#IWD2020 – a reflection on women’s voices

Dunloy Community Playgroup, set up by Angela’s mother (on the right at the back).

To mark International Women’s Day 2020 I wanted to share some thoughts on women’s voices, the power of networks and how our shared work for equality is not finished.

This photo was taken in 1981. My mum is the woman on the far right, with my youngest brother Ciaran on her hip and my other brother, Christopher is in the middle row, second left. I can’t begin to describe the pride I feel when I look at this photo. This is the inaugural group of mums and toddlers at Dunloy Community Playgroup.

Dunloy is a rural village in North Antrim, Northern Ireland where I grew up. Living through the Troubles made an imprint on life there and we lived in the shadow of terrorism and economic deprivation. Much that was positive was built on community life and the work of a multitude of volunteers. My childhood revolved around community groups – Irish Dancing School, choirs, drama clubs and youth groups. It taught me early in life the power of communities in shaping identity and creating a sense of belonging.

My family struggled financially. My dad was a jobbing bus and lorry driver. Often away from home, I know my mum felt lonely at times raising three kids. Unable to find stimulating activities for my brother she started a community playgroup in our village hall – from scratch. Recruiting volunteers, building momentum, securing funding, establishing a committee, defining roles and responsibilities. She was a true leader. Bold, tenacious, uncompromising. Determined about child safety, the value of play and most importantly the power of women helping women to parent and thrive. I think of and honour her bravery today.

When the opportunity of Chief Executive at NCT arose, I immediately reflected on my mum’s influence in those early years. I had seen first-hand the power of volunteering in building communities, creating deeply valued community fabric. I had witnessed the power of women working passionately together to raise children with love and to give them the best opportunities despite their social and economic circumstances.

I’m so proud that today I lead NCT, a charity which has been fighting for women’s rights since 1956. Set up to help women prepare for birth and beyond, it has for decades enabled women to support other women to access knowledge, build networks, raise their voices and campaign for change. We’ve championed women’s rights on birth and motherhood. We contributed to the 2010 Equality Act, which gave women the right to breastfeed in public.

Our #HiddenHalf campaign has enabled thousands of women to share their stories of isolation and postnatal depression, and it called for powerful change.

But our fight is not finished. It’s shocking and sad that for so many women in our country, their maternal care is blighted through social and racial inequality. The MBRRACE-UK report stated that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth. There is so much more to do and I and my passionate colleagues at NCT stand ready to lead, build alliances and speak out for systemic change. On International Women’s Day 2020, I’m proud to have the opportunity to shape the next chapter of the work of NCT, as part of a powerful movement of women for change. Today, I honour my mother and all other brave women to have the courage to stand up and do something small or big to create community and a true sense of belonging.


Read NCT’s response from November 2018 on the MBRRACE-UK report.

Angela first published this blog on LinkedIn 8 March 2020.

A busy month as NCT President


February has been another busy month packed with breastfeeding calls, home visits, a visit to Peterborough, marathon decisions and starting a new job.

Busy breastfeeding month

February has been just as busy as January in terms of breastfeeding calls and home visits.

I’m sure other breastfeeding counsellors find this too… If one mum from a group calls, then I get calls from almost all the other mums too.

Another five home visits this month as well as a visit to Baby Café in Beckenham to celebrate their fifth birthday. It was a busy day at the café – I supported 4 mums while I was there!

I also supported several families while on the Lidl/NCT stand at the Baby Show at the end of February.

Giving myself permission to listen to my body

Last month I told you that I’d decided to use my London Marathon place to fundraise to set up a local breastfeeding drop-in.

Quite honestly that was the wrong decision. Well, right decision but wrong timing.

I have been really struggling with the training. Training for a marathon is hard. It’s not my first marathon so I know what to expect.

But this time it’s been different. Many of you know that I had breast cancer in 2018 with surgery and radiotherapy treatment. What with that and a shoulder injury last August, I haven’t run consistently for nearly two years. I only started running again on Christmas Eve!

I realise now that I haven’t fully recovered. After all, I’m not super woman.

I’ve listened to my body and decided to defer. I will run in 2021 instead, and use 2020 to get back to fitness. And then in autumn this year, I’m walking 75km of the Camino de Santiago.

Volunteering

I love the new look branch pages! My branch is currently ‘dormant’ though I’m working to change that. One thing I can do right now is to get my branch pages updated.

So far I’m loving the fabulous support from Robin at UKO. He’s been super helpful.

Invite me to your events

I really want to be an active visible President. So please do invite me to events, whether volunteer or practitioner-led.

I’ll try to attend alongside the need to balance my family life with my business, my paid work, my role as breastfeeding counsellor and the volunteering I do outside of NCT (crow rescuing and grant applications for a small cancer charity)!

In February I accompanied CEO Angela McConville to Peterborough to visit an NCT Bump & Babies group. We also got to meet the local service delivery manager, one of our amazing breastfeeding counsellors, several breastfeeding peer supporters, BBCS supporters and the Bumps & Babies volunteers, as well as lots of mums and dads.

It was incredibly inspirational to see the fabulous work our volunteers are doing in Peterborough.

It was also a challenging visit because of recently announced changes to the breastfeeding support contract. Although the support extends into the Fens, we lose provision of paid breastfeeding counsellors. I had lots of time with Angela on the train there and back to voice the concerns of fellow breastfeeding counsellors.

A successful job hunt

As you know, I ran as President knowing I’d have to quit my staff job if elected. I was absolutely gutted to leave behind my job on the Parentforce project.

So I’m delighted that I’ve now started a part-time contract at Macmillan Cancer Support as a Learning & Development Specialist.

And finally …

It seems rather appropriate that I’m writing this on International Women’s Day.

This year’s theme is #EachforEqual because an equal world is an enabled world. It’s so important for all of us to celebrate women’s achievements and increase visibility, and at the same time for us to have the courage to call out inequality.

It’s the only way we’re going to make progress. So important in the work we do in NCT.

Find out more

You can find out more about my life as NCT President on Facebook.


Campaigning legacy: 60 years of speaking out for parents

This guest blog comes from NCT London Regional Coordinator and #HiddenHalf champion, Fiona Doyle.

Six decades of campaigning for change

Since its inception in 1956, NCT has been a pioneer in giving parents information about childbirth and parenting and has been instrumental in achieving important legislative and policy changes in maternity care and been a strong advocate for the issues faced by families over the past 60 years. These changes are evident in our own experiences of birth and parenthood today. The first and probably most obvious one is the introduction of the first antenatal classes in 1959, which are now attended by tens of thousands of parents each year.

Better births

Then in the 1960s NCT led a campaign to allow fathers in the delivery room. It’s hard to believe that before then, it was widely accepted that fathers had no place at the birth of their own child.

In the 1980s, an NCT antenatal teacher pioneered the Know Your Midwife scheme in England which helped to shape changes in how midwives can make the greatest contribution to the health and wellbeing of women, babies and families. NCT has also continually lobbied government to change unnecessary interventions during birth, including changes in the mid-1980s to stop the shaving of pubic hair and administering enemas during childbirth. I didn’t know that either, but I’m bloody relieved!

You wouldn’t have been able to eat and drink during labour before NCT campaigned to change this. Pre-1980s, 40% of consultants banned women from ingesting food during the labour process.

Making policy work for women and families

And the list goes on. NCT has been instrumental in influencing laws and decisions regarding public breastfeeding, banning harmful BPA chemicals in baby bottles and access to food and milk vouchers for pregnant women under 18.

NCT helped set up Maternity Services Liaison Committees (now Maternity Voices Partnerships) across the UK to give a voice to women wanting to have a say in their birth experience. NCT also ran the Better Birth Environment campaign to make sure women in labour had freedom of movement, en suite bathroom facilities and provision for their partners to stay with them overnight. In addition to this, NCT contributed to Changing Childbirth and Maternity Matters, previous government strategies to allow women to have more control and choice over where they gave birth. They lobbied the government in 2010 to call for changes in maternity and paternity leave.

Next steps…

With all of this behind us, it’s only right that the #HiddenHalf campaign has become the latest success story in NCT’s amazing history. All of the changes that have taken place over the last 60 years started as ideas, thoughts and plans – perhaps just from one person or a small group and snowballed from there. The changes stemmed from people taking action and wanting to make things better so that others wouldn’t have to suffer.

 #HiddenHalf is now following in the footsteps of those NCT campaigners and supporters who have brought about real, tangible results which have affected the way we live today. Our campaigning can now be done through online promotion, surveys, social media hashtags, YouTube channels and emailing MPs. It can also be done through local events, sharing experiences and raising awareness in local communities.

The wave effect is a powerful one and #HiddenHalf has had an ocean of people behind it. It is thanks to all of these people – all of you who emailed, tweeted, shared and posted online, voiced your support at meetings, visited your local MP, held fundraising events, donated to the charity – all of these actions, small and large, have meant that NCT’s incredible legacy of supporting parents and fighting for change successfully continues.  NCT’s founder, Prunella Briance, is often quoted but her words ring particularly true as we celebrate the success of #Hiddenhalf: “I realised that someone had to do something, and so I did.” We all did. Thank you for helping to make #Hiddenhalf happen.

Getting to know NCT

It’s now been a month since I joined NCT as your new Chief Executive and it’s been a brilliant start so far. Thank you sincerely for such a warm welcome. I’m thoroughly enjoying getting out and about meeting practitioners, students, volunteers and staff. Hearing about the passion for our charity and the amazing work we do to support parents is truly inspiring. Not just today, but throughout our history.

I feel very lucky to have joined NCT just as we’re celebrating a very exciting victory for our #HiddenHalf mental health campaign as NHS England announces funding for dedicated postnatal check-ups for new mothers. We’ve been vigorously campaigning for this outcome for the past 2 years since NCT research showed nearly half of mothers’ postnatal mental health problems were not being picked up by healthcare professionals. So this response from NHS England is a huge step forward and means more new mothers will be supported to talk about their mental health and get the help they need. The campaign was driven by our movement of volunteers, practitioners, staff and members and around 14,000 people supported the campaign online. I got the opportunity to meet with the British Medical Association last week, alongside Vicky Fobel, Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager, and they shared just how collaborative and engaging NCT’s Campaigns Team have been in pushing for this outcome. A huge thanks to them, and to everyone in the movement for your support for this campaign.

As I’ve been getting out to meet our teams and see our work, I have been hugely impressed with the passion, professionalism, commitment, vision and sheer hard work being exerted all across the UK in the pursuit of supporting every parent in their first 1,000 days. I particularly want to thank NCT practitioners, Karen Hall and Katie Kelly who both invited me to join their workshops over recent weeks. Karen’s study day on breastfeeding facilitation skills was such a great, fun day. I learnt a lot about our reach across the country and it was great to see the skills exchange and sharing of practice that takes place on these days. With Katie, I got to join a special women-only session and again it was a terrific insight into the power of our knowledge sharing and network building. It was really lovely to share in the excitement and anticipation of the expectant mums at the session. Both Karen and Katie showed me just how much talent we have in our network. It was great to see this so early in my journey.

Angela at NCT Tutor and practitioner, Karen Hall’s Study Day on breastfeeding in Manchester

Last week I joined the first part of the Regional Practitioner Forum in London which gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to our practitioner community and hear more from practitioners about the outlook and challenges of our education work. Our guest speaker, Maria Booker, from Birthrights, was truly inspiring and from the feedback in the room, it seems she prompted some very powerful conversations on human rights and birth.

I’ve just finished reading “New Generations: 40 Years of Birth in Britain” which charts NCT’s first 40 years. From the initial advert in The Times in 1956, announcing the establishment of NCT, Joanna Moorhead’s book tells the story of our decades of success in campaigning. Since then, we have supported millions of women and parents through birth and early parenthood whilst also securing major advances in professional practice and public policy. In these early weeks, I’ve really enjoyed seeing how more than 60 years later we continue in our conviction that education and community can radically transform the experience of childbirth and early parenting.

Please do continue to invite me to see your local activities and projects. Later this week I’m spending the day in Reading with PSA Becky England and volunteers and families at my local branch. I can’t wait for the Mums & Monsters Club! And next week I’ll be visiting NCT services in Peterborough with our NCT President, Sherry Bevan. I look forward to meeting more of you soon and continuing to hear your amazing stories about how you’re helping parents to do their best every day.

To hear more about Angela’s personal and professional background which has led her to NCT, check out this video.

Five principles of perinatal peer support

By Laura Wood

Laura Wood has written extensively about her own experiences of perinatal mental health. In 2016, she was part of the external advisory group for our Parents in Mind peer support programme. Here she talks about her involvement developing perinatal mental health peer support principles with Mind and the McPin Foundation.


Peer support that promotes the emotional wellbeing of new parents has long been one of the key values that NCT is known for, and the Parents in Mind project has enhanced this, providing mum-to-mum support for women experiencing low mood, anxiety or poor mental health during pregnancy or postnatally. As a member of the advisory group for Parents in Mind, I witnessed the joys – and the challenges – of delivering this support in a way that was safe, accessible, and helpful for everybody.

NCT was able to share some of the lessons learned from creating Parents in Mind, contributing to the co-design of the new perinatal peer support principles. I’m one of three lived experience facilitators who worked with staff from Mind and McPin Foundation to produce guidance that would support people to create and deliver peer support that truly meets the needs of women affected by mental health difficulties during and after pregnancy. We held three consultation events, in Birmingham, London and Newcastle, and three focus groups in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Online surveys were available for people who couldn’t attend. We spoke to mums and families, midwives and health visitors, people working in clinical perinatal mental health services, charities and other organisations facilitating peer support for parents… anyone with relevant experience. We invited people from as many under-represented groups as we could. McPin also did some interviews with perinatal peer support providers, including NCT, to discuss the logistics of offering such support in more depth.

The result is five principles accompanied by explanatory notes and reflective prompts to get people to think about how they can be met whether you’re online, half a dozen mums in someone’s living room, or a large organisation like NCT. Using this guidance will help to ensure that your peer support is safe, inclusive, informed, that it benefits everyone involved, and remains distinct from – but connected to – clinical perinatal mental health services. You can access the principles online, along with a more detailed report about the findings, via the website for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

I hope that these principles will make safe, welcoming, nurturing peer support accessible to more mums who need it. I believe that they will as lived experience has been at the heart of the project. Because the principles were co-created with women and families who have lived through perinatal mental health difficulties, they are shaped around their needs, not what others imagine those needs to be.

My own experience has informed the work. In 2014, I emerged from a psychiatric mother and baby unit, dazed and scared, and was promptly dropped by the community mental health team. It was other mums who pulled me through, namely my friend Hayley from NCT classes and everyone who participated in Rosey Adams’ #PNDFamily on social media. I know that peer support, done right, can be lifesaving and can set you up, as a parent, to know and trust yourself and your baby.

The principles have now been developed, tested, and launched. We presented them at Peerfest, Mind’s annual celebration of peer support, in Birmingham on 3rd December and held a workshop with some activities and discussion so that we could all get stuck in. I’m so excited that the principles are ready, and I’m now leading the team in ‘disseminating’ the work – which means making sure that all the wonderful knowledge which people so generously and so enthusiastically shared gets out to where it will be useful. We’ll be touring with more workshops and presentations throughout 2020: drop an email to LivedExp@mind.org.uk to subscribe to our mailing list.


Download the perinatal peer support principles here.

Pre-order Laura’s book on maternal mental health here, and follow her on Twitter @cooksferryqueen.

A month in the life of an NCT President

I’m still grinning ear to ear at being elected NCT President at the AGM in November 2019.

January has been a full-on month packed with breastfeeding calls, home visits, job interviews, volunteer recruiting and celebrations.

Celebrating the #HiddenHalf

First let me say how absolutely DELIGHTED I am to hear the news that NHS England has announced it’s going to fund a dedicated six week check for mums.

Such an impressive piece of work by our Campaigns team. I know they’ve worked really hard on this to mobilise 100s of people to get involve and lobby MPs and decision-makers.

Busy breastfeeding month

In my breastfeeding counsellor role, January has been a busy month.

I’ve done four breastfeeding sessions, supported lots of mums with calls after birth, done five home visits, attended a study day and bid for classes in September and October.

I finally got round to asking my Capacity PSA for one of the fab new Photo Packs – it arrived a couple of days ago and looks amazing.

Such a busy month as a breastfeeding counsellor helped me to decide to use my London marathon place to fundraise so I can open a local breastfeeding drop-in.

Decision made, I got in touch with the Volunteer Support Team at UKO who helped me set up my Justgiving page.

After joining Baby Cafe Beckenham for its 5th anniversary, I know that was definitely the right decision.

Volunteering

I’ve also been working hard to revive my local branch. It feels a bit odd to be President when my local branch is dormant. I’ve met up with a local mum who’s really keen to get involved.

We’ve agreed to investigate venues for a table top sale, Baby First Aid and a bumps & babies group.

Again the Volunteer Support Team have been brilliant at giving me everything I need to relaunch Baby First Aid classes. Not only will this provide a great service to local parents, it will help to attract new volunteers.

Invite me to your events

I really want to be an active visible President. Please do invite me to events, whether volunteer or practitioner led. Don’t worry about location – I don’t want to limit myself to being London-centric.

Though I can’t promise to accept every invite because I need to balance my volunteer life with my family, work and marathon training!

A successful job hunt

As you know, I ran to be our President knowing I’d have to quit my staff job if elected. So in between all the NCT busy-ness, I’m applying for part-time roles in L&D, Change Management or Business Engagement, to run alongside my coaching practice. I will have exciting news on this very soon! Lips are sealed for the time being.

Find out more

You can find out more about my life as NCT President on Facebook.


A tribute to Eileen Hutton

We pay tribute to Eileen Hutton, former Chair and President of NCT who passed away on 5 February 2020. Eileen was very much a promoter of women’s health, autonomy and wellbeing and we’re truly grateful for her commitment to women, childbirth and NCT.

In 1991, NCT gave evidence to the Government’s Health Committee based on our own research about women’s experiences. Eileen, as our President at the time, was then invited to join the Expert Maternity Group with Baroness Cumberlege and they examined the maternity care available in the light of what women wanted. This enshrined the principles of choice, control and continuity of care for all women. The report that followed, Changing Childbirth, was accepted as Government Policy in January 1994.

We would like to send our sincere condolences to all of Eileen’s family.

Eileen Hutton (centre, in peach) with former NCT presidents and founding members at NCT’s 50th anniversary celebration event

Below we share some reflections from those who knew Eileen during her time at NCT. If you’d like to share yours, please contact us.

Memories of Eileen

Julia Cumberlege, Chair of the report Changing Childbirth said:

When I was invited to review maternity services for England in 1993 I was careful to choose a panel of members who I knew would make a useful contribution to our work. Knowing the reputation of involving and listening to women I decided no one could be better than Eileen Hutton the President of NCT. She had her ear to the ground and saw the practicalities or flaws of what we were proposing. Mothers and babies were her life blood. Eileen was a fund of information. She was older than most members of the panel and when there was heated discussion I would look to Eileen and with great care she would resolve the issue, a person of consummate skill, knowledge, experience and charm. Her contribution to maternity services cannot be under estimated and I am sorry that she is no longer with us.

Mary Newburn

Mary Newburn said:

Eileen was an inspiration and mentor to me in my role at NCT. As President for eight continuous years, starting around the time that I joined the staff, she was an influential campaigner; a quiet figure but solid as a rock. Her skills and way of working included always following things up. If an issue was raised, she didn’t let the person with responsibility off the hook. Many people deflect the demands of service users by distractions, spun consciously or unconsciously. Eileen would never be deflected. She always read all of the papers before a meeting, including many pages of sometimes dry and dreary minutes, and had probing questions to ask. She kept people on their toes. As well as being a ferocious detail person, she saw the bigger picture. She was good strategically, gathering the views and experiences of women to put to those in power. She also made a huge contribution to NCT’s internal development and, critically, ensuring that the charity was effective in shaping the future of maternity services. As a member of the government’s Expert Maternity Group which created the government’s Changing Childbirth policy (1993), she worked with Professor Lesley Page, the chair, Baroness Julia Cumberlege and other leaders in the maternity field to produce a ground-changing blueprint for maternity that put women at the centre of care. We are still working on getting the vision implemented, but the vision is clear.

Roxanne Chamberlain said:

My memory of Eileen was of a very calm person who had a will of iron. She worked so hard for parents and NCT and helped bring in user involvement in the maternity services and eventually into the whole NHS.

Nina Smith
Nina Smith

Nina Smith interviewed Eileen as part of NCT’s Oral History project in October 2013.

Towards the end of the interview I asked what she felt she had contributed to NCT and what NCT had given to her. She replied:

“I hope I gave the idea of representing women, I mean rather than professionals. And I always tried to be honest and straight forward about things………[NCT gave me] a lot of satisfaction and we did achieve things, and a great deal of support………At times it was difficult because of having young children who didn’t always want you going away. But fascinating, because I did travel a lot and meet a lot of people and satisfying to think that I was representing a lot of women’s views and needs.’

Certainly what comes through is Eileen’s genuine concern for women and that they should be listened to if needs are to be properly met, and also her dedication and commitment to working for NCT as an organisation.

Gillian Fletcher MBE, NCT President 2000- 2005 shared:

What an amazing woman Eileen was. She had such a quiet gentle nature. She was a really good listener and then would be able to offer such wise insights into any discussions we would be having on Teacher’s Panel and other NCT committees and on a personal level too. She was very supportive to me when I was first elected as NCT President. Some years before, I had the privilege of getting to know her better when we travelled together to ‘The Free Woman’ conference in Amsterdam in 1989. We were both very touched by something the Canadian Obstetrician Murray Enkin had included in his speech about ‘Care during pregnancy being both Art and Science- Art being those essential but unmeasurable components of care that count even though they cannot be counted.’ – so pertinent to the work of NCT.

I also remember Julia Cumberlege telling me that when they were visiting hospitals together as part of the work of the Expert Maternity Group, Eileen would listen quietly to the staff waxing lyrical about all their maternity services had to offer and then she would say quietly’ Could we see the bathrooms now please’.

Eileen was always a champion for women’s experiences informing the way maternity care is designed and developed.  She was most supportive of all we, at NCT, were doing to support Maternity Services Liaison Committees (MSLCs) as they were called at the time. She spread that influence by highlighting the importance of listening to patients’ voices during her time as Chair of the RCGP working with other Royal Colleges when Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) was quite new to the NHS.

Sylvia McGinnis, former teacher said:

So sorry to hear that Eileen Hutton died. She was President when I was Chair of Teachers’ Panel. She wholeheartedly inhabited that role and travelled the UK sounding out mothers to ascertain their needs vis-a-vis the NCT. She was a firm supporter of Panel and its autonomy from Council. She will be sorely missed.

Noreen Hart (in pink) with Eileen Hutton (in yellow) and others at Maternity Matters march in Bath

Noreen Hart, NCT practitioner recalls:

In Bath we had a Maternity Matters march in 2007, with mothers, fathers, babies, children and grandparents, midwives and politicians all good humouredly marching through the streets of Bath highlighting the national shortage of midwives, the continual government cuts and to demonstrate our support for all those hard working committed midwives. Eileen Hutton OBE, a former President of the NCT, marched with us and then  spoke to the crowd about the need to continue to put the parents at the centre of care and how this can only be achieved with more midwives.

New Generation, NCT members magazine feature

Today, tomorrow, forever

Our colleague, Ann Carrington, blogged last month. I loved working with Ann. She shared reflections on her time with NCT between 1987 (booking an antenatal course) and now (leaving to look after her first grand-daughter, three days a week).

My time doesn’t compare to this and I write this acutely aware of how many years so many people give to NCT, dwarfing the time I’ve spent as chief executive.

I’m also wary of venturing into rhetoric or hyperbole as I realise I really am leaving this wonderful place.

But as I write this looking out into the world around us, it seems to me hard to think of a time when what we do has been more important. Our charity was conceived to support the very start – to bring people together at the critical and most demanding time of life – to help bring a human into the world – and do the most important job on earth.

I think that, right now, in a time of fake news and divided communities, it’s hard to think of a time when this need for togetherness and support – for reliable information  and lasting friendship – has been more important. Which is perhaps just another way of pointing to the enduring, and eternal importance of what we do – then, now, tomorrow, forever.

It is an enormous privilege to be a part of this.

Then

Nearly sixty four years ago, we sprang, or toddled bravely, from the compelling vision set out by Prunella Briance. Grounded in the insight and conviction that education and community can radically transform the experience of childbirth and early parenting, for good and forever.

Since then, we have supported millions of women and parents through birth and early parenthood whilst also securing major advances in professional practice and public policy.

Today

So four years ago, we came together in thousands of conversations across NCT, to talk about what we wanted to achieve in the decade ahead. As we celebrated our sixtieth, we talked about what we wanted to do in the next ten years. And together we started to write what came to be called #ourNCTstory.

It’s a tale, at its heart, of supporting all parents across the first 1,000 days. Of becoming truly inclusive.

Building on all we have done.
So that we’re here for all parents.
Across the first 1,000 days.

It means strengthening our core work in antenatal education and infant feeding. Increasing our reach into less affluent communities. Extending the support we provide postnatally. Modernising our image. And building a much stronger organisation to better support volunteers and practitioners – in turn to support new parents.

And because we took real time to talk about this ambition, we find ourselves, today, part way through our third year of this great, ten-year ambition.

We’ve achieved a lot together in this time:

  • Radically improving our free online information, accessed over 6 million times – and 20% more in the past year
  • Creating the #HiddenHalf campaign for early identification and support for new mums’ mental health
  • Building much stronger relationships with our colleagues at The Royal Colleges and amongst other pregnancy and baby charities
  • Strengthening our safeguarding
  • Getting GDPR right
  • Changing how we support our volunteer branches and our regional volunteer leaders, where more than 15,000 new parents access NCT services free each week
  • Undertaking ourNCTservices – a complete, rigorous, evidence-led review of how in a fast-changing world our services remain accessible, relevant and impactful
  • And looking to build a new model of education to ensure we are developing sufficient numbers of high-quality new practitioners from diverse backgrounds in all the areas parents want to access NCT

This is just a selection of what we’ve done together. All of it and more built by volunteers, staff and practitioners working as a team.

Tomorrow

There is a quote I often return to by the US civil rights leader John Lewis. It was shared by tutor Dot Parry on one of the first conference calls I had when I joined NCT. “We have some huge challenges ahead of us. And we have the energy to do this. And if not us then who?”

I think we have done a lot. And I know there’s so much more to do.

Not for one moment am I naive about the scale of the challenge we have set ourselves, of supporting all parents, through pregnancy, birth and early parenthood.

Nor, as I leave, am I ignorant of the scale of the task ahead. Be that transitioning the extraordinary complexity of NCT from a bespoke IT system. Growing our core income in courses, membership and branches at a time of a falling birth rate, national economic uncertainty and when patterns of membership and volunteering are changing profoundly in society. Or building one antenatal course so that every parent experiences the best of what we deliver. These are not easy things to do. Some days it’s going to feel really hard because it will be really hard.

And vigorous debate, honest difference, a joyous plurality of personalities and perspectives, have long been a hallmark of our movement. So I don’t think there’ll be that many quiet days either.

Forever

Yet three things I know.

1 – NCT will always be a part of my life. And being its chief executive for a time has been an immense privilege. And I have felt that every day. Even on the challenging ones. Perhaps in fact, especially on the challenging ones. My successor has an incredible job.

Because – 2 – what we do is amazing. At our best we are sublime. I think to the now hundreds of courses and sales and bumps and babies and drop-ins I’ve revelled being in. And I find, not for want of trying, that I don’t really have the words to adequately crystalise the power, the life-changing power that trusted knowledge and lasting friendship confers. And I know it’s OK that I can’t quite find the words. Because we all know them in our own words and minds and experience.

And the ambition we have set ourselves of telling this story, in places where we aren’t yet, to people who haven’t yet heard, is one of the most important things I can imagine being involved in.

Parents supporting parents. At the critical time of life. In a country crying out for ways of coming together. Whoever you are. Wherever you’re from. No one going it alone.

Imagine your street, village, neighbourhood, country where every new family has trusted knowledge and lasting support. This is a hard thing to do. And it’s our NCT story.

And – 3 – we can do this because NCT is full of wonderful people. This isn’t blind optimism or a glib final line. We all have our flaws and all institutions their foibles. Yet not a day has gone by when I haven’t been struck by the commitment and skill and tenacity and love across this charity. Thank you.

We are, you are, all of us, part of something startling, reaching far behind and way ahead of us.

We are NCT.

And when we so choose, to look up and look out, we have it in us to change the world for good.

And, that, is an extraordinary thing to be a part of.

It has been an enormous privilege being part of this incredible organisation. I will miss it, and all of you, very much.

Thank you.

Nick

From bag stuffing to speaking in parliament

Oh the places volunteering takes you! We celebrate International Day of the Volunteer on 5 December with a blog by a much-loved volunteer. Fiona Doyle is a spokesperson for us, Regional Coordinator in London, newly-elected Chair of the Regional Volunteers Support Network and #HiddenHalf Champion.

I first became involved with NCT through doing antenatal classes. I’m a single parent and was really nervous about going. But everyone was so lovely and supportive, which really surprised me. My impression of NCT beforehand was that it was quite an elitist thing… and full of yummy mummies… which I definitely am not!

I suffered quite badly with postnatal depression (PND) for the first two years, however towards the end of this period, I decided I wanted to get involved in some way, as I’d had such a positive experience myself from supportive volunteers.

I saw an advert in my local NCT branch magazine (Haringey) for a Tea Host and got in touch. It turned out the branch co-ordinator was looking to step down and they offered me the role. So I took a chance and accepted it!

I held the co-ordinator role in Haringey for four years. Towards the end of last year, Melissa Gough-Rundle (Regional Volunteer Manager) approached me and asked me to think about taking on the Regional Coordinator (RC) role for London.

I’ve been given so many amazing opportunities through our charity; I’ve written articles about PND and single parenthood that have been published on Huffpost, Babycentre and The Honest Mum; I’ve been interviewed for Channel 5 News; I was able to get involved in the #Hiddenhalf campaign and speak at the Houses of Parliament. I’ve also met many lovely people through volunteering. So it made sense to me to make the move up to RC role and see what the next adventure would bring!

I would say the main reasons I’ve volunteered with NCT for so long are because I feel like I’ve found an organisation that really values my efforts and input. I’ve met so many people through volunteering. Everyone makes you feel like you’re making a difference and that they appreciate you.

I’m self-employed so don’t have a traditional colleague structure in my work life. NCT provides this too and I really do feel like part of a team. Although the on-the-ground volunteering stuff can be a bit thankless at times – stuffing goodie bags, hauling chairs and tables around church halls – it is so worth it when you see parents attending events making connections with other families and enjoying themselves.

In November of this year, I was elected Chair of the Regional Volunteer Support Network (RVSN). I’m so excited to take on this role. Being part of the RVSN team has been an absolute highlight of my NCT journey. Being able to act as a link between other volunteers, like me, and all the other areas of the charity has been extremely rewarding. I feel like I can make a difference on a more strategic level as well as still volunteering in my local branch.

I never thought volunteering would take me to the places it has or as far as it has. It really does go to show what a special charity NCT is.

Buzz of co-production satisfaction

By Naomi Gill, Capacity PSA, Service Support and Improvement Specialist for ourNCTservices projects

I’m a new face to the Knowledge and Service Development team, and it’s still wearing a smile – reflecting on the seriously productive day spent at the paid for 1:1 breastfeeding co-production team pilot review meeting in Birmingham at the end of September. My addition to the team is a complimentary role to my other NCT role as a Capacity PSA. It sees me bringing my working knowledge of operational policies, processes and systems to support ourNCTservices projects.

It was comforting to join my friend, colleague and fellow pilot team member Lucy Joyce for the train journey from our home town of Leicester to Birmingham. I first met Lucy nine years ago, when I moved back from London to my home town, heavily pregnant with my first child, at NCT Leicester Branch’s Bumps and Babies group and drop-in. She ran it with my sister. Nine years of ongoing branch involvement for me – including stints in every conceivable branch volunteer role – meant we could enjoy an animated catch-up about work, children and life as we trained it over to Brum.

Hosted by Gowling WLG, in a glass office set amidst an expansive atrium, it was a contrast from the home office environment, apart from perhaps the rain! We had five hours and one packed agenda to tackle:

  • Review timescales and progress
  • Lone worker policy – agree streamlined approach for remainder of the pilot
  • Booking & payment processes – what should we do for the rest of the pilot?
  • Supporting free/subsidised breastfeeding support
  • What’s the difference between a voluntary and paid for visit?

Key team decisions were required. After a thought-provoking warm-up exercise by Sophie where we mind-mapped both our current internal thoughts and preoccupations, as well as our hopes for the day on another – the sharing of which prompted both tears and laughter – I felt we were both bonded and ready for a collaborative day.

The paid for 1:1 breastfeeding support pilot team. Naomi is front and centre.

The meeting really flew by – fuelled by breastfeeding counsellor Louise Oliver’s doughnuts. These kicked off a day of necessary and ongoing refreshment to keep us on track. The discussions were in-depth, with balanced and considered input which propelled us forward to arrive at decisions we needed to make. I felt both personally and professionally welcomed and supported, especially when leading the session on the possibilities for our payment and booking process. Here I showcased a process map and exploration of available alternative systems and processes for the project. Great questions and insightful contributions from all of the team helped us to develop and agree both a SWOT and improvement plan for our existing 18-step process. The energetic session pace was balanced by a reflective discussion around the differences between voluntary and paid for visits, which was fascinating for me as a non-practitioner.

As I smile, I am relishing how the day provided me with a map of a new service growing in different ways and defining itself along the way through dedicated work and thorough analysis. I can still feel that buzz of co-production satisfaction gained from coming together with the group, sharing different experiences and viewpoints and digesting our feedback to make decisions that moved the project forward and planned its future shape. I have always embraced and valued NCT’s co-production ethos – attending ourNCTservices workshops, the Joint Weekend where PSAs and Senior Practitioners (and volunteers) come together – and value of this was only further cemented for me by this round-the-table day meeting.

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