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Jennifer Kilpatrick + Hamilton Topping, NSPCC volunteers

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Jennifer Kilpatrick + Hamilton Topping, NSPCC volunteers

A retired sales manager and mum of four have joined forces to visit schools and deliver NSPCC’s Speak Out Stay Safe service

It’s an unusual partnership, but mum-of-four Jennifer Kilpatrick and retired sales manager Hamilton Topping have been joining forces two mornings a week to help children recognise abuse.   Jennifer and Hamilton volunteer with the NSPCC’s Schools Service alongside others of all ages and walks of life who donate time to run Speak Out Stay Safe (SOSS) sessions in primary schools in Northern Ireland.  SOSS volunteers teach fun and engaging child-friendly and age-appropriate workshops to help pupils understand and identify the different types of abuse, and how to speak out about any issues so they can get help if they need it.  The sessions cover these difficult subjects without using scary words or adult language and help children identify a trusted adult they can talk to if they are ever worried about themselves or a friend. They also learn about Childline and how it can support them.

“I’ve been working as an NSPCC Schools Service volunteer for more than five years,” says Jennifer, a former Training Officer/Consultant from Lisburn. “The flexibility of the role allows me to still get my own children to school in the morning and home again in the afternoon.  The minimum commitment is two days a month, which I find very achievable especially as you can choose which schools will suit you in relation to the timings and locations.”

The busy full-time mum became a Schools Service volunteer after she found out about the vital work carried out by the NSPCC.

“I had been looking for a volunteer role for a while,” she says. “And the more I discovered about the charity, the more I realised how important the work is that they carry out.  Their vision of ending child cruelty and abuse and promoting a society where all children are loved, valued and able to fulfil their potential is something I wanted to be a part of.  Equipping children with the ability to recognise abuse and how to get help if and when needed, is crucial to ending child cruelty,” she adds.

Jennifer’s regular SOSS partner is Hamilton Topping, a 74-year-old former BT Sales manager, also from Lisburn.

“After I retired, I began another career looking after my grandchildren,” he jokes. “Then seven years ago, when they all started school, I began looking round for something worthwhile to do.  I heard an advert for NSPCC volunteers on the radio and when I checked it out, it fitted nicely with what I was able to give in terms of time.  I really like working with children and what with looking after my own and then my grandchildren, I’d certainly plenty of experience!” he laughs.  “Plus, I wanted to do something worthwhile with my time.  A lot of people might think, ‘Oh I couldn’t stand up and talk in front of 30-plus children and their teacher’. And yes, it can be a bit of a challenge at the start.  But after initial training you go out as an observer with other volunteers and then start taking part in small bits of the workshops.  You can go at whatever pace suits you and you pick up more and more bits and grow in confidence until you are able to do it on your own with your partner.  There’s lots of refresher training and your volunteer coordinator is always on hand. They really keep in touch and keep you motivated and are always available for a chat after a workshop.  I’ve been teaming up with Jennifer for almost two years now and we work really well together – but I’ve no idea how she manages four children,” he laughs.

“I remember the first school I visited very well – it was my birthday,” laughs Jennifer.  “I’ve been working with Hamilton from day one and he’s always provided me with support and guidance. He’s also very funny.  Working together to help stop child abuse and neglect is very rewarding as I know we are making a difference in many children’s lives.  Knowing that you are playing a small part in making a difference gives you a sense of pride. You leave each school feeling like you’ve done something good.

“One of the most important things that we have to do is watch out for things children say that might reveal possible problems,” adds Hamilton.  “That doesn’t happen very often, but if it does, you report it to the teacher and your volunteer coordinator straight away and it’s followed up immediately. But the vast majority of the time, the sessions are great fun and children do come out with a lot of amusing comments.  When it comes to helping children be confident and learn how to speak out, you couldn’t find anything more worthwhile than being a SOSS volunteer.  There was nothing like SOSS back when I was at school.  Thankfully there is now.”

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