Many of you will have known Jane Brooker. Lots of you challengingly trained as Young Advisors with Jane. Some of you were recruited by her – our steadfast, intelligent, focused, off the wall genius in the Young Advisors Charity.
With Gary and you, Jane grew this organisation. She made easy relationships with young people, reassuring and supporting them in the early days of their training and action.
Jane designed the Charity’s engaging resources, was always looking for new ways to promote Young Advisors, caught the ear of major decision-makers, budget holders, politicians, police chiefs. She had, and used, an ingenuous, upfront, honest approach to promoting Young Advisors to whoever would listen……and a few who didn’t.
Jane was managing a Neighbourhood Wardens Resource Centre for East Anglia, one of eight centres in the country funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, when she discovered and was lit up by the new plans in 2005/6 to create a national Young Advisors Programme. This was an idea unheard of at that time – paying young people as consultants to develop communities and public services! It was controversial too. No problem for Jane, who immediately found some funding to start her own scheme.
Using the power of her Resource Centre base she set up a joint Young Advisors Scheme, called the YARN, Young Advisors Resource Network, ranging from Thurrock across to Luton.
They became the first Young Advisors social enterprise along with Bristol.
Her daughter, Annie, then 15, trained as a Young Advisor. They persuaded the Charity Commission to allow under eighteens to become Trustees of Registered Charities. That is now commonplace across the country thanks to their initiative.
They went on to win Learning and Development Professional of the Year in 2007, and Annie became the first Chair of the Young Advisors Charity, the youngest Charity Chair in the country; she subsequently went on to Cambridge University, obtaining a degree and a Masters.
Jane, now a single mum working hard all over the country, all hours, for YAs, brought Lilly, 11, to all the training and Summer Schools, helping out, joining in with great commitment and enthusiasm, and absorbing the same lessons as trainee YAs many times over.
Jane was the complete professional – a Young Advisors’ champion, colleague, friend, confidante, trainer, always seeking innovation to keep the YA movement vibrant and inventive. She had the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, at her fingertips. When she spoke, civil servants, funders, elected members, listened. They listened because her voice was authentic.
Politicians, trusts, charities, local councils and young people she was supporting and training took their lead, inspiration and
learning from her. She was an inclusive and natural educator. Hers was one of the most difficult, regional Neighbourhood Warden Resource Centres in the country to manage in 2005. A substantial Tony Blair/Gordon Brown initiative. Researchers and government had their eyes on what she was developing in order to spread that learning and experience to other parts of the country. She also did it very much her way, taking no hostages, always putting the people, work and outcomes first. Few people saw, in this merry, sometimes dismissive, romantic anarchist, often desperately last minute with deadlines, the minutiae and attention to detail which Jane employed behind the scenes.
Often a ‘hippy’ in her style and self presentation, she could switch on her synced and intelligent reasoning, create educational materials which won YA contracts, a quality reputation, and which continue to circulate the professions today. They are still being used to train police (yes!), health workers, neighbourhood renewal specialists, and especially young entrepreneurs – often young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Once they met Jane, and many of you Leads and YAs, then they would flourish, become change agents of injustice and inequality, and help public organisations to perform more effectively in their communities.
Those incremental parts of Jane’s legacy will never go away. She was rightly proud of these achievements, and kept in touch with many of you, interested in your assignments and development. She would play down her impact, remaining strong, but humble too. So passionate in her beliefs, and a genuine egalitarian, there was no side to her – what you saw of Jane, and
especially what you heard, was and still is what you got = Jane………
Jane contracted the most pernicious form of multiple sclerosis as she led and trained Young Advisors across the country. She struggled on for a while, her mobility deteriorating. She left YAC and its exhausting nationwide travelling and set up an education centre, near where she lived, at Tapeley Manor, the stately home of the Christies.
After Tapeley, Jane set up her own business, self-employed, reading tarot, making jewellery, painting, collaging, and learning new crafts. This, because she was creative and intelligent, but also because she was largely housebound and forced to live on an extremely low income – far below the poverty line – because of successive benefit cuts.
And in typically Jane entrepreneurial, decisive style, at the age of 49, when the MS could be tolerated no longer, she chose to die at home, courageously withdrawing from treatment, and voluntarily stopping to eat and drink. This was Jane as she lived, clearheaded, knowing what she wanted, and got it. She had already been campaigning for disability rights, Dignity in Dying, legalising cannabis for health treatment and pain release, and against austerity.
And of course she was always an aficionado of “Glasto” – Glastonbury Festival in Somerset.
Jane had been in the print, newspaper, and creative arts industries before she decided to move into community development, which she did with all of the same energy and enthusiasm she brought to Young Advisors.
In Essex where she had lived before moving to Devon, she set up an early learning programme for small children and their parents. One of the first initiatives she espoused from her previous media profession was to change bureaucratic procedures so that ordinary people, especially disadvantaged young mothers, could get access to services. In order to communicate unthreateningly she searched for the type of font that was most friendly, a font that bureaucracies, authorities, and governments never used – comic sans. For that reason this tribute to Jane is written in ‘her font’.
Thank you Jane for all you have done to make Young Advisors a still innovative and creative inspiration.