In the bleak midwinter of Covid… but the Chair is looking forward to Spring and beyond!
When I last drafted a blog for our website, it was October 2018 and I was in South Africa, waxing somewhat lyrical about the Wellbeing benefits of watching giraffes feeding in the Kruger National Park. I am pleased to see that there is increasing comment about the benefits of “communing with nature”, something many of us have been forced to appreciate more over the last year. The Kruger seems a long way away, and not just geographically…
We have all had a difficult year since early 2020, but I am very conscious that some have suffered far more than most, and both vocation and Wellbeing have been, and continue to be, sorely tested. In January as the snow melts, it is of course the very depths of a difficult winter, with dreaded tax bills due.
I might have asked for less turbulent times in which to take over as Chair of the Wellbeing At The Bar Working Group, as I now do, but I could not be taking over in a time when the work of our Group is more important, and I say that having been a Bar Council member for 20 years from the late 1980s; I have seen a lot of change for the Bar in the course of my career. With current challenges, though, to lead this particular Group now is a special privilege. Thank you.
The Working Group brings together representatives from the main “agencies” of the Bar, both self employed and employed, and across all Circuits and fields of practice. If you do not already know, may I invite you to check who are “your” representatives on the Group so that you can seek and provide information via them to ensure we really do know what is going on at the Bar – though I can assure you that as practising barristers we already very much “keep our ear to the ground”. Indeed, I take this opportunity in advance of the year ahead to thank my colleagues on the Working Group, most of whom I have worked with for the last several years and I know how hard-working and committed they are to doing all we can to support the bar, especially in these especially stressful times. We also could not do our work without the massive support and day to day operational control by Sam Mercer, Jess Kullar and now Savannah Sevenzo, and my thanks also go to them for work already done and to come. Likewise may I offer my thanks to Vicki Wilson, who did such a great job as Chair last year.
We are working hard to help with the Bar Council’s coming series of Covid19 Support Q&A sessions covering the practicalities of managing the current difficulties, but including a specific session on Wellbeing issues which underlie all of those practical issues. Please try to tune in for those sessions, despite the inevitable “Zoom fatigue”. We have already set up an excellent panel for the specific Wellbeing session.
Members of the Group have great insight into the various practice, financial, health, social and domestic problems that this pandemic has caused or exacerbated for our profession, and we are determined to do everything we can to provide support and generally to help our colleagues get through it and back to as near normal as we will be permitted. We are very much “all in this together”, and it is by realising that and supporting and helping each other that we can promote and enable the long-term health of the Bar. There will be some differences in the way practice is Covid-affected across the different specialities and Circuits, but we hear the same matters raised consistently across all of those constituencies, and we know that there is by far more shared experience than things separating us.
It will be pretty obvious to you if those close are struggling, of course. Please also be aware that it is those who seem best able to cope, successful and apparently most resilient, who are sometimes the most vulnerable. Try to keep a friendly but non-intrusive eye on friends, colleagues and opponents, and be ready to point people at the comprehensive resources offered via our wonderful website. I always recommend Bill Mitchell’s fab animated talk as a starting point. It should be compulsory viewing for barristers, and perhaps their families! Bill has worked with many of our member groups, and recently did a longer and detailed talk for the CBA/SEC which is available here, and well worth a catch-up. His insight and practical analysis and advice is always impressive. I was glad he approved my cold water immersion suggestion in that webinar. 😉 ❄️🏊
I would also take the opportunity to draw your attention specifically to our online confidential and anonymous online behaviour reporting tool Talk to Spot, and to the Assistance Programme ( link includes direct freephone number).
Our last full Wellbeing Survey was carried out a few years ago now, and caused quite a stir in revealing the extent and gravity of Wellbeing issues affecting the Bar. We are working to undertake the second Survey this year, having had to delay from last year. I was firmly of the belief that we would see increased response rates this time even before Covid arrived, because of substantial increased awareness of Wellbeing across the Bar (and senior judiciary), but I know that appreciation of the importance of our work has increased still further during the pandemic. Please engage fully with that Survey so that we can get the clearest possible picture of the nature and extent of Wellbeing issues now. We are happy to encourage you to engage with surveys by other bodies, subject to your being satisfied as to confidentiality and data protection, but the Bar Council represents you, and our Working Group is there to find out about Wellbeing issues for the Bar (you) and find all available ways of helping (you). And so, if you respond to only one of these surveys, please make it ours!
I wish you and your families all the very best for 2021 and look forward to being able to get together with you in person as soon as ever possible. KCACO and keep your eyes on the horizon offered by vaccines and the darling buds of May… See you in the Spring!
Theo Huckle QC
Theo is Chair of the Bar Council Wellbeing Working Group, and a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers
Visit his website here