Before moving to Coventry more than a decade ago Hema was all set for a high flying career in public service. With a Master’s degree in public administration and jobs in housing and regeneration in councils in the north west she was focused on juggling her work and home life as she developed her career.
The move to Coventry and having children changed all that and for the past seven years she’s been a stay at home mum.
“In some ways I felt I was letting myself down by not working – but it’s meant I’ve been able to find my true self,” she says.
Today she’s a parent leader at Grapevine, part of a group of active and connected parents who work with families to help improve outcomes for their children.
From Grapevine parents like Hema have had intensive, flexible support to develop the confidence and skills to partner with the public sector in protecting and improving children’s lives.
“We’re helping to shape services, critically assessing how our services are run and figure out ways to address gaps in provision – often by empowering volunteers to plug the gaps,” says Hema.
The work is ad hoc and fits in with the other demands in her busy life, but it’s a way for her to make a contribution that she values. It also complements some of her other voluntary work as a UNICEF breastfeeding peer supporter, working with Coventry City Council’s public health service to encourage and support women to breastfeed and give their child the best possible start in life.
She’s recently started work in Willenhall working with parents and health professionals in an initiative to drive up breastfeeding rates in the neighbourhood.
“I’ve learnt to accept that doing something that’s not paid can still be valuable,” she says.
Getting involved with other Grapevine activities, like a two day Innovation Factory has also given her strength, she says, to do more like talking in public.
“It’s taught me there are no barriers – there isn’t even a box that you need to think out of!
My story can sell breastfeeding to other mums. In future I’d like to support women like me, of Indian heritage, breastfeed successfully and helping to strengthen that bond between a mother and her baby.”