A Farewell – Part 4 Exciting Years


I had my exit interview yesterday.  It was a strange thing.  But it brought back so many memories and made me recollect how much I used to love my job.

Moving to the central team did bring change.  It was a move to the County Council.  There were more rules, more conformity, less improvisation, more hoops to jump through.  But I enjoyed the years from 2006 to 2016.  These were the years where I had a very varied role.  I was involved in strategic, operational planning.  2016 onwards was just about data, data and more data.  The previous 10 years were much more fulfilling.  One of the highlights was managing the Wealden Community Development Workers – a dedicated and diverse set of people.  Also running workshops on how to do evaluations – I met some truly fabulous people.  And the Ofsteds – about 24 of them.  My team were always heavily involved – late nights, stress and anxiety.  We ran on cake, coffee and pure adrenaline.  We had one fabulous inspector several times who was tough – but he taught us so much. And then there was the Ofsted Inspector who was more concerned about his own agenda  – I had to make an official complaint during his inspection – that was tough.  But we all pulled together as a team.  The energy of everyone involved was incredible.  We were all so determined to do well.   The day we got “Outstanding”….  well words still do not describe it.

And my team…  three amazing people.  So dedicated.  So interesting.  I loved managing them.

Mixed into all of that were the restructures.  We had to save money.  I managed to cling onto my job somehow – although it became more and more restrictive and involved a paycut.  Times of trauma and upheaval. We lost some excellent people because the whole thing was about the job role rather than the capabilities of the people.

The last two years have been hard.  I have been hemmed in by data and have often felt the pressure to skew it to make things look better than they are.  I have never given into it but it did not make for an easy life.  I cannot blame people for that – they were just trying to protect their job, the services they offer and the families they serve.

Three more days to go…


A Farewell – Part 3 Getting the job!


In the November / December of 2004, a job came up at Eastbourne SureStart (is it one word ore two?  I never could work it out!).   It was a job that I knew that I could do.  It was as a Reseacher / Evaluator looking to see if the programme was making an impact on the families.  In those early years, a lot of time, money and resources were put into looking at the impact of the programme; both nationally and locally.   It was really difficult to prove an impact as the work was preventative so no one truly knew what would happen without the interventions and, just to make the job harder, any results would not show up for many years.  Anyway, the job came up and I applied and was offered an interview…

Now, at this point, I should mention that I had done loads of interviews in the past.  A two day round of interviews for my job at Equitable life involving presentations, group interviews, psychoanalytical tests, numeracy and logic tests etc etc.  A gruelling set of interviews for teaching jobs – the first time I taught a secondary school class was in an interview for a job as an Information Technology Teacher at a secondary school.  I had done my fair share of interviews.  But my self esteem was low.  I had been in pain for months.  I had had a baby.  I had been out of the job market for 18 months.  And the offer of an interview came through – I had to do a presentation.  I almost turned it down.  It was a close call.

Yes – I almost didn’t go for that interview.  I was so scared of the presentation.  I remember getting the letter, crying and then putting Callie into a pushchair and going for a long walk. I gave myself a good talking to.  By the time I returned I had decided to go for it.

Over the next week or two I prepped for the interview.  It was the days of projectors and laminates.  I drew up the laminates.   I practised my presentation over and over again with a borrowed projector.  I rehearsed it in my head as I went about my daily life.  Never had a presentation been so rehearsed.

So I got the job.  Researcher / Evaluator at Eastbourne Sure Start.   I can still remember the excitement.  I was so happy to have got a job with people who had helped me so much in an organisation which did so much good.

I loved that job.  The team was so fantastic to work with – and everyone just mucked in and did what they needed to do to help the families.  There was no “that isn’t my job”, “you are stepping on my toes”.  Everyone just worked together.  It resulted in such a rich and varied working environment.  I loved doing evaluation, trying different ways of measuring impact.  I enjoyed talking with parents.  Writing the reports was just my cup of tea.  But I did much more than that.  I helped in the groups when needed, sometimes running the singing sessions at the end; I ran a group myself for a while; I helped run the parent forums.; I helped at a Dad’s group in Hailsham on a Saturday morning.  It was a lovely, enriching time.  New Children’s Centres were opened.  Dora the explorer came and visited Willingdon Trees Children’s Centre with her sidekick, Boots.  New services and activities were constantly being introduced as the needs of the families became apparent.

I worked at Eastbourne Sure Start until April 2006.  I did take 3 months out when I had Lexie.  Lexie was introduced to Sure Start at a very early age.  I took her to groups when she was just a couple of weeks old.  I wasn’t really away for those 3 months I must admit.

Then in April 2006 Sure Start became Children’s Centres and I joined the East Sussex Children’s Centres central team.  I was sorry to leave the Eastbourne team but I was ready to move on.  So began 13 years of surviving restructures (just), differing job titles and Ofsteds.

A Farewell – Part Two The Early days

So the coffee morning was my first contact with Sure Start.  The number of services and activities available to families grew in the next few months / years.  Drop in groups – Pop in & Play, Music Groups, Messy Play.  Training courses with creches running alongside – Parenting, First Aid, Back to work, Story Sacks.  There were groups for Dads often held on Saturday mornings.  Grandparent groups… So many activities for families.  There were services for those with more specific problems – Family Outreach Service (FOS later to become the Keywork Service).  A Dietician, Midwife, Dentist and assistant, Librarian (sorry Deborah, I cannot remember your title!).  So many excellent services provided by dedicated staff.  I attended as many as I possibly could (sorry, not sorry).  These services became my lifeline.  I made so many friends and learned so much.  I made story sacks – one of which included a knitted giant, pink Stegasaurus.  Callie benefited enormously making friends (children and adults), developing her social skills.  She just had fun.  My back slowly got better but in the days when it was playing up, there was always someone to help.

One of the most valuable aspects of those early days was that services were founded and adapted to ft the needs of the local community.  Local organisations were involved in the decision making as were parents.  I spent many an happy hour in Parents Forum  and Local Programme meetings.  This all meant that the services in Eastbourne were different to those in Hastings or Lewes – because the needs were, and still are, different.  The services in Eastbourne Town Centre were different from those in Willingdon Trees.  The whole context of the local community was taken into account – transport, deprivation, existing services, employment….

Eventually, before the days of the 12 week volunteer training course, I became a volunteer.  I worked with a lovely friend running a fruit and veg store at the Pop in and Play session on a Friday morning at Willingdon Trees.  Hence the lead picture.  Clare would meet a fruit and veg supplier early on a Friday morning and would buy a pile of fruit and vegetables – whatever he had.  We would then make up mixed bags and sell them to the families attending the session.  We supplied cooking directions and recipes.  Great fun 🙂

So that was my life until December 2004 when I applied for a job at Eastbourne Sure Start as Researcher / Evaluator….

A farewell – Part 1 My first contact with Sure Start


Two weeks today is a big day for me. It is my last day working for East Sussex Health Visiting and Children’s Centres.  I have been immersed in Children’s Centres for over 15 years.  A long time.  On my first encounter, my eldest daughter Callie was a few months old and Lexie wasn’t yet thought of!  My last day will be the same day as Callie’s prom.  A long time indeed.  So I thought that I would take a look back at my time there. I will break it down into small sections – as usual I have a lot to say!

It was Eastbourne Sure Start back in those days. The Sure Start programme was amazing. It provided much needed help and support to families with children under 5. In the early days, it only served families living in the most deprived postcode areas. I always saw this as a bit of a problem because we all know that your postcode / money situation doesn’t always equate to the number or depth of problems you experience. But that changed over the years so that any family with a child under 5 could get help and support when needed. But not only that – there were provided with top quality play groups (Often called Pop in & Plays) where families could meet up, experience excellent quality play and create much needed networks of friends. At these free, open to everyone sessions, parents had the chance to talk to highly qualified, skilled, kind, supportive practitioners; this led to problems, worries and niggles being picked up and sorted before they became deeply rooted and damaging.

So on to my story.  When my daughter, Callie, was around 6 months old I managed to get to a coffee morning put on by Eastbourne Sure Start.  It was one of their first services, the first in the area where I lived anyway.  I said “managed”.  This word does not quite convey the painful struggle I had to get my baby dressed and into the push chair to go for the short walk across to the community centre.  During Callie’s delivery I had slipped a disc (my second. The first had resulted in an operation to remove part of a disc. The op has a fancy name which I can never remember!). I had been in all sorts of pain ever since.  For months I could barely pick up my little girl.  I had been taken into hospital, had the doctor out giving me morphine injections etc etc.  I was very good at fooling the Health Visitor into thinking that I was coping ok and I was actually as ok as I could be.  I did get through it but thank goodness for Callie’s Dad who definitely stepped up to the plate and looked after us both whilst still working full time.  But despite my natural resilience and stubbornness, Andy’s help and the support of friends, I was feeling pretty rubbish.    I can truly say that that activity with the unassuming name of “coffee morning” changed my life.

As soon as I stepped through the doors of the community centre I was greeted with warmth.  The lovely Community Development Worker (CDW), Clare, sat me down and gave me a much needed cup of coffee.  She gently took Callie out of her push chair and put her on the floor with some toys.  I was soon happy and relaxed chatting to other parents and staff.  Callie was her giggly self. (She is going to hate me if she reads this – sorry, Callie!)

Before I go on – I should say that the focus of these drop in services later changed.  First of all, before anyone runs around shrieking, I should stress that it was all handled very safely.  There was no danger of any baby or toddler being scalded by hot drinks.  Just to make that clear!  A while after, hot drinks were not served at these drop in sessions.  Secondly – I said that Callie was set on the floor whilst I sat on a chair.  In fact all of the mothers sat around on chairs whilst their babies and toddlers played on their own, together and with the practitioners.  That all changed later when the drop in sessions became Pop In & Play sessions.  The chairs were taken away and the focus became on parents playing with their children; lots of time, thought, knowledge and experience was put into making sure that these sessions were of the utmost benefit to the families.  But, in the early days they were coffee mornings.   And – I am sure that I am going to upset a few people here – I believe that they had their place.  For many stressed out mums, dads, grandparents, carers (including myself) that cup of tea, coffee was the first and probably only one we drank hot for the entire day.  At home, most of my cups of coffee were left cold and half drunk on the side.  Also -myself and many other parents needed – yes needed – some time just to chat with other parents.  Most of us spent 90% of our time playing, feeding, changing and thinking about our precious children.  We needed a little bit of time to talk with adults, to get our sanity back a little.  Well, I did anyway.

Another thing I feel the need to say (and it’s my blog so I will!) is that, on the surface, I did not look like the type of mum that needed the help of an organisation like Sure Start.  I was married.  My husband had a good job. We owned a nice house with a garden.  I had the qualifications and experience to return to a good career when Callie was older.  But I definitely needed help and support which I got.  That’s why Sure Start was amazing – even though I didn’t tick the boxes I got the support that I needed.

So that was my first contact with Sure Start.