I started work at One25, after being interviewed by the three senior members of staff (Val Jeal, Chris White and Helen Hill) and two trustees (Sue Farr and Carol Self). I’d come from a Housing Association but needed to work school hours and the HA hadn’t been able to accommodate that. Possibly that wasn’t the answer the panel wanted to hear when they asked me at interview why I wanted to work for One25, but clearly I managed to retrieve that faux pas, and here I am !
It was a small organisation: income around £125,000, six members of staff, all working in what is now the two parts of the casework office, with the drop-in downstairs. The van was parked at a Catholic church in Bishopston. A shared phone line, one email address, a few computers – but if you opened an email or started a document on one computer, it couldn’t be retrieved on another, so you’d have to know where something was and move around accordingly. Blank rotas were posted out to volunteers, and posted back to us, then the completed rota would be posted out again. Labels for the prayer letter were stored on a volunteer’s electric typewriter, in her home, and the ribbon was getting very faint: I worried she would feel offended when I suggested that these really should be kept at the office, because of data protection – a very novel idea back then! – but the amazing (and still missed) Pat Dimond agreed with me, so I retyped that list. It may not sound like much now but it was cutting edge then! We didn’t even have a mobile phone on the van.
In those days, I did just about everything in the office, including applying for a grant to buy more computers which then meant we could set up a proper network. I couldn’t have done that without help from Val’s husband Cliff and another IT volunteer. Everything’s grown a bit since then, even the swanky new phone system I researched and recommended has been replaced (not before time), and we all have smartphones to keep us connected. I came to know all the volunteers, most of the regular supporters and a few of the women.
When I started “the boys” were 14, 11 and 9 so I’d have to dash away half-way through the drop-in session to try and be there when they got home from school. There often wasn’t anyone in the office to answer the phone once I left so after a few years, once the boys no longer noticed whether I was there or not, I shifted to working four longer days. They’re now proper grown-ups, which I still find hard to believe.
What hasn’t changed? The women: they need us as much as ever. We do different things, we do things better, but we still offer unconditional love and acceptance. The volunteers, including trustees: we need them as much as we ever did, and they are still amazing in their commitment – Sue Farr and Pat Douglas still coming to the office among them. The individual donors and prayer supporters: there are still a few people who have consistently supported us from the beginning (i.e. longer than I have been here!) and I still meet people who say “I heard Val speak at my church, I have never forgotten it”.
And my staff ‘family’. Well clearly they’ve changed quite a lot, but their commitment to the women remains, and their commitment to each other. We are still here for each other, no matter what is thrown at us: we support each other, we care for each other, we listen, we learn.