Mell Devlin has been PHM in B Social since 2007, but sadly is due to leave at the end of this term. We sat down with Mell in her flat somewhere in the rabbit warren of B Social, and asked her how she came to Radley.
I’d been in the UK for two years as a live-in carer for the elderly – as I’m from Zimbabwe it was a really good way for me to find my feet in the UK. My daughter was working in London around that time and she decided to move back to Zimbabwe, so it was a crossroads for me. I wanted to remain in the UK and I made a list of the things that were important to me in my next job. I wanted to have space around me, I wanted to work with children again, having worked as a Nursery School teacher for seven years in Zimbabwe, and I wanted to work in, and be part of, a community … and of course, Radley was all of that.
I applied through The Lady magazine which carried adverts for Matrons. Richard Greed was B Social Tutor at the time, and when he interviewed me I was very honest with him. He asked me what I thought my days would entail and I said ‘I haven’t the vaguest idea, but I know I can do the job!’ Thankfully Richard decided to give me a chance!
Did you have preconceptions about Radley? How did you find the reality?
I had some preconceptions, but I had a couple of friends in B Social already – two of the boys were sons of friends I knew from Tanzania; a complete coincidence! That was a great help to me but within two weeks of being here I knew this is what I loved.
How would you describe life at Radley?
For the most part, life at Radley for me is anchored to the Social, but we support the boys out and about as much as possible – watching matches, plays and concerts. The nature of the Social allows the older boys to help the younger ones and the older boys like to know that the younger boys are happy. At the start of the year, the 6.1s and 6.2s will say ‘how are the Shells, Mrs D?’ They don’t know them yet, but they want to know if they are settling in ok.
General courtesies and manners are modelled by the older boys and there is an expectation of how B Social boys should behave, they don’t want anything to reflect badly on the Social.
Is there such a thing as a typical day for a PHM?
No two days are the same! In any one day we might do some shopping for Cocoa in the evening, or take a boy for a scan or X-ray. At the moment I have a group of Shells who need to be taken for their second Covid vaccination. The days are long – we start at 7 in the morning and finish at 11 at night but there are peaks and troughs through the day, so there are moments when we can relax or get out for a walk.
What are your highlights during the week?
I love the Cocoa evenings, because you see a different side of the boys. Cocoas bring the whole Social together and we really missed them during Covid, when the Social was split into year group bubbles. I love watching the boys perform or play sport, again, you see how they have progressed and you’re always really proud of them. We also always invite the B Social cleaners and caretakers to see the boys perform – it gives them a chance to see another side of the boys whose rooms they clean and whose furniture they fix! The boys become close to the extended Social family and love having their support.
The thing I’m not good at is saying goodbye! I tell the boys, ‘don’t come and say goodbye, just say you’ll be seeing me’ because it breaks my heart at the end of five years to say goodbye.
What has changed during your time at the College?
I was here when the College had just eight Socials. At the time, we had 86 boys in B Social, but they weren’t all here because we only had 74 rooms. In 2007 when I joined we had a big intake so that when J and K opened, some boys would move over. The extra boys were housed in Orchard House, part of what became J Social. There were 30 beds in Orchard House and boys who preferred to be in a smaller group were still part of B Social but their rooms were there.
What are your plans for your life after Radley?
I absolutely love working at Radley, but having done it for this long I need to take some time out to recharge myself, having not seen my family for two and a half years. I will finish at the end of this academic year and I’m going on a Walkabout! I’m going for an extended period down to Southern Africa; South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and then to Thailand where I’ve got family friends to visit.