this: we also aspire to be a city of active tolerance, understanding, peace, love and mutual respect.

Presently it is the LGBT+ community that we are standing up for. But everyday we should stand up for everyone who values the richness of difference to be found in Birmingham.

Today I am (again, sadly) reminded of the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller. If you don’t know them, look them up. But I suspect that you do.


The following is taken from the council’s LGBT+Allies Network. Sign-up to the network’s mailing list

As you may be aware there has been a shock wave delivered to the LGBT+ community around the world with the news on Sunday 12th June of a gun attack in the Florida LGBT nightclub, Pulse.  This is the worst mass shooting in the history of the USA.  It has been widely reported that over 100 people were shot with almost half of them losing their life.  The sad news has affected many people in the Orlando community; and a sense of loss and solidarity has rippled around the globe affecting LGBT people, their families, friends and allies.

The people of Birmingham and staff from the City Council are not unaffected and spontaneous messages and demonstrations of support and solidarity have already been made.

On Monday, a rainbow flag, which has long been a symbol for the LGBT+ community, was flown at half-mast outside the Council House in Victoria square.

Birmingham City Council Leader, Cllr John Clancy and Cabinet Member for Transparency, Openness and Equality, Cllr Waseem Zaffar both posted video messages which you can watch below and attended a vigil on Monday night at 10pm organised by Birmingham Pride Director, Lawrence Barton and members of the community.

At 9pm on Monday evening, the Library of Birmingham was lit up in rainbow colours in a show of solidarity.

The vigil outside the Nightingale Club on Kent St on Monday night was attended by over a thousand people and included the release of 49 balloons for the 49 victims that lost their lives.

Speakers included Councillor Lisa Trickett and Birmingham Pride Trustees Steve Ball and Steve Bedser and other attendees also included councillors from all political parties and community leaders.

Photos of the vigil have been reproduced with thanks to Adam Yosef / I Am Birmingham. A full album can be found on the I Am Birmingham facebook page

There was true sense of unity as people from all parts of the community demonstrated their shock and support for the victims and those close to them.

There was true sense of unity as people from all parts of the community demonstrated their shock and support for the victims and those close to them.


Hannah Stocking (pictured left), a social worker in the Fostering Support Team and LGBT Network Steering Group member told us:

“It has been a heart breaking time for the LGBT community. For me it was important to attend the vigil in Birmingham to show my respects to those who lost their lives and to show that the LGBT community in Birmingham stands in solidarity with the communities in Orlando and across the world. The events in Orlando are a stark reminder that as a community we can experience homophobia on multiple levels. I believe that visibility is an essential aspect of raising awareness and acceptance for the LGBT community and other communities alike. As a community we are united in tackling homophobia. Be proud of who you are!”

Tributes, words of comfort and sadness have been appearing on social media in response to this tragedy from staff, councillors and the community.
If you feel affected by the events and would like to show your support there is another vigil planned for Saturday 18th June from 1pm at the Birmingham LGBT Centre and the Pagoda Island on Holloway Circus.  More details are on the event page

A book of condolences being produced by the Hope-Not-Hate organisation, details can be found here:


As further information about the background of the gunman emerges, common issues affecting the LGBT community become pertinent, like: faith and sexual orientation, internalised homophobia and domestic abuse.  If you would like more information or support with issues affecting the LGBT community then please support each other through our network of LGBT Allies in person or reach out via the employee forum on Yammer, or other social media such as Twitter, Facebook (see links below); or email  The Birmingham LGBT Centre also offers a range of services with a team of trained staff who provide advice, guidance and practical support, further details on their website

Thank you for already showing support for your colleagues, citizens and LGBT+ people everywhere by signing up as an LGBT Ally and for reading this newsletter!  Please talk to your colleagues and share the newsletter with them.

As shocking as this recent event is, there are still many LGBT people in this city and in this country in challenging situations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Our thoughts are also with those in countries where being an LGBT person puts their life in danger every single day, through abuse, neglect, torture and execution.

Please continue to show your support, as peaceful change can be achieved by us all doing just one thing. I chose to write this article… what will you do?”

David Board: Programme Coordinator – Birmingham City Council.