Director of HR, Alison Bennett reflects on 30 years at Sense

HRH Princess Royal with a group of people at the Sense Finsbury Park office, including Alison Bennett, who has spent 30 years at Sense.

30 long years ago, three of my closest friends phoned me, independently of each other, to tell me that there was a job advert in the Guardian that I had to apply for. It was for a role at a charity I hadn’t heard of, Sense, supporting their holidays programme for children and adults with complex disabilities.

Fast forward to this week, and I’m about to celebrate my 30-year anniversary at Sense.

In 1990, I had been running a community centre in south east London that was a leading the way in inclusive community activity. I loved it, but the lure of Sense and taking disabled children and adults on holiday, to enjoy unique experiences, was too strong. I joined Sense on the 6th August 1990 and what a time I have had. 

My first desk was under London St Pancras station, roughly where the Aspinal of London shop is now (if you’ve ever been shopping at St Pancras International you’ll know exactly where I mean). It was an interesting environment to work in – every time a train went in or out of the station a shower of dust rained down from above me, and the small office we had there was like a rabbit warren. But we had some great times there trying to find places to park minibuses, meeting those lovely families and holidaymakers and sending them off on a fantastic holiday.

We moved to Finsbury Park and the Princess Royal came to open the offices, I was lucky enough to take her on the tour of the first floor and introduce her to staff. It was so nice to work in a clean office! 

Changes at Sense

I worked on the Holidays programme for several years – but Sense was growing fast, change was around the corner (isn’t it always?) and I wanted to be part of the future of this fantastic organisation. So I kept hold of the Holidays team but started to work much more closely with families through the Branch network. The lovely Norman Brown had retired and his shoes were tough to fill but our little team gave it our best shot. We started an advocacy project and to do much more work in what we’d now call engagement but then we called ‘voluntary services’.

I met some incredible families and to this day, I hear names of adults who live in accommodation we provide, and remember quietly to myself how hard families campaigned and worked to bring places like Andlaw House to life. Or I hear that ‘Johnnie’ is 50 and think that I used to take him on holiday when he was 7!

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fantastic people in my 30 years and I’ll be forever grateful to the two women I worked with in the Research team. Both professional researchers, they taught me so much about what it’s like to try and work in an organisation as complex as Sense if you don’t see and hear very well. Their experience and stance on accessible workplaces has impacted on every day of my working life at Sense since.

But eventually I found myself in the Learning and Development team and it’s there that Sense supported me to complete my Masters – with a dissertation in facilitating accessible learning. Looking back, I have no idea how I managed a distance learning Masters as a full time working mum (but I was young and obviously had way more energy!)

30 years at Sense

I’ve been in the HR team for about 12 years now and in the last few years I’ve been in the privileged position to be its leader. I’ve come a long way in Sense – its seen me through some major life changes. I was a single woman living in my lovely flat in Charlton and commuting into London. Now I share my life with my husband Phil, son Calum and our bonkers Labrador Scotty. I’ve worked with families, staff and volunteers.

I’ve helped to shape our Holidays programme, our engagement work, research into deafblindness and our amazing learning programme. And now I get to work across the organisation shaping how we make sure that all of our staff can do their best work. 

I feel so lucky that my friends phoned me that day to show me the advert. There are about 10 of us in the ‘30-year club’ and I hope that their experiences have been as amazing as mine. The future for Sense is bright – despite this pandemic – there are so many fantastic people working here, investing in our future.

It’s been a joy so far. Thank you Sense.

One thought on “Director of HR, Alison Bennett reflects on 30 years at Sense”

  1. Dear Alison,
    Can I tell you about one of the fantastic people who work for Sense.
    Her name is Nicky Morris and she is the manager of the Sense shop in Wisbech she started in November 2019.
    Yesterday when we arrived at the shop unknown to anyone else she had made a little secret party, she had cupcakes made in Sense colours plus lots of other cakes, sausage rolls etc, all out of her own pocket. Each volunteer plus the assistant manager had a hand written little letter all different thanking us for all we had achieved since we reopened.
    She gave a small speech saying how proud she was of everyone
    I just hope that this little note shows what wonderful people and work for Sense..

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