The Look of Love

Most of the fundraising projects I work on are with destitute human rights foundations struggling for survival. Exterior events always seem to take place in the doldrums of winter on the streets of London, New York, Paris, Madrid or Den Haag which may sound glamorous but involves dripping tents, mobile blind spots, failing generators, obstreperous hecklers, scalding coffee and buckets of damp banknotes. Slightly more civilised are charity auctions (the rubber chicken circuit) in the Worshipful Guild of Cordwainers, or the Athenaeum Club, or the House of Lords where rich people happily gobble all the bubbly and trifle but fail to bid for anything. A nice change of pace then to be elevated to the Premier League and work with the University of Oxford helping them to beg for £1 billion plus. The Oxford Thinking campaign has been running for several years and broadcasts its success stories (establishing research projects, new college buildings, guaranteeing fellowships, founding scholarships and so on) to attract new donors. What really impresses is the University’s strategy of challenging experts from different disciplines to find counterintuitive solutions to intractable problems. Colliding different points of view interrupts habitual trains of thought and produces genuinely original solutions. I interviewed an amazing diversity of wizards in many Harry Potterish colleges (geologists, physicists, musicologists, sociologists, behaviourists, archivists and even performance artists), but the common objective to all is to develop practical applications that will make life a better place to live.

One of the most impressive projects is based in the Warneford Hospital, Headington where the Craniofacial Team of clinicians, scientists and psychologists is researching how parents relate to children born with cleft lips and palates. The condition varies in severity but causes difficulties with feeding, speaking, hearing and socialisation. Part of the process at Warneford is to show parents images of children with disfigurements and using sophisticated real-time digital imaging figure out how the neural patterns correlate with emotional reactions. Face to face contact and particularly the smile is the baby’s biggest communication with the parent, but many mums and dads can’t see past the problem. If you can break through the disappointment of giving birth to a baby with a cleft, parents can come to terms with it intellectually. Counsellors at the centre help parents understand what their baby is trying to communicate by guiding them – almost communicating on behalf of their baby – so the parent moves away from the internal preoccupation and looks for clues. Early and intensive intervention is absolutely essential. It can make an enormous difference, not just in the first few years but long into later life. Dr Tim Goodacre is the craniofacial surgeon on the team. “Understanding the neural side relieves the pressure to operate. The surgery isn’t the thing. It’s about what’s going on in the parent / child interaction, and how can we change that. What do we see when we look at a child with a facial abnormality? Our innate response is to stare. Our learned response is to turn away. We are interested in how these responses interfere with the baby’s development and how families deal with them. These early experiences exert a huge influence over the bond between parent and child. We work closely with families on many levels, but ultimately it’s about helping the children to help themselves.”



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