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National Care Leavers Week 2014 – National Lecture


When we accepted the offer to organise and deliver the National Care Leavers Week 2014, National Lecture we did so with a degree of trepidation.  As a relatively new partnership of higher education providers and with limited national recognition could we actually put on an event that would deliver quality, insight, passion and action?


With the support of our excellent partners the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

From the outset we had a vision that our National Lecture should be provided by Belinda Bluff, the first recipient of the Lemn Sissay Scholarship provided by the University of Huddersfield.  Without Belinda we felt that hosting the National Lecture would not be appropriate for us.  Upon Belinda’s agreement to present the lecture the natural follow up was to ask Lemn himself to attend and contribute and how delighted we were with his immediate acceptance.

So, on Tuesday 28 October 2014 at 5.00pm delegates began arriving from north and south; east and west to register at Leeds Beckett University’s impressive Rose Bowl. At 6.00pm exactly the National Lecture commenced with a brief introduction from Ian McGregor Brown, Manager of HEART, who welcomed everyone, outlined the programme for the evening and introduced the speakers.

Child Friendly Leeds


The programme commenced with a presentation by Saleem Tariq, Chief Officer of Children’s Social Work at Leeds City Council on the Child Friendly Leeds initiative, an initiative that HEART is proud to be an Ambassador for.  The short film presenting what a Child Friendly Leeds could and should feel like in the eyes of children set the scene perfectly for what was to come.


Following Saleem attendees were engaged and inspired by Belinda’s incredible lecture, commencing with her personal reflections and perspectives of being involved in the care system and how she knew that education is where she belonged and needed to be, on her perseverance to progress to higher education and the determination to gain the results that gave her the opportunity to compete for the Lemn Sissay scholarship.

Belinda then provided a brief insight to her doctoral research. She talked of the interviews she conducted with care leavers studying at University and about their transitions through education and particularly in relation to the transition to University. She stressed the needs for pastoral and financial support, of the special considerations with regard to accommodation needs and underpinning these, the need for consistency and stability.  Examples were provided in the form of quotations from those she has interviewed and providing insight into care leavers identity, the importance of a positive university role model wherever this might come from and the comparison between ‘corporate’ and ‘normal’ parents.

We really look forward to being able to read Belinda’s thesis in full as there is clearly so much valuable information contained and that can undoubtedly inform the practice of schools, colleges, universities, local authorities, foster carers and so on.


After considerable applause for Belinda the floor was taken by Lemn who commenced by saying what everyone else was thinking ‘WOW!’ He launched into his consideration of the impact of Belinda’s research, of her deep insight, of how real and current her research is and how perfectly formed her presentation was. It is impossible to capture the line of thought and prose that Lemn used as he dived into his own personal experiences and those of people that he knows, of how Belinda’s research adds to his thinking, of how important care for children is and how he dreams of a situation when care for looked after children is so good that middle class parents want their children to benefit from being in care. His words flowed with passion, creativity, warmth, care and love and it therefore seemed highly fitting that he finished with a reading of one of his poems, Invisible Kisses, which we present at the end of this article.

A panel of Saleem, Belinda, Lemn and Ian then took questions chaired by Professor Margaret House, Vice Chancellor of Leeds Trinity University and Chair of HEART.  Questions came thick and fast and demonstrated the way in which attendees had grasped the issues raised, really listened to the calls for action and showing a desire to act upon these.  The pledge cards provided to attendees have reinforced this with substantial pledges being made to improve transitions in education for young people in care and care leavers.

Lemn made an impassioned call for all Universities to match the University of Huddersfield and offer a PhD Scholarship for a care leaver to which Professor House responded on the spot and said yes, Leeds Trinity University will offer such a scholarship.  We thank Margaret for this and hope to see more Universities take on Lemn’s challenge in the weeks and months ahead. We also thank Leeds Beckett University and especially Leo Plumb for hosting and of course Saleem, Belinda, Lemn and all attendees for making the National Lecture a resounding success.


by Lemn Sissay MBE


If there was ever one

Whom when you were sleeping

Would wipe your tears

When in dreams you were weeping;

Who would offer you time

When others demand;

Whose love lay more infinite

Than grains of sand.


If there was ever one

To whom you could cry;

Who would gather each tear

And blow it dry;

Who would offer help

On the mountains of time;

Who would stop to let each sunset

Soothe the jaded mind.


If there was ever one

To whom when you run

Will push back the clouds

So you are bathed in sun;

Who would open arms

If you would fall;

Who would show you everything

If you lost it all.


If there was ever one

Who when you achieve

Was there before the dream

And even then believed;

Who would clear the air

When it’s full of loss;

Who would count love

Before the cost.


If there was ever one

Who when you are cold

Will summon warm air

For your hands to hold;

Who would make peace

In pouring pain,

Make laughter fall

In falling rain.


If there was ever one

Who can offer you this and more;

Who in keyless rooms

Can open doors;

Who in open doors

Can see open fields

And in open fields

See harvests yield.


Then see only my face

In the reflection of these tides

Through the clear water

Beyond the river side.

All I can send is love

In all that this is

A poem and a necklace

Of invisible kisses.