As part of our year long 40th birthday celebrations, we invited Bristol City Councillor Ruth Pickersgill to take us on a trip down memory lane, recalling her days as the first Co-ordinator of BAND.
“When you get to my age someone asking you to write an article reminiscing is an opportunity not to be missed!
I signed my contract as the first Co-ordinator of BAND on 19th May 1982 (I know as I am such a hoarder I just found it!) I had been teaching in London and gave it up when I became disabled and realised it was too physically hard to continue. My interview memory is of the outfit I wore and feeling totally overdressed – suddenly realising I looked too much like a teacher and wishing I’d gone for more for a laid-back community worker look!
At that time, BAND consisted of six holiday and afterschool schemes in areas like Southmead (SNAP), St Pauls and Easton (SPEAD), Hartcliffe and Withywood (WASPS), Hotwells (HANDS), Barton Hill and Totterdown Childrens Community Workshop compared to over 200 now. My role was to support, create a newsletter and help to develop training and further schemes, and it was funded through a Government’s Community Enterprise Programme which subsidised jobs in the voluntary sector.
My first question understandably was ‘Where is the office?’ and the answer was, ‘You need to find one!’ With no clue how to, I looked at the ads in the Evening Post and a couple of months later we were installed in a room above a stationers in Old Market with a typewriter (we splashed out on an electric one) and a few files!
I was young and naïve and learnt so much from the amazing women I met like Mrs Poole and Wendy Burge, who singlehandedly set up and ran their schemes, believing that the practical support would enable single mothers (who were the main users) to go back into training or work – an innovative and creative model of empowerment for its time.
It was at this time that I met the current CEO, Paul Dielhenn, who was running the Totterdown Children’s Workshop. BAND was campaigning for affordable childcare and promoting play, and was already well respected and effective. I muddled through that first year and I look back with affection at events like the first Playday at Blaise when a child got bitten by a police horse, and numerous other near disasters borne mainly from the total lack of risk assessments! My year ended when a permanent role was established and the next Coordinator, the late Sue Richards (later Njie) took on the role with her extensive experience of voluntary community development.”
Over the last 40 years I have watched with pride the way BAND has grown, but always stayed true to its values of community development and empowerment. I have been particularly impressed at their consistent commitment to equality and inclusion – which is still in their DNA and underpins all of their work. Recently, in my role as trustee of a refugee organisation being visited by Ofsted, I called on their help and saw first-hand how they are so professional, knowledgeable and supportive, and how much the sector relies on their support.
BAND has changed over the years and has had to adapt to changing Government policy, the commissioning climate, austerity and funding cuts –but some things endure- I still remember the phone number by heart, as it never changed, and the building blocks logo is still the one designed by my brother who carved it as a wooden sign as we couldn’t pay a designer!”
This article originally appeared in BAND News.