Summer family park meets

  • by Janine Swarbrick, 9 Aug 2021
Sheffield Park Meet

The past two weekends saw the first “real life” meetings of the IP Non-traditional Family Network with other members of the IP Inclusive community and the CIPA Informals.

The first park meet was held in Bath, in very wet weather but with a great turnout nonetheless. I hear the kids were kept busy with sugary treats while the grown-ups had a chance to catch up. In real-life! Rather than a video call! The meeting was great for seeing colleagues with their families. Over the last 18 months or so, I think there has been a lot of discussion about managers and colleagues getting used to accommodating different people who all have different responsibilities at home, and allowing for flexibility whilst we all adjust to our whole lives taking place all under one roof. However, I feel that you can’t really appreciate how parents and carers balance their work lives with their own personal home lives until you meet the kids in action. And they are so often in full technicolour surround-sound action! These park meets, I feel, not only are a great chance to catch up informally, but also to really appreciate how our colleagues are not just faces on a screen, but real people, often with a lot more going on in life than drafting letters and reviewing legal documents.

The following weekend, the momentum carried on with a series of park meets across the country. In Nottingham, the park meet was co-held with the CIPA Informals, and we had the sunshine on our side! My kids were excited (and silly) to meet someone new, but soon settled down after a chocolate milkshake to do some skateboarding and play Minecraft Top Trumps (who knew the Wither had so much health?!). The Cheltenham park meet also looked lovely and sunny, and slightly more peaceful.

Other park meets have taken place in Sheffield, which was well attended and sunny, with further meetings planned in Cambridge, Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester and Southampton. It feels like the initial Park Meet idea has really taken off, which is fantastic! Kind of a butterfly effect with the initial discussions for the NFN park meets driving other IP Inclusive meetings to take place all over the country! I feel it’s lovely to not only get back to seeing colleagues face to face, but doing so in a more relaxed environment with kids and families meeting too – like a natural bridge to going back to work in person because we’re meeting colleagues but our families are there. I know my kids have been in many of my work meetings over the last 18 months over Zoom (whether to wave hello to whoever I’m speaking to (again), or for a comforting cuddle after a tumble off the settee), so why not meet in person? Let’s hope the momentum continues!

Hello and welcome!

I’m delighted to introduce the IP Non-traditional Family Network as a new IP Inclusive community.

Growing up in a solo parent family as one of six children, I never expected that I would be a solo parent myself – but here I am! There are no limits to what solo parent families/ blended families can achieve – my siblings and I went from free school meals on income support to professional careers in accountancy, law, medicine and engineering (kudos to my mum). However, it’s a different journey, and the emotional and practical realities are often misunderstood.

At different times in my life I’ve been part of a traditional family, solo parent family and blended family, both as a child and as throughout my working life as an adult.  I do believe it is hard to place yourself in someone else’s shoes, unless you have lived the same experience! 

My aim for this group is to explore on behalf of colleagues across the UK, what it means to balance career and family in a non-traditional family, celebrate successes and highlight areas for improvement.  For the first few years working as a patent attorney and sitting exams with a young son (he was just one when I started) I have not had any spare capacity at all, but I now do!

I’d like to hear from the Network: what is working, what is not working, what is holding you back? I’d like to say to Members dealing with child custody negotiations, missing social events, covering childcare costs, making arrangements for sitting exams and travelling with work… I get it!

My hope for this Network is that people will feel free to talk, vent frustrations, buddy up and organise socials… or use it in any way, really…!

Bit by bit, we can make visible the highs/lows and different constraints that come with juggling work in our professions and solo/blended parenting, and encourage conversations amongst our peers and employers.

I’m excited that so many colleagues across the country have joined as Members of our Network. Allies are very welcome too. Please treat this community as yours, and let me know your ideas.

Finally, I’m really grateful to Julian, Steph and Janine for stepping up as co-leads to help me get this up and running, and to Andrea Brewster for giving a voice to our community through IP Inclusive.

Sarah Phillips

IP Non-traditional Family Network Co-Lead