In 1978, injuries sustained in a road traffic accident forced me into a career change, via higher education. It started with a rehabilitation course, where I gained, amongst other things, a qualification in accounting. I didn’t see myself as an accounts clerk, however, and instead used this learning experience as a stepping-stone to enroll on a social science degree course.
Armed with my degree, I headed for the voluntary and community sector, where I became a Development Worker. I helped to develop co-operatives, including a period where I worked in one as the Co-ordinator, before moving on to help develop tenants and residents associations.
Throughout my 25 years of ‘developing’, I barely noticed that my accounting knowledge had become a well-used tool, sharpened through the many different calls upon it.
So here I am now: Zebra’s Finance lead. And I’ve been with Zebra since its inception, holding a range of different roles including Coop Development advisor.
I have worked for over 15 years in the provision of support services to a broad spectrum of client groups in the voluntary sector. In recent years the focus of my work has been on learning and service development. This includes: workforce development, training design and delivery, production of learning resources, co-producing training with clients, quality assurance and service review, policy development and tender writing.
My interests include: strengths-based and assets-based approaches, solution-focused practice, promoting recovery and wellbeing, group work facilitation, brain-based approaches to learning and management; increasing peer support and co-production.
I have spent most of my working life working with children and their families. Initially this was as a community paediatric nurse. However after completing an MA in Counselling studies I started to work in mental health services. Initially I worked with young people who were dependent on illegal drugs and/or alcohol setting up community services. The model I developed was to help people build up and develop other aspects in their lives at the same time as tackling their substance misuse. I worked both within the health service and in voluntary organisations. During this time I realised that the young people I was working with had all had traumatic events earlier in their childhood and had eventually turned to substances as a coping strategy. This led to a belief that a good early prevention package would be beneficial to young people and children who were at risk.
In 2000 I married and moved to Cornwall where I have worked within the mental health services developing systems for supporting young people. From 2009-2013 I worked with Zebra to develop schools that had a solution-focused approach to managing difficulties. I believe all children and young people know what their problems /difficulties are and respond to an approach which focuses on their existing resources (e.g. resilience, skills), as well as those they need to develop, to manage these difficulties and progress.
Currently I work with Zebra as a life coach with adults, and as a clinical supervisor. I am also working with some primary schools on a flexible basis.
In the words of Fletcher Peacock, “Water the flowers, not the weeds.”
Bernadette (Chelvi) Chelvanayagam
Trainer & Development Worker
I have worked in many settings, in paid and voluntary positions, since I was 16, including: Plan International, Care International UK, Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust, London, Exeter Homeless Action Group, Devon Race Equality Council and Connexions Youth Service. My interests and experiences are in facilitation, restorative approaches, mentoring, and training in sustainable and inclusive practices in the work place.
Training evaluations from Children’s Social Care staff, 2017
“Great training. Very refreshing approach which encouraged us all to participate and reflect. I really appreciated we weren’t “talked at” and that there was no attempt to say that things were “right or wrong”. Just deep, meaningful reflection which everyone participated in. Very refreshing and useful. Thank you.”
“A calm and informed trainer able to impart knowledge in an appropriate and relevant manner. “
Trainer & Development Worker / Co-director.
I lead on Zebra’s solution-focused work.
I have worked all my life here in Plymouth in all kinds of community work and social care settings. In 2011 I took a break from home to supervise the away leg of a 6 month youth exchange programme between Birendranagar, Nepal, and Plymouth, under Zebra’s contract with VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas).
In the years up to 2002, observing what worked well and not so well, I began to imagine co-creating an organisation driven by strong values of social justice and a commitment to working to a high standard. The thinking came real with Zebra: I was a co-founder and, fourteen years on, to be in this worker co-operative continues a fulfilling challenge.
Recently I’ve been researching the Effective Altruism movement. I’m hopeful that Zebra can help to raise the profile of this movement – which is about considered thought in our decisions re where best to spend the time and money we want to give to “good causes” – within our sphere of influence.
“He said that most men were in their lives like the carpenter whose work went so slowly for the dullness of his tools that he had not time to sharpen them.” Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing