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My Cardiff

Margaret McCarter Jervis

Margaret McCarter Jervis, MBE is the founder and operational director of Valleys Kids and Cardiff University’s first People’s Fellow. This special Fellowship recognises an individual who has demonstrated a sustained and positive contribution to their local community through their activities.

Dr David Gwynfor Samuel

Margaret McCarter Jervis at a Valleys Kids project

When I look back and reflect on my life I wonder where the journey began. From a “But’n’Ben”, through leaving school with no qualifications, to being awarded the first People’s Fellowship from Cardiff University?

Was it being born into a family whose father had been hurt in a mine accident and was unemployed for all of my childhood? This meant that, while the family was economically poor our father was there to play and encourage. Now I wish as I grew up, I had realised then what a great teacher he was and had listened more carefully to all he had to tell me about nature and about life. Did the journey begin with a happy childhood?

I left school at fifteen to get a ‘good’ job in an office and also volunteered in my local community. The Youth Officer encouraged me to apply to Moray House College, Edinburgh to train in Youth and Community work and I was accepted on the strength of experience, some written work, and an interview. Did the journey begin when I gained my Diploma in Youth and Community Work?

There was a knock on my door at St Kays, a community centre in Aberdeen, where I was manager. That knock meant that I met my husband, Richard, from South Wales and we moved together to the Rhondda and established what is now Valleys Kids. Did the journey begin with that knock on the door?

With one salary from Job Creation, Valleys Kids began in a white-washed coal cellar in the basement of the Probation office. Thirty years have past since that beginning in 1977 and it has been an exciting, terrifying and wonderful journey.

Richard was a trained teacher with experience in community arts and I was a trained youth and community worker with experience in running a local authority community centre and a voluntary community centre.

Valleys Kids started small and grew, and today there are four community projects based in Rhondda Cynon Taf. There is a Community Access to Technology team, an ArtWorks team, a Community and Outreach Family team, a Community Rugby team, a Time Banking team and two Communities First teams. There are 50 paid staff and more than 100 voluntary staff involved in the delivery and management of Valleys Kids.

So my journey has taken me from being a volunteer through to gaining a professional qualification, to being employed as youth and community worker, to being the Operational Director of a vibrant community organisation.

That journey has meant some huge learning curves and sometimes it felt like a learning precipice.

Raising funds to convert an old chapel or four derelict houses into state of the art community centres, convincing funders that the Valley communities deserved the best and dealing with all the issues around maintenance of buildings.

Raising funds to employ staff to deliver all the services and activities and convincing funders of the need, writing the hundreds of applications and then coping with the high percentage who said ‘sorry no you don’t meet our criteria’, but the great celebration was when one or two said ‘yes’. Then as the staff grew learning all about employment law, developing staff manuals, writing policies, strategic plans and business plans.

The rewards along the journey have been tremendous. I have watched young people grow and develop - young people who had often been seen as difficult, with no self confidence, with low expectations of what life holds for them. I have watched them blossom and realise that they can achieve and that life can be different.

This journey has led to my being named Cardiff University’s first People’s Fellow. This was a personal honour for me, and also recognition of the work of the staff and volunteers at Valleys Kids. But essentially it is a celebration of the success of children, young people and families who have travelled the journey with me.

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