July 09

Week One with WellChild – ‘And they’re off…..!’

Two weeks ago I embarked on my first commute from London to WellChild’s offices in a beautiful Georgian curved terrace in Cheltenham Spa. I am on a home assignment but with a fairly hefty train journey; however it won’t be every day and during my first fortnight I have also been to two London suburbs and into the City of London itself.

Cheltenham is famous for horse-racing and, like those fine thoroughbreds, I leapt out of the starting gate; unlike them I wasn’t on a straight track heading for the finish line. It’s great to hit the ground running, as long as you know where you are going! My confidence and enthusiasm had been building since the start of the Pulse training session and I thought I was ready for anything! But a Pulse assignment is meant to challenge, and perhaps not always in obvious ways. I suddenly had a new and complex commute to get used to, my IT didn’t work, I was having to meticulously plan travel and re-plan personal commitments without yet having a fixed schedule. And I was still trying to work out how I should even start to manage my assignment.

Three things made me take stock and slow down during that first week. Firstly the support and help from my new WellChild colleagues who created a logical schedule of meetings and activities to introduce me better to the charity and get to know all 30 of them during my first week. I haven’t quite mastered everyone’s name but it was a great way to start to understand how they currently work and interact. They are dedicated, knowledgeable, friendly and focussed and keen to help me in any way they can. I can already see some of the benefits of being a small organisation – quick decisions, visible & attributable achievements, ease of collaboration & a flatter hierarchy.

Secondly, my commute includes a walk along Cheltenham’s Holybourne Line – a sympathetic transformation of what was once a railway track into a picturesque community path lined with greenery. Some of the metal rails have been preserved and worked into seats but it was the openly accessible children’s play areas along the route that reminded me of the project I was to take on.

And thirdly – our training! Don’t panic about not knowing the solution before you even know what the problem is.

The Helping Hands team within WellChild transforms the gardens of families with children who have serious illnesses or complex needs into safe and appropriate outdoor spaces, without which these children and their families can’t go outside. Parents can become 24-hour carers, responsible for their child’s extremely complex medical needs, and with little sleep – gardening is simply not possible. However Helping Hands can currently only support 25% of the families who submit applications to them and one part of my Pulse assignment will be to look at how best to increase this figure.When you realise that before the makeover approximately 55% of families stated that they never spent time in the garden due to safety concerns, a figure which drops to 0% following a makeover, the positive impact and significance of Helping Hands projects becomes clear. One parent said ‘before my two boys could play but would forget about their sister inside and now they can all be outside together. We wouldn’t have sat out there because we didn’t want to leave her inside, but now we can’.

 

During my first fortnight I have joined a family visit during the planning process for a makeover project, travelled into the historic City of London to attend a meeting of charity Trustees, and actively participated on a garden project in south London in 30° heat. I will share more about this in a future blog, so watch this space if you would like to see how the Helping Hands team works a literally life-changing transformation with wood, turf, power tools, skilled project management and enthusiasm.