For the children - Interview with Lisa Potts
Click on the image gallery of the website for the children’s charity Believe to Achieve and you’ll see dozens of colourful pictures of smiling youngsters enjoying a host of activities.
Whether they’re face-painting, singing, cheerleading or knee-deep in a pond, the enthusiasm of the children is evident in every photograph.
B2A is all about their success and enjoyment – which is exactly how founder Lisa Potts wanted it to be.
She has just been awarded an honorary fellowship by the University to mark her charitable achievements and has reflected on how much her life has changed over the last 12 years.
In 1996, aged 21, the then-nursery nurse hit the headlines when she protected children attending a teddy bears' picnic at St Luke's School, in Blakenhall, from a deranged man wielding a machete. Horrett Campbell was later ordered to be detained indefinitely in a secure hospital.
Three children and four adults suffered injuries in the attack. There is no doubt Lisa’s heroic actions that day saved lives, leading to her being presented with the George Medal for bravery.
Now, thanks to her continued hard work, she has been able to help the same community where her nursery nursing career began and was so abruptly ended, and feels everything has come full circle.
She says being recognised by her local university was an unexpected honour.
“I’m passionate about Wolverhampton and very proud to be from the area.”
She founded Believe to Achieve, which has Cherie Blair as a patron, in 2001 to support children and their families in the All Saints and Blakenhall areas of Wolverhampton.
Lisa says: “Neighbourhood Renewal investment was being made by the Government and I thought, ‘I could do something here’. I really wanted it to be about the children, to give them opportunities they would never normally have had.”
She decided she did not want the charity named after her because she wanted the focus to be on the aspirations of its work, not on what had happened to her.
The aim of B2A is to raise self-esteem and achievement to help children and their families realise their full potential, working mainly with youngsters aged seven to eleven at five schools. There are mentoring programmes, play work and creative opportunities.
Activities are as diverse as Bollywood dancing and a ‘school of rock’. Lisa has seen the children’s confidence grow as they uncover untapped potential. The cheerleading team – the B2A Bombers – took part in a national contest in Brighton and were delighted to come home triumphant.
“They had a trophy which was practically as big as them,” smiles Lisa. “Each school took it in turns to display it and the children were so proud – it was fantastic.”
Parents benefit from B2A, with support and guidance to explore techniques that have a positive impact on family dynamics, as well as summer trips to places like Blackpool, Barmouth, fruit picking farms and RAF Cosford.
The charity also linked up with the University’s School of Applied Sciences when psychology experts undertook research looking into the affect of the project within the community, with very positive results.
The School nominated Lisa for an honorary award and on September 5, Lisa received her fellowship at the University’s annual graduation ceremony at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre, watched by proud family and friends. Joining her at a personal celebration party for her award and her son’s birthday the following day was one of the little girls who she rescued from the attack, who is now 16 and full of confidence.
“It’s amazing how well the children have come on and I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by,” she says.
The first five years after the attack were a whirlwind for Lisa.
“I was taken off the path of being a nursery nurse, a job which I loved, and I felt like I was on a rollercoaster,” she says. “I expected the media attention to die down after about six months but it didn’t.”
This was pre-Big Brother, before today’s celebrity obsession had taken hold, and Lisa was overwhelmed by the level of attention and fame she received.
She says: “For a while I felt like I’d lost my identity and had become public property. It was mad – I was offered a cookery programme and I couldn’t even cook!”
She was also undergoing painful physical recovery. “I had been teaching children to tie their shoelaces and fasten buttons and now I was having to learn these things again myself,” she says, adding that she is no longer self conscious about her scars because they are a part of who she is.
Lisa was unsure about what direction her career would go in and qualified as a counsellor in 2000, which has since helped her to provide additional support to B2A.
It has only been in more recent years that she has really started to come to terms with the emotional side of what happened to her.
She moved away from Wolverhampton for a while to escape some of the attention and reassess. But with her charity achieving so much, and her life returning to normality, she returned to live in the city last year and feels it was the right decision.
A turning point for Lisa was having her own children – Alfie, who’s four, and two-year-old Jude. That’s when the reality of the attack really hit home.
Alfie’s first day at nursery was a real milestone and brought memories flooding back; she went home in tears. “When I went to pick him up and saw the other parents, I had flashbacks from that day, when all the parents were arriving, not knowing what had happened,” she says. “But he was fine and he loved it so I had to rationalise everything.”
Lisa feels that there have been many positives which have enabled her to cope with the past.
She has been able to do charity work in Romania to help street children, working closely with the Caminal Felix project, which translates as ‘happy home’. A children’s home has been named after Lisa and houses up to 20 youngsters.
“It’s so calm,” she says. “You wouldn’t believe there are so many children there. It’s a fabulous place.”
She has also published three books and is a motivational speaker, with recent appearances including a West Midlands Police ladies’ conference and an event covering post-traumatic stress disorder.
From September, Lisa will be working on a major project for the B2A, looking at children’s hopes and dreams through art. She is also fully committed to gaining fresh support for the charity, as government funding will run out in March.
“I’ve just started writing letters and am looking at initiatives so we can keep going,” she says.
Head teachers say B2A is uniting the community, improving attendance and SATs results and, most importantly, creating a happy learning environment with well-motivated, enthusiastic pupils.
With glowing endorsements like that and Lisa’s determination, enthusiasm and passion, she’s sure to achieve her goal to see the charity continue its success.