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Just Keep Swimming!

14 Jan 20
Sue Smith
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Just Keep Swimming!

As a child I never had the support and nurturing that I would wish for any other child. It led to complications: married too young, teenage motherhood and turbulent relationships. Sad circumstances and an assumed life of chaos and turmoil would be the likely outcome for me.

Now in personal relationships I confess it has not always been plain sailing and my inability to trust was reinforced through my experiences of controlling and hostile characters. But this blog is about professional and personal development, how adversity can not only be overcome but can indeed be nurtured itself into something positive.

I left school at 16 having sat just 2 of the 9 O’ levels I studied (yes I am that old)! Married at 17, first child at 18, another at 19 and another at 21.  Separated at 21 and divorced at 22. Now the separation itself was a relief however the concept of being a single mum with 3 kids at 21 year old – well – the future didn’t look bright.

I depended on state benefits and experienced all the judgements and hardships that go with that. But despite this and additional extreme circumstances that could rival any soap opera at the time (I will write a book one day) I dug deep to find something, anything, something to move me and my children forward.

At that time further education was free so I enrolled into a local college and studied Sociology and Psychology, I even got an ‘A’ level …!

I also knew that I needed to gain experience in something. So, as my children entered nursery and school age, I took up part time work and volunteering. Now the contrast couldn’t have been different, my part time work consisted of cleaning and catering work to give me a few extra quid to rob Peter and pay Paul.  My difficult life experiences however led to a core desire to help others, to support those worse off, to turn my experiences into something positive. I approached the then volunteer development agency, which no longer exists unfortunately and following an interview they offered me a placement working with a charity that supported victims of crime.

Now don’t get me wrong, it was not easy. I was about 24 years old, 3 kids, part time work and volunteering. I could have given up, been a stay at home mum but it never entered my head, I was always looking for the next thing, the progression, the next step.

Over those few years I developed a great deal. I started as all volunteers do needing a boat load of training and supervised practise working with clients. My people skills developed quickly, and I loved that I was volunteering to help people in my local community. Despite that my self-belief was so low that when a part time admin/support post came up at the charity I didn’t even consider applying. The post became vacant again a short while later and I was asked why I hadn’t applied first time round, so I did and got the job.

That role saw me develop further, I became the service co-ordinator, I trained volunteers and I went through all the stages of learning required to work with the most serious crimes and vulnerable witnesses. This is also when I started counselling training and where my first knowledge of working with PTSD occurred. The service manager was a Certified Trauma Specialist and I was fortunate enough that she saw my ability, she believed in me when I didn’t, and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn. I worked with her for many years in the capacity of a ‘Trauma Associate’ an area of work that still fascinates and drives my work today.

This period of my life, early 20’s – early 30’s, was significant in steering the path that I pursued. It was still tough; I experienced another marriage followed by divorce and had to deal with life changing and dramatic personal circumstances (still going to write that book)! The charity I worked for also changed, due to restructuring it was no more and I wasn’t at all sure what to do next. But still I kept digging deep, I kept going.

I found myself looking at a job vacancy one day – a specialist organisation in Middlesbrough. I read the words, the person specification and yes, I could say yes to them all, but I still didn’t really believe in me. I applied, thinking it was nothing more than experience in applying for jobs, I got an interview, I went along thinking it was good experience of interview techniques, I got the job and felt major disbelief –crikey I wasn’t even sure how to get to Middlesbrough, there must be a mistake!

It was no mistake; I was employed as a ‘Training and Development Officer’ for an organisation specialising in Domestic and Sexual Abuse. The team there quickly grew to respect me, and I was honoured. Again, I thought they were so much more knowledgeable than me but here they were coming to me for advice and support and there I was training professionals. I was terrified at the start but soon became embedded in the world of Teesside, running support groups within the community, developing and delivering accredited training with the University, working with clients with complex needs and supporting my colleagues.

After a few years the organisations role had changed, and funding became restricted so once again my future wasn’t certain. I was also facing further adverse personal circumstances (that book again)! I recall thinking I should stay put, just see what happens, I like many other people was fearful of the unknown, wary of change.

Around this time a new national initiative was underway – the creation of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) in each Police force area. They were to be 24/7 support centres providing a range of options to victims who had experienced serious sexual offences. Services were provided regardless of whether the client wished to report to the Police. The Teesside one was due to open and they were looking for a Manager.

Colleagues believed in me, still more than I did and following reassuring feedback about how great I would be at the SARC I applied………and following a presentation and an interview to a panel of 5 ‘very important people’ ….I got the job.

As Manager of the Teesside Sexual Assault Referral Centre I had 12 years of building the service from nothing. I was presented with a brand-new building, new furniture and equipment but no policies, no procedures and initially only one member of staff. It took time to build the service into a fabulous facility providing excellent around the clock care to victims across Teesside, but relationships were built, respect obtained, and I had an amazing staff team doing a fabulous job.

Following a procurement process the service expanded to include provision of 24/7 crisis support to neighbouring SARCs too. Initially I was honoured that commissioners modelled the contract on the Teesside service of crisis intervention. Unfortunately, the new contract resulted in the role having less client focus, more screen time and spreadsheet focussed! Not things that resonate well with me so once again I had to consider my position and options available.

Launch: Specialist Support Solutions Ltd.

After 13 years of wonderful work in Teesside (I’m not including the ever-lengthening commute in that) I’ve took the plunge and launched my own business. Counselling, training and facilitating.

I’ve got this wealth of experience, both professional and personal (I will write that book)! And I want to bring that back to help my local community.

I’ve got a Management Degree, a Masters Degree no less – yes me! Me who left school with just 2 O’levels, me who was a single mum of 3 at just 21 years old and me who had no belief in me and thought that only ‘posh’ people went to University.

I’m a qualified Counsellor, an experienced Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA), a qualified Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA), DBS Cleared, Safeguarding trained and Director of my own business.

In 2017 I even won a special award which you can see if you follow this link:

Am I bragging? No not at all – I still think that somehow, I got here by some sort of fluke!! (It’s called Imposter Syndrome and most of us have a bit of it).

The point is this: – I’m a firm believer in positive mental attitude (PMA). PMA has helped me survive and encouraged my onward drive. Am I still a little scared? Of course I am. Will I let that stop me from trying? Absolutely not – I still want to make a difference and I’m still heading in that direction. ?


Always ask yourself this:-

What’s the worst that can happen?

It goes wrong? – So, stop, try a different path.

You fail? – So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again.

And if different paths are daunting, if you feel you simply haven’t got the energy to start again, get some help, get some support, personal or professional you’ll be surprised at what and who is there for you.

The worst thing is to do nothing, every step you take is a step, even if it doesn’t work out as you hoped it is a step forward. We learn from mistakes and advance from our learnings.

Keep moving forward.


1 Comment

  1. Mary O’Sullivan March 3, 2020 at 4:39 am Reply

    I have loved reading this Sue, thank you.
    You have re inspired me to keep on learning and look at how much more I can give to our local community too!
    I was looking into the Mental health first aid course which is how I found your blog.
    I would love to be able to move on from my diploma in counselling and do something with it… Just not sure what (lol).
    I am loving following you on Facebook, we do seem to follow the same groups and it looks like we have very similar thoughts in life. You are an inspiration Sue, thank you x

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