Let us love, be loved and make a difference – reprise

By Claire Bodanis

‘Should have been’ are three words I don’t find myself using very often. Being of an optimistic nature, and someone who aims to see setbacks as opportunities for new ideas, I try not to fall prey to regret.

But it’s hard for an 11-year-old, whose Easter holidays should have been spent at the grandparents’ in Scotland with his best friend Rosie (well known as the other diminutive member of the waiting staff at the annual FW party!), not to feel that many things have been lost. Saturday morning: ‘We should have been on the train leaving Euston right now’; Saturday afternoon: ‘We should have been having tea with Granny and Grandpa right now and trying to sneak an extra biscuit’; Sunday morning: ‘Mum, you should have been shouting “hurry up, we’re going to be late for church” right now.’ And I hear from Rosie’s mum that similar refrains are being heard in their household.

As you can imagine – and no doubt because you’re doing many of these things yourselves – there are compensations. Far more time together as a family, including our daily constitutional when we’re endlessly thankful that we live right by the Heath. A new virtual social whirl of Zoom family quizzes, Houseparty drinks, What’sApp chats. A new use for the sitting room as an exercise studio (with the carpet you don’t need a mat). Virtual baking classes where we’re teaching Rosie to make Grandma Windsor’s ginger biscuits; and virtual Monopoly with just as many arguments about whose personal rules to adopt as if we were all physically in the room together.

But today, 1 April, is the one day of the year that I find it particularly hard to overcome ‘should have been’, because it’s when we remember Neil Duffy – advisor, writer, Dark Angel – who should have been with us, but who died suddenly of a heart attack three years ago today. And so it’s also the day that I most need to take my own advice to the children and try to remember what I’ve gained, rather than give in to what I’ve lost.

And what have I gained? Thanks to Neil’s advice and encouragement when he was alive, four years ago we formalised the FW Corporate Reporting team, and went from pulling together an ad hoc team because our clients asked us to, to setting ourselves up properly as a virtual team of freelance experts to do (mostly) reporting work. And how lucky we are, now that almost all of us are having to work from home, that a) we’re doing work that’s still deemed necessary and b) that we’re already set up to work in this virtual way and so can help our clients in the transition too.

One of the most important pieces of advice Neil gave me four years ago, which I’d like to offer to those of you new to homeworking now, was that a virtual team doesn’t run itself, and that everything takes a lot more time than you’d expect. He said: ‘estimate how much of your time it’ll take and then triple it’. And he was right. There’s a natural glue that comes from sitting in the same room that just doesn’t happen if you don’t consciously replace it. However well you know other people, and however much you respect them; however good the plan is or efficient the project manager: nothing replaces just listening and talking to your colleagues.

So what we try to do (although even four years on we’re not always brilliant at it) is to create time just to chat as an important part of any project – which is now more important than ever. And, four years ago, we arranged a monthly drink for any of the team who’s around and wants to come along. Today, now that we can’t have any sort of physical team gathering, we’ve instigated a weekly Zoom drinks evening instead, with a bit more structure to it than our usual convivial free-for-alls.

Which brings me to the other work aspect of what I’ve gained. When Neil died, a fellow Dark Angel, Jonathan Holt, sent me this message: “We take for granted tomorrow will come on schedule just as all our yesterdays did. Even though we know down deep that our occupancy of these bodies has an expiration date… We need to love, be loved and make a difference while we can.” And, as I wrote in my blog tribute to Neil at the time, I realised that, while Jonathan’s message was principally a personal one, it was, and is, highly relevant to Falcon Windsor as a business as well. I set up the company – and my team members joined – because we all wanted to do our best work with people we respected and liked. Not just each other, but our clients too. And that to me is the work equivalent of ‘love, be loved, and make a difference’.

Doing our best work is hard right now, and I’m sure it is for all of you too. But I am encouraged by the knowledge that, in the effort of doing so, I am remembering Neil, who loved, was loved, and made a difference.

Originally published on the Falcon Windsor blog, 1st April, 2020.