Role Model Q&A Mar 22

Boys in Mind Meets...

An Interview with Ashley Ayre

By: Kate Murphy

Ashley Q&A
Asley Ayres, former Director of Children’s Services and Chief Executive of Bath & North East Somerset

I’m retired now and I do some voluntary work as a charity trustee but before that I spent just under 40 years in education and children’s services. I started out as a graduate trainee back in the early 80s and ended up as Director of Children’s Services and finally as Chief Executive of Bath & North East Somerset Council.

How I got into that role was an accident to begin with because I’d been offered a job in the London Borough of Bromley and I was supposed to go into the Treasury Department with a view to be training as an accountant. But when I got there the person who was supposed to be my mentor had broken their leg so  I got temporarily put into social services where there was someone who could mentor me. By the time the other chap came back I didn’t want to go into finance. I wanted to stay in social services as I liked it so much. It was much more interesting .

I’d always known I wanted to work in the public sector in some format . I don’t think anyone realises just how important local government services are because they’re the things which help people live a civilised life and you don’t even notice they’re there, but you notice when they aren’t. People notice if there’s rubbish on the streets or their bin hasn’t been collected or the street lights aren’t working or there are huge potholes in the road. They notice if they can’t get their child into a school. Some services are not so visible, such as services for vulnerable children but they are critically important, as are services for vulnerable adults and elderly people. So going into social services I found to be absolutely fascinating. I didn’t train as a social worker or  teacher so it was a bit strange to end up as Director of Children’s Services, but I was good at problem-solving so when new legislation came in I would get asked how to implement it and change things at a local level.

Young people’s mental health is absolutely critical and one of the things we spent a long time in Children’s Services thinking about and talking to young people about was what should our mission and vision be, as this underpins what you believe you’re there to do. So we talked about helping children and young people to flourish, to enjoy their education, but we also saw that education wasn’t just about reading, writing and arithmetic. It was actually about building relationships, about how to inter-act with other people, how to look after yourself and other people.

Childhood and adolescence is increasingly stressful and people of my generation really don’t understand some of the complexities and differences from when we were children. The biggest one is the impact of social media and the way young people live their lives using digital media. As an adult my understanding skates across the top of that. 

I think the best approaches are when young people are positively engaged and can be developed to lead those interventions themselves, rather than be told by adults this is what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it .  We did a huge amount in  B&NES over the years to engage and involve children and young people, via the School Improvement Service, via the Healthy Schools Initiative, via the Pupil Parliaments, via work with organisations such as Mentoring Plus, the Youth Offending Service  and others . We tried as hard as we could to listen to what young people told us was important and to build as much of that into our Young People’s Plans. 

I exercise regularly to keep myself physically fit. I have a big garden and I’m the labourer. I really enjoy that and we spend a lot of time in the garden – pruning, getting ready for the Spring and the Summer , putting in new bushes and plants. I also do a lot of DIY projects; at the moment I’m working on a little out-house. I think if you can get out in the fresh air that’s really beneficial. I’ve got a little chiminea/ woodburner and I can just sit for 10 minutes in between tasks and look at the scenery. I also paint water colours which I really enjoy.

If I was giving a message to my younger self I’d say : Relax and don’t worry so much. You don’t know everything and you can’t know everything. You have to take a few chances, a few risks. You don’t accumulate if you don’t speculate! If you don’t put yourself out there a bit , then you won’t reap the rewards from friendships, relationships and life in general. 

March 2022

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