Caring Chorley pioneer took a Red Rose heart all around the world
Observing to understand' that is how inspirational speaker, life coach and author Vera Waters would describe the make -up of her life's work.
She has quite the resume.
From pioneering change in the 1960s for the better treatment of teenage offenders, to an appointment as the first voluntary service co-ordinator in the health service before turning attentions to counselling police forces nationally.
She has trained and counselled nurses, doctors, entertainers, actors, dancers, airline crews to those in the finance sectors.
Her lectures and presentations have taken her all over the world from Europe to America to Australia coupled with regular appearances on the radio.
And at 78-years-old she has just completed her sixth book ‘Another Cup’, which she describes as more biographical than her previous titles, exploring a little more of her early life in Manchester. Born in 1939, It was growing up in the city, during war time, that left a life time impression on Vera and she says quite defiantly an ‘overwhelming urge to change the world.’
“I was only young during the war, I remember I was small enough to fit under the table during those nightly bombings of Manchester and the sounds of the sirens.
“Even at that very young age, having lived through war, I remember thinking I did not ever want there to be another one, I wanted the world to be peaceful.
“It’s hard for those who haven’t experienced it to imagine but I knew I wanted to make a difference.”
It was her parents who encouraged her other big love for reading. She says. “I was reading by three and a half and had completed most of Charles Dicken’s novels by the time I reached seven and realised I couldn’t bear them.”
At her Chorley home, where she has lived for the past 20 years, she has amassed a collection of more than 3,500 books, she is currently working through the latest tomes by Dan Brown and Jenni Murray of Woman’s Hour’s ‘Words, from wise, witty and wonderful women.’
Her passion for reading, naturally, left her with the desire one day to write for herself but Vera adds it was actually her Montessori education from the age of four which had a major influence on her early career.
“Reading was everything and I was very much encouraged to read anything and everything, a lot of non-fiction. It wasn’t about winning or losing - I very much describe it as finishing school in reverse.”
Vera’s career started in education, teaching at an Oldham school, and she says it was her experiences there which gave her a completely new perspective.
She says, “I often tell people at my presentations about how in my first week the headmaster stopped me on the entrance to the classroom and told me to ‘be prepared for what the children would be about to teach me about life.’ I replied ‘they are five-years-old?’ and he said ‘exactly.’
“He was spot on, the backgrounds and experiences of such young children, completely different to my own, taught me so much and opened my eyes to a completely new way of thinking.”
It was a chance encounter after she moved to Kent with her then husband, that Vera found herself a new job working at a reform school and pioneering change within the system for better provisions for teenage offenders.
She says, “I believe so much in serendipity and it has played such a huge part throughout my life and career - my aim in taking that job was to have 50 per cent of my time teaching those girls and 50 per cent dedicated to working with them to find out what made them do the things they had done. There was no negotiation for me.”
Vera was determined to seek change to practices in the schools, which saw the regular injection of heavy calming medication administered to the teenagers.
“Lobbying the government for change was a consequence and those changes had an impact on the whole country in the mid 1960s.”
It was in 1969 Vera found herself moving to Lancashire with her family, settling in Goosnargh, near Preston. Having not long given birth to her daughter, it was on a walk ‘in the park’ with the pram she first came across Whittingham Hospital and not long after took on a new job, the first of its kind within the health service as ‘voluntary service co-ordinator’.
She explains, “I had more than 400 volunteers come to work under the post and it opened new pathways and understanding of those with mental health issues within the community.
“I was the first non-medic to have my own case load of patients and it was through working with these people and preparing them to engage with wider community that the police force came to know of my work.
“A lot of the patients had suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder, but that wasn’t recognised back then - my work was all about preparing the general public for these people to be free to live in the community.
“The patients were wonderful people. I’ve written about them a lot in my books because they were so lovely but misunderstood.”
She was retained as the first counsellor to a police force – Greater Manchester and Lancashire Constabulary – and was involved in speaking to officers as they tried to cope with the emotional aftermath of incidents, particularly the debrief of staff after the Manchester Airport disaster in 1985.
The mum of three says: “I was the first counsellor to be retained by the police force through my recognised work at Whittingham. It was a big step for the force to take as there had never been that kind of service for officers before but it was accepted the challenges of the job, and for some the nature of the work, meant there was a requirement for officers to have somewhere to turn.”
Vera’s work earned her a research grant award from the Home Office department of science and technology and a special commendation from the Greater Manchester Police chief constable in 2000, in recognition of her special counselling programme.
Besides her practice in counselling and coaching, Vera has shared her fascinating experiences and unique insights through motivational talks and her books all over the world.
From the year 2000 Vera spent 14 years travelling to and from America, lecturing in several states.
Other career highlights have included an invitation from the Governor of Oklahoma to train members of one of the state departments, and in 2010, she was a member of a small group who met with Princess Anne as recognition for her work with BBC’s RAW (Reading and Writing) campaign, encouraging parents to read stories to their children.
Vera’s first book ‘Half a Rainbow’ was released in 1990 and a discussion of the new book “Another Cup” will be held at Chorley Library on December 1 at 7pm.
“I really enjoy speaking in our local libraries it gives me the chance to interact more easily with everyone. They are such amazing places. And I love it here in Chorley - I was only meant to move here a short time and here I am all these years later. I fell in love with the place and the people, who are so incredibly friendly.”
Vera’s new book is available through her website www.verawaters.com, good book shops and Amazon.