Best wishes to Jane!

Jane Smith

Jane Smith recently retired as our CEO after over seventeen years at ABC and we’d like to take the opportunity to acknowledge all that she achieved for us over the years. 

In this personal reflection, we asked Jane to look back on her time with ABC, to explain her early aims and objectives for the organisation and to pick a few highlights from her time as CEO.

Here’s what she had to say.

“Having received support and information from ABC during my daughters’ illnesses, I wanted to ‘give back’ and raise understanding of the illness for both the general public and professionals and to increase empathy for the person suffering as well as their parents and family.

I especially wanted to resource and equip parents as there was little help for them back in the day. I believe that the role of carers is pivotal as they are living 24/7 with the eating disorder and are often best placed to guide, so they need practical strategies as well as emotional support. It was also clear to me that a joined-up approach between medical, therapeutic and the dietetic professionals largely did not exist in treatment and this was something I wanted to influence, along with a recognition of the importance of early intervention. I have always believed that the GP has a vital role but is often under-resourced about eating disorders.

After volunteering for a while, I was asked to set up an email and helpline service for parents and carers. I was on the helplines for 11 years, running ABC with just one other person during this time. We were a very small but focussed and determined team!

Between calls I spent my time raising awareness of ABC, liaising with the media to give interviews while also writing fundraising applications for the organisation. Eating disorders were even more misunderstood back then and it was hard to raise funds and to advocate for our beneficiaries, but very necessary. I became adept at explaining to the uninitiated why people develop eating disorders and how hard accessing treatment and the journey to recovery can be. I was determined to help correct the myths that those who develop them are either vain, uneducated, only teenagers and/or female, attention seeking, self-inflicted…and so on.

I became CEO in 2008 and it is hard to pick out just a few highlights from a personal perspective, but here’s some of them:

  • Forming a helpline team full of empathy, insight and wisdom who had professional skills in counselling, nursing
    and nutrition and many also with lived experience. I’ve really enjoyed working with them.

  • Co-writing the ED awareness course for GPs and health professionals with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the CIMSPA approved fitness course and the First Steps Recovery course to help people with EDs and raise awareness of the help they require.

  • Writing and seeing my books published.

  • Re-developing our Befriending service in 2015 with a grant from Lloyds Bank Foundation and 5 rounds of training from NCVO. This is a service I’m very proud of, not only because it has been helping people since 1990, but because it can practically measure progress towards recovery which is so uplifting for the both the Befriendee and volunteer Befriender.

  • Working with the University of Bath for 3 years’ academic research into body confidence in teens and producing as a result the Body Positive Schools resource for secondary teachers.
  • Setting up the Pip Foundation with Pip’s mum Marie. Standing by Marie giving her speech to Pip’s school in greater Manchester, at the Houses of Parliament and afterwards to ITV were other very memorable moments. I’m so pleased that between us and through all her terrible heartache Pip’s Foundation has raised nearly £40,000 to set up a new Hub in Manchester, once COVID-19 restrictions allow.

There have been so many other highlights and successes over the years, but I know I need to keep it brief! Most of all, I hope that ABC will carry on offering kindness and compassion coupled with practical guidance to those struggling with eating disorders and their family so that they can move forward to recovery.

It’s been a huge privilege to have worked at ABC and to have ‘met’ thousands of people over the years on the helplines who have trusted me to share their lives with me, sometimes through tears and anger, and of course all those I’ve met at external events and the University academic staff and the GPs with whom I’ve worked. I wanted to make a difference to those affected in a personal way but also by campaigning for better treatment and understanding. Sometimes it was a huge challenge and an uphill struggle but thanks to people and funders who believed in the work, we are where we are today. I have stepped down safe in the knowledge that ABC will thrive under our new CEO Joanne, together with our wonderful team of staff and Trustees and I will continue to be a proud advocate of the charity.

Thanks, Jane. So, what will you be doing next?

Having a short staycation! Working a little less hard and not full time, enjoying life more and seeing my friends, some living abroad who have often asked us to come and stay. I shall still be contributing to the work of eating disorder support and am currently working on some new initiatives to help people and their families, including some new courses and resources.