November 29, 2016 in Strengths & Weaknesses, True Strength, Intent, Mindset, Resilience, True Strength Podcast

Cormac Russell – True Strength Podcast – Episode 9

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As part of my True Strength project, I’m featuring interviews that dig deep into how people succeed and I was delighted to interview Cormac Russell of Nurture Development. Cormac is an expert in Asset Based Community Development. The interview has lots of insights into how Cormac succeeds, about strengths, weaknesses, mindset, and resilience. To listen to the interview, simply click ‘play’ on the audio player above or you can read the transcript below. You can find previous podcasts and details of how to subscribe on our podcast page.


Cormac Russell dominant StrengthsFinder talent themes:

  1. Strategic – People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  2. Empathy – People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.
  3. Ideation – People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
  4. Futuristic – People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
  5. Adaptability – People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
  6. Maximizer – People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
  7. Developer – People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
  1. Connectedness – People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
  2. Activator – People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
  3. Individualization – People who are especially talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.


Interview Transcript:

Nice to meet you tonight.  Can I start by asking, can you tell us a bit about what you do?

So I suppose one of the ways into describing what I do is to talk about the approach that we use which is called asset based community development which really is very much oriented towards this idea that people do best together in communities and that when they focus on their strengths, whatever their strengths may be, and typically we think of strengths in terms of the strengths of local residents, the strengths of the social networks, their associations, the place itself we see as a strength, so there is the idea that the ecology is a strength or an asset which is a little bit wider again as a thought and a lot of what I have done over the years is work with 35 countries at different levels really working with, I like to joke really about working from the kitchen table to the boardroom table, and very much thinking about how can we support communities to get stronger and to endure in spite of massive pressure from consumerism and capitalism, and hyper-individualism.  All the pressures that pull people away from community and into the market place and that’s really what I’m interested in.  How do we come alongside communities and support them with that?  So that’s really what I do, in shorthand I think you could say I’m a community developer or community builder.

So can I ask you a bit more, what does that look like?  When you go in and work with a community or an area or a group of people, if I was in that community, how would I see that and how would I experience that?

Well a lot of what we are interested in at Nurture Development is trying to come alongside the people who are going to be there for a while in the community.  For example, in a population of about 3,000 people, a lot of what we’ve seen is that people are quite disconnected and maybe not necessarily building relationships the way they used to 50, maybe even 30 years ago, so one of things that we practically do to respond to that, without being top heavy, is to find a group of local residents that we refer to more as connectors rather than leaders.  People who are serial relationship builders, and I know that leaders can be fabulous connectors to, I don’t want to upset anyone’s feelings, but what we find is that a lot of these people do not respond to the label ‘leader’.  If you were to say, “tomorrow morning we are going to run a workshop for leaders in the community” they wouldn’t come, whereas if you talk about weaving the community together or connecting people or building relationships, it’s much more attractive so we find those people to come alongside them typically and find out from them what support would look like.  If they were to be in a position to weave the relationships of 3,000-5,000 of their neighbours together, what kind of supports would be helpful and of course we don’t just roll that out in the open. So we share a lot of stories, my wife describes me as an itinerant storyteller because essentially that’s what we do, we’re bringing the stories from different communities to say look, when we’ve seen indigenous communities get more connected and stronger in different places we’ve seen this, this and this and it’s not a prescriptive thing but we tell stories and some resonate.  Often what people say is, “you know it’s all well and good volunteering to have conversations and connect but it’s extraordinarily difficult with my job” or if they’re not working, with my community work, “to imagine that I and four of my neighbours could weave an entire community”.  So, one of the things we talk a lot about is the idea of a community builder, somebody who is dedicated to come alongside connectors but who understands power, so I often say they are the caddy to the community who are the golfers and it’s the community who are in the lead, they’re the ones that are building their community from inside out.  It’s almost like a coaching role really, the job of the community builder is to carry the clubs.  It’s to very much be there in a certain leadership position and so I would say what we do, we mentor the community builders and we support different sponsor agencies that may currently be doing something that is quite traditional and top down so not necessarily seeing the neighbourhood at all.  All they’re really seeing are the youth at risk and the frail elderly and extracting those people and putting them in programmes.  So as well as mentoring the community builder, kind of taking a step back, we are working with these agencies to say “well, why as well as maybe seeing the individuals as a unit of change, why wouldn’t you see the whole neighbourhood as a unit of change and what if you started working that way, how would that change your leadership, your investment style, your way of thinking about wellbeing and helping?”  And of course the answer is that it changes everything, it’s the game changer and so I suppose at that very granular level, coming alongside and supporting a practitioner to develop really good skills in going alongside people at a more strategic level, coming alongside agencies, sometimes just to get out of the way.  Sometimes inadvertently in the aim of helping they are doing huge harm, it’s almost like a neo-colonialism and sometimes they are doing good but with a little bit of calibration, with a little bit of creating space, more people are able to step up and say actually there is a unique role for us as citizens as well.

So what’s the trigger for a community starting to look at asset based community development?  What normally leads to your involvement?

It really really varies.  The way that we tend to work in countries is what we refer to as learning sites so this kind of idea that we are not interested in success, we are interested in learning and if you commit deeply enough to learning you start to really understand that the emergence of success looks after itself.  So it’s the kind of idea that you can’t change practice without practicing change so I think some of what happens is professional folks will say “you know what, well actually we really need to think very differently about the way we’re engaging with and serving the community” and what we would tend to say is “that’s wonderful but do the community want this?”, because you have to initially be a bit cautious about somebody in our position being invited in by agencies to teach them a different technique to fix the broken community and that’s certainly not what we want to be doing, so I think the way I would say, when I’m talking to my colleagues, I think that initially how a lot of people come to hear about our work, is through keynote addresses, conferences, so we cast this very wide net out and sometimes citizens are in the room, I wish it was more often, and sometimes more often it’s the professionals in the room, kind of disruptive innovators who say “yes, there’s something in this, there’s something in working in a very different way and serving in a very different way” and so the invitation will come from one or the other, from a local citizen group who say “we really like this idea and we’re going to try to advance this way of working” or from a professional who says “I want to change the approach”, and if it comes from professionals we say “great, well if the community agree, let’s have a conversation”.

So it’s interesting to hear how your approach is different because you’ve talked very much about them being community led, you’ve talked about a very collaborative, participative, very facilitative coaching style so not imposing change, so I get how the approach is different to things that might have happened in the past.  How does the impact differ?  Once somebody’s been through this what changes do you see and how does that differ from perhaps more traditional interventions?

I think there are maybe four things that are different, more than four, but four core things.  One of the first things is that culture changes but my observation is that I hear a lot of people talking about the community as being a place where lots and lots of individuals learn how to be kind and more reciprocal to each other and I would say that my observation, what I see in this work, is that we don’t see that so much as we see people creating together a culture that calls kindness forth and to my mind that’s the difference between behaviour change and culture change and I think an awful lot of what we’re seeing say in the UK at the moment is a bit of an obsession with the behaviour change but they’re calling it culture change or systems change, it’s kind of a bit blurry and I would say the difference between behaviour change and culture change is where behaviour change is where you get lots of individuals being kinder to each other which is great and culture change is where kindness is called forth because that’s our way here and that means that when new people come in, that kindness can be called forth from them as well and so the culture creates a welcome for the stranger at the edge as well as changes the behaviour of the people who are inside and as somebody who has spent a lot of my life understanding what it’s like to be at the edge looking in, I’m really interested in that and I’ve never been uncomfortable with that, I’ve always kind of found that’s a kind of mischievous liminal? space so I’ve been very happy to be there and whenever I get too much central, I tend to retreat back there to get perspective.  I just really relish being in situations where you take a neighbourhood of people who are incredibly disconnected and you start seeing it, you can almost feel it.  I remember going to a place in Sweden, I brought my 9 year old with me and I had been there before and I said at 9, before you ever speak to anybody, when we arrived in this place we walked for a couple of miles to get there after we got off the train, I said I think you will know and he did.  It sounds a bit off the beat but there was a real sense of the atmosphere, the culture of the place was different.  So that’s the first thing, that’s probably the nirvana, the ultimate piece.  The other more practical prosaic things are you’d see a greater level of associational life and this was really interesting.  We talked a lot about citizenship and this idea that a citizen performs three key functions, they have three key powers, that’s the power to identify problems or possibilities together in their own words, not the words of the colonist but their own indigenous words, whatever those words may be, the second is the power to identify solutions that respond to those problems or opportunities and finally the power to take collective action to implement.  I suppose what we’ve seen is that as people have more of a sense of agency and they start connecting with each other more, then associational life grows and I would say that an association is the collective word for citizens, so like a flock of birds, you have an association of citizens so you take a powerful self-actualised, developed individual – fabulous. Now how do you politicise that, how do you grow that power?  Well you grow that power by getting folk into association that’s consensual where they’re coming together and they’re using the power of citizenship in a collective way, then you’re growing collective efficacy and that’s what changes well-being, that’s what changes probably safety, that’s what changes economic prosperity, so I’m a believer that personal development is wonderful but if you really want to change the world, you want to go after collective efficacy because there are too many lone wolves who have become very personally developed but have not really cracked this self-efficacy or collective efficacy piece, so I think that’s the second thing, you see a deeper associational life and I think it really is about citizenship not about consumer rights so these associations get the third thing which is people are planning.  People are talking about ”in the next 10 years this place is going to… “ And it’s not a kind of a Trump-esq, you know, we’re going to make this place great again, we need to be thoughtful here so if we’re going to get a more connected community, how do we avoid gentrification, how to do we avoid the situation where we do it so well our children can’t afford to live here when they’re of an age where they can buy their own homes?  So it’s a thoughtful, quite playful space but it’s also a space that’s wise to the world so I think that ability to plan, to vision for the future, but very much based on accepting the world as it is now so that they can co-create the world as it should be into the future, so very much leveraging in that sense and I think the fourth thing is that you see a very clear articulation then of what it is that communities can do themselves and what it is that they need some help with from outside and what it is they expect outside agencies to do and so you literally – in the communities that we’re serving – what you’re starting to see is a re-negotiation of the settlement.  You’re starting to see a real expression and it’s not without its speedbumps and without its funnies but you’re starting to see a real contextual expression of what democracy looks like when it works like it should!

So you’re getting to make a big impact and do fabulous work.  How did you end up doing this?  What’s been your journey to actually get you here?

Well I started working in Ireland as a Clinical Psychologist and I think that working at the time in the 90’s at a time when there was a lot of turbulence in the sector, so a lot of religious institutions were closing down and I was part of that, but a very very young, probably over-qualified, totally inexperienced person in this space, and I think I had enough of an understanding in my own life to be anxious about some of what I was seeing and I was part of it so I’m not saying I was a spectator, I was an active agent if you like in trying to think about how do you de-institutionalise people, take them out of these very significantly problematic places and bring them into what we called community care at the time?  I think what I saw was these institutions being shut down and people not being brought into community or care but being brought into rented homes in communities that hadn’t been consulted.  And I guess when I looked around in areas of mental health and areas of disability and areas where kids were taken in as wards of court because Mum and Dad couldn’t look after them or whatever.  An over and over again what I saw was this inability to de-institutionalise while at the same time increasing inter-dependence in community life, so there was a narrative and I saw it all over Europe subsequently where we talked about independent living, sort of taking people out of institutions and creating independent lives and actually what we did was created lonely lives, so it just really struck me, it’s not what I’d want for myself, it’s not what I’d want for my kids and I’m kind of a great believer in that there are certain things worth being anxious about that as a contributor, as a social explorer, the trick is not to drive fear out of your practice, it’s to decide what’s worth being anxious about.  So I became a deeply anxious practitioner but I think I decided that if I was going to be anxious, I wanted to be anxious about something that was going to change the world, so my anxiety was, why are we taking these kids, traumatised and dislocated and then putting them into situations that are even more dislocated and calling it help or therapy.? The defining moment for me, and obviously I can’t name names here, but one particular child who I had been involved in a safeguarding piece around taking them from a place of unsafety to a place of safety and working through all of the trauma that went with that, and sitting down after the dust had settled and the child saying to me, “look I’ve been taken from my home, I’ve been taken from my community, I can’t see my Mother, I can’t see my brothers and sisters and I’m in a place in this neighbourhood where nobody wants to talk to me”.  How is this better?  Describing their life with all of the chaos that was in their life and saying “well you know it might have been mad to you but to me it was normal” and this was crazy and just remembering that moment where it really struck me that, as if I didn’t need to be reminded, but obviously I did, that actually at the end of the day, people would withstand horrendous difficulties if the relationships are maintained.  So I just kind of figured out, well what would happen if we were to really get this community and this care bit right and we got a little bit more serious about inter-dependency and instead of taking kids out of communities, we really started investing in them and I spoke with my team at the time and they said “community development – what’s that?” because we were social workers and clinical psychologists and it was really interesting so the whole team had words like community care but had no practise and that was the second realisation that words and practise aren’t always one and the same thing and in most cases they are actually very far apart.  I became intrigued about community and I became intrigued about what would it mean to be a practitioner that created a community where that old African adage, “It takes a village to raise a child”, where they had a village where this kid belonged.  So even if Mum wasn’t in a situation to be able to care, the village somehow was sufficiently activated to be able to be able to hold the kid and services were there to support that to happen rather than extracting a tooth, extracting the child out.  So that became a very strong passion for me really and a very strong burning inquiry and that led me to look at community development, not really feeling very good about a lot of what I was seeing in Ireland and the UK in the 1990’s which seemed to be in my mind very target oriented so it was about working with specific groups, but it wasn’t answering, not that there was anything fundamentally wrong with that, but it wasn’t answering my question really.  This kid wanted a relationship with the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, he didn’t want a relationship with other kids who were in care, so they could advocate for legislative change and better care, he wanted that as well but that was like 5%, the 95% was “I want a life”, not a better service.  So that really led me to look at what’s going on around the world and that’s what brought me to asset based community development.

So can we dig a bit deeper into what motivates you because I’m conscious that you’ve already had an early start today, you’ve had a long day and here we are in the evening recording a podcast where you’re happy to talk about asset based community development.  You strike me as very driven, why?  What’s at the heart of this, what motivates you, what made you get out of bed at 4.30 am to do all this and you’re still working now?

I think the thing that really releases energy from me is probably the same as what releases energy for the people that I see everyday in communities.  I think it’s this idea that democracy works.  What gives me a real strong buzz is just the power of community.  At one level I think it’s the huge energy I get from seeing people stepping up and actually really creating that collective efficacy and doing awesome things.  That’s a huge privilege seeing, we talked about this before we went on podcast, but in my experience just back from a few months in Rwanda, and seeing kids really re-designing the whole educational system in Rwanda.  Street kids re-designing the education system because their teacher wasn’t getting enough of a salary and wasn’t able to live with dignity so they re-imagined the school and created a supermarket in the school so the teacher could use his salary to buy reduced produce and you think “wow” and if you don’t get energy from that, you really need to re-assess your life.  So I think privileged energy I get and not everybody gets to see that and I thank my lucky stars.  And the other thing is I’m angry at the amount of abuse that happens to that space and the enclosure of that space and the exploitation of that space in all kinds of different ways and it’s not just consumerism, there are also so many agencies that are coming in and are really pathologizing communities and their whole orientation is about recruiting people as clients of their services and so defining them out of their power and into their neediness and dependence and that just drives me nuts.

And inadvertently disempowering people rather than empowering them?

Absolutely.  And after disempowering themselves because deep down they know that they’re not actually fulfilling their own missional pull, what brought them in, and I suppose what I’ve learned over the years is to channel that anger rather than spewing it out.  Use it as positive energy to teach, to have disruptive conversations, to search and to empathise with people about some very real dilemmas because there are people working in these systems who desperately want to break free of these kinds of strictures and work in a very different way.  So you evolve and I think I have evolved over time to learn that we are not really going to change the world by claiming and revolutionising the system, what I think we are going to do and change in the world is we are probably just going to focus on enlarging free space and creating some kind of playful avenues for disruptive innovators to come out to play because there are so many people who want to serve in this way.

And I just would say that I think it’s really really critical that we talk a lot more about connectorship and the art of hosting and just that whole question about asking people today, who are all community development practitioners, do you get the space to actually be in your own community as a citizen?  And just that whole question around how do we become our work, as in our paid work, or are we getting the opportunity really to be citizens?  That just seems to be, that given the times we’re in, that’s important.  There’s a quote I came across the other day, it’s a Mexican proverb which seems apt as well, which says “They tried to bury us but they forgot we were seeds”.  I like that and we are all seeds at the end of the day, we grow in community.

Can we talk about you specifically for a minute?  We’ve talked about an asset based approach, about focussing on strengths, so I want to talk about not community strengths but your individual strengths.  What are you good at, what do you find naturally easy?

One of the things that I find easy is speaking and extemporaneously taking on a subject matter and going with it.  So being in conversation with people, I find that easy.  I find keynote addresses with large audiences where people really want to generate energy and generate inspiration.  I’m not saying necessarily that I inspire people but I am really able to quite easily spark something that just gets an inspiring conversation going.  So I feel those things come to me and ideas.  Most recently we went on a trip to Australia and I felt it quite easy to visualise how we would, I’m not a believer in scale, I don’t believe you can scale this kind of work up, but I could really visualise how this could proliferate in a very grass roots way because of what I’ve had the privilege of learning really in indigenous communities about how these things proliferate and they grow and how movements move and so I could see that stuff really really clearly in my head which is exactly the same reason why I can’t remember where I put my socks!!

Let’s go with the socks for a minute then.  What do you find naturally more difficult, apart from finding your socks?

Those kinds of very concrete embedded things I suppose my challenge is getting the elevator from the penthouse to the basement, a lot of my time is around thinking and so I guess I’ve learned how to but I’ve really had to practice this, is how to become embodied in practice so the other thing I’ve become good at but I’ve had to practice this in ritualistic fashion, is practice.  So we talk a lot about the method is the medium, so how can I be in conversation with people and really be present, be earthy with people and that’s come.  I used to describe myself as orbing so I would have an idea and suddenly I’m out here somewhere and really keeping that grounded and holding the space that it’s really an invitation to people to be the creators of those ideas themselves.  I have had to struggle on that one and the reason in my own life being able to be in ideas is that as a kid it was a really really great way to cope with a lot of difficulties.  Now as an adult, you learn adult ways, so how to say, “ok, there’s a time for that” so that’s been my great learning and I actually learnt that in communities because if you spend any length of time with local residents who are about business and you are off in your own world, you’re going to be given the bum’s rush very quickly – and rightly so!  So the world has a way of teaching.

I’ll include your dominant talents in with the show notes as well because I’m really interested that I can just hear you coming across loud and clear in everything you say there.  Can we talk about mindset because I’m really interested that there seems to be a myth that when people look at other people around them, they think that everybody else has this quiet, still head and has everything sorted and in my experience, that is a myth.  What’s it like to be you, what goes on in Cormac’s head?

Well I think my own experiences in life as a man with 5 boys and a very very busy practice and a team of people that really are at the top of their game and a huge amount of travel and a lot of responsibilities in terms of thought leadership, and probably a trigger finger when it comes to social media, there’s a lot going on!  I also love poetry and I get great fun out of just spending time walking.  I’m really struck actually by how much one can get into one’s life but it’s a very very busy life.  My sense is that I’ve spent a lot of my life, less so the last few years, but most of my life that I land in places and I think how did this ever happen?  So I don’t know if this culturally relates to UK context very well but we have the expression in Ireland of being a “chancer” and I’ve heard it used here as well so that kind of sense of “when am I going to get caught out?” because this can’t really be happening because I said to my eldest son who is 22, and he had watched the TEDx talk that I had did and I was really interested to see his reaction to that because the TEDx thing has a sort of cache to it.  So he saw it and watched it with some friends and I think he was seeing me differently and I just wanted to do something about that because again, it’s that myth, well no this is just pure happenstance, there aren’t a certain class of people who do TEDx or a certain class of people who do keynote, there is a lot of dumb luck, hard work and being in a privileged position and there is something about checking privilege because there are people that are better at it than I am but because of their race, their colour, their life circumstances, they ain’t getting the chances and I remind myself of that everyday.  I think what goes on in my mind a lot of the time now is that I feel I am worthy to be there.  The last probably two years I’m really starting to pick up the mantle and the reason I’m picking up the mantle of leadership is because I recognise the harm I did when I didn’t and the amount of, to use another Irish expression, gobshites, who were picking it up who were really making a dog’s dinner of it and I just thought, you know what, no point in getting cross with them because actually I did that, not them, by not stepping into that space.  So I kind of clumsily stepped into that space and on some days you’ve got a backbone that’s ramrod straight and on other days you kind of think, “when am I going to get caught out here!” and that’s what’s going on in my head and there are bits of pieces of me in the mix.  I have to deliver a keynote speech tomorrow and I’m thinking about what happened last week in the American elections.  I’m thinking about my African-American friends, Hispanic friends, I’m thinking about the fact that tonight in North Carolina there’s a KKK rally you know and I’m losing hope and then there’s another part of me saying No, because I’m going to have to stand up and there’s a part of me that definitely owes it to myself and the people in the room who will be able to speak to the fact that things are not getting worse, they’re being unveiled, they’re being revealed.  There’s something really significant happening here and we’ve got to step up.  So you know, that’s it and I think it’s important that people understand that is what it is, that’s the wonderful world that we live in and I guess everybody’s pretty much of the same, unless you’re a Zen Buddhist.

And it is a time for us not just to hurt and get frustrated but as you said, to step up as well.  So you’ve talked about how hard you work, about the number of things you’ve got on.  You’ve also talked about well-being but not about yours, about other people’s, about communities, about well-being and resilience in communities. How do you look after your own well-being and resilience?  What do you do to get the best out of yourself and also continue to do that?

One of the things is just to make sure that weekends are weekends and weekends are about being Dad and being a husband to Colleen and family life and neighbourly life.  It’s probably a bit of a contradiction of terms to talk about neighbourhood and community and not have that in my life.  I’d like to have more but life is what it is and I suppose that’s been a really critical piece, is just recognising that for a good number of years, weekends weren’t sacrosanct and all kinds of different seeming priorities creeped in and just really shutting them out, and that includes social media although the kids are down in bed at 7 pm so you can allow some slippage, but I’m really beginning to realise that there are a million different things that can distract us from the things that matter most and I, as I say, have 5 kids ranging from 22 years to twins of 4 years so you learn as you go along.  There are no givens, you have to claim space as well as just being grateful for what space is given you.  So that’s one, and I walk a lot.  I can’t, because of a rugby injury, do physical heavy impact running and exercise and stuff like that so I walk and I walk a lot and it’s very much kind of marginal stuff, so I’ll choose to walk up and down the stairs and things like that.  I think the other thing I do really that is quite significant in my mind is everyday I check myself to make sure that I am thinking like a poet, not a planner or a manager.

Say more about that?

I think one of the things that’s really struck me, I spend a lot of time in the vicinity of local government, NHS, different countries, governments etc and the number of people that I meet who have given up searching and they’re in planning mode and one of the first things I noticed is that there’s a real poverty of metaphor so when you start playing with metaphors, they either get giddy with excitement because it’s like “are we allowed to do this thing?”, almost checking, or they get quite frustrated by it.  So sometimes you get socialised and one of the things I notice is I sometimes am nearly absorbing the militaristic language and I’m sitting down to dinner and using some kind of militaristic thing like “what’s happening here?”.  And typically my way of representing that is my poet is being stifled and time and time again, it’s wonderful just using an awful lot of simple metaphors with people and the profound impact it makes.  So over the last few weeks I’ve been talking a lot about in terms of the relationship between institutions and community is the difference between a hole and a well and that the hole is what the institution as a servant digs but the well is what the community creates and it’s actually the wellspring that gives life.  And when we forget we are the diggers of the hole, we’re the shovellers of the sh*t and the community are the bringers of abundance, that’s when things go wrong, when we start getting technocratic and we start thinking we have all the answers and that’s when people start getting angry and doing silly things and voting in odd kinds of ways and let’s not call them silly things but democracy works like it.  For me the idea of poetry of metaphor, of picture, of searching is really really important because it brings us back to relationship.

You’ve clearly figured out a lot of things about how to get the best out of yourself.  What do you wish you’d figured out earlier?

I guess one of the things that has only become clear of late is when I get stressed or when I get angry, it’s because I’m frightened.  I think the world that I live in is not dissimilar to the world that most people live in.  My filters are pretty much standard filters so I think that if I’m experiencing overwhelm, them most other people are as well and that overwhelm is not me, it’s not a malfunction on my part, it’s a sign of the times we’re in and if I’d known that a few years ago I could have saved myself a lot of angst and self-doubt and just recognising that, do you know what actually, a lot of the way we’ve organised ourselves isn’t all that good when it comes to wellbeing and we can be just a little bit easier on ourselves and recognising that instead of going into a cycle of self-doubt and fear and self-pity, that these are healthy responses to often quite sick environments that we’re in and it should be just a call to action to change things.  So I wish I had known that a few years ago because I think I might have been a little bit easier on myself, so that’s a big one.  I guess the other thing is understanding that as my kids grow up, one of the things that my older kids, my 22 yr old and my 19 yr old as they grew up, recognising that right under my nose that they had freedoms that my 6 yr old and my 4 yr olds don’t have.  I have a vivid recollection of my older boys playing on the streets with other kids and now, I said to my wife the other night, “when did we start organising playdates as opposed to telling the kids to go out and kick a ball on the street?”  How did that happen, who did that?  We were saying, it is quite something to muse on.  We’re doing some work in Bristol where we’re working with parents to reclaim the streets for their kids and we’ve kind of got to get down to that ourselves as well.  So I think the other thing I know now that I wished I had known a few years ago was those moments when my 19 and 22 yr old went out to play, I took that for granted, I thought that was just the way it is, as a kid, that’s never going to change because that’s the way I grew up right?  And that there are all kinds of wonderful things that happen that are not givens, I don’t want to get melodramatic about it, but we should at least not take for granted and are worth being a little bit assertive around and celebrating.

So, final question.  When you finally come to stop doing what you’re doing, what would you like to be remembered for?

I think if people said that he raised 5 lovely boys, that would do, just nice.  The community stuff I really feel very very tentative about.  It’s not even a coy kind of not wanting praise, I know what I do matters and is a contribution, but the legacy of that, that’s the community’s and that’s the way it should be but I think that will be my crowning achievement if I can give the lads a foundation of what it means to be a good person in the world and a loving person and a caring, kind person in the world.  That’s, for me, as good as it gets.

And where can people find you online?

The website is and my name is Cormac Russell obviously so Google either of those or indeed a third entry point is just Asset Based Community Development, any of those will come up.  If people are interested to hear the message as it were TEDx, if they Google Cormac Russell TEDx, there’s an 18 minute presentation or talk online as well.

Twitter: @CormacRussell




So, Cormac Russell of Nurture Development, just to say thank you so much for giving up your time this evening.  I really appreciate it.

My pleasure, thank you Ian, lovely to meet you.


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