One thing of which I was proud as chairman of the Young Barristers' Committee in 2014 was providing a platform at the Young Bar Conference to a session on Wellbeing at the Bar. A survey was conducted in October quizzing barristers about the their working lives and levels of stress. Over 2,500 members of the profession responded providing the Bar Council with a broad and clear and detailed view of what is going on in barristers' lives. There will be a session at this year's Bar Conference and a seminar on managing stress is being conducted by the YBC later this summer.
At the Bar Council meeting held this morning Robin Allen Q.C. provided a snapshot of the results of that survey and sadly but not surprisingly some of the responses illuminated the real despair some of our colleagues feel. I am extremely pleased that the Bar Council is taking seriously the peril of stress and anxiety within the profession. Other major institutions and companies have long been alive to the virtue of Mindfulness within the workplace and the importance of making available really effective and accessible pastoral care to employees and its about time the Bar Council followed suit.
Robin spoke of a concept the name of which I had not heard before but which which will be immediately recognisable and that is Cognitive Renewal. Every barrister knows that this is no nine to five job and that anxieties about cases can easily pervade every waking, and when things are really bad, sleeping moment. Furthermore no clerk in history ever suggested to a barrister that perhaps the time was ripe for them to take a holiday and yet it is only through a proper detachment from court, chambers and the papers that a beleaguered whirring brain can be properly nourished, calmed and restored.
That being said in our day to day lives there are so many things that we can do that provide even an essential moment's release from Bar fatigue. You may have all manner of activities and mechanisms in your own life which fulfil this purpose and, for the avoidance of doubt, I am obviously not talking about alcohol.
For me that escape is swimming. Not ploughing relentlessly up and down in some chlorinated roped off pool and certainly not neoprene wrapped triathleting but just being in water outdoors under the sun, the sky, the rain and the clouds; in and of nature. I prefer to do this in the Serpentine (above at sunset) where membership of the Serpentine Swimming Club is £20 per year or the princely sum of 5 pence per day. It is open to all, the facilities are almost non-existent, there is a unisex windowless changing room about the size of a beach hut, the showers are cold, the water is (obviously) unheated and untreated and yet it is paradise to all who swim in it. And they know it too.
Even in Winter...
Hampstead Heath's three swimming ponds have forever been the North Londoner's favoured alternative to the Serpentine and South London has long enjoyed England's largest freshwater pool at Tooting Bec Lido.
However for those of us for whom aquatic angst annihilation provides an essential release London is on the brink of leading a world beating swimming revolution. Within days the King's Cross Pond Club will be fully open to the public and I was fortunate enough to sample its delights at its grand opening on Friday evening. Harassed commuters swarming on and off their sardine cans at St. Pancras and King's Cross now have on their doorstep an idyllic hillock based oasis cleaned naturally by reedbeds. It has been evocatively described by Jenny Landreth in her Guardian review, a review because not only is it a swimming pond it is also a work of art!
Most excitingly of all though is the prospect of being able to saunter out of the Embankment gates of the Temple in swimming trunks and have within yards the Thames' first swimming pool. An inspired trio of young men are looking to construct, just meters upstream of Thomas Heatherwick's Garden Bridge, a floating lido of filtered, heated Thames water. On 22nd May a Kickstarter campaign to raise £125,000 towards the Thames Baths closes and you can help them over the finish line here.
Whatever your escape is make time for it, never give it up and lifelong wellbeing will be your reward. And very cold feet.