I found my lifeline when I joined the PTA

When Julie Willcox moved to a new town, she didn't know anyone. Then she caught the PTA bug, and now the whole school knows her name

When my family moved to Surrey, my new life was a culture shock. I'd spent ten years in London, surrounded by friends and the luxury of 24/7 convenience. It was bad enough that my new home was out of range of Uber Eats, but more seriously, I'd lost my support network.

There were lonely times. The close-knit community at St Edmund's School all seemed to know one another, and my first weeks on the school run felt like starting a new job.

Finding friendship

I was determined to turn it around, and when I found out the PTA were looking for a new secretary, I got in touch with the chair. We chatted over coffee, and I agreed to nominate myself at the next meeting. I don't know what else was on the agenda – all I can remember is how I was immediately made welcome, and the time flew by in a blur of introductions. Before I knew it, I'd been voted in.

I began to feel more confident. I spoke to other parents at pick-up, introduced myself and discussed my PTA involvement. Joining the committee expanded my social circle beyond my daughter's year group. Many of my new friends have children in different years, and our paths would never have crossed had it not been for the PTA.

Community in a crisis

When we went into lockdown, everyone rallied round. My children and I helped vulnerable people in the community, including our local vicar's family, and met many interesting, kind-hearted people.

I hadn't realised how important my new network would become: Both of my grandparents suddenly became ill and were admitted to hospital. Despite the excellent care they received, we lost them both within three weeks. We were bereft.

My friends from the PTA stepped up – at a moment's notice, they arrived to care for my children. Other parents brought food parcels and offered to do our shopping, and the vicar helped us with the service. I'd never experienced this level of community support before, and I was deeply touched by their kind actions.

Welcoming newcomers

Since I took over the role of chair, I've made it my mission to build community inside and outside the school. One of our objectives as a PTA is to demonstrate the value of friendship and support to the children. Some of our events are organised for fun rather than profit, and we often collect for local charities.

I always introduce myself to new arrivals in the area, and I've set up a 'new parent' WhatsApp group for each school year to help them navigate school life. Even as adults, many of us have a lingering fear of sounding foolish, and this gives people a safe space to ask questions.

Joining the PTA has given me friends for life and a new sense of purpose in organising events for the community. I can't do the school run in my pyjamas anymore, but it's worth it because I've found my true home.

 

  • Julie Willcox, chair, Friends of St Edmund's, Hindhead, Surrey (560 pupils)