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CEO Jonathan Whalley’s Blog – Sunshine memories and loving support

It has been a bit hot recently, hasn’t it?  I know that I don’t look it, and that many of you will gasp in surprise when I tell you this, but I am old enough to remember the great drought and summer heatwave of 1976.  I can remember news broadcasters on our old boxy TV Set, either pointing at melting tarmac or attempting to fry eggs on the bonnets of cars.  I can vividly recall water stand-pumps being installed at the end of each street to ration our water usage!  I can remember the feeling of getting into my dad’s two-tone Mark II Cortina, with vinyl seats and NO air conditioning, and my bare legs sticking to the burning plastic because the car had been parked in the sun all day and the inside was so hot it could have been used to smelt iron.

I can also remember that my grandad sat in his deck chair on Bridlington Beach, in the heat of the midday sun, still wearing a shirt, tie and tank top.  I think he may have rolled his tweed trousers up to his shins, to reveal socks held up with garters, but I can’t be sure of that.

When I was a kid, the summers were brilliant.  They went on forever.  Playing with my mates until either my mum called me in or the sun started to go down.  We lived in a rural area, so building dens and playing in streams, or kicking a ball against a wall was the main source of entertainment.  This was years before I had my Sinclair ZX81 or my ZX Spectrum (Google it!)  Come to think of it, this was a time that even pre-dates the first Star Wars film!  Can you imagine a world without the internet, mobile phones or Star Wars?

I have so many happy childhood memories.  So many things that I look back on with which there is an associated fondness and warmth that almost matches that heat of 1976.

One of our ambitions here at St Christopher’s is for all the children and young people in our care to have happy childhood experiences.  So many times, the young people placed with us have fractured, painful and unhappy experiences of early life.  Too often they are required to grow up too quickly.  Too frequently I hear reports in sector publications of young people who are racing to exit the care system as early as they possibly can because their experience has not been positive.

I recently visited Phoenix House, one of our homes in the Midlands, and was talking with Paula, the home manager, about the children placed there.  Paula, if you are ever fortunate enough to spend time with her, is the kind of person who always smiles, always has a positive approach to every situation (even the challenging or impossible ones), and who’s passion for her work rubs off on those around her.  Paula was telling me about each young person at Phoenix, talking about the challenges they face and sometimes the disruption they can cause and the frustration they can be.  At the end of each explanation and update, for each child, she said, “You know what?  We just love him/her to bits.”

She did not even realise she was doing it.  Love was at the centre of that care experience, even in situations where young people were struggling and acting out in ways that created chaos, Paula spoke about each young person with genuine affection.

If there is one thing that is going to turn a house into a home, it is love.  If there is one thing that is going to give a young person a positive experience of childhood and happy memories that will fill them with warmth, it will be those experiences of being truly cared for, truly safe, truly loved.  We want to be tenacious in our provision of care so that placements with us will endure, go beyond the challenges and disruptions to provide relationships that will have real meaning and so that we can genuinely help our young people to have brighter futures.

In the meantime, temperatures still rise and hottest day records keep being broken.  With that in mind, we continue to explore how St Christopher’s can reduce our own carbon footprint and minimise our negative impact on the planet. Our Green Group are currently developing our Environmental Strategy – so look out for more information on this in future blogs….

For now, go and enjoy the summer.  Create happy, childhood memories for our children and young people.  Be tenacious and be resilient, but most of all, be loving.