A sense of purpose

19 March 2021

A personal reflection by Martin Thomas, Copywriter.

In those halcyon days BC (before Covid) an ordinary working day used to involve sitting in my home office sweating over other people’s words, juggling multiple tasks and expectations, and never really knowing what was around the corner.

Start and finish times were so fluid that it became difficult sometimes to figure out if the concept of the work/life balance really applied to the likes of me. Although that meant I’d regularly be found working at my desk on a Sunday evening, it also meant I was likely to be able to fit in one of my sanity-preserving bike rides during the working week. And that suited me. The perennial concerns, constantly niggling away at the back of my mind, were around paying the mortgage a few months down the line, or the tax bill at the end of the year.

Cut to March 2020 and the world was suddenly on its head – everything changed. Well, not quite everything... I was still sitting in my home office sweating over other people’s words, just like I’ve been doing for more than 20 years. I was still juggling multiple tasks and expectations. And the uncertainty of what lay ahead had never been greater.

It could have been a professional disaster for me. As soon as the coronavirus reared its head, virtually all of my clients magically disappeared, withdrawing until the way ahead was clearer.

But one of them didn’t do that. One of them – the Good Governance Institute – moved in the opposite direction. As an organisation that offered advice to NHS boards it felt a responsibility to step up and support those boards in their hour of need.

It was a commercial move too, of course, but underpinning that was a palpable sense of duty. GGI had the expertise, experience and connections to offer something useful during this global emergency and it didn’t hesitate to step up.

Covid-100 series

The element of this activity that had the biggest impact on me was the series of daily bulletin updates that started on day one of the national lockdown, 23 March. The bulletins offered advice to health and public sector boards as they navigated those choppy, uncharted waters.

Beginning this bulletin series was a brave move; deciding to keep it going for 100 working days was remarkable. GGI is not a big company so producing a 750-1000-word article containing meaningful insights every single working day for five months was no small undertaking. But we did it – and judging by the feedback it generated, we did it pretty well too.

Within a few months, I’d moved from being an occasional GGI supplier to spending almost every working hour writing and editing material for the company. I’d made the jump from freelance to salaried employee too – something I can honestly say I never thought I’d do again.

The life of a freelance is often a bit topsy turvy, but it was still very odd to find myself busier and more financially secure during lockdown than I’d been for years while all around me people were fretting about their livelihoods.

Sense of purpose

GGI has made a real difference for many people in many ways during the pandemic. It’s provided opportunities for health sector leaders to discuss the emergency and learn from each other. It’s shared its expertise to help NHS bodies cope. It’s created an extraordinary body of written work about governance and crisis management. And it’s provided secure employment and a real sense of purpose to several people, including me.

That sense of purpose is perhaps the biggest surprise of all to me. I’d grown used to writing about whatever someone was willing to pay me for. Training manuals, marketing copy about fundamentally trivial things, reports on subject matter so dry you needed a humidifier in the office before even putting fingers to keyboard...you name it, I’d write it. My days as an idealistic trainee news reporter were so far behind me that they felt like someone else’s life. I felt thoroughly adjusted to this professional pragmatism.

But GGI during lockdown has changed all that. The material we’re putting out actually means something; it makes a difference. And playing a small part in getting it out there feels good. It’s this that I’m perhaps most grateful for.

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