What drew me to Rainbows by Registered Director, Derek Kelly

Interview by Miles Costello

When Derek Kelly first came to Rainbows Bereavement Support GB more than a decade ago, the idea of providing a service that would help young people deal with death and loss was nowhere near the forefront of his mind.

“I had no desire to go into bereavement, because it’s obviously an emotionally tough call,” says Derek, who had spent nearly 30 years in education and was running his own consultancy before deciding to volunteer, “however you don’t need to have a background in education to train adults in schools.”

“A friend of mine said I might be interested in becoming a Rainbows Registered Director in the area that I was in – because she knew someone who had been doing it, and was moving on. She thought I might fill a gap. I said, well, give me some information, and I went off to do the training.”

That was in 2008. Now, after working as a Registered Director, serving for a time on Rainbows’ National Management Committee and temporarily taking on a role as the charity’s National Co-director, he would warmly recommend it.

“It’s bereavement in the widest sense, whether it’s a death, or a significant loss because of a separation in a family, or whatever. But everyone has been through that to some extent or another,” he says.

“I was the primary carer towards the end of my mother’s life. And I was also, as it so happened, a carer for my sister who had a sudden death, and that was in 1999. So I’ve experienced sudden grief, I’ve experienced expected grief, and I’ve experienced all types of grief just from day-to-day life, such as difficulties in people’s relationships and everything like that.

“I had a bit more time and a friend asked and I thought I’d give Rainbows a go.”

Mr Kelly lives in east London and in his work as a Registered Director for Rainbows he manages programmes with 45 schools spread across five boroughs, including Newham, Barking and Dagenham, and extending throughout Essex. As well as providing training for schools, he also offers follow-up help and supports and promotes the bereavement work that the charity undertakes.

Someone wanting to pursue a similar line of voluntary activities should expect to take on a similar workload, although there is plenty of opportunity to receive support and compare notes with the widespread network of other directors, who keep in regular touch.

First of all, of course, Derek had to be trained himself, as would anyone else who chose to volunteer. “When I went for the training, which was in 2008, in May, it was up to Hull. We spent four days doing the registered training. I really didn’t know what to expect.

“The first couple of days was about building up an understanding of grief, the theory behind it, and of building up one’s own resilience, being able to cope with other people’s grief, which is really important. You have to be able to do that first before you can’t help other people.

“After a few days I still had no idea what it was I was going to be going into schools to train the staff to do. The epiphany moment came when they gave us the resources that staff would use with an intervention group with Rainbows. I could see an aim then, a sort of lesson plan with the materials and the resources, and that was when it all clicked.

“I could see how, when you go into schools, with guidelines and a plan that immediately the teachers would see how it would work and how effective the programme would be.”

Once up and running as a registered director, there is no fixed number of hours for the job, but Derek says that he reckons that, all told, he probably does the equivalent of about half a day each week. This includes ticking over his email contacts and having telephone catch-ups with his schools, as well as responding to enquiries and requests as they come in.

Things get a little busier when it’s a training week, when Derek tends to spend about half a day preparing to go into a school, followed by one full day of training and then roughly another half day of follow-ups and feedback sessions. The idea is to give staff in schools the skills, so that they in turn can provide the necessary support for the children.

It has been a little different during the pandemic, when face-to-face meetings with senior management, headteachers or a special educational needs co-ordinator have been replaced with phone calls, or conferences on Zoom or Teams.

So what makes Rainbows distinctive? “Well, what I know that schools appreciate is the fact that the resources don’t just arrive and people have to work out how to use them. We actually train the staff to understand what grief is, to understand what to expect so they are prepared for it, and then train them to use the materials in a group setting so they know exactly what they’re doing,” Derek says.

“We have fantastic resources, which have been tried and tested for over 25 years, and they work,” says Derek. “That, and we provide them with ongoing support. We can’t do everything, and if there are things we can’t provide, we signpost them.”

Derek Kelly

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for Rainbows, please get in touch with one of our National Directors:

Sharon Melia-Craven

National Co-Director (North)

Eleanor Clarke

National Co-Director (South)

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