Sir John Timpson shares his thoughts on attachment and always looking for opportunities to support children where they are.
A blog from businessman, foster carer and our trustee Sir John Timpson, first written for the Telegraph, on his optimistic message for 2023.
No one is foolish enough to ride into 2023 on a bandwagon of optimism, times are going to be tough. Despite having had a decent run of business since Covid, we at Timpson, like everyone else, face a year full of uncertainty – fuel prices, the Ukraine War and inflation mean we keep our fingers crossed and now plan months rather than years ahead.
So my message of optimism isn’t connected with day to day sales and profit, I want to talk about the influence we can have outside our businesses and I’m prompted by a recent lightbulb moment.
Business leaders are in a privileged position. They can influence more lives than politicians, teachers, physicians or clergymen. They not only help colleagues to earn an income that provides for their families and their future, the best bosses act as mentors to help team members cope with life’s problems from bereavement to stress and debt to divorce. Care and kindness are part of being a great boss.
Company colleagues take priority but, if possible, we should play a part in the community. Generous support for worthwhile causes can play an important part of a company’s culture – something that can embrace colleagues and help them feel proud.
25 years ago, we started offering a few jobs for free, like a bit of stitching or a hole in a belt, in return for a donation into our charity box. We raised over £4m for ChildLine, the NSPCC and After Adoption. But for the last five years we have supported The Alex Timpson Trust, a charity set up in memory of my late wife, who spent much of her life helping children, particularly kids in the care system.
As foster carers, Alex and I discovered many of the children were pretty challenging – disobedient, withdrawn and defiant, with a few temper tantrums. These were signs of poor attachment, caused by the lack of loving care from a mum, dad or primary carer. Children who don’t get childhood cuddles and adult support can lack confidence in themselves and seldom trust an adults – that’s often called ‘attachment problems’. As a result evidence shows that looked after children are statistically more likely to be excluded from school, do poorly in exams, become unemployed and go to prison.
For the last 5 years The Alex Timpson Trust has funded a major research project, carried out by The Rees Centre at Oxford, into the awareness of attachment in schools. The findings, due to be published in the new year, will show that in schools where attachment training is given and the staff understand why these children can display testing behaviour, not only do the children benefit but the culture of the whole school improves.
I thought our job had been done until I experienced the lightbulb moment. It was produced by an inspirational Virtual School Head, from Hertfordshire, Felicity Evans, who told me about a groundbreaking scheme she has put into 11 Secondary Schools with dramatic results. Like all good ideas it is very simple and straight to the point.
The transfer from primary to secondary education is often difficult for young people from unstable homes who are vulnerable and have attachment problems. They are moved from a small school where, for each school year, they are in the same classroom with the same teacher. Secondary schools are very much bigger and the varied timetable presents a major challenge, particularly in the first term.
In Felicity’s schools, pupils with attachment problems get extra support as soon as they arrive. For the first two years they spend two hours a week in a Nurture Group that provides a safe environment where the young people can develop their self-esteem. Then comes the really clever bit – for the rest of their time at school they each get an hour every week ‘one to one’ with their own mentor, who is a volunteer, recruited from the community.
Felicity is already seeing the benefits in Hertfordshire, but for real proof go to Glasgow and speak to Maureen McKenna and Iain Macritchie who created the idea – they call it MCR Pathways. Their results are stunning – attainment grades have shot up, school exclusions have all but been eliminated and this appears to have led to a significant drop in local youth violence.
So, back to optimism. Despite the imminent poor prospects, we can be optimistic about the benefits we can bring to the community. Business can fill a gap that Government fails to grasp because we look for ideas and solutions while a Government Department concentrates on policy and process – there is a big difference between a Permanent Secretary and an entrepreneur.
If your business would like to demonstrate a commitment to community and work with Frontline to develop ideas and solutions that can make children’s lives better, get in touch with our fundraising team to find out how you can get involved.