Just over three years ago I sat in a waiting area, watching on monitors a group sensory therapy session that my nephew was attending. There were other parents and carers in the little waiting area and made polite conversation as you normally would and whilst I couldn’t possibly pick out all others that attended in a crowd now but Emma Zenaj was there. Many of you will already know Emma, she has many years of experience within the SEND community. As I sat in the waiting room, Emma and I spoke and we exchanged details etc. She told me about all of these places that I should be going to, SNAPS, SPCF, and a Facebook page she was running at the time. This moment changed my life. I am not certain that there are many things that happen in life you can pinpoint to one moment, often they are a culmination of lots of different things, but this is one of them. I found Stockton Parent Carer Forum on Facebook, and there was an advert asking for people to volunteer their time. For the first time in a long time, I felt able to commit to something more than just looking after my nephew and found myself messaging the page to say that I would be interested. I didn’t at that point even know what a parent carer forum was or what they did. I went along to the first meeting that they had and I was listening to everything going on around me thinking, I don’t have a clue on what you are talking about, but I am really handy with a computer and I am happy to do any admin work that was needed. The rest, as they say, is history.
It is only now that I look back at where I was three/four years ago that I realise how alone I really was and I have the forum to thank for introducing me so many amazing people. Parents and carers who have attended coffee mornings or focus groups and feedback sessions. The professionals who I have met along the way, who haven’t always got it right, but have accepted challenge and tried to improve services with the constraints that they have. The other parent carer forums within the region that I have had the pleasure to work alongside in the last year have been their co-chair. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing volunteers within SPCF. For however long they have stayed for, they have contributed and that has had an impact for all parents/carers in Stockton On Tees. Most of all, I have made some lifelong friends that I once wouldn’t have ever made if it were not for the day that Emma told me about the forum. It seems completely fitting that, as I leave the forum to start a new role, Emma will be taking over from me.
I cannot say that I have loved every moment of running the forum, because that would be a lie. There have been some times that have been so challenging that I wanted to walk away and I’ve cried many tears from frustration, anger and fear of decisions that people were making that I knew would impact greatly on the families in Stockton on Tees and feeling powerless to stop them. I have spent time worrying about whether the suggestions/comments and decisions that I have made on behalf of families in the local area was the right one or whether it would end up making things worse. Through all of that though, it has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have met amazing people, learnt so much and now that I move on to work in another local authority, there is so much of me that will miss the forum so very much. I’ll miss meeting with you at events and updating the Facebook page, seeing all the amazing things that you are doing for your children/young people.
I suppose, there isn’t really very much point to this blog post, except that it will be my last, and I wanted to share with you just a glimpse of how important it has been for me, personally, and I hope that you will all continue to engage with the forum. Every time you fill in a survey, respond to a question on Facebook, offer your time for a focus group or consultation or attend a coffee morning, you are making an impact on the services that you access. It may not feel like it, I know. I think it is only now in the last 10 months that I have seen real changes happening in Stockton. I know that it will go from strength to strength, but only if you continue to participate. With the deepest sincerity, I want to thank all of you for being part of the forum and as part of the forum, you have all changed my life and for that, I can never thank you enough.