Annette Manifold, childcare worker at Robinson Reserve Neighbourhood House.

In an interview conducted in late 2012 we spoke to Annette, now 44, who had just finished her first successful role as a childcare worker at Robinson Reserve Neighbourhood House. During the interview, Annette opened up about the unusual and obstacle-filled journey she experienced getting to this role, and how involvement with neighbourhood houses helped her along her way.

A child runaway at 16, Annette moved to Melbourne from her home state of Tasmania at the age of 18. She secured a job as a cook at the Regent Hotel and worked there for 10 years until having children. She then left this position to become a stay-at-home-mum.

Annette’s first connection with neighbourhood houses came through her first son, Stephen, when she enrolled him in playgroup at the Nicholson Street Community House in East Coburg. After Annette’s family moved house, her son attended play group at a local primary school. Unfortunately, the playgroup closed down due to a lack of sufficient numbers, and Stephen was transferred to a playgroup at what is now called Hidden Creek Neighbourhood House. It was there that Annette formed long-term connections, and became involved in childcare herself.

It all began when the playgroup supervisor at Hidden Creek moved away and Annette was asked to run the group. She agreed, and continued to work as a facilitator for almost 4 years. The idea of turning her love for childcare into a career first came to Annette after one of the parents at playgroup jokingly called her a “frustrated kinder teacher”. Having failed high school, the idea of going back to education in her 30’s was terrifying.  Fortunately, during her time at Hidden Creek Neighbourhood House, she became good friends with the coordinator, Lesley Shuttleworth. Seeing Annette’s natural ability with the children, Lesley encouraged her to commit to the course and supported her in the application process.

With Lesley’s support, Annette was accepted into the course and completed her Certificate 3 in 12 months, after which she decided to start a Diploma in Childcare. During her diploma, however, Annette was confronted with another setback after she suffered a nervous breakdown. She recovered, to complete the diploma in 3 years rather than 2, finishing at the end of 2010.

When a position for a lead childcare worker opened up at Robinson Reserve Neighbourhood House, Lesley strongly recommended Annette to the coordinator at Robinson Reserve, Greg Thorpe. After a meeting with Annette, Greg was satisfied that she was a good fit for the role, and she worked there successfully until the childcare program’s closure at the end of 2012.

 Speaking with Annette in late 2012, she revealed her love of Childcare and her views on the importance of Neighbourhood Houses:

How have neighbourhood houses helped you in your life?

“If you needed help with anything, (like when I’d had my breakdown), Lesley was really good with that, she helped me put things into perspective.  Friendships were formed there. If I’ve got an issue I can go straight to Lesley (and now to Greg as well) and it’s not a problem. It’s a really friendly atmosphere.

That’s what I like about it, it doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are, what nationality you are. The majority of the time you walk through the door of a majority of neighbourhood houses and it’s just so welcoming.

If I hadn’t been involved in neighbourhood houses, I would have no idea what I would be doing. With having children I might not even have been working. “

What do you get out of childcare work?

“I’m enjoying it, some of those children they just melt your heart. It’s gonna be sad when the place closes at the end of the year. The only part I’m finding difficult is trying to get to know each child and I’ve only got a short time to do it.”

Do you have any plans for after childcare closes at Robinson Reserve?

“Well I’m thinking to get in contact with a few agencies and just do some agency work. I don’t mind being in charge of the room but if I had more than the children I’ve got there; I’d go out of my head.”

Why is it closing?

“I think it’s something to do with funding. A lot of neighbourhood houses are closing their occasional care. But it’s needed, and a lot of neighbourhood houses will suffer from not being able to have occasional child care there, because for instance, if say a mum wants to come and do a class there, she’s gonna have her child with her and have the child there distracting her. So I think that’s gonna stop a lot of people from coming to these classes and participating in neighbourhood houses.”

What activities do you do with the children?

“All sorts of things: [for example] singing. I’m working with the children to do a little performance for the ‘breakup party’. We’re reading the story and then we’re gonna try to act it all out.”

Is there anything else you’re involved with at the House?

“I’m a volunteer craft person, the group is very small. We bring in whatever craft we’re doing at the time and if we’ve got a skill that somebody else doesn’t know and they would like to learn it, then we teach them. It’s really good, we make cards for the neighbourhood house to sell as a fundraiser, we take trips to craft shops together, it’s great.”

Greg Thorpe, the Robinson Reserve coordinator, spoke about Annette and the role of neighbourhood houses in her journey.

What has been your experience with Annette?

“Well, Annette’s been enthusiastic, passionate, organised and really a delight to have working here. She is somebody who really understands neighbourhood houses and she clearly fits in with what’s going on in the community of the house very naturally. So to me, that has been a success story for us. I’ve seen Annette flourish in her leadership.”

How were you first made aware of Annette?

“We needed to find somebody in a hurry. We put a callout to our neighbourhood house network, to find out who might know of childcare workers that have qualifications and experience. We got the word back from Leslie that Annette was interested. We met up, had a talk, and then after we’d gone through a few candidates we decided Annette would be the best person for the job.

She has exceeded my expectations; I didn’t quite get how enthusiastic she was. When you watch Annette with the children, she’s naturally enthusiastic about the kids having a great day, learning, experimenting, and she’s constantly showing me her new projects.

Annette is one of those people who’s clearly grown through what we do at neighbourhood houses: supporting people to get involved, stay involved, and be part of things at the level that they can.”


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