How and why Stuart and Kevin were no April Fools in Future Directions’ most celebrated streamed sessions

“We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.”

An Inspector Calls, J.B. Priestley (1894 – 1984)

John Boynton Priestley could have preempted the arrival of Kevin Phoenix’s song Stronger Together. His quote from An Inspector Calls is in simple form, our need to be one happy family. He may well be looking to our time on Earth, the planet that Professor Carl Sagan called “the pale blue dot”.

The One Happy Family described in Phoenix’s song is true of how Future Directions roll. That of the five values (Be Adaptable, Be Transparent, Be Creative, Put People First and Go The Extra Mile). Fun Time Friday is its most public face, so much so it has had potential employees thinking ‘hey, I want to work there’.

Since October 2021, Kevin and Stuart (yes, that Stuart of East of the M60 fame) has taken Fun Time Friday out on the road. As well as Stanley Grange, this has meant other houses managed by Future Directions – in Altrincham, Chadderton, Accrington and Newton Heath. This has tested the adaptability of our Music Man and his fellow accomplice, Stuart. He says:

At first we dabbled with earlier time slots. Though the idea of Daisy Daisy with tea and toast or Weetabix seemed good on paper, the reality was different. It interfered with the household’s morning routines too much and this had an effect on viewing figures. It was demanding for both myself and Kevin – on a sensory level and logistical level. Especially for some of the more distant venues, which affected our ability to set up the stage in good time.

By January 2022, Fun Time Friday became a fortnightly session. This caused some confusion with the houses – especially in remembering what week Kevin and Stuart were on, affecting other activities enjoyed by supported persons. Thankfully, the traditional 1.30 pm time slot was back but there was something missing: viewers.

In the first three months of 2022, there was more things to do compared with the first three months of 2021. Two things were suggested: one by Future Directions’ M.D. Paula, with the other suggestion by yours truly.

Paula suggested that I should ring around the houses to remind them that Fun Time Friday was on this week. This role had had been done by the receptionist at Marle House [FD’s HQ]. The impact from my phone bank was immediate: one was that live viewing figures went back to levels seen in the January 2021 lockdown. The second reason was that it gave the houses a direct link with the Fun Time Friday cast – akin to Ken Bruce saying “would you like to be on Popmaster?“.

Later, Stuart suggested that the weekly sessions should be reinstated. Fortnightly sessions were found to be confusing and left bigger gaps if either Kevin or Stuart took annual leave. Stuart’s reason was inspired by personal experience of using deregulated bus routes. He says:

Imagine being loyal to your local bus route when it was every 15 minutes. A few years on, it gets cut to an half hourly frequency to address rising fuel costs, staff shortages or to increase its profitability. Somehow, it becomes the start of a downward spiral: fewer people get the route because of its frequency cuts. It is cut again to hourly before seeing a change of route. Passengers lose faith completely and turn to other means of transport, so the route gets withdrawn or put out to tender to another operator.

In the long term, Stuart thought fortnightly Fun Time Friday sessions would be less popular, making Future Directions’ flagship streamed sessions seem unloved. He thought viewers would get out of the habit of watching Kevin and Stuart at 1.30 pm.

This April, the changes have paid off. Stuart’s phone bank worked wonders for his personal popularity as well as raising the profile of Fun Time Friday. Summing up his month on Facebook:

What can I say about April 2022. Work wise, it has been nothing short of epic, bringing joy to hundreds – maybe thousands of people – in my job. Whether dressed as Wally or in my usual clothes. Whether dancing as an ostrich on screen or reciting a self-penned five minute speech that makes people laugh and cry in equal measure…

The success of Fun Time Friday goes beyond Superman and the guitar playing of our Music Man, Kevin. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff like snazzy new outfits and backdrops; running orders and reports of each session; getting houses booked for future sessions. It is also about praising Future Directions’ values-driven staff as well as starting the weekend in style.

Four Weeks That Shook Our Facebook Page

1st April 2022, Chadderton

After being at Stanley Grange for most of his time as Music and Creative Activities Lead, the 1st April marked Kevin’s first day at Marle House. The upside for him is a much shorter commute.

The first session of April 2022 took place at FD HQ, drastically cutting the turnaround time in getting our equipment to our required venue. This meant the backdrop and all associated equipment being moved a few yards away from the Training Room to the Conference Room.

Taking a starring role in this session were Future Directions’ HR and Finance Teams, giving us the message that Finance Is Fun. Investment in new costumes paid off with excellent feedback from viewers on the live feed.

That week’s session also commemorated World Autism Acceptance Week. There was singing from Maz, one of the people supported by Future Directions in Chadderton.

8th April 2022, Altrincham

April’s trip was more fruitful than a previous excursion in January 2022. At that session, yours truly left his laptop there, causing much consternation for the best part of a few days. With Stuart being familiar with the surroundings, the going was easy. The weather was good, and the people supported in Altrincham really enjoyed the session. They took part in the dancing and wore the fancy dress costumes.

For this session, it was another airing for the rainforest backdrop – only without the World Autism Acceptance Week banner. Kevin and Stuart left Marle House at about 11 am, with agreeable traffic conditions on the M60. After the session, they enjoyed the good weather with a late lunch in Denzell Gardens before heading back to Marle House.

15th April 2022, Stanley Grange

With the 15th April being Good Friday, this meant Fun Time Friday would fall on a Bank Holiday. If they wished, Fun Time Friday could have had an Easter break.

As Stuart had had rang some of the houses in advance of a 15th April session, he decided against its postponement. There was two birthdays to be considered, with one of the supported persons interested in making the trip to Stanley Grange. As part of Fun Time Friday, Kevin gets out his guitar to play Happy Birthday with the small audience at each venue singing along. As the very first Fun Time Friday fell on Good Friday, Stuart thought “there’s no reason why this year’s Good Friday session should be an exception”, so he stuck to his guns and it paid off.

The day was more leisurely; for Stuart this meant Sunday Services on the buses and being at Stanley Grange a little later. With his first bus to Ashton not arriving till 0915, he walked to Stalybridge station for a Manchester Piccadilly train – one that connected with his usual 0801 journey to Preston.

Instead he took the posh train: the Transpennine Express to Edinburgh, meaning a slower walk along Fishergate to the bus station, and sat with two women en route to Dundee. At the Preston end, his first bus to Hoghton Post Office wasn’t till 1000. This meant a modest stay at Preston’s second most iconic bus terminus, The Twelve Tellers.

Before getting my 152 Hotline to Hoghton Post Office, I popped into one of two of Preston’s ‘Spoons houses for a sausage and egg muffin and a mug of tea. £3.05 for a muffin and unlimited tea (bargain!) – slightly dearer than £2.70 at Tim Horton in Altrincham (before a Fun Time Friday in January) but a great ‘Spoons. The free WiFi was a boon for creating the playlist.

With its superior interior and better sausage meat, it was a case of Tim Martin 1, Tim Horton 0 in The S.V. Clash of the Sausage and Egg Muffins. The Horton hash brown nearly made it 1 – 1, but a VAR decision ruled in favour of Mr Spoons. At Stanley Grange, Stuart worked his magic on the Fun Time Friday Phone Bank before setting up the backdrop. There was strong support from the Lancashire Team who brought four people supported by Future Directions to Stanley Grange. One of them was Emily – celebrating her birthday the following Monday – who danced with Stuart in the Good Friday session.

The session was a real success. It opened with Irish harmonica music by Paul, one of the people supported at Stanley Grange. This was well received on the Facebook live stream, with some suggesting there should be a duet with Paul and Paula. This was followed by the usual cheesy music and the return of Stuart’s ostrich costume. The ostrich’s Easter return, and Stuart’s dancing with Emily also got a great response.

Other highlights of that session included Emily’s singing of The Wonder of You and a most memorable finale speech by Stuart. A speech that Kevin thought was the greatest he had ever heard! There was also a duet of Kevin’s Stronger Together song with Emily and Stuart.

42 minutes later, Kevin and Stuart buzzed off one of the most amazing Fun Time Friday sessions. Over two years since the first one. For Stuart:

Of the Fun Time Friday sessions I have done, this is by far one of the greatest I have ever done. I was well and truly buzzing for days.

22nd April 2022, Offerton

In the last two years, Fun Time Friday has gained a fan base from Chadderton to America. One of Fun Time Friday’s biggest fans is Ashley, a person supported by Future Directions in Offerton. As part of getting the Fun Time Friday sessions on the road, Stuart and Kevin make sure that every part of Future Directions’ footprint is covered. For the second time this year, the Fun Time Friday team went to Offerton.

In all, the session went well. The M60 was on its best behaviour and Kevin remembered his Roy Lichtenstein style suit. There was two spanners in the works: Stuart forgot the Where’s Wally? costume, and dressed as a pizza. Whilst Kevin got changed, two people and their carers arrived from other parts of Stockport to the Offerton session.

Despite the small stage, it was a fun session where the staff and the people supported danced and played musical instruments.

29th April 2022, Stanley Grange

With Stanley Grange being busy, there was nearly going to be no Fun Time Friday session. The Community Association that work with Future Directions secured a spot on Tool Club, the Beezr Productions and Spark North television series for Channel Four that will be on our screens soon. The highlight of that Friday was the unveiling of their new look allotment and the associated filming session for their episodes.

As the filming was later on in the afternoon, a proposed disco was postponed. This meant Fun Time Friday was back on track. Stuart, to his joy, found out about this on an Oldham bound 81 bus in Werneth on Thursday evening.

By Friday, Stuart and Kevin set off from Marle House with a tighter schedule than usual. With part of the Community Room being used for a meeting, this left Stuart and Kevin with less time than normal to set up equipment. Thankfully, the backdrop was put up in good time, but there was one technical problem. The usual iPad only had 14% battery left. Luckily, there was another iPad in close proximity to the two Fun Time Friday members: Stuart’s iPad. This time with 88% battery life.

By 1.35 pm, it was business as usual. The Fun Times were back with a healthy representation of supported persons from Stanley Grange. Paul’s harmonica playing was a real highlight as was Jackie and Paula’s dance steps to Superman.

After the filming session, Kevin and Stuart made their way back to Marle House, managing to arrive in good time for the caretaker. Later, Stuart managed to get the last 343 out of Stalybridge bus station.

If you liked this article…

Fun Time Friday is aired on the Future Directions CIC Facebook page each Friday at 1.30pm (UK time). To tune in, give the Future Directions Facebook page a ‘like’. Then before each session, put the kettle on, sit back, relax and dance away once The Music Man (or this ratbag – or a special guest) opens each session.

What’s more, you can watch the videos in your own time on the Future Directions Facebook page. Which is several times better than the usual soaps and game shows.

S.V., 30 April 2022.

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