They are many Barbadians in the UK who have forged very successful careers under the radar, quietly and without the glare of publicity. Shelley Maxceen Collins (nee Jackman) is one such person. Born in 1952 as the only daughter of the redoubtable and entrepreneurial Norma Jackman in the modest environs of Marshalls Gap, off Baxters Road in St Michael, Shelley has risen to the heights expected of her when she first entered Queens College.
When Shelley was 18, her mother, ever one with an opportunistic eye, encouraged her to join the migrant exodus to the UK. She entered St Nicholas Hospital, Plumstead, London where she qualified as a State Registered Nurse (SRN). Not content to sit on her laurels with the then treasured SRN under her belt, she moved to the internationally famed Guy’s Hospital where she studied for and qualified as a Registered Mental Nurse.
Her thirst for knowledge now seemed insatiable and driven by the motto of her old school, “Fit Lux”- “Let there be light” – she completed a two-year Diploma Course in Sick Children Care at another internationally famed hospital, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. The young Jackman, having now completed her round of studies, returned to Guy’s Hospital as Sister and at the tender age of 26, was in charge of the Children’s Unit.
Shelley soon realised that the salary of a Sister did not match the responsibility the post demanded. Prestige yes, but it did not pay the bills. She, therefore, resigned her post at Guy’s and joined an Employment Agency where she stayed for two years.
1989 proved to be the turning point in her life. Now married to Peter and mother to daughter Zara and son Luke, she became self-employed and took on the onerous task of working to train police officers in a Home Office Special Support Unit with specific reference to Police Community Relations.
Shelley (now Mrs Collins) said: “After the damaging riots in Brixton, London in the late eighties, a Commission of Inquiry led by the Judge Lord Scarman suggested that the police were in need of training in community relations and a unit was therefore set up and funded by the Home Office.” The funding lasted until 1997 and during that time Shelley worked as an Independent Consultant, Adviser and Trainer to 44 police forces across the country mainly on matters of community and race relations.
I suggested that this experience was a million miles away from nursing and in agreeing she said simply: “It was a most bruising experience. The course impacted personally on the officers but in the final analysis, the culture of the organisation did not change a great deal.” She added that in a later inquiry into the vicious murder of a black teenager Stephen Lawrence, another High Court Judge, Macpherson, labelled the police “institutionally racist”. The riots and the murder occurred over ten years apart but there was no identifiable difference in the methodology used to placate black people in inner London.
From 1997 to 2001, Mrs Collins worked with the Metropolitan Police where the main project again centred on police training in community and race relations. During this time, a Roll Out programme was designed to bring awareness and understanding of the issues of tolerance, equality and diversity needed in policing the community. The Barbadian saw it as “a project to lower the barriers and raise the awareness to bring direct interaction with members, particularly of the younger generations of black people.”
The drive and passion to create a level playing field for the ethnic minority was at the heart of Shelley’s ambition. Her wings spread further and further into the nests of those who made the decisions. She was contracted by the British Army to train recruiters in community and cultural awareness from 1997 to 2016. Along with her team, she also worked with the Defence Academy to train their Equality and diversity advisers. Her work required her to engage with all ranks of the Armed Forces. However, not to belittle her other endeavours, from 2005 to 2016 she trained One Star Generals and their equivalents elsewhere in the forces and from all walks of life.
She is currently involved with the Army in a programme titled Respect for Others. This is being delivered to Operation Units in the UK, Germany and Cyprus.
Shelley’s humility could not mask her ability and her work has been favourably noticed in many areas. She was invited by the Tutu Foundation UK to develop a programme –Conversations for Change- to train facilitators to work in fractured communities. Her assignment took her into the bowels of Cape Town in South Africa and she highly values the experience of working with the highly respected Emeritus Archbishop Tutu. Her client base now covers private, public and third sector organisations.
Despite her work with the members of the Armed Forces which requires many trips across the country and regularly squatting in hotel rooms and barracks, Mrs Collins has still found the time and energy to put her work into an academic format. She has created Certificate and Diploma programmes in Equality and Diversity which have been accredited by the City and Guilds of London Institute.
Mrs Collins was awarded the Barbados 50th Independence Anniversary Medal in recognition of her high achievements and she is gracious and proud of the recognition.
Nonetheless, she is quick to acknowledge that her success, such as it is, should be shared with her mother and her school. She said: “The lessons of hard work, decency, respect for your fellow being and knowing oneself bring with them some benefits. They were implanted in me at an early age and I am truly grateful.”
Oh dear, I almost forgot to mention that Shelley is a dab hand in the kitchen and she bakes a ‘mean’ coconut bread.
Like mother, like daughter!
Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and disapora.