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Getting to know… Jackie Colby

Juggling a busy day job as Safeguarding Lead for the Devon Safeguarding Children Partnership (Devon SCP), alongside being a reservist, is a challenge Jackie Colby relishes.

Before her current secondment with the Devon SCP, for the last 16 years, Jackie has been an Early Years and Childcare Adviser but before that (between 1982 – 1992), she was a regular in the Air Force working in HR and personnel. Life in the armed forces is what she knows well, so it’s not a surprise that four years ago she said yes to becoming a reservist.

At the time her life was already full, bringing up a family and with a busy career, but it wasn’t until she was at the Devon County Show that an opportunity to be a reservist presented itself. Jackie explains:

“I was at the show and bumped into a colleague who I was in the Air Force with. She was on a stand recruiting reservists for a new squadron at RAF St Mawgan in Newquay. I discovered they were now recruiting up until the age of 56 so I saw my opportunity and joined up!”

Jackie receives her certificate

Jackie receives her diploma

When looking at what area to go into Jackie fancied doing something different from her previous role in HR. She had a flair for cookery so asked if any positions as a chef were available. Soon, she was taken on and the training commenced. She achieved a level three diploma in cookery, which took place alongside a year of ‘square bashing’, exercise drills, and rifle training:

“I actually really enjoy the training side of things. To be a reservist you have to be fit for combat, so we have a fitness test every six months. I ran a couple of half marathons last year which I hadn’t dreamt I’d do before becoming a reservist, but the fitness level helps.

“My favourite part of being a reservist is being out in the field cooking for large numbers of people and being part of a team. We put up huge tents and assemble cookers and generators which are all powered by air craft fuel. We work with what we are given so you learn to be creative and organised.”

Jackie regularly spends weekends out in the field and on training exercises and is going to Norway soon for a month to cook for the RAF Regiment. In November she is doing a cooking competition for military chefs so is taking time to practise a celebration cake.

It’s clear she brings her skills as a reservist back to the Devon SCP and this has opened up new opportunities for her at a time in her life when most people are settled in their careers:

“It’s harder now because I‘m older but I do have all that life experience behind me. As a result of being a reservist I’ve become more creative, more confident, and I’ve learnt new teamwork and leadership skills which I think helped me gain my promotion at the Council.

“I’ve learnt to challenge ideas where others wouldn’t. Both as a reservist and in my current role I like to know I can effect changes, I really like to find a reason for doing something and having that challenging attitude can go a long way.

“I love what I do here but it can get a bit staid, so having both careers in conjunction makes life more interesting. For example, last year I arranged a training day for early years professionals on how to cook with children in the outdoor, particularly pertinent to those staff members working in forest schools and pre-schools. So I used my RAF knowledge and skills to benefit my role within DCC”.

“I also think having my cooking skills can help me decide what I want to do when I retire, I might want to cook in a nursing home or be a chef elsewhere.”

Jackie has also used her role with the Devon SCP to start a conversation with military bases around Devon in respect of their own safeguarding procedures. She has helped to set up officers on courses to make them feel informed and has also helped to identify policies and procedures which may be out of date with the local Devon & Somerset Air Cadet HQ.

By 2020 the Government would like to see up to 20% of the military to be reservists so it is now more commonplace to see organisations support their employees.

The Devon County Council policy allows time off for training, and arrangements can be put in place for how time off and cover is worked out if you are mobilised. If you work for an organisation within the Devon SCP partnership, please speak to your line manager if you are interested in becoming a reservist.

Jackie can vouch for this support first-hand:

“The Royal Air Force provide me with a six to twelve-month plan of training and events so I know in advance what time I need off and what I’ve got on at work so that I can try and fit everything in. The Air Force also pay me a salary so you don’t lose out financially. It’s fantastic to be part of an organisation which puts their employers first!”