Last month I wrote about the request I received from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for Nipperbout to help bring relief from pressure and even a sense of normality back to some of the families and children affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster. I thought I would share a few further observations of what I have seen through the quiet dedication of not only our own Purple People, but also the families and support agencies on the ground who have all been working towards restoring that normality, however long it takes to achieve. Recently I was invited to a meeting with RBKC and the response team for Grenfell Tower. It was a highly enlightening occasion and I think it would be useful to pass on some of what I learned.
During the meeting we heard stories from various other service providers on the ground - in particular from the alternative therapy organisers and the mental health team. They talked about the very positive impact that alternative therapies and counselling has had on some of the residents they had been and are still working with. Like others, Nipperbout was able to back this up with a story of one of ‘our‘ parents who said that after help for the first time since the fire, she felt 'human’ again. In that meeting it hit home to me just how needed we had been and how much we have been helping, even though it seems to us as though we’ve been doing so in a small way.
Because of the sensitivities of the subjects that were being discussed, the meeting had been arranged involving only the council and the service providers – it wasn’t open to the residents themselves. There was a slightly scary interlude when two residents walked into the meeting and became – understandably perhaps - quite vocally aggressive at not having been invited to join in. Although the council’s reasons for not inviting residents seemed valid and logical, I could see the point of view on both sides.
It was really interesting to witness how the situation was handled. The lady who had been speaking when the residents marched in went on the defensive and attempted to justify the council’s actions. The residents - mistakenly - thought that everyone in the room was from the council and were being paid large salaries. This, in turn, caused some murmuring from the many volunteers and charitable organisations and inevitably tempers flared. Two very skilled ladies, possibly from the CAMS teams or mental health associations finally took control, supporting each other in turn by repeatedly acknowledging everyone’s positions and views.
What happened then is exactly what I teach on our Nipperbout Behaviour Management courses. Briefly, the residents became even more angry but then, with skilled, gentle and genuine acknowledging, they became less emotionally flooded and were able to take a step back, listen and think clearly. In turn they were invited to stay and participate. A comfort break called at this point helped to completely defuse the situation. I make the point because I want to emphasise the power of acknowledgement even in acute and intensely emotional situations. Bringing people into the discussion and not isolating them has really positive results.
With the break over, the meeting progressed and we learnt more about how Nipperbout has helped and how it can continue to do so. Understandably, some of the parents have taken quite some time to build up the trust needed to feel able to leave their children, even for short periods. The fact that they can now do so has enabled them to access the much needed counselling sessions and alternative treatments that are also available. Other service providers agreed that without first establishing quality childcare which parents can trust, those other services wouldn’t have been sought out. Indirectly our own work has been helping not only those service providers but also the children AND their parents. Children can be challenging - parents are only able to help them deal with strong emotions if they too are relaxed. Put slightly differently, parents need their jugs of patience and calm refilling so that they can go on pouring it out.
During the meeting there was a conversation about the move that these children are on the point of making to other places. Accustomed now to Nipperbout and the Purple People, more change will be hard for them. Harder still for their new key workers will be working out where to place them in their schooling, because all the EYFS paperwork for these children was destroyed in the fire. It will be difficult (as it was for us) to know whether the children’s current EYFS levels are true, or whether they’ve dropped because of the trauma they’ve been through. The Early Years team was concerned that children shouldn’t be marginalized educationally on top of everything that they’ve been through - Nipperbout is providing a learning log for each child giving insight into where they are in their learning and development as well as showing the progress they’ve made during their time with us.
When I returned to the playroom at St Quintin’s after the meeting, it was home time for the children. I was struck by how the parents entered with ease and trust, sure of the welcome they would receive. I witnessed each one of the four Nipperbout staff on duty spend a good five to ten minutes listening carefully to every parent – everyone was clearly comfortable and familiar with each other. It might be only a brief kind of normality – but it was normality all the same and wonderful to see.
Today has seen the start of the public enquiry into the awful events of the 14th of June - it will be with us for a long time. Over the past weeks we’ve all been on a journey which none of us will forget. Individuals have populated that journey and I was so pleased to see that the little girl who cried in her sleep, now does so less and that the boy who originally spat at us and threw things around the crèche we set up now engages in activities more easily. It was also great to watch the parent who was previously terrified of leaving her baby now confident enough to do so. These individuals together may only be a small fraction of the larger number of affected children and parents that we have been working with, but I am immensely proud, knowing that our Purple People have helped relieve the pain of the past months and supported the people of Grenfell to take their first steps back to a normal and happier life.