Please See Attached
Shoe-repair tycoon John Timpson and After Adoption’s Lynn Charlton tell Sophie McBain about the shared values that underpin their successful mentoring scheme for adoptive parents
Chief executive of Timpson
My wife Alex and I don’t see our work as giving to charity; we just get involved in things that we are interested in doing. The first thing we got involved in was becoming foster parents. When the youngest of our three children (we’ve adopted two since) went to school, my wife responded to an advert asking for foster carers, and we’ve since spent the past 31 years fostering over 90 children. I suppose that’s the most significant thing we’ve been involved in.
We then became involved with the NSPCC. We were invited to dinner by the Duke of Westminster, which was fantastic, and on the way home Alex said, ‘You realise we haven’t had to put our hands in our pockets tonight, but you are expected to do something.’ So that night I came up with an idea. In our shops we used to do a lot of what we called ‘free jobs’, small jobs like holes in belts, which we didn’t charge for. I decided to change that, and ask customers to put a pound in our NSPCC charity box instead. We collect £6,000 a month just through the box, and overall we’ve raised around £3 million for the NSPCC and Childline.
When Lynn and I started talking, I realised that I was very familiar with the scheme she was trying to get off the ground called ‘Safe Base’, a mentoring scheme for adoptive parents to overcome the problem of attachment —something I have personal experience with. We helped her get Safe Base started, by giving her around £75,000 a year to get that going, and in a way I became her mentor. We’d meet up and work out strategies to get Safe Base off the ground.
About a year ago, we decided to make After Adoption Timpson’s company charity. I suggested that if we make them our company charity, I would do a deal with local authorities to go 50/50 on the Safe Base scheme.
Our aim is to support every adoptive parent who needs support, about 2,000 a year. This year we’ll mentor twice as many parents as last year, so we’ve done something, but we still need to get more local authorities on board.
Chief executive of After Adoption
After Adoption looks to find families for children with complex needs, and we support anybody in the adoption network, from birth parents who lose their children to adoption, to adoptive families, or adopted adults looking to find their relatives.
John and I first met around five years ago. I talked to him about Safe Base, and John just completely got it. He understood what we needed, and he agreed to support the initial development of the programme. There are some supporters who just want to support projects financially, and some who provide other things as well, and John is one of the latter; he’s acted as a mentor to the programme and to me. We’ve tried to work together on how Safe Base can be expanded, and it’s been very helpful to have his business eye for that, but also he’s been able to help us think about how we can make this work for families.
One of John’s skills is that he can visualise things really well and communicate them in plain English. He talked to us about how we need to get people to understand what attachment disorder is all about, and why parents would need to be given tools and techniques for parenting children with attachment difficulties.
One day, on his way to go on holiday, he came into the office and said, ‘Tell me a bit more about attachment.’ He left with a load of books, and when he returned he’d written a small guide to attachment, which we’ve now distributed to thousands of teachers, adoptive parents, social workers and people working on probation.
Recently John has pledged to raise £1 million for Safe Base in five years through Timpson’s small jobs, and it’s really great to have that support, but we’re not just taking that as a donation. John and I sat down to work out how we can make this programme available to all adoptive parents, and we decided to build partnerships with local authorities to match-fund their pledges.
It was refreshing talking to someone like John, who has been an adoptive parent and a foster parent. He put his wealth and experience together and made a difference to children’s lives. Since his involvement, 365 parents have benefited from Safe Base, which in turn has helped 267 children to date.
Maitland supports The Giver and the Gift
Photograph of Lynn Charlton courtesy of After Adoption
Sophie McBain is a staff writer at Spear’s