Reflecting and projecting

Alex MacKenzie looks back on her first term as chair of CSP Council and shares plans for her second term

Alex MacKenzie, chair of CSP Council
Alex MacKenzie, chair of CSP Council [Photos: Murdo MacLeod]

You took over as Council chair in 2018. How has it been?

It’s been amazing. 

I was lucky to have been chair of the governance review group, helping Council come up with the changes to be enacted in 2018. And, for me coming on to Council and then being chair, was all about trying to ensure those changes happened: having 12 Council members with a leadership role for the whole profession, and then having the committees, with a similar role. Also - trying to engage members more. 

I have to say they’ve done well. The 12 Council members really understood from the beginning that they were there for the whole profession. There’s a real sense of team working. When you’ve only got 12 of you, you need to step up and be there and I think that’s been very evident. 

Having Claire Arditto as vice-chair was instrumental in helping make the last Council work. She is a really compassionate leader who carefully listens to others and deals with their concerns.

All of us have been getting out meeting members in all sorts of different places. Council members, rather than attending their own regional networks, have gone out and attended other regional networks and country board meetings, just so we get a much broader understanding of what’s going on around the country. And it’s been hugely beneficial in terms of our decision making. 

I love that you get to meet members across the country who you would never normally meet in your professional life, because maybe you were either geographically apart or you worked in different specialties. It’s such a big community, but at the same time there are so many things that bring us together.

Something that was identified by us really early on was the lack of visible diversity, particularly BAME members not being on Council, and one of our key objectives back then was about encouraging more BAME members to come forward. So we set up the shadowing scheme where members could come along to Council meetings and we’ve had somebody come to almost all of them. Hopefully that will encourage them to step forward next time. 

This past year, obviously, has just been crazy. We’ve had quite a number of Council members who, in their working lives, have been pulled in very different directions because of Covid, and yet they still make the effort to still be at Council, to attend and carry out their responsibilities. 

Is there anything that stands out as a particular high point?

The way the profession stepped up during Covid was incredible, every section of our profession played their part and have had to change and adapt to new ways of working, all working hard to do the best for our patients. I am so proud to be part of this profession.

Linked to that was virtual Physio UK, which I think was incredible. We always have such a wide variety of speakers and information at the conference, the posters and all the sessions. You can go to something that isn’t your area and you always learn something from it. And last year it gave us an opportunity to network and socialise with other people in a way we hadn’t been able to. Even though we were meeting them virtually as an avatar, we were talking to them in real time. That gave people a real boost, just be able to wander up to somebody and talk to them as if they were in the real world was incredible, it gave me such an uplift. It was fun. You got everything that you would from a normal conference plus so much more, including a bit of fun, which I think was really, really important. We managed to put that on at a time it was so needed.

Another highlight for me was delivering the speech at vPUK and the response I got from it. It was something I felt I needed to do and I’ve been really heartened by the positive response I’ve had from members, which I think shows that we’ve got an appetite for change. 

What’s been the biggest challenge? 

The challenges have been in some of the big decisions that we’ve had to make. It’s been a time of challenge with the organisation, with the pension deficit and the Bedford Row building. And it’s making sure that we understand fully why we’re making decisions, and feeling comfortable in that, even knowing that members might find it quite challenging as well. 

And of course Covid – it’s been a major challenge – but everyone’s challenge, not just mine.

On a personal level, at the beginning of last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I started my chemo as we went into lockdown. Although I felt well enough in between cycles to maybe do some work, I was shielding so couldn’t go into my normal work. It gave me more time to look at the bigger picture as chair of Council, and I suppose have more oversight rather than being deeply involved in it. I think it would have been much more challenging for me had I been well and working because I would have been right in the thick of it. Whereas, even though I had moments of not feeling so well, I could still do my chair of Council role sitting in my comfy chair at home. Actually it was the only normal thing in my life. Normal life had gone into lockdown, I couldn’t go into work, and this was the one bit of stability, which is quite an odd thing to think about. 

How does it feel to have been re-elected as chair of Council?

Being able to stand again was a huge privilege. I’ve loved doing it, and it’s an honour to be able to do it again.

What are your priorities for your second term? 

I’ve made clear, since last summertime, the impact that the killing of George Floyd had in terms of my awareness and my realisation of the anti-racist agenda. But it also brought into light our relationship between Council and the diversity networks. We spent a lot more time working on that and it was clear that what we needed was an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy, something that would allow us to filter in EDI work to everything that we do. For me, making that a focus of how we work seemed logical. 

We’re well aware of voices that haven’t been so present within the structures of the CSP – I think that’s true for almost all of the diversity networks – and this is an opportunity for us to really hear those voices. Some will be louder than others, and some more confident than others. As Council, we have to find a way of ensuring that we do hear all the voices because this is something they live with, whether it’s their professional or personal life, and I think that it is incredibly important that we listen.

That also helps with my second focus, which is listening to members who may feel they’re being a little bit left behind or not quite focused on. This is about hearing people and making sure they feel heard. We might not always be able to make changes that they want, and we might not be always be able to do exactly what they want, but it’s important that we hear what they’re saying so that we can adequately represent that voice within Council.

What are you most looking forward to in this second term?

Looking at the two years ahead, what I’m excited by – but which is also a challenge – is the upcoming elections, because it’s unusual to have elections midterm. Halfway through my chairship there will be a change of personnel, so I think that’s going to be really exciting. But it will be a challenge as well, because this will be the first change of people on this Council. We’ve managed as a team to develop strong leadership, and we need to instil that in the new people coming in, not least because it’s one year and then we hold another set of elections. 

Also it is hopefully seeing how diverse a Council we can get elected. I’ve been talking to a whole range of people who are going to stand - I think we’re going to have a fabulous range of candidates. We might have some associates standing as well, which is absolutely brilliant. 

There’s a responsibility for the six of us who are remaining to make sure we provide an element of stability, passing on that understanding, that knowledge as well. I think that will be key, and working with Katie Wilkie as vice-chair. 

What would make somebody a good candidate for Council? 

It is a leadership role and that means you need to be comfortable making decisions. But you also need to be able to see the bigger picture, and to listen to people and to see the other side of the story. 

Being willing to take on responsibility for the whole profession, and therefore be seeing that bigger picture – wanting to really understand the breadth of the profession – to my mind is more important than ‘I spent x number of years doing this or y number of years doing that’. It’s much more about space, it’s that willingness to learn. 

And there are some incredible benefits to being a Council member in terms of your own personal development. I would say to anybody don’t be put off if you’re thinking, ‘well, I’ve got no financial background’ or ‘I don’t know much about x’. That’s okay. We are supported with training and the CSP staff are there to support us. 

It’s far more about those other inherent skills in terms of that willingness to understand and to speak to other members, and be able to come to a decision. That’s the key kind of attribute that we’re after. 

That’s the same for the committees as well. I say to people  ‘if you’re not 100 per cent sure about Council, well maybe think about the committees later on in the year’. That’s a great place to start if you’re not sure.

Why should people seriously think about nominating themselves?

It’s an opportunity to influence the way the profession goes. It’s a huge honour to be able to do that. And it’s about protecting the integrity of the profession and working towards advancements and changes and being able to see that vision for the future and influence it. It’s a massive opportunity to say which direction you want the CSP to focus on and to work towards.

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