I left school at 16 and took a hairdressing course before working in the industry for several years. Long hours at the salon persuaded me to sell my business when I had my first child and find my present job. Full-time at first, I went on to a part-time contract (9.30am-2.30pm) so I could look after my children in the holidays (and also not have to pay for childcare).
Giving out general information, finding out what is happening and directing people to where they need to go - although the job is a lot more than this! I work in a team of around 12.
City Lit is a friendly place with lots of support if you need it. I’ve stayed here because I’m a very sociable person and really like the students; they come from all walks of life and all over the world - from lords and ladies to bag ladies! The clientele is always changing. We get lots of disabled adults with all sorts of learning and other disabilities such as speech impediments. That’s what makes the job so interesting. I like dealing with people face to face and advising and guiding them in the right direction.
I come in at 9.30am, sort out my emails, check the computer is working, and make sure a handbook is available for students with disabilities. I’m constantly checking what meetings are taking place, who is taking them and where they want people to go. We have a support department that, for instance, will sort out a special chair for a student with physical disabilities, and I have to tell the student about where and when to collect it. Likewise, anyone with hearing difficulties can pick up hearing aids from me at a special reception area for collection and return.
A special needs class ended two weeks ago but some students - with or without carers who drop them off - forget and still keep coming! They would find no one in class and start wandering around getting disorientated. I then had to let the special needs dept know they were here, find out where they lived, and contact relatives or carers to pick them up again.
One guy with special needs turned up one day and went absent the next. I had to phone round to ask if anyone had seen him, and then inform his family who had become quite frantic. When he turned up in the afternoon, I asked him where he’d been. I said his sister was worried about him and please could he phone her. “No!” he replied, heading off to the canteen for coke and cakes, and so I had to inform the canteen staff. But he was an adult, living his life and had obviously decided he did not want to attend morning class.
I sometimes face people who are rather demanding and on the defensive - it goes with the job. You have to calm them down and make them feel welcome. Some come with mental issues linked to drug-, drink- or other related problems. Over the years you recognise the sort of problem they have and how to respond.
I’ve also met quite a few personalties. BBC presenter Adrian Chiles came in last week and I had a good chat with him! I also recently met Princess Anne who officiated at an awards ceremony during our centenary year. Her grandfather, George VI, famously had a speech impediment and there was a link to our speech therapy dept. I’m on the centenary organising committee along with governors, our principal and the marketing team.
As one of the college’s qualified first aiders - I’m a volunteer - a student once asked me to call him a cab home. He was not feeling well and looked very pale. I asked him if anyone was at home. When he said no, I knew I couldn’t let him leave. He had a pain in his chest, so I made him comfortable and called the duty manager and a paramedic. It turned out he was having a heart attack; he went to hospital for three weeks but then came back thank me. I was really proud of how I’d helped him - he could have died.
I often encourage folk who seem uncertain they want to enrol in any activity. One guy came in unable to read or write. I got talking to him and could see he was embarrassed and I spurred him on. He has since taken various literacy courses that have really helped him. He arrived with his head down and now it’s held high. It’s great seeing people blossom.
Several years ago, the college held a competition to design best use of a large disused balcony on our fourth floor and my garden design won! I’m still managing the space which is well used by students; it’s a sensory garden with lots of herbs.
Great patience with the general pubic, and a strong sense of care and understanding. It’s about treating people with the same respect that you would expect for yourself.
When I started I took a course in admin and secretarial/receptionist duties. I’ve done various staff training courses with the college’s information and advice team which help in dealing with people who, for instance, are deaf or have a stammer, suffer from asphasia or have had a stroke. First aid refresher courses are every three years.
Sometimes we get specific training including learning sign language. We have a deaf department and we learn what deaf students need. The course I did was tailored to receptionists as we always ask for proof of any tuition fee concession when meeting/registering potential students for the first time. It’s great when someone comes in and you can immediately communicate with them.
Do you really like working one-to-one with the general public?
My colleagues! I work with such lovely, caring people. We have a great support network and there is always someone to talk to.
Interview by Richard Doughty