Skip navigation

Being Sam

18 October 2019

People have many reasons for volunteering or working in the jobs that they do and for SHINE’s Family and Community Worker, Sam Thirkhill, her reasons are clear … she just wants to give back something to the local community.

Through her own life experiences, she knows what a struggle parenting can be at times and how important it is to get support to help with challenges. Sam loves people and wants to help people and she does this by simply ‘being Sam’.

Sam has attended many of our Better Start Bradford workshops for family workers in our area and uses our key messages, including Big Little Moments, in the activities that she runs with families.

In this story, Sam shares her own struggles and how these have formed the backbone of the work that she now does in the community at SHINE West Bowling.

Sam’s Story

My name is Sam Thirkhill, I’m 52 and I have three sons and one daughter aged 35, 30, 23 and 22. I had my eldest son when I was 17.

At that age, I thought I knew it all. My dad had died when I was 13 and as my mum had her own needs she relied heavily on my sister and me. I ended up rebelling and getting in with the wrong crowd – looking back I think I was just desperate for someone to love and take care of me. Then I fell pregnant and had David the week before my 18th birthday.

I struggled along, fell into one bad relationship after the other and after three miscarriages, I reconciled with David’s dad for a while and fell pregnant and gave birth to another baby boy, Stuart.

I did have lots of support from social services and spent a lot of time in Family Centres

Throughout this period, I did have lots of support from social services and spent a lot of time in Family Centres accessing activities and family sessions. This gave me a good understanding of how these interactions and services can really help support families.

When Stuart was about ten months old, I met my husband, also called David, and meeting him was the best thing that ever happened in my life. I had finally met a good man that wanted to love me and my children – he’s been my absolute rock! When Stuart was six, the social workers visits stopped and we went on to have two more children: Jack in 1996 and Katrina in 1997 – I had lost two babies in between and I nearly lost Katrina.

I had started hemorrhaging during the pregnancy and because of my history of miscarriages, I spent three months laid up. I was in hospital, as they wanted to keep a close eye on me, when Katrina was born seven and a half weeks early. I remember being laid watching Princess Di’s funeral, before they rushed me to the theatre for an emergency caesarean.

You don’t realise that eating and suckling helps develop the lip movements to form words

The weeks and months that followed were very stressful: I was back and forth from hospital as Katrina was in the Special Care Unit – I hated leaving her. When she finally did come out of hospital, she wasn’t feeding and had to be fed through her nose, which moved to her being gastro fed at 18 months. She finally ate food at the age of six. You don’t realise that eating and suckling helps develop the lip movements to form words and Katrina was only making noises. She underwent speech therapy to get her mouth muscles moving and to start forming words.

Me and David got married after being together for 13 years and this is how I met Jimmy and Sarah from the SHINE project. Mine and David’s wedding was Jimmy’s first as a trainee vicar!

Throughout this time, I had also been caring for my mum. My sister had developed multiple sclerosis and couldn’t look after my mum anymore so I took over. Eventually she had to go into a care home and once Katrina was in school, I had time to get a little job.

I was blown away with the work that SHINE West Bowling were doing in the community

SHINE was in its infancy and I was desperate to work there as I was blown away with the work that they were doing in the community, so I used to go down and shadow Woody, Community Development Worker, on a voluntary basis. I also got a job as a cleaner at St. Stephen’s School and a lunchtime assistant at a local primary school. I would commute between all three daily.

Eventually a Play Worker opportunity came up at SHINE and I was thrilled when I got the job – my dream had come true. I had to learn a lot on the job as I had not had the greatest of education and had never worked on a computer in my life, but what I loved most of all was working with people. I could see new mums who had been like how I was and I had a way of being able to chat to people and bring them out of themselves – I like to call this ‘bringing Sam’ – I can only do things the way that I know best and I always think if I’m doing it wrong, then someone will tell me!

I love the Big Little Moments campaign

I am now the Family and Community Worker at SHINE and I have attended many of the Better Start Bradford training sessions including: Motorways of the Brain, Little Minds Matter Infant Mental Health Awareness Training, Resilience Screening and I love the Big Little Moments campaign.

Until I did the courses, I didn’t realise how important the moments that you share with your babies and young children are for developing their brain.

The sessions that we develop for families incorporate activities that align with Better Start Bradford’s messages

The sessions that we develop for families incorporate activities that align with Better Start Bradford’s messages and we are always pointing out the big little moments as they happen out to the parents and how they should capture them and interact with their young children.

When I was working at the Family Centre, one mum started by bringing her toddler and settling her to play and then would nip out for a cigarette, come back in and chat to the other mums, but had little interaction with her child.

Now while I appreciate that these sessions are a chance to meet other mums and have a break, they are also a massive opportunity to enjoy all those little moments with your child. Through gentle direction, I managed to get the mum playing most of the time on the floor with her child and then she was the one encouraging other parents to join in with their children.

We have a Parents in the Lead funded toddler singing session called Little Dots, where children and parents can play with sensory toys and we all sing together at the end. The Little Dots group has been really successful – we started with a small round mat for the singing and now we’ve had to invest in a large jigsaw mat to fit the 25 plus families that attend the sessions each Friday.

I absolutely love my job and by being myself; by being Sam, I hope that I am making a difference in the families’ lives that I work with. I wish I had have known all that I know now as I certainly would have been a very different parent when mine were small.


You may also like to look at

Big Little Moments

A series of animated videos featuring everyday Big Little Moments you can share with your babies and toddlers to build their brains. The little moments you share every day make a big difference.


If you want new skills to help you into employment, would like to give something back, or want to put that spare time to good use, we've got a volunteering role for you.