The Origin of BraveHeart

BraveHeart Education - Nicola Marshall

The Origin of BraveHeart

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I’ve been challenged today as part of a course I’m doing to write down my story, at least the story of how BraveHeart came to be and why I do what I do now. You may have heard this before but for me it’s important to reflect and look back at the road and see how far we’ve come. I don’t know about you but sometimes in whatever work you’re doing you can become stale and bogged down in the doing and forget the being.

So, the backstory to what we do now as BraveHeart is a personal one. Two parts of my life came together I suppose. I was a middle manager in a large corporate company working hard to achieve good customer service and a fun work environment. I’ve always been interested in people – what makes us tick and how to motivate and challenge people to grow. In my personal life with my husband we had been married sometime and were trying for a family to no avail.

After going through some training at work to become a coach I started coaching young managers as well as a few individuals outside of work. At the same time my husband and I started on the adoption journey.

These two things collided about 11 years ago when we eventually adopted three small children and I went off on adoption leave. At the same time the company I worked for went through a re-structure and I decided to take redundancy to be with my children and to find a way to work for myself.

On the surface my desires at the time were to be able to spend the time needed to get to know my children and help them settle in our family, as well as finding a way to earn some kind of a living as a life coach. I wanted to make our family work and to be able to thrive not just survive as a new family with a traumatic past.

Internally though the desire to make a wider difference in this world of adoption was rising up in me. I so wanted to help others going through this process and to try and support families in adoption to break the cycle of trauma. The questions I was asking myself were “can I be a good mum?”, “can I really make a difference to my children’s futures?”, and “how can I make a living from something that I feel so passionate about?”.

All great questions but I hit a wall.

I knew that coaching would help other adopters, but I couldn’t figure out how to get paid. In the UK we’re just not used to paying for things that we feel should come from the state and the state are just so hard to work with and get money from (these were my thoughts at the time). So, I seemed to bang my head against that wall for some time.

Along with this challenge the reality of adoption was setting in. The honeymoon was over and the very real obstacles to raising traumatised children appeared. All the things I’d seen from my parents or my parent friends around me didn’t seem to work. The typical, standard approach to parenting just created more difficult behaviours to manage and a growing sense of guilt and failure appeared in me.

I don’t know when the moment came – maybe it was a slow dawning of a revelation for me, but I started to understand that my children are different. What they have experienced is different and a different approach is needed. I started to talk to other adopters and realised their experiences were the same. My well balanced and grounded upbringing wasn’t enough. I needed to truly understand the impact of trauma and how my children needed me to be in order to help them to heal.

At the same time, I also realised that school was really hard for most of the children who’d experienced a past like my children. They were school refusing, being ‘naughty’, not being invited to parties, underachieving and generally finding school miserable. Why was that? I started to think about it and a plan started to form.

What if I could take some of the learning I was experiencing – make is down to earth and simple and deliver to school staff? Maybe that would help! So that’s what I did, first with my own school where my children were and then with other schools.

My aim was to raise the basic awareness of attachment and trauma for all people working with children and young people. An ambitious aim for sure and one I still carry. There’s been plenty of ups and downs along the way. Lots of changing strategies as the market has changed – schools losing funding, more people delivering the same training and an evolution of my thinking around reaching more staff in schools and changing culture.

I’m happy to say that over the 8 years since BraveHeart started we have reached thousands of people with this message through our training, resources and services. The mission is not over of course and I’m looking forward to what the next chapter may be, but I will continue to be passionate about how we connect with children and young people and how we create environments where people can heal from their past.

For me I have learnt so much about myself along the way, one being that I need other people. I’ve been so inspired and encouraged by others, whether they’ve worked closely with me, or I’ve just met them at a conference or training. This area of trauma and child and adolescence development is so transformative. I have seen it in my own teenagers and am so grateful for the many people who’ve helped them along the way too. I just hope for more encounters and connections with others so that we can spread the message of hope and healing to as many people as possible along the way.

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