Childminding UK Networking Event   Leave a comment

Childminding UK Networking Event  –  11th May 2019

 

Preamble

Childminding UK is a fairly new organisation in its own right but actually has been developed from an older organisation – Northamptonshire Childminding Association (NCA). You can read all about them by clicking this link https://childmindinguk.com/about-us

As a fairly well known childminding advocate, I had communicated with some members and staff of NCA via social media and email before but was not really involved with them. Through communication I was invited as a guest of honour to attend their 2014 AGM and conference. You can read about my experience of that AGM here https://pennysplacechildminding.com/2014/10/01/northamptonshire-childminding-association-agm-and-conference-2014/

Roll forward a few years and because I kept in touch with NCA I was aware that their funding was ending and so could not continue in their current format. Meanwhile my well documented personal journey meant I was exploring new ways of volunteering and found myself in communication with Childminding UK and meeting with them at a motorway service station to chat about how I could volunteer for them. It was agreed that I would mainly volunteer from my chair at home by writing newsletter articles and discussing things via email. However we also discussed an idea for Childminding UK to put on a network event in Birmingham with the aim to spread information about Childminding UK and to explore how to involve more volunteers from across the country. At first the aim was that I would attend this networking event, but after a few weeks of planning, I was asked if I would speak about volunteering at the event – and I said YES.

In fact despite having a British Empire Medal for my volunteering in Children’s Services – Childminding UK are the only organisation – local or national, who have asked me to speak about volunteering.

So on Friday 10th May 2019 I made my journey to Birmingham all on my own but with support from Garry in getting to my home station and on to the train. I checked into the Premier Inn (somewhere I have stayed before), and settled into my ‘accessible room’. To make this journey had involved lots of planning, most of which worked out, although the idea that I would break the walk from Snowshill station to the hotel (due to my physical difficulties) did not go quite to plan due to the planned stop at the Costa near the entrance to Snowshill having had a move around of tables and chairs since my last visit making a stop there impossible for me. I plan to write a separate blog at some point in the future about my experiences as a disabled person.

I had my evening meal in the hotel which I had pre booked,( having learnt from my last independent trip to London where things became ‘messy’ and my friend Laura Henry stepped in to support me). After my meal I retired to the bar area for a coffee to await the arrival of members of Childminding UK who were staying in same hotel. At this point I heard my name being called and there was Jackie, a colleague who I had met at various events over the years, and who was also going to attend the networking event as a non-member to find out more. We chatted about various things until our colleagues from Childminding UK arrived.

My colleagues all needed to eat and so booked into the hotel’s restaurant. As I had already eaten I just joined them at their table and had a drink. We chatted freely for over an hour, and then I was surprised by the giving of a belated birthday gift (belated because the first time we had met since my birthday). I was completely surprised and impressed with the reasons why they had given me ‘a tree of life’ necklace.

Shortly afterwards I excused myself and headed to bed, the journey had tired me out, and I knew the next day would be equally, if not more tiring.

 

The Networking Event

After breakfast I checked out, and as arranged met my colleagues Anita, Hayley and Aimee outside the hotel for the walk to the venue for the event. Hayley carried my bags and was very supportive especially on the hilly bit of the walk (just slopes really but difficult for me). I was told afterwards by Aimee that I need to stop making way for others (I did get off the path and walking on the road – which is an easy thing for more able people to do, but difficult for me) as others should make way for me. Aimee is right of course but old habits are hard to break. I will continue with my thoughts on this in my future blog about being a disabled person.

Once at the venue (which I am familiar with having held 2 events myself at the venue – although in a different room) I exchanged hugs with Childminding UK staff, and was introduced to their new member of staff who will be starting work next month. Cheryl will be a great help in the team because as a new but growing organisation there is lots to do and many future plans. The current staff team of Elaine, Tina and Cat (who are not full time) have to do everything themselves. I look forward to working with the extended Childminding UK team.

I was well looked after from arrival to close of the event, with colleagues ensuring I had refreshments, carrying plates and cups for me. A special mention goes to Hayley who ‘popped out’ and purchased some caffeine free soft drinks for me.

The room was beginning to fill up and I saw people I knew well, some I only knew from social media and some new people. One of the disadvantages of using a rollator at such events is the difficulties of moving round the room due to tables and chairs – and so I had to wait for people to come to my table to speak to me – which means I did not do as much networking as I may have done without my rollator. Looking at name labels (and chatting to Elaine) it was very pleasing to see that the aim of engaging with childminders from across the country had worked, with at least 6 LA areas being represented.

Elaine welcomed as all as she started the event, there were introductions to staff, committee members and speakers, plus of course an outline of the day. Members then took a vote to formally move away from the name Northamptonshire Childminding Association to Childminding UK – which is already registered as a charity in its own right. So really just a necessary legality. The vote was passed and so moving forward everything will be linked to Childminding UK.

The first speaker was Neil Griffiths – who is Patron of Childminding UK and an advocate of childminders. I had heard Neil speak once before but it was a very long time ago, and I am very aware of ‘Story Sacks’ having brought one or two but also developed my own when I ran a childminding setting. Neil recalled lots of stories from the days when he worked as a head teacher in schools, and from more recent days of visiting schools and nurseries. He also mention all the important things he thought childminders should support the children in their care to develop, and how they can do it. I was pleased to note that being ‘ready for school’ and early literacy and numeracy were not on Neil’s list. I am not going to tell you all about Neil’s presentation but will recommend that if you have opportunity to hear him speak – to do so. In the meantime if you want to read about Neil, you can do so via this link https://cornertolearn.co.uk/about-neil/

 

It was then time for a coffee break, and I was delighted that June O’Sullivan who was speaking after coffee took the time to come over and chat to me. I have known June for a number of years and we have both been involved with the Ofsted Big Conversation since the beginning. These days I attend the West Midlands ones when I can, but June is still very involved with the organisation of the London ones. Others joined in with the discussions but for me it was just good to catch up with June.

June’s presentation was about the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF) but included a lot about pedagogy from a childminders perspective and how there is not one right view, it is more a case of deciding what is right for you and your setting – and then taking ownership of it. June linked all of this to the new Ofsted ‘buzz words’ of Cultural Capital and to use of language, art and creativity (and much more). June also had a similar view to myself and the first speaker Neil Griffiths about early years and what is really important.

If you want to find out a bit more about June’s views I recommend you take a look at this page as mentions June’s blog, and has links to recent blogs including one about Cultural Capital. I recommend that you sign up to receive June’s blogs straight to your in box. https://www.leyf.org.uk/junes-blog/

 

After June’s presentation there was a short session led by Tina on gathering the views of those in the room – both members and non-members about the way forward for Childminding UK. I personally think it is so important that organisations take time to listen to views of members, and to explore what non-members would like to see. I know that at least one person in room signed up to become a member, and that others were exploring ways to work in partnership.

 

Some readers may be wondering why I am promoting Childminding UK when I already support other membership organisations. It is simple, I believe everyone should work together on the points we all think are important. I do not see any conflict of interest in supporting (being a member of, or volunteering for) more than one organisation. Of course I would not dream of sharing confidential information shared with me, and I understand each organisation needs to have its own Unique Selling Points … but I think we could all do a lot more to work together and to put self or organisational interests lower down the list of priorities.

 

By now it is lunchtime and opportunity for networking and looking at things on sale. I did have a quick look at the items available – and could see there were some bargains to be had. However, as I was travelling by train and could not managing anymore bags on my own, I had to be strong and resist temptation. As already mentioned everyone was very supportive, and so my lunch and a drink were collected and put on my table (and Hayley ‘popped out’ for more decaf drinks for me ready for the afternoon session).

 

I have to admit that by this point I was flagging and in pain. I had already had extra morphine at coffee time, and really needed some more BUT I did not want to risk a ‘foggy’ brain (or falling asleep) as I was due to speak straight after lunch, so I pushed myself through the pain (something I would regret later). I spoke to several people, and then my friend Sally came over to speak to me. I think it was because I know Sally so well, that my professional front slipped – and I ‘lost it’. I had been speaking to Sally about my fear that I just can’t do ‘this’ anymore and that the toll on me is too much. I also had had email notification that morning that my Pennysplacechildminding blogsite would be closed in July, which although I now have another free to run blogsite, indicated another end of an era. I knew I needed to make several important decisions about forth coming events, so I could let people know in good time – and if I am honest really I knew the decision that I would come too, once I let my sensible head overrule my heart. Anyway, I cried because it was not what I wanted to be deciding. Sally comforted me without making a fuss or drama, and just gave me to the time to compose myself – which is what I needed. As I say, I know Sally well – and she knows me well.

 

Before I knew it Elaine was asking me if I was ready. We agreed she would operate the laptop and change the slides of my presentation, and I would sit to the side on my rollator with my notes on the table next to me.

I know I went way over time, but I had things I wanted to say – not just about the subject of my presentation which was ‘The Unexpected Benefits of volunteering’ but also about my life story because after my lunch time reflections and bit of a breakdown, I knew this might be the last time I spoke at an event – if not for ever, at least for the foreseeable future. I had asked Elaine to tell me if I ran over, but she let me finish in my own good time, maybe she sense that this was important to me, maybe she was just grateful that I was given my time as a volunteer. Anyway I think my presentation went down well from the response in the room, and the number of people who thanked me at the next coffee break.

I must acknowledge here (and it was part of my presentation) how very grateful I am to Childminding UK for helping me overcome my personal barriers so I can keep volunteering. I am not sure what the future holds in terms of my volunteering, it will have to be different and I will have to explore ways in which I can volunteer and support others. Volunteering is part of who I am, and I have been a formal volunteer in one way or another for 37 years now. I cannot imagine not volunteering, any more than I can imagine not being part of the early years sector.

 

I am sort of hoping that by being honest with everyone that people may come up with suggestions as to how I can continue to make a difference.

 

After my presentation there was a session on Childminding Champions for Childminding UK, and how members could support the organisation, what it might look like, what training would be needed, how we would know the impact and so on. There was a fair bit of discussion and some ideas put forward. I hope that people will reflect over the coming weeks, share their ideas and be proactive in supporting Childminding UK in whatever way they can.

 

There was a free raffle with some lovely prizes – I didn’t win, but given the difficulty this would have caused with getting any prize home, I am pleased I did not win.

 

It was time for fond farewells (and sadly I did not get to say bye to everyone). I had intended on going back to the hotel with close colleagues for drinks and more networking, but this would have meant a walk in the wrong direction (away from the station) and would have tired me even more, I decided I should head home.

Aimee and Hayley walked me to the station at my pace, ensure I got a ticket, and arrange for assistance to get me on the train. All of which worked well. Thank you ladies – as you will have noted I was struggling by that point – but putting on a brave face.

 

Postscript

By the time I got home, I did not know what to do with myself, I took more morphine, and sat with my hot water bottle (a tried and tested pain relief method) and felt sorry for myself – not because I was in pain but because I knew the decisions I needed to make about the future. After a dreadful night of pain, and difficulty moving caused by pushing myself too much, I contacted various people in the morning to let them know that reluctantly and with huge disappointment I would not be attending somethings over the coming months.

 

I do have a trip to London planned for the end of May which I will do, as booked and paid for (and with friends supporting me with some costs) but that will be my last trip to London / to attend events for some time.

I am not going to say forever, because who knows, but for now I need to listen to my body and my sensible head – and hope I way to volunteer from my armchair at home is found.

One way I can still volunteer is to continue to write for Childminding UK’s newsletter, so I hope more of you becomes members, and therefore read my articles.

 

This blog will also be published on my new blogsite – What Do You Think Penny

 

 

 

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