Ali Butler is living proof that making big, bold and brave decisions can pay off.
The 35-year-old joined East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) just over a year ago and has become an established member of its Community Fundraising team.
Based at The Treehouse, she is a popular and respected colleague working with and stewarding supporters across Suffolk and East Essex.
It is a role she loves, although a far cry from the profession she started her career in. Ali trained as a teacher and spent seven happy years at Gorseland Primary School, in Martlesham.
She looks back with huge fondness but has no regrets about her decision to try something new at EACH.
“My mum, sister, brother-in-law, godmother and her husband are all teachers so perhaps it was destiny that I’d follow suite,” she said. As careers go, it was always in my thoughts.
“I absolutely loved it and had seven happy years as a primary school teacher. I recently found some old cards sent to me by the children I’ve taught over the years and it brought a lump to my throat. They were so lovely and it reminded me why I loved being a teacher.
“I look back with real fondness and I made some great friends during my time at Gorseland. On the flipside, the workload was very high and that was stressful.
“As a teacher, I wanted to make sure every child had the best possible educational experience and that brought a lot of pressure.
“You’re talking 30 or so children in your class and perhaps up to 60 parents and carers. It starts to take its toll and, in terms of making a change, I thought ‘it’s now or never’.
“I’d reached a stage where I wanted something different and then saw this job being advertised by EACH. It really appealed so I did some googling, because I didn’t know what it entailed. There are so many facets and I wanted to find out more.”
It was a leap into the unknown for Ali, who, prior to teaching, gained a degree in psychology and drama studies at the University of Winchester.
She went on to complete a post-graduate course in early years education before starting to work in early years settings, including her first teaching role as maternity cover at St Augustine’s Priory, in Ealing (ironic, given that The Treehouse is in St Augustine’s Gardens, Ipswich).
It whet her appetite for the profession and, after moving home to gain her teaching qualifications from the University of Suffolk, she secured her first full-time job, teaching mainly Years Two and Three at Gorseland.
She also took on extra responsibilities, including running the school’s Performing Arts Club.
However, it proved a case of all good things must come to an end because, after seven years, Ali decided the time was right for a new challenge with EACH.
“I felt sad to leave and there were tears on my last day, but I never doubted my decision,” she said.
“Shortly before starting, a welcome note arrived in the post, complete with my lanyard and a pin badge. It was such a thoughtful touch and I knew I was doing the right thing.
“I’ve never regretted it and that’s why I’d never discourage anyone from joining us, even if, like me, they’re from a completely different background or industry.
“I like to think I have transferrable skills and, at its core, there are undoubtedly things from my teaching career that overlap with this role.
“Of course, I had to learn lots about the organisation and our hospices, and about the various processes and procedures. I needed that knowledge before being in a position to impart it to others.
“However, there are also lots of similarities between the jobs, mainly linked to communication and developing relationships. Teaching proved a great stepping stone for me and both jobs are about enthusing people.
“The people I was working with before may have been younger and smaller – and the subject may have been different – but the same principles apply.
“If I’m not positive and enthusiastic, how can I expect those around me to be on board?
“I believe a person’s mood is contagious and it’s down to me to speak with conviction, to explain why something matters so much. That’s what I did as a teacher and that’s what I try and do now.”
Ali, who married husband Oli last April, loves the positivity of working alongside, and supporting, community fundraisers across Suffolk and East Essex.
Her role includes emailing and speaking to supporters who are planning their own fundraising, researching and attending community events, and developing and maintaining relationships with volunteers and other community groups.
“This job allows you to see the good in people and that’s something I love,” said the keen walker and runner, who loves spending time outdoors and with family and friends.
“It’s very easy to become negative and cynical, because of the things we hear and read about in the news. However, working here restores your faith and our supporters are truly amazing.
“I’m continually blown away by the kind things people do to raise money – from the physical challenges they do to giving up time to support a bucket collection.
“It’s incredible and they make me feel inspired and motivated. I also think the world of my colleagues and love it when we get together.
“Although I’d worked in a professional setting, my classroom was obviously very different to an office and it’s not something I’d experienced before.
“However, I can safely say it’s been even better than I anticipated. I love being part of a team and organisation that does so much good work and there’s such a high level of trust, appreciation and respect.
“No two days are the same and my job is rewarding, varied and fun.”
To reinforce that positive mindset, Ali spent a day shadowing a care shift at The Treehouse last September
“It was an incredible experience,” she said.
“Spending time with the team and helping care for two children, as well as meeting their families, was just so humbling and inspiring. It gave me more insight and knowledge and I found it important on a personal level to see the impact the care team has.
“It’s definitely something I’d recommend to others and I love working at The Treehouse. It’s an incredible place. To start with, I was nervous about working in a children’s hospice and apprehensive about what it would be like.
“Obviously, I’d spent a lot of my working life around children but this is a completely different environment. However, being here, and spending time on the care floor, has had a real impact on me and I find it so motivating.
“Ultimately, it’s why we do the jobs we do and, for me, it inspires me to do the very best I can to ensure these children have all they need, however that may look, be it staff, funding or equipment.”