In Memory of Carl
Carl Poll sadly died on 23rd May 2013. Carl was a Fellow of the Centre for Welfare Reform, but also much more. We cannot hope to do justice to all his fine qualities and achievements. However we created this page for his friends to share their memories, thoughts and hopes about this great man.
Words Spoken at Carl's Funeral
Anita van Mil:
Qualities of a true friend
And so very, very special:
A willingness to be open,
a willingness to show vulnerability
and a willingness to explore other ways of thinking.
Thanks for your friendship Carl, it has meant the world to me and I’m sure to many others.
Here’s to a celebration of you
Carl was a great man. Carl’s family and friends know that. But because Carl was such a modest man, nobody can understand the full extent of Carl’s contribution to the world.
Anyone of us would be proud to have achieved just one of the many things Carl achieved. Hundreds of thousands of people now live more independent, more active and more fulfilling lives - because of Carl.
Over the past few days we have published so many moving testimonies about Carl. After reading them one friend told me he had decided to make some serious life changes - because he wanted to be remembered like Carl.
Just one initiative amongst many - but one that typified Carl’s spirit was Small Sparks - where people received a small grant - not for themselves - but to do something for their community. The ripples from this project continue today. I was told of how a group of homeless people pooled their own £10 Christmas vouchers with their small sparks grant in order to help raise money for Christmas presents for deprived children.
Carl was like a torch that constantly gave off sparks - sparks that flew upwards and he helped to light the torches of so many others.
There is so much to say - and not enough time - but here is some of Carl’s wisdom - in his own words:
What holds us back is perhaps a certain professional distance from the people we support – a certain aloofness in which (in some measure deep down, hidden below our words) we think we are experts and that’s our job – to be the experts on people with learning disabilities.
We need to slow down, listen, learn from the real experts – the marginalised and disenfranchised people we work with. This slowing down is a problem for professionals because we are in such a rush. Government has pushed organisations to spend more and more of their resources on procedures, performance monitoring and form filling. There’s less and less time to spend listening to people.
Inventiveness, creativity, spontaneity, improvisation, reflection and, above all, creating the space for us to learn from the people we support are under threat at a time when we need a huge increase in the supply of all these things.
We need to get rid of professional distance. If people are going to escape a world of services and play a role in civic life, professionals have got to stop thinking they are the experts, the teachers, the givers.
And here are some words from the great Chinese thinker Lao Tsu who, two and half thousand years ago, wrote:
True leaders are hardly known to their followers. Next after them are the leaders people know and admire; after them, those they fear; after them, those they despise. To give no trust is to get no trust. When the work's done right, with no fuss or boasting, ordinary people say: Oh, we did it.
Carl was a true leader. He drew no attention to himself. But his achievements are enormous and will be long-lasting.
The torch of his spirit will burn bright and long - and those who remember him with pride and love will try to carry that torch on.
Thank you, Carl
Memories of Carl
MiXit sing their tribute to Carl:
Carl's Spirit Lives On
It is difficult to believe that his smiling face will not be among us any more. To me Carl represented an embodiment of near perfection in humans:
A picture of humility, openness, strength, commitment, willingness to go out of the way to learn... it is difficult to describe his personality in words. It seemed that he lived for others, always.
We all have to go one day. But Carl left us too early. He knew that part of his body is unwell, but he continued to remain positive and active without focusing on his self for years.
Even if he is not among us physically, his ideas and spirit must be kept alive as they were marked by qualities that need to be imbibed by all who care for people in less advantaged situations.
I propose that neighbourhood meetings be held in various towns and cities where people who knew him live. Apart from sharing a description of him and his work the meetings could have a session on stillness or meditation as well as the eight steps in action that he liked.
May his soul rest in peace.
I first met Carl in 1997 when he was a director and founding member of Housing Options as well as the chief executive of KeyRing. It was one of my first board meetings as a trustee of Housing Options and I was extremely nervous about being surrounded by be-suited chief executives and some of the great and good of our sector. Carl arrived a bit late dressed in his motorbike gear and backpack and sat down opposite me. The meeting was well in progress when one of the directors started snoring rather loudly next to me. The meeting kept going as if there was nothing odd happening, whilst I was trying desperately to stop myself from laughing out loud. The only flicker of recognition that it was a strange situation came from Carl as he sat there with a deadpan face and a glint in his eye. We became firm friends from that moment.
Carl and I both went on to work together for Paradigm, In Control and the Centre for Welfare Reform. More recently Carl worked with us to launch the Housing and Support Alliance. He was an inspirational leader, with a clear and uncompromising view that people with learning disabilities can and should lead equal and ordinary lives. He did more than talk about this though, he made it happen through founding KeyRing and through the direct support he gave people with learning disabilities who were his friends. He was one of the few people in our field that lives what he believes.
What always struck me about Carl was his humility. He had no right to be humble: he was a visionary, intelligent, compassionate man who was also blessed with being tall and handsome. He could have easily been forgiven a bit of arrogance. But unlike many leaders, he did not think that he was anything special but only believed in the capacity and rights of people to live rich lives - he never swayed from this belief and this is what made him such a strong and charismatic leader.
Despite his humility and kindness, Carl was a sharp and astute judge of character with a highly developed sense of fairness and justice. He saw through those who talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk and was often enraged by the way people behaved in our sector. In the last few years he was disillusioned with the direction of self-directed support, something that was dear to his heart as an early pioneer, but that he felt had been corrupted by egos and professional control. He retreated to the safer world of writing and communication, for which we are thankful as he is partly responsible for our fabulous website and marketing materials.
If Carl was editing this now, he would have cut out most of this waffle and got it down to a few bullet points. He would not have tolerated this much praise, or my poor construction of sentences. I don’t know what we are going to do without him. He was a wonderful human being, a good friend and colleague, a warm and loving husband to Caroline and father to Billy and Freddy. He will be desperately missed.
I had the huge privilege of working for Carl in the late 1980s, when he was Development Officer at the Elfrida Rathbone Society. He wouldn’t like ‘working for’, he’d insist on ‘working with’: he was extraordinarily and effortlessly egalitarian, and though the fact is I did the typing and he had the ideas, he was the most un-boss-like boss I have ever encountered. Not that he was indulgent. He had high standards and detested shoddy or lazy work. To begin with there was very little to do. We each had a large desk in a tiny room in Clerkenwell, and sat face to face trying to think up tasks. Carl visited the various London Rathbones with an eye to ‘developing’ them but soon grasped that a new approach was needed. He came up with the simple, brilliant concept of KeyRing. The office Christmas party in that first year was dinner with Carl and Caroline at home for me and my partner Tim. The parties got bigger but their hospitality was always warm and generous. Carl loved the pleasures of life. His strong socialist convictions didn't preclude enjoyment, one of his many gifts.
I first met Carl in 1995 when I joined KeyRing and I am very proud to have worked with and learned so much from Carl. Carl was a generous man, who wanted those he worked with, or the organisation supported, to achieve their potential. He was inspirational with a real vision. However, what I really remember about Carl was his brilliant sardonic sense of humour.
My love to Caroline, Freddy and Billy - my thoughts are with you all at this sad time.
I first met Carl 13 years ago (almost to the day) as I started work at KeyRing Living Support networks. For a couple of months we travelled round the North on bone shaker trains as he introduced me to the people who wanted to work with KeyRing. I loved every minute of that period when Carl told stories of KeyRing members achievements, our role in liberating people from services and laid down a challenge to maintain KeyRing's values in practice even in the North. I learnt so much about inclusion, community and good support from working with Carl but I also learned a lot about influencing people, great coaching and management. I had great fun working with Carl who's kindness, humour and great proof-reading skills I was in awe of.
Once he left KeyRing I realised that most national work or developments that were about redressing power inequalities, valuing individual and community contributions would include Carl in some way - it really was true that anything I saw that looked like a good idea Carl would have contributed. The list of his achievements and the difference he has made is very long but for me his sharing of Asset-Based Community Development ideas and practical implementation has to be significant.
Anything I am good at in my work now Carl taught me, introduced me to or challenged me to get better at. He was one of the most sound people I've ever known and I feel very lucky to have been his friend and colleague. I am sure lots of people will miss him, but most of all Caroline, Freddy and Billy are in my thoughts.
The first time I met Carl, I gave him an incredibly hard time. It was 1992 and he'd just started promoting the first KeyRing network in the borough I was working. It was a radical new idea, and whilst I was sympathetic to the aims, I was more than a little sceptical. I'd just witnessed the council forcing a couple of people I knew into living situations, beyond their capabilities, simply to save money. I feared they were about to exploit KeyRing to do the same, particularly because a friend of mine was on the list to move. She'd just had a spell on a psychiatric ward, and though her learning disabilities were mild, I wasn't sure she'd be able to cope living in a flat on her own. I also worried, that after years of communal living, she'd be lonely by herself.
Carl was very gracious with my challenge. He was quietly firm, assuring me that the experience of the pilot project had demonstrated the benefits of network living for people with learning disabilities. He told me that many people with learning disabilities were being trapped in dependency in residential care. He believed KeyRing offered a model that would empower them, giving people control over their lives, often for the first time. The unique approach of placing an emphasis on peer support meant that many members relied less on professional supporters than they had before. Yet the presence of the live-in support worker nearby ensured when they needed help, it was always close at hand. Hmmph, I thought, that's all very well, but it won't work for my friend.
I was wrong of course, and glad to be proved so. Not only did my friend flourish in KeyRing, but she formed a friendship with a fellow tenant who went to the same day centre. The two women had never had much of a relationship before, but once they were in the network, they were thick as thieves. They shopped together, shared Christmas dinner, and once, to my astonishment, my friend spent all night talking her through a mental health crisis whilst she got hold of the support the other woman needed. Just as Carl had predicted, KeyRing became a place where she was in control, relying more on her neighbours than she ever did on the people paid to support her.
I can't remember if I ever apologised to Carl for getting it so wrong. I hope I did. He never held it against me anyway. Over the next few years we worked together a lot. And it was always such a pleasure. Unlike me, Carl wasn't a noisy person but we quickly learnt we had the same passions, and we both wanted to create a world where people with learning disabilities were equal citizens. KeyRing was one of the first organisations to embrace the work I was doing on accessible information, and later, it was a delight to eat my words totally setting up a second network in the borough. By the end of the 90's I was working in another borough, and had the opportunity to develop a new network there. I remember Carl being delighted with the endorsement I gave - that as a commissioner KeyRing was proving to be one of the most cost-effective ways to meet people's needs I'd come across. I hope it was sufficient recompense for ever doubting him.
In the last decade I've had less contact with Carl. I moved out of London, and for a while took a career break, so it wasn't easy to keep up. But we kept in touch intermittently, and I was always glad hear from him. Although he moved on from KeyRing, he continued to innovate: the Small Sparks initiative giving people with learning disabilities grants so they could develop projects within their local communities was a typically inspiring example of the way he worked.
Carl was one of life's rareties. A modest, gentle man, who never bragged about his achievements, or thrust his point of view at you. He was kind and funny, a brilliant strategic thinker. So many organisations fall apart when their founder leaves, but Carl made sure that didn't happen by ensuring KeyRing grew in a structured way, whilst maintaining the values of his initial vision. But then KeyRing was never about ego, but about making sure people with learning disabilities were in charge of their lives.
I had no idea Carl was so ill, and am saddened to hear of his death.My thoughts are with his family and friends at this time - we've lost a giant, the world is a poorer place without him. I was lucky to know him.
I met Carl for the first time in Bristol in 1998 when he gave a presentation on KeyRing. It was a memorable presentation in many ways and it was hard not to be impressed by Carl's calm authority and his confidence and belief in the model and the results that it had given. The general impression amongst the Social Work team (which I was to hear many times over the next few years) was that it would never work here. Within a year a year I had started making referrals to KeyRing in Bristol and within two I was working for them. The model worked spectacularly well.
Carl's belief and drive was inspirational to me and all involved. His sense of humour and passion shone through everything he did. His use of the phrase 'that's interesting' in difficult meetings as code for something that clearly wasn't is something that I employ to this day.
I was most impressed by the way he quietly and humbly enjoyed seeing the model work so well throughout the rest of the country. He enjoyed the anonymity of becoming 'that bloke from London' among the growing number KeyRing members in the South West.
He was a big man with broad shoulders, an inspirational leader and a deeply funny man. He dressed rather well too.
It's difficult to write right now, when I and others contributing to or reading these pages are grieving the sad loss of a wonderful man. But Carl was never silent for too long, so in this spirit I make this short contribution. I’m not too sure what Carl would make of tributes but I’ll keep to a couple – and hope he wouldn’t mind too much.
Carl was one of the most hospitable men I have known. Carl usually hosted our board meetings for Manavodaya UK at his home, with Caroline, Freddy and Bill all adding to the warm welcome. Carl’s hospitality went beyond welcoming friends to his home, this hospitality carried through into his spirit. For Carl nobody was unimportant, especially those who appear disenfranchised, whose voices those in power often dismiss.
For me Carl was also an agitator. Somebody who challenged the notion that people with learning difficulty's contribution and ideas are largely insignificant and that important decisions are best left to the professionals. This viewpoint carried over into other areas of his life, including the Carl I knew through Manavodaya - the common theme being to ‘spread an approach that interrupts current working practice; shifts power to marginalized people’ (Carl Poll).
Although his achievements were considerable, Carl did not see himself as anything special and understood that humility was something we all need to work on. He was convinced that whilst people needed encouragement to utilise their own strengths, a guru was last thing anyone needed - "The people who are involved in trying to spread this approach (of Manavodaya) in the UK are all very guru-resistant and wouldn't be involved if that were going on" (Carl Poll).
Our lives are much richer for knowing Carl.
I remember well the first time I met Carl, it was in 1994 or '95, nearly 20 years ago, at the Scottish Human Services (SHS) conference. I was introduced to him as the man that was doing great work in London, in particular his work around KeyRing, was one of the many wonderful things Carl created. Previous to meeting Carl I had heard about KeyRing and some of us in Scotland were very interested in this 'model' of supporting people with learning disabilities.
My immediate impression was that he was such a nice guy, and I think I loved him from the moment I met him, firstly I loved him as a colleague but as the years past I became goods friends with him and loved him also as a friend. I had the wonderful experience of being part of setting up Neighbourhood Networks in Scotland, Pat Black was the third musketeer in this venture and the 3 of us went on to spend nearly 10 years on the Board of Neighbourhood Networks.
I remember fondly the Board Retreats, especially when we went to Inverary to have our away days, Carl loved Inverary and was always happy when that was the venue. You will all remember that Carl always wore really smart shoes, usually lovely brogues, there was this shop in Inverary that sold shoes, mainly brogues, not really a fashionable shop but Carl loved it. We did tease him a little about this shop!
It was during this time and our travels when I would pick him up at Glasgow Airport to travel to the Board Retreats that I really got to know and love Carl well. I found Carl to be an amazing man, his values were solid and I always learned something from him as we chatted, mostly about work, he really was an amazing, wonderful person.
After setting up Neighbourhood Networks and once we had both left the Board I was very lucky again to have had the great pleasure of setting up Manavodaya International UK (MIUK) with Carl, Pete (Richmond) and Varun (Vidyarthi) and more recently Clare (Wightman). The thing I will always be thankful for was that we had the meetings in London, at Carl's house on a weekend, we would all travel down on the Friday and have the meeting on the Saturday followed by a night out or in... sometimes our partners would join us, making it like a group of friends as much as colleagues. Maxine always came down, she came to love Carl as much as I did as they swapped their DVD's and chatted about telly programmes that I had no interest in such as Breaking Bad!!!
It was during these times that we all got to know Caroline and the boys much better, Caroline was the most amazing host in the planet, making delicious cakes for our meetings. Billy entertained us on a night time with his wonderful magic tricks and Freddie was the sweetest, loveliest company imaginable. I am so glad we had these times and that I spent quality time with Carl and his wonderful family; I feel blessed as does Maxine. I can't begin to imagine not doing that anymore, I will miss Carl immensely as will many, many people. He was loved by all that knew him.
I particularly remember the time when Carl and his great friend Henry (Iles) were up in Kilmarnock doing some work for Partners - they have done some great work and helped us lots. I remember Carl and Henry in my living room, really they were like 2 grumpy old men, they were incredibly funny. I remember how well they got on, they had a similar sense of humour and were a very funny double act. We had a great time. I know Henry will feel Carl's loss immensely and my heart goes out to him.
BUT I cannot begin to imagine how Caroline and the boys are feeling right now, they have lost a great man, a great husband and a great father, but they too are great people and my love, thoughts and prayers right now are for them. They have many difficult journeys ahead of them and I know we are all thinking about them and sending them our condolences but also our love.
Carl you were amazing and we loved you dearly, your boys, who I know you were very proud of, are both wonderful young men and Caroline, well I do not need to say anything, she is truly an amazing person. I still remember the time she told Carl and I off the night before his big birthday party, when we should have been doing things, but Carl and I were sitting chatting, about work of course...we soon got up and got on with the tasks we were supposed to be doing... wonderful memories.
All our love Doreen and Maxine
When I think of Carl I think first of his smile. Often a mischievous smile with glittering eyes and perhaps one raised eyebrow. This was a man who, if he suggested it, you would happily follow into the next orchard to scrump apples. And the apples would be to share out amongst a wider group. He made you feel that upending the horrible status quo, so that people with learning difficulties could get more power over their own lives, was not only a moral duty but likely to be fun as well. He sometimes reminded me of the ‘Saint’, especially with that eyebrow, going out to do battle with ‘the Ungodly’ except that in Carl’s case there was a very good chance that the Ungodly would swiftly be recruited to join the cause.
I think I first met Carl in about 1992. He was the lone Rathbone development worker just thinking through the ideas which led to KeyRing. The clear and exciting vision he developed for the KeyRing networks, along with his personal credibility, meant that soon Commissioners across the country were funding networks. It wasn’t long before I met Commissioners at events who sounded defensive about the fact that they had not yet got a local KeyRing network, offering excuses, they were nearly always just about to buy one. KeyRing was a good idea then and is still a good idea now.
Carl and I met often, at conferences and events - and then as part of a support group (now you’d call it action learning) which met every couple of months. The group knew each other’s successes and disasters and we shared ideas and strategies on how to deal with these things. Carl was a key member, creative, committed, funny and generally resilient. Although I do remember on one occasion many years ago when he came in and announced that he was giving it all up and going off to write a hard-boiled detective novel in the Elmore Leonard vein. As far as I know he never did write that novel but I’d love to have read it if he had.
I remember when Carl first became a freelance consultant he was a bit shocked at how much freelancers have to do for free. He had been asked to make a presentation as part of tendering for some work on developing individual planning. I forget which organisation or Council had asked for this. Carl told me he had prepared a fairly elaborate TV-show-style event called “You Are The Star”. It sounded a bit like the old TV show “This is Your Life”. The person with learning difficulties would sit in the middle and their friends and family would bring them ‘gifts’ which were actually descriptions of the person’s gifts ie their own personal strengths. As I recall it Carl’s presentation involved actual wrapped up ‘gifts’ and big cards etc. He told me he had spent a week preparing for this one hour presentation to the commissioners. Of course it fell flat – they were unimpressed with this unusual and imaginative approach. And Carl had wasted a week of unpaid time. Of course it’s never wasted really – no doubt he used parts of it in the future. And I borrowed (stole!) the gift idea and added it to Tony Bamforth’s work on ‘Planning Parties’ at Elfrida. Well if you are going to steal stuff make sure you steal from the best!
When he left KeyRing and our shared group he and I developed a habit of going to occasional concerts – we both shared a great love of music of many kinds. He would encourage me to suggest interesting concerts, and would suggest some himself. Once we went with Caroline and my wife Mary, but generally it was just us two old blokes. Over the years we went to a whole bunch of things from weird Japanese blues (the Fuji, which I suggested – and he loved) in the back of a Hackney pub to seeing Penderecki and Johnny Greenwood at the Barbican.
Carl never seemed to be loud and egotistical and yet he was inspiring. If he thought something was worth checking out, such as the Small Sparks’ initiatives, you could be sure it was. He didn’t bludgeon you into things – he made you question things yourself – sometimes with just a raise of that eyebrow! He was never into all this for his own gain but for people with learning difficulties whom he trusted absolutely. He once said to me that he had made the mistake of underestimating people in the past and been proven wrong so often that he would never do it again. I believe that through his ideas and his work he made a big difference to many many people – far more than he ever met.
I am very sad indeed that I won’t be seeing him again.
Carl had a wonderful sense of what was right and wrong in the world. He championed the needs of others and had the foresight to connect with rather than simply include those with learning difficulties. We will all certainly miss his quiet and gentle wisdom but also his keen wit.
You made a true difference, Carl. Thank you.
I did not know Carl for as long or as well as some of you, and that will always be a sadness to me as when you spent time with this inspirational man you came away understanding how you would like to be and like to behave and always be blown away by his intuition and common sense approach to problems.
In Carl humanity and humility seemed second nature and his ability to connect with people and see the best in people made him one of those people that I will always hold in the greatest esteem and strive to be like. And of course being over 6ft myself it was always great to be able to have a conversation eye to eye! Always loved, always missed, I will keep your teachings and values in my heart.
When offered the opportunity to write a few words about Carl I was in the middle of a major change in my life, so I delayed writing anything until I had the time and the head space to look back and reflect on the moments Carl and I had shared.
Many have already written about Carl’s achievements and I believe he would have been modestly grateful for these acknowledgements. His achievements were a result of his unquestionably and absolute commitment to championing the rights of all; especially those in society who are marginalised by those in positions of power. He was a visionary and he was forthright in furthering the cause of equal citizenship for all. However, none of his successes would have been possible without the talents and gifts he possessed in abundance and his quiet but steely determination to put his beliefs and values into action.
Carl and I first met as members of the original core team that founded in Control. Whenever I was in Carl’s presence I couldn’t help but smile. I could always sense in him the rebel, the person always prepared to push the boundaries, someone not content to ‘go with the flow’, someone not prepared to accept anything that compromised the values he so strongly held and defended. That’s not to say he wasn’t flexible or more that capable of working ‘the system’; he had the highly developed skills necessary to find imaginative and none threatening ways to work around or if necessary, through people who presented a challenge to the vision he dedicated most of his working life to.
I will always treasure the time I was privileged to spend with Carl and will remember him for those moments he and I shared when we exchanged those rye and slightly mischievous smiles.
I have known Carl since 2003. Carl was one of those people who always saw me as me and who gave me the inspiration to carry on. He really helped me fulfill my dreams: gave me help along the way and was always there to talk to. He helped me set up my website for See Me as Me and was helping Simon and I with our writing. He was a great friend - kind and friendly - he will be a great loss. He was loved by very many people.
A truly lovely man whose memory I will treasure. I recall many long conversations with Carl sharing our frustration at the lack of progress being made and the real changes that were needed - hippies in the woods...
My thoughts are with his lovely family who he talked of so lovingly. Rest peacefully Carl, you made such a difference to lots of people and we will continue the fight to wrestle power, control and money to where it should be.
Carl’s life was a life spent relentlessly in the pursuit of human rights and social justice. After a lifetime of activism one of his final achievements was his input into the Campaign for a Fair Society (CfaFS) which presents radical, coherent and credible alternatives to the savage cuts currently being imposed on local authority social care budgets by the coalition government. Carl was part of a small group of activists who planned and launched the CfaFS in 2010. Carl went on to contribute to the production of the Campaign’s Manifesto and managed the Campaign’s website and newsletter for two years, only relinquishing these responsibilities a few months ago.
On behalf of colleagues at the CfaFS I pay tribute to Carl’s contribution, lifetime of activism and commitment right to the very end.
It is hard to accept that Carl is no longer with us and all of my thoughts are with Carl’s family, Caroline, Freddy and Billy who Carl was so very proud of.
Carl was my mentor and also a board member along with Doreen Kelly and Pat Black when I started work for Neighbourhood Networks in 2001. It was a great honour and privilege to have known Carl. My memory of those times is of a real dynamism and energy to promote the rights and citizenship for people and to do this in a very human way.
It was a joy to be in Carl’s company and he brought a unique angle to all conversations and discussions. Carl was a very generous, encouraging and kind man. The way he shared all of his and KeyRing’s knowledge and experience for us to set up Neighbourhood Networks in Scotland is just one example of many. I remember Carl leading a session with us when he had just got back from India and I loved the idea of slowing things down through breathing and meditation to be more purposeful and effective. Carl would have the unique ability of taking you out of your comfort zone, introducing unconventional ways of doing things whilst making you feel very safe to do this. His big smile helped.
I regret that over the last five years I have not seen Carl so much but I always felt reassured that he was there making the world a better place. The words people have so beautifully written to describe Carl here really help to capture the essence of who Carl was. So many wonderful qualities; he was wise, passionate, inspirational, charming, kind, humble, entertaining, funny and much more than words can say.
Remembering Carl’s cheeky humour and glasses of red wine after a full day's work at Board Retreats will always bring a smile to my face. Carl had a fire in him which will continue to inspire me.
When (almost five years ago to the day) I came to work for Neighbourhood Networks, Carl, the founder along with Doreen and Pat, was still on the Board of Trustees. We had previously met each other a few times over the years, and with increasing frequency, but now we had a chance to get know each other properly. (“Board Retreats” were always good opportunities to get to know people better, under convivial circumstances!) I already knew we had a mutual interest in jazz, and on this occasion I was excited about my recent first ever trip to New York and having stumbled upon Pharoah Sanders playing live at Birdland. This led on to an exchange about our love of one we’ll call the Great Norwegian Saxophonist (the GNS) and whether or not, in more recent years, his playing had been diminished by an increasing blandness. Not quite plumbing the depths of the “smooth”, you’ll understand, but perhaps tending towards an overly predictable Nordic cool.
Out of this, came a story that has stuck with me since. Carl told me of his great surprise and delight, on the occasion of his first visit to Manavodaya, to quite suddenly one day encounter the unmistakable tones of the GNS rippling through the Indian village, at once an incongruous juxtaposition and a wonderfully congruent moment. (The explanation, it turned out, lay in gifts exchanged between Varun and his Norwegian friends.) I like to think that the music in question that day was the GNS in his prime, his passion undiminished – perhaps even the track entitled “Mission: To Be Where I Am”, inspired by the poetry of Tomas Transtromer:
Mission: to be where I am.
Even in that ridiculous, deadly serious
role – I am the place
where creation is working itself out.
As others have noted, Carl had great humility and sensitivity, and I can’t help thinking that this was rooted in a deep sense of how ridiculous we can all be at times with our petty ambitions and brittle pride. But – as reflected in all his many fine achievements and creative innovations - Carl was also deadly serious about his work. He is already greatly missed, and those of us who had the privilege of sharing in that work carry a responsibility for sustaining his proper perspective and his serious intent.
I have been reading the many lovely tributes about Carl and have been thinking about him and everything he meant to people and the work we do. I have been reflecting on how long I knew Carl which was actually over many years; we first met when I worked for Inclusion Glasgow and he came to talk about KeyRing and we were all really keen to get something similar in Scotland.
Over the years we met through his work with In Control, Know What I Mean and Manavodaya. I had the chance to spend a week with him at Samy Ling centre a few years ago which was probably the best chance I had of spending some real time with Carl and getting to know him. I think Carl was such a strong gentle person. He was very focused and clear and just did some amazing work to help people get better lives.
The one thing I remember clearly was he had terrible taste in movies. He insisted we all watch one of his favourites and the room slowly emptied as the film progressed. I always like to see something I've started through to the end so there was me and a couple of other die hards left at the end. He stood his ground it was a classic in his eyes.
I had heard he was ill through others and got updates occasionally about his progress. I am so sorry that I didn't get to know him even better. I know he will be missed, but I think, as John Dalrymple has said, it's up to us all to keep the work going that he was so passionate about: fighting when we need to, but mostly just remembering how lovely he was and the difference that one person can make.
John and Lawraine Hails and all from Moveable Feast and Mixit:
We didn't know Carl well, although in our work we bumped into each other regularly and his friendship and wise words always inspired us to continue with our shared struggle. We did get to know him and his family a lot better when we bumped into them on holiday a couple of New Years ago. We then discovered our shared love of the east coast of Devon and spent a few special days sharing that love, good food and wine and of course the odd conversation about changing the world.
What's great about Carl's life is that he inspired many, helped more and always kept his focus on the inequalities he challenged. Lovely man.
There are a couple of things I wanted to say about Carl the first being the way he connected me to both ideas and people. It was through a session that Carl hosted somewhere on the south bank many years ago that I first heard Varun talk. I remember walking along the river with Sam Clark, who I also met that day, thinking or maybe re thinking things and re thinking and re thinking. Carl had a quiet and very unassuming way of being challenging without challenging. I always remember the day he came to talk to our managers at Choice Support about Varun and explained the concept of ‘barking at the moon’ – something I recognise I can excel at. When I find myself doing this and hear that ‘noise’ I will always remember Carl and smile.
Carl Poll was a truly great man, who was kind, a visionary and an inspirational leader; taken far too soon. I was introduced to Carl, in Southwark, by Simon in 1991 and valued a professional relationship with him over the ensuing two decades. His work on Small Sparks inspired me to instigate this approach at Choice Support and recently led to a group of homeless people we support raising money for the Basics Bank to buy Christmas presents for under privileged children in Winchester. I last met Carl to discuss the handover of the management of the Campaign for a Fair Society website which he had continued to administer in spite of deteriorating health. My last conversation with Carl was after he learnt that I was going to Chile in January – he told me how he’d always wanted to go to Chile ever since he had worked helping Chilean refugees in Scotland in the 1970s.
As others have said here, Carl was indeed a lovely man, one of the best, kindest and most astute. He truly believed in the potential of us all to be who we truly are - and in the importance of connecting with one another as we go through life. Carl helped me to understand better what might be possible for people, and how we might work (and fight) to make it happen. In recent years I knew he was always there, in the background to give a word of advice or encouragement when needed. I miss him.
Carl was a constant source of inspiration to me in my work and continually encouraged me to think about what realy mattered connecting disadvantaged people to community and working for change. Carl inspired me not just because of his talent and energy but because of his humanity. Above all else I think Carl was a great listener whose integrity was unassailable.
I will miss his warm friendly approach that touched so many people and he will be missed greatly by so many.
I first met Carl in about 1990, when he was getting KeyRing off the ground in Southwark. I always remember how he gently persuaded the Southwark housing department to do something revolutionary - to let people with learning difficulties live in ordinary houses. It was humbling to watch someone do something so difficult without bombast, criticism or cynicism. It was just a combination of charm and calm rationality.
Over the following 23 years I have been lucky enough to have seen Carl achieve so much, and sometimes to have the joy of working with him directly. I cannot do justice to everything he did, but here is my list (and Carl always liked a good list):
- He founded KeyRing - a world leading social innovation, now being copied in several other countries
- He was a pioneer of high quality accessible information - creating Know What I Mean and Easy Read
- He led the introduction of Asset-Based Community Development and the work of John McKnight to the UK
- He created the brand and social marketing strategy behind In Control (without Carl it would have been called the National Self-Directed Support Programme).
- Helped create Neighbourhood Networks in Scotland
- He created the Small Sparks programme
- He co-founded Manavodaya International to help share the wisdom of Varun Vidyarthi and the art of quiet facilitation that underlies powerful social change
- He was a founder of the Campaign for a Fair Society
And the thing is, although I think I knew Carl pretty well, and loved him even more, I know this list is far too short and that there will be many things that I have missed.
Carl was a hero - but a hero with no interest in vanity, ego or greed. In fact I often found myself having to persuade him that he (and his long-time colleague Henry Iles) had under-charged for their work. When many seemed happy to be over-paid and do shoddy work, Carl focused on doing everything to the very highest standard.
Carl always brought balance. When people were talking about need he’d point to capacity. When people were talking about services he’d point to community. When people were talking about money he’d point to relationships.
Carl was also very funny and very sharp. For both of us our time at In Control was both creative, and yet ultimately bruising. But one thing I will always treasure from that time was the mission statement that Carl drafted for us:
To get rid of the parasitic bureaucrats, grab the loot and hand over the cash to, you know, the real people and let them get on with it.
We will miss him more than words can say. Our thoughts and prayers are with his lovely family.
First time I met Carl I was delivering a KeyRing poster for a friend who didn’t have the time to do the artwork. He explained why KeyRing was started and from that meeting I felt he was a special person. He was someone who made a difference, who worked to improve people’s lives. That was many years ago when I was living in London. I’ve been in North Yorkshire for the past 12 years so rather than meet up with Carl in town or at my office in Farringdon we talked on the phone. We spoke most weeks, often several times a day.
One of the last conversations I had with Carl was after he’d been in Papworth for about 6 weeks. It was like talking to him before he started coughing or going off for oxygen. It left me smiling for days and summed up a lot about him.
We chatted about films, boys and a bit of politics. I told him I’d got him a copy of Ding Dong The Witch is Dead on iTunes which made him chuckle. He was pleased to hear Manavodaya had a Facebook page and that a couple jobs we’d been working on had been well received.
Our call was interrupted by a nurse and when I called back later he’d had a landmark walk to the end of the ward with only one person supporting him. He was pretty pleased about this, telling me the next stage was to walk with just his oxygen tank without anyone supporting him, free to roam the hospital corridors…
He told me it had been extremely tough and scary. He said he was very sorry Caroline had had to go through it all with him, all the worry. He didn’t complain, just tried to figure out how he could show Caroline how much he appreciated her. He said how lucky he was to have her and had decided when he got out of hospital he was going to buy her 365 presents – one a day for a year. We laughed when imagining Caroline’s reaction as yet another present arrived and the house slowly filled up.
Carl was concerned about our work together, trying to break it to me that he was probably not going to be working for quite a long time, if at all. He said we should have a proper talk about this when I visited. He had some suggestions of people who could help with editing and I promised I’d get in touch with them. I said I felt the only thing we should discuss was our ‘business trip’ to Alicia in Spain and he was fine with that.
Unfortunately the visit was cancelled, Carl was too unwell. Despite his condition he called me to apologise for messing up my week.
Carl was unhappy at the idea of us not working together as he felt we’d lose touch so we decided he’d be a ‘consultant’ and I’d call for ‘advice’ on a regular basis. My partner and son used to laugh when Carl called because even before his illness, I’d drop everything and grab the phone.
I am so pleased to have known Carl, his ideas and way of thinking changed me, the way I work and who I work for.
What to say about Carl? Firstly it has to be deep regret and sorrow at his death. I went to see him in Papworth about a month ago. It must have been around the same time that Henry had a conversation with him on the phone and, like Henry, I was left feeling very positive after my encounter. We talked and joked for nearly two hours. I’d bought him a disgracefully politically incorrect magazine (Viz) and we chuckled about that and during the whole of our time together he needed only a little help to get to the toilet and didn’t need to reach for the oxygen. I left the hospital thinking: ‘He’s going to make it.’ How gutted I am that I was wrong. It’s a common trope in a media wanting to fill up empty spaces that ‘sixty is the new forty’, ‘eighty the new sixty’ and so on but my second reaction is how cruelly untimely his death was.
Then I think about his life and the first thing that comes to me is his courage. I thought him a man of heroic fortitude through the long trajectory of his illness. He never lost his sense of humour or his intellectual and social engagement with the world and he faced the ultimate in grave decisions with clear sighted steadfastness. I didn’t know Carl professionally but we did talk about the work he’d done with KeyRing and Manavodaya and it’s clear from those chats and from the tributes I’ve read that he made a real and profound difference to the lives of many people. Of course we all have to die and of course Carl died far too young, but I can’t help thinking how much he gave to the lives around him in the time that he had.
I knew him first as the parent of children at the school where I was then working. The demeanor and centeredness of Freddy and Billy told much about the quality of their parenting and when I got to know Carl and Caroline it was the warmth and love in their home that impressed. More than that; people generally love their children but as I got to know Carl, I realized that he also respected and understood the boys as individuals in their own right, and that isn’t always the case.
It was a home where one always felt welcomed and there would often be friends of the boys around, being fed or engaged in discussion with Carl, who also clearly felt at home. Generosity in every sense was a conspicuous feature of his character. A group of us would meet every so often to discuss the work of Manavodaya and think about how the lessons of community might be applied to where we live and it would always be Carl that hosted. It would be Carl also who would start our meetings with breathing and meditation exercises –displaying a physical subtlety well beyond my capabilities. He would be an equally generous and solicitous host to our book club meetings. What struck me most though was his generosity of spirit. One could see this in all sorts of ways from the way in which he really listened to people, to his openness and acceptance of a wide range of friends and acquaintances, respecting and valuing people for who they were. That’s not to say that he and I could be very good at playing ‘grumpy old men’ and there were times when he made me laugh so much that I’d still be laughing walking along the street at something he’d said.
A special example of his generosity stands out for me. A couple of months ago, I’d been ill and in hospital. I talked about this with Carl and he and Caroline unhesitatingly offered to chauffeur me to the hospital me if needs be. He’d be able to use the disabled sticker on his car and we wouldn’t incur the congestion charge, he said. My condition was reasonably serious but nothing of the magnitude and gravity that Carl was suffering, yet he had space in his mind and heart for a friend.
I wish I’d known him for longer and I will miss him.