CAROL Compton, laughs as she recalls her reaction to the news she was to be made an MBE for services to children and families She says: “Every year, when the honours list was announced, we would joke in my family and complain, saying, ‘oh, we’re not there, again!’”
This family’s running joke meant it took some time for Carol to accept the fact she really was on the list this year.
She says: “When I got the letter, I thought one of my kids was winding me up. Until I saw it in the paper on New Year’s Eve, I don’t think I believed it – I thought it just didn’t happen to people like me.”
If it felt unreal in December, however, March’s investiture ceremony with the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace was one step beyond for Carol, who heads Southend Council’s youth offending team.
She says: “I don’t think you can be prepared for the scale of the occasion.
“Walking into the park, I didn’t even think about tourists, but there were people there asking for autographs.
“I remember thinking in the reception that kings, queens and princes had sat where I was sitting. It was quite nerveracking remembering all the etiquette, but Prince Charles was very approachable.
“He talked to me about recidivism rates and what else we could do.”
Carol, 55, remains unclear exactly what it was that put her in line for an honour, but she says she thinks it may have been her slightly different approach to her work.
An example of this was the development of the service’s Troubled Families Agency, which is nowworking with 420 families in the borough, thought to have particularly acute social problems.
She admits: “We did it differently in Southend, rather than doing the same thing as the other 151 local authorities.
“I felt very strongly the thing missing from the project was a recognition that families live in communities.
“You can’t isolate them from where they live and who they live with, so it was very important we introduced a community element to the agency.
“The thinking was based around the question of why would anyone take ownership of their community if they’re not part of that community?
“We’ve moved away from those values in recent years, but Southend is leading the way in that respect.”
Carol’s commitment is also seen in her desire to find ways to keep good projects going in the face of changing of ministers, governments and policies.
She says: “Part of the job is seeing how you can keep things going after the schemes run their course. If they’re working, it’s not fair on the people left behind.
“I feel very passionately about that, particularly at a time when the public sector is under pressure, financially.
“We have a duty to keep things going if they work – and there’s always a way.
“I also feel that, if we start something, we should leave something behind and we’ve had 40 people from families volunteer already to carry on and get projects together in the community themselves.”
Even so, these are challenging times and Carol attributes the success of her department to the way her 140 staff pull together.
She adds: “In places, we now have four generations of people who have never had a job.
“I never thought I would see that, but this job is all about changing people’s mindsets.
“If you’re able to help someone make that change, you’ve done your job.”