Bolton School Former Pupils

Gill Pearl

Gill Pearl (née Robinson, 1967-1977)

Could you write a brief pen portrait about yourself and your career?
By background I am a speech and language therapist who has worked for many years with adults who have neurological damage, in particular people who have had a stroke. After qualifying from Queen Margaret University Edinburgh I worked for the NHS in Preston, Chorley and Bolton, but left in 1996 to work in the voluntary sector. Influencing at a national level my work included political campaigning, raising awareness, education and shaping service provision.

In 2003 I joined a charity called Speakeasy as Chief Executive to provide strategic and clinical direction. Speakeasy supports people with aphasia, a condition which affects communication after brain damage. I work creatively to deliver purposeful, meaningful activity to improve and maintain quality of life for people living with aphasia.

I had a brief foray into academia as a Health Foundation Research Fellow at Manchester University and worked for the Disabled Living Centre delivering projects on managing incontinence. With self-employed status I have been able to creatively develop links nationally and internationally for project work in related fields. I am a published researcher in such topics as volunteering for people with aphasia and user involvement, and am a world recognised authority on aphasia-accessible information and environments.

I have extensive links with the wider national and international aphasia community through University departments, statutory and third sector stroke and research groups. I am a national and international speaker, trainer and project manager. I have found a role in life as a passionate networker and ambassadorial representative for aphasia.

2016 was a memorable year: both Speakeasy and I were recipients of awards including the Robin Tavistock award for innovation in aphasia (given by Henrietta, Duchess of Bedford), the Festival of Public Health award for services to aphasia, and the Queens Award for Voluntary service (this is the MBE for charities and involved a new frock and a trip to the Palace).

Outside work I love spending time with my wonderful family, sport (mostly tennis since my Lacrosse days ended) and music. A spell of relative inactivity when my children were young caused a minor crisis and I started a soul band with friends (very high on enthusiasm and enjoyment, less so on talent, but still available for local fundraising events!). My musical passion has continued recently when I joined the Friends of Bolton School Choir.

What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?
I attended Bolton School from 1967 in the Juniors until I left after the Sixth Form in 1977. My sister Sheila attended two years ahead of me and many years later my daughter, Sarah Pearl, followed in our footsteps

What is your fondest Bolton School memory?
I have many happy memories of School and they include building dens in the woods as a junior pupil, field trips to Cautley, and starting friendships which have endured.

Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at School?
I can recall several staff who inspired in different ways. The Sports staff under the leadership of Pam Johnson, the Music Department, in particular the individual lessons from Margaret Long, and staff in the Geography Department, especially Mary Hughes and Lilian Croston. Each in their different way took my love of each topic and nurtured it.

What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?
Bolton School gave me such a rich, broad education which taught me to think creatively and generated in me an enduring love of learning. The Head Teacher at the time was Margaret Higginson; she instilled a belief that that with determination, passion and hard work there are so many opportunities open to us all. I left School knowing that I could make things happen. This is particularly surprising as at the start of my school life I lacked confidence in my abilities and felt overshadowed by more mature pupils.

What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?
My work life has been unusual for my generation. I have had a career outside of the mainstream and which has evolved organically. I have taken many opportunities for networking often in situations where the relevance has not been obvious but have found this to be a productive way of working. Trust that there are opportunities if you are alert to them, and embrace opportunities to do things differently. Finally, find a role in your work life that you enjoy: that way it never feels like work.

What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?
I loved my time at Bolton School and have benefitted from all it gave me. It would not have happened without assistance; I had support from the Direct Grant system. I applaud the campaign supporting access to all that Bolton School has to offer.

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