“We are unquestionably under the test of our lives at the moment and you and your colleagues are at the sharp end of it.
Be kind to you colleagues, but crucially, be kind to yourselves.
Even in the darkest hour, when you feel as if you are not getting anywhere and you want to stay under your quilt, remember that you are making such an important difference with everything you do every single day.
For all that you do and will be called upon to do through this crisis and beyond, my sincere thanks.”
What a fantastic opportunity to bring the Whole Education leaders from across all networks together this morning to start our 2021 programme of WE Inspire events with a keynote from Lord Chris Holmes MBE.
Chris shared his personal story of waking up, aged fourteen, unable to see. This was an extraordinary personal crisis. How does a teenager cope with this? However, the ‘fire of life’ he felt deeply within motivated and pushed him to carry on. Chris referred to the strength and support provided at this time from the people around him – friends, family and teachers. In the 1980’s disabled children were not educated in mainstream schools. He refers to his sensational teachers and his love for all aspects of school life. The leadership, courage and strength demonstrated by his teachers meant that he was able to return to school within three months. Chris loved participating in sports and figured that he would be able to further his level of skill in swimming. The leaders at his swimming club faced challenge from authorities regarding the participation of a blind swimmer in a mainstream club – they considered him a fire risk. However, it was proved that the small amendments put in place not only created an inclusive environment, but benefited everyone.
Fifteen months after losing his sight, Chris attended the Junior European Championships in Moscow. He finished 28th and returned home defeated and deflated. However, his dream was to attend the Paralympic Games and “do something special.” At the Barcelona Olympics his main rival was the Spanish local, Pablo Corral. 9500 spectators cheering for Pablo and 500 for Chris! What was his plan? To win – and he did! He went on to represent Great Britain at four Olympic Games and won a total of nine gold, five silver and one bronze medal.
Then, the opportunity arose to join the team bidding to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012. The team put everything into the bid, their only chance, to bring the Games back to London for the first time in 64 years. They travelled to Singapore for the decision and heard the word ‘London’. They had won the right to host the Games in London 2012 and left feeling excited, exhausted, elated and proud. It had been a real team effort. What faced them was a seven year planning and delivery journey.
However, 24 hours after this decision, three bombs exploded on the London Underground and one on a London bus. After such an atrocity in the centre of the city they still had to put things in place to ensure the planning and delivery happened. They had to lead and continue to fulfil the vision and mission of their roles – to deliver the most extraordinary Games possible. The team employed were bound by their shared vision and mission. Staff were employed to do the “best work of their lives” in the same way that the athletes would at the Games.
In the lead up to the Games the team attended schools across the country to share the ‘Get set’ programme and used income from corporate business to enable children to attend events at the Games. At every school the children were eager to ask questions, particularly those that would be avoided by adults, e.g. What was it like when you lost your sight? How can you swim if you can’t see? Chris views this youth engagement programme as having the most profound impact on and long lasting impact following the 2012 Olympics as they were able to engage with young, open minds who would be our future generation of adults.
Chris recalls the feelings experienced during the 2012 Olympics and asked school leaders what it currently feels like in the bleak mid-Winter of 2021 facing an extraordinary challenge that we could never have imagined. He points out that the opportunities are still there……..
A crisis can happen in an instant. It can be small, medium or monumental – personal or professional. We don’t choose them, they come and find us. We can face the crisis or hide away. Resilience happens when we are put to the test and our response to it, both individually and collectively.
I have no doubt that Whole Education leaders will hold Chris’ story in their heads and hearts from today and, like him, will emerge from this current world crisis much stronger.
Jo Corrigan, Director of Primary