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.
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.
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:
- Building Parents in Mind and re-launching Birth and Beyond Community Supporters, increasing our reach and the support we provide to parents at risk of greater isolation
- 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
- Testing new ways of providing breastfeeding support. Refreshing the infant feeding message framework
- 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.
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.
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.