Earlier this year, I made the decision to stand for election as president of NCT. I’m not going to pretend this decision wasn’t nudged along by colleagues; it’s not the sort of thing you could do without a lot of conversations with people you trust. The person I trust most in the world, my partner Pete, was completely on board when I put the idea to him, and that was the final deciding factor.
The next few days were spent jotting down notes and ideas, pretty much constantly. How could I distil the feelings I have about my 11-year involvement with NCT, and about the ongoing political rifts that threaten the charity I love? It really made me reflect on who I am, what my values are, and what it all means to me; and this process continued all summer during a campaign that ran on until 25th October. You can track the development of my thoughts on my campaign facebook page, here.
To give some background to the election, the other candidate was Seána Talbot, who resigned from the post in February. Her side of the story is put here but it is worth noting that NCT’s version is bound up by legal privilege and professionalism, preventing all of the facts from being known. Over the course of the summer, I learned much more about this highly-charged situation, including in detail from Seána herself, when I invited her to have a coffee with me during my family holiday in Ireland. I was moved by how strongly she feels about what happened, and made sure I followed up as much as I could of what she shared. The situation was, to say the very least, badly handled; but it’s my view that everyone involved genuinely acted with what they felt at the time were the charity’s best interests at heart. I am so sorry for the heartache and stress Seána has been through.
I reflected then on whether I should withdraw from the election, if she had what she feels is a legal and moral right to be reinstated. However I didn’t think it possible to reset the events of the past months and start over; the slate will not be wiped clean by her re-election, as has been clearly demonstrated in the days since that has happened. I didn’t see how re-electing Seána would bring the charity together, given her public opposition to the decisions made by the Board. And I felt strongly that the worst possible situation was an election with only one candidate, offering no alternative for those members who did not want to vote for Seána.
Much of this process has felt very exposing, not least producing a campaign video to be circulated to the membership. NCT offered me a budget to make this, but given the short timescales, owing to summer holidays that were already planned, I’m pleased to say that I didn’t spend a penny of it. It was filmed in my back garden and edited together by Pete with some other photos and footage of me working. I think he did a great job, and my one regret is that we didn’t add subtitles.
By this time, I had gathered a small team of supportive friends, who helped refine the script. They gave up a lot of time to do things like coach me on hard questions I might be asked (though actually I never had a really difficult question to answer); and perhaps the most important thing they did was remind me who I am and why I was running. It’s tempting to look at the campaign and try to find a way to be all things to all people, but quite early on they helped me to realise that the only person I should be anything to, is myself. I think we found a core of absolute integrity, and made that the basis of our platform. We put NCT at the heart of the campaign, and never forgot that we were PART OF NCT. I used the facebook page to talk about the issues affecting parents in the UK today, and to champion all the work that NCT does locally and nationally to help them.
I almost had to erase myself from the campaign and open up to listening to others, which sounds odd when they whole thing was about promoting me to the voting membership, which always felt quite uncomfortable. I had no problem doing things like going out to visit Bumps & Babies groups in other branches, but taking a selfie each time and writing a post about how involved and engaged I was, always felt awkward. However I did enjoy making this podcast with my colleague Sherry Bevan, who was really lovely to talk to.
In the midsts of all this, I took 9 days out to walk 150 miles across the country with my mum, but that’s another story.
I was overwhelmed by the love and support my page received. At first from friends and other practitioners who had vaguely heard of me, and then complete strangers commenting on and sharing the page, which made me feel like I must be doing something right. We had some really constructive conversations, in which people expressed concerns, for example, about communications between branches and UK Office. There were some good creative suggestions made too, and I hope now that someone might remember them and do something to take a few of them forward.
Given that Seána had a bit of a landslide victory in 2015, I never had a very high expectation of winning. In the last few days of the voting, I made my peace with this. On 27th October I received an email telling me that I had not been successful. A little while later I spoke on the phone with Jess Figueras, NCT’s chair of Trustees and a woman I hugely admire; a courtesy call really just to confirm the result.
Then I had to keep it quiet for over a week, which was quite surreal, particularly when I received good luck messages from so many people. I had decided not to bother going to the AGM if I lost, but as it got nearer, I realised that I was pretty much obliged to go and be a gracious loser, if only to maintain confidentiality of the result until the appropriate moment.
I had a lot of compliments on the dress I wore to the AGM, and feel I should mention that if I had won, I would have worn something quite different! I was obliged to be there, but I wasn’t obliged to dress like a president. There was a funny moment on entering Westminster City Hall and being asked, “Are you here for NCT… oh I recognise you!” So many hugs, and the weight of expectation all around me – knowing that perhaps not all eyes would be on me at the moment of the announcement, but over the course of that day I felt an utter lack of privacy in which to express anything but calm and cool-headedness. Breastfeeding Counsellor training prepares you with resilience and the ability to freeze your face, but it was a long day.
Seána’s speech after the announcement promised a line would be drawn in the sand and we could move on. The ensuing AGM involved some hard questions being put to the Board, and the prevailing atmosphere was not one of a charity being drawn together and moving forward (and realistically nor would it have been, at that moment, had I won). One of the feelings I was trying not to express was relief that I no longer had a role to play in any of this.
Running for president of NCT has changed me. Many times I have reminded myself to be my best self (and it hasn’t always been easy to do that), to stay true to my values, and to use my small platform to be completely and thoroughly positive. The support I have had, the things people have said about me, have held up a mirror in which I have seen myself grow. Repeatedly affirming your values over a four month period certainly embeds them in every fibre of your being. On a personal level this has been a thoroughly positive experience. As for how I feel about the future of NCT, I think that we have a long journey ahead of us, and right now I don’t know what, if any, part I will play in it.