MGC 1975 Leaver
Without role models, teaching seemed the only route to combine motherhood and work in 1979. I loved teaching History and helping young people (especially the troubled and challenging) but the school was bent on rules and limiting ambition. I joined an Education Authority, eventually becoming Assistant Director of Children’s Services; again those pesky, bolshie youngsters. The 90s introduced league tables and targets: more measuring, less doing. Innovation & intuition disappeared. ‘Your compliance is non-negotiable’ I was told.
So in 2003, with 2 young daughters, I sought a haven somewhere tiny & freer, becoming the first Director of the Personal Support Unit, a new charity for people without lawyers in the Civil and Family courts. It had helped 150 clients. Starting with £20k, one room and 10 volunteers in the Royal Courts of Justice, I flourished and so did they. Sparse legal aid meant litigants on low incomes (often vulnerable) floundered in our procedure-bound courts. After 25 years of battling bureaucracy, I knew which rules and regulations you could safely do without. Volunteers, either retired (or bored of being bossed), and trainee barristers (not yet cynical), required little management; were appreciative of leadership; and arrived at our door in droves and stayed. The judiciary, especially the very senior, understood us and lent help and soon ministers, civil servants, law schools and the legal profession joined in. We grew. By 2014, we had Units in all major court sites in 15 cities across England and Wales, 700+ volunteers, 40,000 clients a year, and we were a winner of The Guardian’s Charity of the Year.
I knew I had to quit soon after, as bureaucracy loomed again. I now combine everything I learnt, loved and loathed of the above as Vice Chair of a special school for teenagers who need loads of extra help due to difficult beginnings.
What does success look like?
Success will change its appearance and definition throughout your life; never give up looking for it in everything you or others do, and celebrate it regularly.
What is your best piece of advice?
Take more risks; seek and act on praise and criticism, and tell someone what you admire in them every day.