If only I understood Why?

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I have so many questions without answers right now and I keep thinking should I have said no.

When we started on a journey to bring a Friendly Bench to our community I knew it had some risks but there were so many positives.

When your 12 year old daughter sees an amazing idea designed for communities to reduce social isolation and loneliness and says I want to bring one to our local community – what do you say?

I could have said no but what message would that send. I have a daughter who is passionate about creating a kind community, why would anybody want to do anything to knock that. I had lots of fears and I knew it wouldn’t be plain sailing but when doing things like this is your daughters medicine no is never an option, that would be like tearing a prescription up and pretending you didn’t know the medication worked.

Over many years I have learnt to play to her strengths to help reduce her anxiety. Her strengths are many and varied but the thing she loves is doing things for the community and ensuring fair treatment for all.

So no was never an option and I never shared some of my personal fears we just went for it. We were kept busy behind the scenes planning, filling forms in, securing funding, working with our local councillor and so much more. The day we found out it was going to become a reality was really special. The Friendly Bench was coming to Kiveton, the first one in Yorkshire. The pandemic delayed things but in summer 2020 it was installed. It wasnt the way we wanted it as all the restrictions meant we were really limited on the events we could organise but it didn’t matter it was beautiful. The planting created colour in an accessible location next to the building we knew was being converted into a community hub. We wanted it to be used by all, even the young people that many members of the community had said would ruin it. I had a glimmer of hope that the fact a young person from the village had brought it to their village might make a difference.

Sadly I was wrong. We have dealt with repeated littering and damage. Pulling the beautiful plants out is clearly a new past time. We have even had to deal with threats that have resulted in a fear of enjoying the space when certain individuals are there. This is where neither me or Alana can get past the why?

Why do you want to destroy it?

Why do you repeatedly pull the plants out and throw them over the fence?

Why cant you walk to the bin to dispose of your litter?

Why cant you just enjoy the space with your friends?

I could go on for ever. I have been a youth worker previously and I am exploring options to use a combination of the bench and community hub to do more as I want to remain positive but again I go back to Why?

I am often told its because there is nothing for them to do. I will not accept that there is lots to do. Alana is the same age as many causing the problem and she is never short of something to do. More so than ever this last year we have worked hard to ensure she is well by finding new things for her to do. I am happy to provide endless ideas of positive things to do in your community.

We will continue to litter pick, maintain the planting, add new ideas and maximise the use of the space because we want the majority of our community to enjoy it.

I have a few messages for the minority.

Your actions cause sadness and anger every day.

We will never understand what you think you are achieving.

It would be heartbreaking whoever had installed it but a now 13 year old girl arranged this for your community. Many of you go to the same school and know her.

I had to write this down as it is playing with my head. We will continue to be positive and maintain a beautiful space but I will never understand WHY a small number of individuals want to destroy it.

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Where did Kindness in the Community Week start?

How often do your kids come to you with an idea, in our house it’s constant. From being tiny Alana has always been full of ideas, I have always tried to find ways to let her take them forward. Don’t get me wrong there have been many times I have taken a deep breath and thought I haven’t got a clue where to start with that one. Then I dust myself off and remember that letting young people run with their ideas can make a difference in so many ways.

If I hadn’t let Alana run with her ideas there would be no Alana’s Caring Cakes. Personally I think that would make our community a sadder place. She has brought smiles to over 200 people by delivering them a cake as a special thank-you or to cheer up really difficult times. The positives go much further than the people she delivers to. Personally it’s one of my favourite days of the month and it definitely makes a massive difference to Alana. She loves to feel she is making people happy. Don’t get me wrong it’s not all plain sailing, we have read heartbreaking stories that have made us both sob. I have had to discuss the sadder facts of life linked to terminal illness, fatal accidents and serious illness. They are definitely facts of life but I know with my older children I only discussed them if I really had to.

We have delivered to many locations but to see Alana Walk confidently into a care home and hospice was inspirational.

The constant thread in everything Alana has done since that first ever cake stall in 2014 has been her desire for people to be kind.

She loves everything about Alana’s Caring Cakes but she is constantly thinking about ways to do more. She has a list of ideas just waiting for the right moment or a cash windfall.

In one of our many conversations I could sense there was a new glimmer of an idea as we discussed simple acts of kindness. The idea continued to grow in her mind and after a few weeks of discussing she had a plan.

Mum – can we run a Kindness in the Community Week, people need to be kinder to each other and themselves. This was at a point in her life when she was experiencing a number of things that she knew weren’t kind and she didn’t understand why.

While I loved everything about the idea, internally I was in panic. You could argue it was selfish panic – did I have the time or energy to help her pull it off. If Alana has an idea she has already visualised every element of it and I become interpreter and it has to be a perfect translation into reality.

We decided to give it a go and I am not sure either of us really knew where it would end up. First on the list was to get some helpers, this was a tough one as Alana needed to trust them all and be able to be herself with them. She already knew it could increase her anxiety so anybody helping would need to understand Alana. She wrote a list of the people she really trusts and asked me to share her initial idea with them. Every one of that group were a massive part of ensuring we pulled it off. The list of things they did are endless but top of the list is they understand Alana and make her feel safe.

So we had an idea, a group of really kind people, a community we care about and a week in October. The perfect ingredient for Kiveton Park and Wales first Kindness in the Community Week.

Behind the scenes there were hours of planning and a few sleepless nights as I tried to ensure everything was in place. Alana did lots of planning and organising and definitely made what she wanted very clear to many of the people involved. She held numerous meetings with individuals and groups and while she was nervous before every one she absolutely smashed it. As she talked to more people it was clear that the Community were starting to get behind the idea. I was reminded of a YouTube video about leaders and followers. Alana was leading the way and she already had her early followers. It’s a really common pattern in change. There were also many people and groups noticeable by their silence. This really frustrated Alana as many of them were groups she had links to and the question she kept asking was:

Why haven’t they replied surely everybody wants to do kind things and this is really simple?

A really valid question and I don’t know the answer as I didn’t ask them. I have lots of potential answers but fundamentally they made choices. They clearly weren’t early followers.

The final weeks before launch day were hectic. I was busier than ever at work, normal life remained busy without the added dimension of Alana transitioning to a new school and a new Theatre group. My Fitbit could share a story of less sleep than I like and if you happened to nip and see me at home in that period housework definitely wasn’t a priority and there might have been a few more cheating meals than I like. Inside though I was staring to feel it was going to be a really special week.

Putting the big banner up on the bridge was momentous. As we stood back and looked at it Alana said ‘for the first time ever I feel proud of what I am doing’ I just wanted to cry. At last she realised what she was doing was special. Previously her response was always ‘it’s nothing, everybody should do nice things’. I agree totally but we all know that’s not the reality of the world we live in.

We started to deliver materials and a short video was sent to all the local primary schools, we were ready to go. The 7 October couldn’t come soon enough but afraid you will have to wait for my next blog to hear my perspective on the week.

July 2022 – I think i will burst with excitement.

It seems like I have been looking forward to July 2022 for ever and maybe deep down I have. Well its here now and I know it will go in a flash so I intend to enjoy every minute.

You might be thinking why are you excited for a particular month. Its not unusual but often its because its your birthday month, maybe you are going on holiday, it could be a big event like a wedding or a baby due. I have had months when I have been excited about those things but this is a different kind of excitement.

The excitement is all about football. The countdown is on for the Womens Euros that are being hosted right here in England. Added bonus there are games in Sheffield and Rotherham which are close to where I live. Today I fetched my volunteer uniform and got a guided tour of the areas in Rotherham where I will be volunteering. I am volunteering before all 4 games. It will be great to meet new people and be part of all the plans to create a great atmosphere before each game. So volunteering is part of the excitement. Anybody that knows me well knows that I am passionate about volunteering and its a key part of looking after my own mental health.

One of my year round volunteer roles is at a local football club where I am welfare officer and committee member. Kiveton Park Football Club have been given some great opportunities for the girls that play football there. We have 2 teams of mascots and our older girls will be at every game in Rotherham taking the flags out. It has taken hours behind the scenes to make it happen, there have been days where the to do list was really scary and I didn’t think I could find any more time in my day but I did and we are on the final countdown. A group of girls that love football have been given an amazing opportunity and will be creating life long memories.

The home of Kiveton Park Football Club

Some time ago I also bid for Kiveton Park Football Club to become a legacy club. You might be wondering what a legacy club, its part of a legacy programme which has three goals. They are:

EQUAL access for all girls to play football in school and clubs
DIVERSE workforce of coaches, referees and local leaders delivering and organising football for their communities.
INCLUSIVE, safe and welcoming environments for every woman and girl to play competitive or recreational grassroots football, irrespective of ability, disability, age or ambition.

Whats not to love about those goals. I spend my working days working in the world of equity, diversity and inclusion. In a world where we have so far to go it really matters to me so any part I can play in ensuring girls in our community get the opportunities I will grasp with both hands.

I am also excited to watch. I have trips planned to a semi-final and the final in Wembley. I have everything crossed I will see England play in both of those games. I feel like I will burst with excitement for the first game I am watching. How lucky am I to be going to the opening game to watch England in front of a sell out crowd at Old Trafford. It won’t be a world record attendance but it will be in the top ten. Well thats the top ten in recent history. The crowds that watched Dick Kerr Ladies before football was banned for women in 1921 were regularly over 50,000.

That already feels like too much excitement but thats only a small part of the picture. The real excitement comes from what this tournament means. The history of Womens Football is an important one. It find it incredible that when I played for a works 5 a side time in the 80s, it was the decade after the ban on Womens football was lifted.

In the mid 90s my journey with Womens football really began. My eldest daughter, then 5 loved football and wanted to play. We spent many years taking her to football clubs and summer schools. They were all the same – she was always the only girl. It was another ten years before she played in a girls team. By now she had a younger sister who also loved football, there were definitely more opportunities but it was still limited. In the 20 years since then it has slowly grown but the momentum in the last 5 years has definitely increased. I am sure the Euros will give it another big push and more girls will give the game a go.

I now have three daughters that all play football and two of them coach. There have been substantial parts of my life where that would never have been possible. Its amazing to see and be part of such a positive change. Whats not to be excited about. The biggest ever Womens tournament is being played on our doorstep. It marks a massive step in the Womens game so lets keep pushing to get that inclusion and lets never go back to some of the darker days of Womens football. I am going to enjoy every minute and then continue trying to influence more positive change.

Me and my inspirational girls

What will eduction look like after the disruption caused by Covid19

I have been reflecting so much on education in the last few weeks I thought I would write down my very random thoughts.

You might be asking who am I to write about education and while I am no expert I have many personal experiences. You could argue education is in my blood. My grandma and dad were both teachers. I loved school and while I probably did everything to avoid it becoming my career choice I have always watched how schools have changed from the sidelines.

The birth of my first daughter almost 30 years ago meant my interest increased as the journey with her education began. I have been lucky to play many roles in the education of my three daughters. From parent to volunteer to a school governor. I am currently on my third spell as a governor and I feel lucky to be part of a school that my youngest daughter attends.

Education being in the blood continues, my eldest is a teaching assistant, my middle daughter is in her final year of teacher training. If we weren’t in the middle of lockdown she would be looking for her first job in September. My youngest was just getting into her stride in Year 7 when things changed for ever.

As we officially start week 4 of lockdown I start week 5 of balancing home learning and working from home. I took a decision earlier than the government decision to keep my youngest at home, her anxiety was through the roof and I knew my priority had to be her mental health so our adventure began. From day 1 we openly discussed what we were learning and what was working well. As my daughter is autistic trying to create a new routine was going to be important, if I am being honest we are still trying to do that but we are getting through in our way.

We are sharing an office so the first job was a desk with familiar things around, somewhere she wants to go five days a week, somewhere where the lighting is ok and there is nothing to create sensory overload. I have definitely lost my sewing table for the foreseeable future. The communications from school have been positive from day one, not too much pressure but plenty of options for work to do and advice. The shared stories of how people are coping in the mental health newsletter are always a welcome light read making so many virtual connections. Connections have become more important than ever.

Staff have taken time to provide really personalised responses to questions and positive feedback when I was feeling a failure. Check in calls have been much appreciated. Teachers have gone above and beyond in totally unchartered territory, I just hope in time to come this is recognised and it becomes a profession that is exciting and not only do people want to become teachers they want to stay.

We ditched plans for a timetable early on and instead have a daily to do list with a real mix of activities. Yes there is often Maths, English and Science but we regularly feature activities that have been reduced to almost nothing in many schools. The difference the things like baking, on-line theatre classes, singing, gardening and woodwork have made is unbelievable. We all know these type of activities are good for us in so many ways but they have been squeezed out of the curriculum as we try and box every young person into following a small subset of what could be possible. We are all different, we all have different strengths but we don’t have an education system that allows us to thrive using our strengths. We don’t even look for the strengths in many instances, imagine the frustration of the young person who has a head full of creative ideas and no release as they have to do Physics.

At school I didn’t know what my strengths were I just did as expected and studied subjects I was ok at but fitted with what was expected academically. There were subjects I wasn’t allowed to do (apparently I was too clever) . No wonder I still type with one finger, typing was one of the subjects I wasn’t allowed to do. I have found my own way never really having a career path but only recently playing to my strengths. I now know what I am good at and suddenly want to get back into education and learn more but about the things I love and make me much more effective in the workplace. The last few weeks have reminded me more than ever how important it is to play to our children’s strengths. They are unique individuals and will be more resilient in this world if they can be themselves.

I have seen and heard first hand:

  • The frustrations with the way questions are written (a really interesting one if you consider it from a neurodiverse perspective).
  • The excitement from being able to do most work on a laptop – at last the thoughts in her head aren’t too fast to get them down. The same can’t be said for handwriting – I really don’t know how we will manage the inevitable change back to writing in text books.
  • The pure joy when she talks about certain teachers who she is missing so much as they provide unbelievable support and understanding.
  • The frustration when there isn’t immediate advice available when she needs more explanation.
  • The interest in my job and what that means for the type of things that matter. The statement who taught you to make difficult decisions while still caring is still spinning in my head, there definitely wasn’t a subject for that!
  • The tears as she misses all the basic things we expect schools to provide every day with little recognition or thanks.

As we continue our journey of home learning I hope this massive disruption brings positive change. I dream of:

  • An inclusive environment in all schools.

  • A broad and varied curriculum that allows all young people to find their strengths.

  • Recognition of the importance of subjects that have started to disappear like music and art.

  • A renewed enthusiasm for PE to help with the challenges we face from a public health perspective.

  • A push on food studies to improve our ability to make our own food and focus on the impact on our health.

  • School environments being more open and understanding to the diversity of our society. Currently too many children with special educational needs are home schooled as they feel they have no other option.

  • Less pressure linked to results. Ask any parent they want happy, healthy kids who can play their part in the world.

  • Schools playing their part in local communities recognising that we all need to work together.

  • Teachers being able to balance their career choice with time to enjoy life and look after themselves.
  • Recognition of the professions that come together to create a school community, teachers are an important part but we shouldn’t forget the importance of teaching assistants, office staff, educational psychologists, counsellors, the list goes on. They need to work together to create the best environment for young people to learn.

As we all face many more weeks with the challenges Covid19 is bringing to our society I am using my thoughts of the positive change it could bring to provide my personal glimmer of light.

Reflections on World Book Day 2020

Today has been really strange, a World Book Day with nobody in the house dressing up.

I have always loved World Book Day and I have been with it from the start. My eldest daughter was 4 when it first started. It always brings back amazing memories of the fun we have had talking about books, what their favourites are and ultimately picking costumes. It’s a massive sign of progress that I have very few photos of my eldest two but this week my TimeHop has been full of reminders of my youngest costumes. They have all been really powerful and absolutely were here own unique idea. They have ranged from a suffragette, a feminist, a dancer, a young girl with a support dog and a pilgrim. That tells a story in itself as they are all really special books in her life.

The principles are brilliant. What’s not to love about a mission to give every child and young person a book. Our house is full of books, I am well aware that position isn’t replicated across the country. It’s a celebration of books, authors, illustrators and most importantly reading. Reading is incredibly powerful and a cornerstone of all learning so why wouldn’t we celebrate it.

There are so many ways it is celebrated especially in the education system , something I totally support. In a society where many children don’t read, families don’t share bed time stories and houses have no books I believe schools have to take every opportunity to try and trigger a passion for reading.

I love to see photos across social media of costumes especially when it is clear the young people have created them. The local schools that add something different like books in a jar and decorated doors are wonderful to see. I recognise this positive view isn’t shared by everybody.

There are always a number of negative posts and I understand many of them as somewhere over the years we have the lost the simplicity of the principles and we definitely haven’t linked it to the ever increasing sustainability campaign that should be important to all of us but it is clear young people are really passionate about it. In line with many other days in the year it has become over commercialised and competitive. Do we really all need to buy a supermarket costume (that will quickly be in land fill) to raise awareness of reading. Personally I would rather families bought their child a book. I know for many the thought of helping your child create a costume is scary that’s before all the calls of ‘ I am too busy’ but that doesn’t stop me dreaming of a return to some simplicity.

Whatever you have done today for World Book Day I hope you have read to somebody or had a conversation about books and reading. Those simple actions create memories that can influence young people for years to come.

Never judge a book by its cover

I wrote this in July 2019 as Alana was preparing to leave Junior School and start Y7. At the time I shared it with those close to me and the school Alana would be moving to. Lots has changed since it was written but I have left it as I wrote it, maybe the journey from September will be another blog.

Never judge a book by its cover

What will you see: 

A strong 11 year old 

A good communicator 

A passion for what is fair 

An empathy for anybody that is suffering 

An actor 

A singer 

A dancer 

A top grade student 

A baker 

Everybody is always amazed by Alana and her approach to life as that is what 99% of you will see 100% of the time but that’s not the full story and as her mum I love the days that I see all the positives but many days I see more of the differences that many people don’t see and in many instances don’t believe. 

I was already mum to 2 amazing girls when Alana arrived, I thought I had done an ok job as a parent and I was excited to start the journey again, even if I was classed as a geriatric mum! 

It was different from the start. A girl who was full of frustration, cried for hours, would rarely let anybody but mum calm her down and didn’t sleep. I did the normal ‘she will grow out of it’

It took until her first day at school for her to sleep through by now I was on autopilot / I regularly got up 20 times a night and then drove to a highly pressured job in Leeds. 

Alanas journey with education to date has had amazing highs and some really dark times and I know this could have been very different with small changes and an increased awareness. 

She loves to learn and progressed at a ridiculous speed, her loves of books and appetite for knowledge meant she flew through reading schemes and the day she was happy to read to herself was momentous. She continues to have a pile of books next to her bed and when sleep is a challenge she reads for hours often completing a full book. Some nights it will be a book she has already read over 20 times. Encouraging her to read new unknown books can be a challenge – but find a spark of interest and she will read it in a day, love it and enthuse everybody around her – I can already hear the frustrated comments from English and when she has to study a classic text all bets are off. 

Weekly maths and spelling tests also started to be a challenge. Full scores every week, I can hear you say that can’t be a challenge. Regular calls to school on the day of tests Alana feels sick. One of us would go down and talk to her and persuade her to stay. I now know it was the early signs of anxiety creeping in. The first time she got one question wrong will go down in family history. Another call to school Alana was really upset. It turns out she had got one spelling wrong and it was the end of the world as Alana knew it. She will never spell carrot wrong again. 

We were now in a place that I didn’t understand as a parent. We had open dialogue with the staff, we got some SEN support,started talking to our GP, paid for a physchologist to work with Alana and had an amazing early help worker – we knew we also needed CAMHs little did I know that would present one of the biggest challenges of my life. 

We began to notice other patterns and slowly things started to fit. Her mechanisms for managing change were causing us lots of concern. The weeks leading up to Christmas became a massive challenge and as Alana began to slowly articulate how she felt we started to ask for additional help. From our perspective they were simple things but I accept in a busy working day with full classes that might not always be a priority and as the teachers rarely saw the consequences of them not being in place it was sometimes a challenge. Key to Alana was knowing what every day would bring and in what order. To the teachers who wrote a special timetable when they knew things would be different I am forever grateful. It meant that Alana stayed calm and slept. To the many teachers who in Alana’s words got her they have made a massive difference to our family. They have taken hours to talk to her and understand what helps. This doesn’t mean things are always calm far from it. We often have days when just getting her to school is a challenge especially if she knows something is going to be different – a change of staff, a test where she feels she has to get 100%. In more recent times anxiety takes over, her body is tight and everything feels wrong including the scratchiness of school uniform next to her skin. On those days I am grateful to the staff that understand and show incredible patience as we persuade her that the day will be fine. To the small number of teachers who after those events have seen me break down as I didn’t know where to turn to get the help we know is needed you have continued to show my why teaching is a life choice and I wish I could find more ways to thank you.

Not every teacher has got her and some have been dismissive of our concerns – those years been long and painful for all of us. 

4 years ago we started a journey to get a diagnosis for Alana – her records already showed treat as ASD thanks to one of the fantastic teachers who Alana has been lucky enough to have. We never wanted Alana to have a label as she is Alana what other label is required but Alana was getting frustrated and wanted to know why and in the back of our minds was the shear fear of a move to an enormous school where it wasn’t sufficient to build a relationship with one teacher so they could get Alana. 

The journey continues still no official diagnosis but we are close to an assessment and we are hopeful of some anxiety therapy. 

The move to high school is now on the horizon and we are all excited. Alana was asked if she wanted to consider other schools the answer was always no, I came here, her sisters came here, one sister works here and the other is a regular visitor and I am a governor. It is in our blood and Alana’s visits from being small means she knows the school and many of the staff, why wouldn’t she come here.

I love the school and I am in a privileged position to know how many amazing things happen in these grounds but I am still scared. Alana will go from one teacher and one classroom to multiple teachers and multiple classrooms. Communicating change before it happens won’t be easy but if she walks into a class that has a teacher she doesn’t expect you probably won’t suspect anything but her emotions will build during the day. If you are lucky you won’t know anything but I will know as I hear the handle turn when she gets home – the tension will be clear, she might control it herself by signing or playing the piano or she might have a full blow meltdown and end the day exhausted and unable to sleep – far from ideal for so many reasons and imagine teaching her the following day. 

Her attitude to right and wrong is to be applauded but she even picks up the little things and will spot the slightest indication of bullying from a hundred yards. She can’t ignore it her black and white thinking says it’s wrong and it has to be sorted so she will want to tell people – that doesn’t win her friends and I know she can be seen as a tell tale but she will debate with you for hours why something is wrong. She has 2 close friends who calm her down in these situations, I hope they will continue to be close to her at Wales at least until she makes new friends that understand her. 

She has a love of learning if you embrace that her potential is amazing. Her love for science and Maths is clear to all. some subjects will be a challenge, she wants to enjoy art but feels she is rubbish so panics as soon as art is mentioned. In her current class they spot it and the TA is there keeping her calm. I know that isn’t practical in a school of such scale unless I start another battle for an EHCP. I am not sure I have the energy for another battle in me yet but I know I probably have to at some point.

She loves history but hates to write, something else she feels rubbish at but ask her to talk about the suffragette movement and she will tell the whole class with an unbelievable passion. 

Use of language is another challenge – she takes everything literally so if she hears don’t be daft she is daft if she hears that’s pathetic she is pathetic. 

You will see a cover that will impress inside is a girl who has no confidence, struggles with many things and in the darkest of days doesn’t think she deserves to be here. 

I believe in the school and I know she will get the help we need, there will be difficult days, some of you may see tears or anger but I hope as awareness of autism grows especially in girls who for many years have been forgotten because of their amazing ability to mask things will get easier.

A few things will be key to Alana

Someone she trusts that she can open up to – in my dream scenario that is her tutor teacher so they see her every day.

The confidence to join groups that do do the things that relax her – in my dreams she can go and sing somewhere at any time she feels overwhelmed or golden dream – a piano like you see in train stations that she can play whenever 

Clear communication including when things change – I know in a big school this presents challenges 

Appearing on the school stage – in her words she won’t be Alana then – she will blow you away whatever role she is given.

No school holidays – I know that will never happen but transitions of any kind are a challenge so end of term fun and start of a new term are exhausting – I hear you say have have the holiday to relax – imagine a holiday to somewhere you haven’t been and you want to just do whatever takes your fancy – my idea of heaven – will never work for Alana 

I can’t wait for September as it means the anxiety caused by SATs and a move of school will be behind us. It won’t be easy but she is ready for the transition (you should all be proud of your transition team) I am part of groups all over the country and there are very few schools that offer something so special)

I want to leave you with one statement.

Every child is different this is Alana’s story and many other parents could have stood here and told their story. Be open to their differences, embrace them and they will thrive and make you all proud of their achievements. 

A Kindness Fair in Kiveton

I have been trying to write this blog for weeks but it hasn’t come as easily as the first two about kindness in the community week.

On reflection it is probably because while it was a really special day for the community full of amazing stories it was also a day full of personal emotion.

When Alana had the initial idea of a Kindness in the Community Week an opportunity for the community to come together was always a big part of the plan. After all how many acts of Kindness involve a cuppa, a cafe was always going to be at the heart of it. We had a new addition to the refreshments we are now well practised at providing. A scheme called The Chatty Cafe had caught Alana’s attention so we registered to have a pop up Chatty Cafe. This was only the start, after all what is a Kindness Fair?

The hours of planning that go into events Alana organises is unbelievable – she always has a vision. My job is to translate the vision, easy you might think. I can confirm it is far from easy as her vision has every detail but she can’t always explain the vision she can see.

At a high level the vision was:

Create a relaxing atmosphere.

Bring the community together .

Provide opportunities for people to try new things that would be kind to themselves.

Provide relaxing activities.

Encourage people to talk about their mental health.

Increase awareness of difference.

Provide information on things that can help people be kinder to themselves and others.

First up was a venue. While we have a number of so called community venues we don’t find them all community minded. We always choose St Johns, they are so supportive and Alana knows the layout so well it helps her to visualise everything.

Once we started to publicise the event it was amazing how it came together.

We quickly had a range of free taster sessions. I am always amazed at the unbelievable generosity of people. We had yoga, baby yoga and baby sensory on offer and all were incredibly popular. Setting the events up enabled to me to have fun with eventbrite, it was definately a learning experience. The events were staggered through the day, another part of the master plan. We wanted different people arriving through the day to try and create a constant buzz. These events were a massive tick on the to do list – free events to help people try things that could help them to be kind to themselves.

Next job was refreshments. That should be easy we have done it many times before. This time I suggested a big change and for any of you that know anything about autism will understand change be difficult. I knew that with so much going on I wouldn’t be able to spend much time in the kitchen so we needed people to help. After some discussion Alana agreed and we asked for volunteers. We had an amazing response and a fantastic team was formed. It ran like clock work with a constant supply of drinks, cakes and a new addition sandwiches. I always love the buzz of the tables, people catch up with people they haven’t seen for ages and many sit for hours enjoying the atmosphere and the company.

The next big question was what else should we include. Initially we weren’t going with a raffle as the fair wasn’t intended to be a fundraiser but we quickly started getting amazing donations linked to kindness. Pamper hamper it was then along with loads more amazing prizes.

We then added a craft corner and a sparkle station. It was definately a trip down memory lane to have a badge making machine and see kids enjoying it. There was a real mix of crafts and the activities linked to that presented some of my highlights of the week. To see people of all ages colouring together and chatting was magical. To see a young person with her knitting machine surrounded by other young people showed why it is so important to provide activities for young people. My training as a youth worker is never far from my heart but this provided a sad reminder of how much the provision for young people has reduced.

We still had lots of space to fill and the craft corner had generated a new idea. Who would have thought Made in Kivo would be a thing but on the basis we know that many people make things to help with their own mental health we thought it was worth a try. It was another resounding success with some beautiful products and some lovely people we hadn’t worked with before.

Next up was Mental Health. It was really special to link up with Wales High School to highlight the amazing work they are doing. This featured along with lots of other materials kindly donated by a range of local organisations.

Still a bit of space to fill and we secured two amazing additions. It was special to see people having free hand massages and head massages. Everywhere you looked people were relaxing – that surely is what a kindness fair is about. There was a real buzz and people were sharing stories about the whole week. This was further reinforced by photographs taken throughout the week so people could see what they had missed.

We had extra visitors in the form of a film crew which added something different. Alana had been nominated a Voluntary Action Rotherham award and they wanted to film her in action and interview a number of people in the community. The film is now available and still makes me emotional. It provides a lovely snapshot of a very special day.

We had so much happening but there was still a massive part of Alana’s vision to plan. She is passionate about increasing awareness of difference and she wanted to talk about her own experience of autism. She now had a diagnosis and wanted to talk about what it means for girls. We are not alone in our long battle with a system that is failing so many and Alana wants things to change. She decided it was time to test my eventbrite skills again. A presentation entitled Autism and me was added. Alana had decided for the first time since her diagnosis she wanted to talk publicly about what autism means to her. She had spoken briefly to her classmates a few years earlier to try and explain some of her behaviours. That was scary but this was different, it was a public event that anybody could book and while I encouraged her every step of the way inside I felt sick. Public speaking is scary for most people but this is my little girl who is going to share something that we are still learning to understand and I know as we get close to it anxiety will take over. It should have been positive that it was highly likely to be full of people that already knew Alana but she had recently experienced people she knew well not being as kind as we would all hope. I was torn between unbelievable pride that she wanted to use her story to increase awareness and drive change and the desire to protect her from the possibility (no matter how small) of negativity. There really was only one answer because this was about Alana so the event was publicised and there was no turning back. It was scheduled towards the end of the day. She had a presentation, the technology was sorted and lots of people had booked. All was in place well other than Alana, as anticipated anxiety kicked in. There was a moment when I thought it would be cancelled but team work kicked in and I agreed to help her. I started the session and within seconds she took over. I was blown away, it was short and sweet but in that day in Kiveton she started her journey to improve awareness and drive change. To do that at any age is amazing but she is 12 and struggles more than you will ever know. I can’t explain how I felt as people in the room cried as she spoke, the support was unbelievable and I can’t thank those present enough. In that moment a full room showed pure kindness and that makes such a difference.

A kindness fair was just a name when we started the journey. As we arrived home after an exhausting day we had created our very own version of a kindness fair. None of it would have been possible without an amazing team of people who helped every step of the way. I am sure the 2020 version will be slightly different as we learnt a lot but I really hope it goes from strength to strength.

Kiveton & Wales and their first ever Kindness Week

While the actual week started on Monday 7 October 2019 the build up had already left so many special memories I was worried the week might be an anti-climax, I really didn’t need to worry. Monday morning arrived and all over the village we started to see simple acts of kindness. It was clear that a simple idea was becoming reality. At various locations in the village 50 acts of kindness posters appeared, Alana had selected them all personally with everyone having a reason or a story behind it. They ranged from smiling to donating items to a local charity and so much in between. In schools they also had cards and posters to colour in hearts for every act of kindness.

There was a plan for the week and Alana had every detail in her head. This blog can’t do everything justice but I hope it provides a small insight into what I saw and felt. I know others in the village could equally tell you their story and I was lucky that I was stopped in the street on many occasions and people shared heart warming stories.

The delight when people found hand crocheted flowers in the village was beautiful. People started talking about them on social media. Others shared their own acts of kindness. Kiveton Infants made it a massive focus for the week. If you haven’t seen their posts on social media you should have a look, it will warm your heart on a dark autumn evening. People stopped me in the street and asked if I was Alana’s mum, I was bursting with pride. I particularly loved hearing about a change in language as kids were saying I am not going to do that it’s not kind. Small steps but exactly what Alana’s idea was about. The High School were also fully embracing it, seeing their posts on twitter with a clear link to well-being were another highlight.

Tuesday saw me on my standard commute to Leeds but not to work instead to the next module of a course that is currently providing me enormous inspiration. The title includes 4 words that mean a lot to me – Digital, Health, Women and Leaders. In a world where things are far from equal I take my role as a female leader seriously, I have been lucky to be surrounded by inspirational women who have never seen gender as a barrier. Making sure I was in Leeds on the Tuesday was a kindness to me. There is nothing like being inspired by a group of people you are on a journey with. I took mindful quote cards for all of them and the acts of kindness cards, for a short while our village event travelled to Leeds. That evening I went home via a governor meeting at Wales High School, a role I love in a school that I have had links to for over 40 years. Volunteering is something I have done for years in various ways – you should never underestimate how good it is for your personal well-being. That night was extra special as I saw examples round school of how they were incorporating kindness week into the life of school.

The week included World Mental Health Day, that was a big part of the plan. We all need to be kinder to ourself and Alana understands only too well the consequences when she doesn’t look after herself. I honestly believe if you aren’t kind to yourself it’s hard to be kind to others. We all have our own way of looking after ourselves, luckily in our house music is important to many of us so on World Mental Health Day we chose to be at a local theatre. There really is nothing like a night of musical theatre and 9-5 didn’t disappoint.

As well as trying to encourage simple acts of kindness we planned a number of specific events. They definitely provided a different dimension as groups or people came together.

First up was the Community Sing. Music and singing are proven to improve your well-being and the one thing above all others that helps Alana on her most anxious days. There was only only one person she wanted to lead the event, Nick has been a massive part of Alana’s life and has encouraged her love of theatre every step of the way. She calls him her second dad and in her words – ‘he gets me and I trust him.’ We should never underestimate the importance of trust and understanding. It was lovely to see the church busy on a dark autumn evening with a real mix of ages. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t sing. Nick led a perfect hour with a mix of singing and words that linked the songs to the purpose of the week perfectly. Several people stayed for a cuppa in lovely display of community spirit.

We were all on a high so a few of our trusted team of helpers decided to retire to the local pub for an hour. A rare midweek treat and a great way to start reflecting on what was happening in our community. For an hour all was perfect, then Alana went to buy a bag of crisps – a simple act you would think. Unfortunately 2 people at the bar changed that night for us and we are still dealing with the consequences. According to them I am an irresponsible parent as I had a school age child in the pub mid week. Alana’s Autism means she takes everything literally so she immediately wanted to go home and became very frightened. She has now decided pubs have unkind people in them so a recent family trip to a sleepy country pub for Sunday dinner was fraught with anxiety. There is maybe a different perspective to that night. A team of people who are trying to do nice things in your community were celebrating a beautiful evening and I was buying them all a drink and crisps as a thank-you for being special people to my daughter. If only people would think sometimes, the long term repercussions of words can be devastating. While it was a reality check in a positive week it wasn’t going to stop us.

We had badged Thursday as ‘Thoughtful Thursday’ and the main focus was World Mental Health Day. With massive thanks to the Community ranger we had a well-being walk planned. Dependant on your age you will say the walk took place on the community woodland, for me it took place on the ‘Pit Top’.

While there was only a small group it was definitely a perfect way to look after me. Behind the scenes I was under more pressure at work than ever and while I had booked leave to do the walk it was touch and go to get there. I am so glad I did. There really is nothing like a couple of hours outside, enjoying your surrounding and chatting to new people. As an added bonus I learnt lots about the woodland, the walk is already scheduled for next years event – I would definitely recommend it.

By now the stories were coming thick and fast, whether you were walking round the village or reading social media. We were talking about Kindness and thinking about our actions, that is what Alana wanted.

Meanwhile at home the week had taken over we couldn’t move for bags of items ready for the ‘Kindness Fair’. This would be the event that brought everything together. It deserves a blog in its own right so you will have to wait for part 3 to hear about that.

This blog is definitely a ramble but on the basis you asked for more there is no stopping me now.