I was talking to Jo Hunt, an Occupational therapist in her first year of work. For any new recruit, it’s an exhilarating time but also a stressful one, so I asked Jo a question, “What helps?” Her reply surprised me, a single word that I didn’t see coming. That word was, “Penguins”. I’m going to say that again, just in case you didn’t catch it the first time, “Penguins”.

Jo explained that in the wild, penguins huddle together for warmth, to protect themselves against the bleak Arctic weather. The heat generated from the group spirals upwards, creating more warmth than any lone penguin could create. However, this causes a problem: while the penguins at the centre of the huddle feel cosy, the ones at the edge get a bum deal, battered, buffered and bitten by the ice-cold wind.

To combat this, the huddle rotates, so that every penguin has it’s time at the core, feeling fully nurtured before returning to the cold outer wall. It is a wonderful system that puts the good of the team before hierarchy, ego or individual agenda.

Jo speaks from her YR1 one experiences, “In my mind, the analogy of the penguins illustrates that it’s not as individual as it might feel; that any one of us may need to take a turn in the middle of the huddle. It somehow offers permission to speak up – it becomes a shared thing, not yours or mine, not all the time, but a turn of the wheel for us all.”

“That”, according to Jo, “is what helps”. It was such an articulate description of wellbeing that I found myself lost for words, a rare moment, some would say.

Jo was right, we can learn a lot from penguins.

Written by Jo Hunt and Rob Young.

This project is funded by the Elizabeth Casson Trust. If you’d like to learn more about the project you can do so via this link and the team behind it here

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Painting by Jo Hunt