This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Under 5. Find out more and subscribe to the magazine here.
Lisa Potts is a former nursery practitioner who was injured in July 1996 while protecting children at St Luke’s Primary School in Wolverhampton from a machete attack by a man with severe paranoid schizophrenia. Aged just 21 at the time, Lisa suffered severe cuts to her head, back and both arms. Three children and three other adults were also injured, but all survived the ordeal, which began as the setting as enjoying a teddy bear picnic outdoors. Lisa was awarded The George medal for bravery in recognition of her heroic response.
Lisa has since retrained as a counsellor and in 2001 launched her own charity, Believe to Achieve. She now works as a health visitor and inspirational speaker. Lisa Potts will be opening the day at the Alliance’s annual conference and sharing her inspirational story with us on 31 May 2019.
What made you decide you wanted to work in the early years?
I had always wanted to work with children – my mum worked as a Sunday school teacher and I used to help out. I’d also started babysitting. So after I left school I completed an NNEB diploma at a local college and qualified as a nursery nurse. I started work as a nanny shortly afterwards, which I loved. I then started working in a private nursery in 1994, before moving into education.
What was your experience like at St Luke’s?
It was while I was working part-time supporting a reception class that I began volunteering at St Luke’s. For about six months, I used to get the bus there to join the afternoon sessions, before I started work full time at the nursery. We used to have 30 children in the morning and 30 children in the afternoon.
I absolutely loved working with the children – in everything I did from nannying through to working at the school. I really loved it!
How did the 1996 attack change your career?
I’d been working at St Luke’s for about 18 months when everything happened and after about six to eight months, I decided to go back. I loved my job but I struggled – I had several injuries still and I was often invited out to various awards and of course there was the trial. [The attacker was detained indefinitely in a secure mental health hospital in 1997.}
So I decided to take some time out and left St Luke’s the following year. After that I did a lot of charity work. I worked with Oxfam in Vietnam and helped build a house for children in Romania. I also wrote two books – Behind the Smile and a children’s prayer book – Thank You God.
Have you worked with children in the early years since?
In 2001 I set up my charity Believe to Achieve, and this work is still on-going although we tend to work with slightly older children aged eight to 11 in Wolverhampton schools. It’s about helping children to believe in themselves, through healthy living and developing a healthy mind.
After a while, I went back to college and completed a diploma in counselling in 2004 and started work at a Sure Start centre, doing a lot of family support and work with teenage pregnancies. I also got married and had my two children.
Then, in 2010 I took the plunge and went back to university to train as an adult nurse. I have been working as a health visitor for about five or six years now.
How does this compare to your previous work in the early years?
I work with families of children aged under five, so I am doing a lot of similar work. I do all the post-natal checks with young children, as well as checking up on the mental health of new mothers. I am at an advantage really with my background in the early years – I know all about children’s development and what stages they should be at! I still love working with children and I really love making a difference.
Do you still think that the early years are important?
Absolutely, those years from birth to age five are so important. Children are like little sponges at those ages and that’s when you are really shaping a child’s mind. At Believe to Achieve we talk a lot about healthy minds and mindfulness. It’s a real trend at the moment but it’s important.
We need to help children, and their parents really, learn to live in the here and now instead of worrying about the future or the past. If children can learn to be in the here and now, they can take this skill with them for the rest of their lives.
Be the best: sharing early years excellence
Lisa Potts will be opening the day at the Alliance’s annual conference, and sharing her inspirational story with us on 31 May 2019.
Find out more and book your tickets here.