My friend and former Tearfund colleague, Sam Barker passed away last month, after a short but brave battle with bowel cancer. You can read more about Sam in this obituary here.
For the last few weeks, and at his funeral last Friday, I’ve been carrying around with many many thoughts about Sam; about what he taught me, about how he made me, and so many others he worked with, better advocates for change.
So I wanted to write some of that down as a small tribute to one of the very best people I’ve had the chance to work alongside to change the world, in the hope, it might help others.
I still remember properly meeting you for the first time, we sat in Portcullis House as we chatted about politics, what it was really like to work for an MP, and because it was a Friday it was definitely a ‘dress down’ day in Parliament!
You’d been kind enough to reply to a post I’d written suggesting we should all start to encourage our supporters to be ringing their MPs. There I was, the impatient campaigner, as you shared for me what it was really like working for an MP and how that perhaps encouraging everyone to start phoning wasn’t a very good idea!
Since your passing I’ve spent lots of time reflecting on everything that you taught me, and the things that I wish I’d said to you, so I hope you don’t mind that I’ve captured, and shared a few of them.
In many ways, the first encounter was so in keeping with my memories of you, always be generous with your time, advice and expertise. You didn’t need to take that time to meet with me; but you didn’t want to keep the insight and experience you had, you wanted to share it with others in the hope it would help me be a better advocate.
I remember at the first Bootcamp, you added yourself to the seed list and took the time to send really insightful feedback to that cohort, who used that to help them become better campaigners. In the last few weeks, I’ve heard others share similar stories of their first meetings with you, and they all have that theme of generosity and kindness at the center of them. You taught should never to become too busy or self-absorbed not to take the time to offer thoughts and advice to others.
And I think it was that spirit, that meant you knew that change wasn’t going to happen without building a bigger tent, opening it up to welcome and include others. History is good at celebrating the figureheads of movements but isn’t always as quick as it should be at recognising the tent builders. Those who do the hard work of connecting people together, remembering that the most effective movements are the surprising coalitions. It’s so clear in the work you did across your career was about building a bigger tent in pursuit of a fair and just world.
The words of Jo Cox have come back to me on so many occasions in the last few weeks – that we have more in common. I don’t suspect we’ve ever voted for the same party at an election, you were a proud Conservative. I am, at times, an overly tribal member of the Labour Party (although perhaps less so at the moment), but those words that Jo shared “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” keep coming back to me.
You taught me more than anyone else I’ve known that whatever the political tribe you choose to be part of, that it’s the job of changemakers to look to make common cause. You taught me over and over again to look beyond the political tribe; that there are individuals in all parties who are committed to addressing the big challenges – we might have different routes to get to the outcome, but we will achieve those quicker if we work together.
To wrestle with the question ‘are we really making a difference?’ – it’s so easy to get caught up in the doing, but I remember many of our conversations had that question at the heart of them, over coffee or beer, asking, pushing, probing if the work you were doing was making a difference – and if not what would be more strategic. What I really admired about you, was the way you didn’t shy away if that question came with a difficult answer and I hope you realise just how much of a difference you did make.
That this work needs to be fun – there is a picture a colleague from Tearfund shared a few weeks ago, of you at the George Osborne event as part of the IF campaign – you appear to be in your element with your George mask in hand. It’s a reminder, that in the seriousness of the work of bringing an end of poverty, ushering in a greener and fairer economy and caring for creation: we need to have fun, to laugh, and to get stuck in with whatever is happening – even if it means an early start dressing up as George Osborne! I loved that about working with you, for all the seriousness of the work, you brought fun and laughter into the center of it.
But perhaps most importantly, you taught and challenged me to bring your whole self to the work of making change. As a Christian, it can be easy to hide that away in the campaigning arena – to avoid the difficult questions that can come with it. But you challenged me by your example, it was so clearly your Christian faith that brought you to the work that you did and that faith that shone through until the end. You showed me that we can’t leave our faith at the door of the office, but need to unashamedly acknowledge that it’s the guiding force and sustainer behind the work of bringing change to a broken world.
I could write more, and I’m sorry for not saying this to you in person, but thank you for everything you taught me. Like so many others I’m really going to miss you,
Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory,