God in the Life Of Jan Fishwick

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Jan Fishwick, Chief Executive of PACT. (Photo from PACT.)

Jan Fishwick, Chief Executive of PACT. (Photo from PACT.)

JAN Fishwick knows only too well that for many children and adults, Christmas is not a warm family celebration. Jan, who began her career at 18 as deputy matron of a children’s home, tells of her journey to becoming the Chief Executive of fostering and adoption charity, Parents and Children Together (PACT).

With a great grandfather who helped Dr Thomas Barnado set up one of his first children’s homes, Jan believes the drive to give hope to people who are less fortunate is in her DNA. Born into a Christian family on the Wirral, Jan has two sisters and faith was very much part of her family life as she grew up. “So was a social conscience and being aware of other people’s needs,” says Jan. “In 1960s I remember knitting squares and making them into blankets for vulnerable children. I raised money for the NSPCC making cakes and selling them. I always had a sense of the needs of families who were less fortunate than ours.

“We were not super-rich financially but we were rich in the opportunities we had and in terms of being part of a loving family,” says Jan. When she left school Jan knew that she didn’t want to follow the traditional route of university and literally took a ferry across the Mersey to Liverpool for a careers interview with Barnardo’s. “I tried to follow a course that was right for me rather than what was expected,” says Jan, who felt pressure from teachers to do a degree. “My parents were really supportive and helped me map out my career.”

Jan says her first job in the 12 bedded children’s home was a baptism of fire. While for many that would be a daunting prospect, Jan says she took it in her stride. “I was often in charge and it was my first experience of children waiting for families.”  She would try and make Christmas as nice a day as possible for the children in the home. She helped raise awareness in her church about her Christmas Day work to help others be more mindful of life for children in care.
Jan went on to become a qualified social worker, a role that was both challenging and rewarding, with the responsibility of, among other things, carrying out mental health sections, assessing the needs of some of society’s most vulnerable people.

“It gave me a great grounding and taught me that the need is great. I knew I could play my part and that is still what motivates me. My husband Ian is an ordained priest so I have been a vicar’s wife, which can be like a second job on the side.” Jan appreciated being able to take time out from her career when her children were small. “Family life is really important to me, especially making sure we had enough time together as a clergy family,” she says.

Jan joined the Reading-based PACT in 2008. She oversees not just fostering and adoption services but also Alana House, which supports vulnerable women, including those in the criminal justice system, and Bounce Back 4 Kids, helping children affected by domestic violence. PACT’s staff will be working hard to improve Christmas for those who use their services. “For all of the people we help Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year. It can be lonely and there is a lot of pressure in terms of money. Christmas is a time of mixed emotions for a lot of people. Women at Alana house get goodie bags with toiletries and basics, just things that we take for granted. A lot of them are homeless or street workers and come with nothing and we give very small things that ordinarily they may not have,” says Jan, who strongly believes in instilling hope into people’s lives.

“We absolutely believe that life can change for people. Adults can take charge of that themselves but for children we have a huge responsibility to make sure that they are safe and in loving families. There is a whole theology around adoption, going back to the concept of us all being adopted by God, into his family, which brings a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Jan says that churches, church schools and individuals, church goers and non-church goers can all support PACT. They can help raise awareness and funds during particular events like Adoption Sunday, Foster Care Fortnight, Mothering Sunday and at Christmas. They can collect toiletries, non-perishable food and books for PACT families and they can hold fundraising events.

“We had a lovely response from a diocesan synod that did some work with clergy and decided to support us,” says Jan. “Some people have offered to raise awareness about PACT’s services, to link work they are doing with Home for Good to PACT , to encourage financial support and to provide goodie bags to Alana House. Church schools can do that as well. That encourages children from a really young age to look outside themselves and be grateful for what they have.”

Jan describes herself as ambitious, despite being aware of negative connotations of the word. “I am ambitious because there is still unmet need. I have a responsibility to grow the services of PACT to meet that unmet need.
“Too many children are waiting for adoption. Too many families are not getting the resources they need and there are not enough to go around. When you work for a charity you have to find funding and that can be statutory funding but also giving from trusts and churches,” she says.

Jan does not differentiate between her spiritual life and her working life. “It’s just so integrated,” she says, telling the story of PACT’s beginnings, from a donation of £100 in 1910 to the Bishop of Oxford to address the vulnerabilities of needy families in the Oxford Diocese. “I have the responsibility and privilege of leading PACT for this chapter in its history. Over the last 100 years the needs have changed but the need is just as great,” adds Jan.
For more go to www.pactcharity.org or call 0300 456 4800. Jan is married to Ian, a priest, and has three grown up sons and three grandsons. Jan and Ian worship at Contemplative Fire – a Fresh Expression community based in the High Wycombe area.

 

Church of England school children and Bishop John celebrate Pact's 100th anniversary in 2011.

Church of England school children and Bishop John celebrate Pact’s 100th anniversary in 2011.

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