Former teacher, Janet Morgan, has been a Together As One (Aik Saath) trustee for 25 years! As a SEND specialist, Janet has supported thousands of young people in her career and is still involved in running TAO. Here, she talks to us about multiculturalism, learning Punjabi and supporting children with SEND.

You’ve been with TAO since the beginning. Tell us how and why you first engaged with the charity.

I’ve lived in the South my whole life. We’ve actually lived in the same house for 40 years! Looking back, I can pinpoint many moments that led me to work with TAO.

For instance, I studied in London at a multicultural school in the late 50s. It exposed me to a wealth of different people and cultures. I remember my family hosting an African student on a study abroad programme – this was unusual in the 50s! I also recall a Kenyan friend sharing his struggles dealing with segregated lines in the airport when travelling back to visit relatives in Kenya. It was a different time.

I was a PE teacher, but after a career break to have my children, I decided to teach English as a second language to children newly arrived from Asia. The job included training every Friday about anti-racism and different cultures. It was then I committed to learning Punjabi for three months. The lessons were quite tough! It put into perspective how it must have felt for the children I was teaching.

When Mandeep Kaur Sira started TAO, I initially came onto the committee as an interested Slough resident. I was motivated by trying to help others change the narrative of the negative experiences of racism. And, I really resonated with TAO’s mission for conflict resolution, equality and fairness.

As part of the founding committee, my role was to listen. Other people had the ideas and mapped the way forward, while I offered comments and suggestions.

Throughout your career, you’ve supported a large number of young people, particularly those with SEND. Can you tell me about the work you did?

After teaching English as a second language, I became a teacher at Littledown – back then, it was a small school – and worked my way to Deputy Head. I helped to develop an outreach service to support children with difficulties across Slough in primary and secondary schools.

I’ve always related more to children who struggle academically. Some children, no matter how hard they work, find school difficult for whatever reason. This could be a disability, learning difficulty or background. Either way, it’s not a lack of talent, school systems just aren’t designed to support them in the way they need to flourish.

I still have a letter from a young girl written when she found out I was leaving my role as a student PE teacher. She had never written anything as long or complex before – and I felt touched to have inspired something in her.

What needs to happen to continue supporting young people in Slough?

In education, there’s a lot of talk about working together. Everyone thinks it’s a new idea, but it rarely happens. Things like confidentiality issues, high staff turnover and lack of funding all get in the way. So, the most needy children fall off a cliff as a result.

Early in my career, some children with difficulties were labelled as “too difficult” to work with. The margins were very narrow. Now, there is much more awareness, which is great. But, there’s still a finite amount of funding. The more knowledgeable we are on differences, the more help we need to support children and young people with those differences.

TAO is celebrating its 25th anniversary. What do you think has made it a standout organisation for so long?

The commitment from the staff and volunteers from day one has been amazing. As a whole, TAO is innovative and responds to real needs. It trusts young people and enables them to flourish because they’re given enough responsibility with the right support. Also, nobody can underestimate the commitment of the leadership team. I can’t put into words how impressed I am.

And, thinking back on the 25 years of TAO, which projects are you most proud of?

Partition Women’s Voices was fantastic. It gave women a platform to speak and share opinions. 17,000 Reasons to Remember was also another poignant project.

Mrs Raj Rani Arora, an interviewee from Partition Women's Voices

Mrs Raj Rani Arora, an interviewee from Partition Women’s Voices

To be honest, there isn’t one project that stands out the most. Rather, it’s what each project brought to the community: giving a voice to those without. TAO’s ongoing projects and work with young people in schools are incredible. You will never really know what seeds have been sown as a result of the various initiatives and how they’ve impacted young people’s lives.

Some things, you can’t measure. Like, how a conscience may have been pricked and what that will blossom into later in life. The little things are just as important.

How would you like to see Slough and TAO shaped in the next 25 years?

For Slough, I’d like the communities to continue to be friendly and welcoming and for the town to continue to improve the life chances of all its residents.  Many people grumble about Slough and the economic situation with the shops. But most people that come to live in Slough (like the Welsh when it was economically challenging) manage to make a way for themselves despite the difficulties.

People should take more responsibility for their actions. Less grumbling, more doing!

I’d like to see TAO continue to respond to community needs and be innovative. They should balance looking forward to new things without losing sight of everything they are currently doing well.

What’s next for you?

I plan on still being a trustee of TAO and volunteering for my local church in Colnbrook. Otherwise, I’ll be enjoying retired life. I never want to be an old person who sits around doing nothing!

Janet Morgan lives in Slough, is a TAO trustee and volunteers at Colnbrook church.

Jamie Hassan, Chair of Trustees, presents Janet with flowers.