Supporting Parents and Carers on the Norwich Research Park

Set-up to provide information and support to all NBI staff who have parent and carer responsibilities, the NBI Parent and Carer Group (PACG) has been going from strength to strength since its formation in 2017. Siobhan Dorai-Raj tells us why she decided to form the support group five years ago.

“I’m from Ireland and moved to Norwich with two small children in 2013 when my husband, also a scientist, got a lectureship position in UEA.

I started at the John Innes Centre in 2015 on a Daphne Jackson Trust fellowship (click link to see current vacancy), a fellowship designed to help scientists who have taken a career break for family, caring or health reasons, to get back into a research career.

Through the fellowship networking sessions and from chatting to colleagues, I realised that the difficulties that I had faced trying to navigate healthcare, child-care and school systems in a new city, without any family support to fall back on, were very common.

By the time I started work at the John Innes Centre, my eldest child was in her second year at school, and I had built up an invaluable support network of other parents, by chatting to others at the school gates. I realised that staff in the JIC with pre-school age children would find it more difficult to meet other parents and benefit from their local knowledge and support.

This is what inspired me to set-up the Parents and Carers Group and to create the PACG intranet pages.”

Today, the group is made up of five institute reps from across the Norwich Research Park, the John Innes Centre, Earlham Institute, the NBI Partnership, The Sainsbury Laboratory, and Quadram Institute and a handful of volunteer staff across the NBI.

The PACG is open to all parents and carers across the NBI and joining is easy, all you need to do is email parentsandcarers@nbi.ac.uk. Clare Suter, Elizabeth Orton and Karen Rushmer are the John Innes Centre reps. At Earlham Institute you can contact Felicity Knowles and Greg Bowker, Dave Kruger at NBI Partnership and at Quadram it’s Laura Vaux. Currently there is a vacancy for a TSL rep so please get in touch if you would like to join as a rep.

We asked Elizabeth and Clare, to tell us a little bit about the group.

Clare explains what being a rep on the parent and carers group involves, and what her favourite part is “As PACG reps we offer a supportive and friendly face to anyone who needs us. Often, people have simple and practical queries like how to access the onsite Welfare Suite or the maternity/paternity leave policy documents. We also aim to provide a link between individuals and their institutes on parent and caring responsibility matters should they need it.

At other times, people just want to meet other parents and our summer and Christmas and sumer parties are a great way to do this. My favourite part is meeting other parents and carers who I usually wouldn’t know through my job and having the opportunity to bring families together at the summer and Christmas parties is a lot of fun too”.

As a PACG rep at the John Innes Centre, there are opportunities to input into the I&D (Inclusivity & Diversity) Committee meetings. In the past, the group have influenced practical changes like new baby changing mats in the onsite Recreation Centre and have co-organised events such as Men’s Mental Health lunchtime drop-in sessions with other members of the I&D committee.

The group also have a great relationship with the Norwich Research Park Chestnut Nursery School, and reps are happy to support parents considering applying for a day-care or holiday club places for their children.

The group has also recently established a link with the UEA’s School of Psychology Development Dynamics Laboratory, where research takes place on how children think, remember, and pay attention to things and how these abilities change in early development, to promote their Norfolk recruitment drive for families with children under 5.

With the return to in person meetings and events, Elizabeth and Clare shared what the group had on offer during the lockdowns that are still available now, “We’ve recently created some Teams groups which are age-appropriate depending on your caring responsibilities: Bumps and Babies, Pre-Schoolers, School-aged Children, Teenagers and Beyond and Adult Carers. We’d love more people to join these, as they’re a great way to ask other parents going through similar experiences for advice and suggestions.

Looking to the future the group have big plans, “We would love to grow the PACG as we all return to site. We are always looking for interested and enthusiastic reps and warmly welcome topic suggestions for future coffee mornings, training or social events.

We are also very excited to announce that the group is holding its first NBI Family Summer party since 2019 on 16th July 2022 11-1pm in the Centrum. Tickets will be on sale shortly across the site – keep an eye on the intranet for more information.

If you are holding a community event, we have art and craft supplies available.  We can also suggest good party entertainers, soft play suppliers and catering links”

We are a friendly, informal network, available to assist and connect all parent and carers across the NBI Institutes. If you join us in 2022, you may even meet the real Father Christmas at our Christmas party!”

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