Rachel Hill founded Hillside Childcare in 2007, before that she built her career in childcare, education and SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities for children, young people.
In 2010 when Rachel became a mother to her son Tommy, she didn’t know at the time that her parenting journey may not be straightforward and that those same qualifications and experiences in special educational needs and disability would hold such value to her own family one day.
Rachel said; “From being 18 I had worked within childcare, but it wasn’t until I became a mother to Tommy that I felt motivated to support others, especially those who have children with special needs and disabilities, as that was my new reality.”
On realising her son Tommy wasn’t meeting his movement milestones as a baby, Rachel and her family began their journey. After many appointments, tests and assessments, there were no diagnoses and they were told that Tommy had developmental delay of his gross motor skills, not knowing what the future would hold, together they moved forward and took life a day at a time. Tommy is now 14 and uses a walking frame or a wheelchair.
Rachel reclaimed; “I think as a mum you know when something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s that magic mother instinct you hear so much about, and whilst other children Tommy’s age were starting to achieve certain milestones, especially in movement, we were told to wait until he was 12-18 months before any referrals would be made as it was too early to confirm if there were any problems.”
She continued: “Between the time he was 18 months and 3 years old, and once we learnt more, I found it very difficult to process and was often upset and so very protective of him. There were some days where I could’ve wrapped him up and run away, other days where I felt like superwoman, and others where I didn’t. It was a rollercoaster, but actually, these are all normal emotions as parents and I had to become stronger for Tommy and for myself.”
Alongside caring for her family, Rachel was building a successful daycare business, employing a staff team of 75 she had four thriving day nursery settings.
Juggling her business, providing support to children and their families, and managing household responsibilities, Rachel was often asked questions about Tommy’s development and to gain some control over this, she created the ‘Rock on Tommy’ Facebook group.
Rachel said; “It was when he was due to start nursery school I felt like I needed some control of the situation and his disability, and without being outfaced by lots of questions from other parents and even other children on the first day of school, I decided to share more online about our experiences and the things he was doing. It became a little diary, where we shared family days and special moments together, as well as some of the not-so-fun moments.”
“We gained so much comfort from the response we received from our followers, but it was the community of other parents in a similar situation that really made me feel most relatable. It filled me and my husband with so much hope that without realising we had built our very own community, and in a quick space of time, we had hundreds following the page too.”
The latest estimates from the Department for Work and Pensions indicate that 16.0 million people in the UK had a disability in the 2021/22 financial year. This represents 24% of the total population, with 11% of that being children.
And whilst Rachel was her own boss and not personally subject to discrimination within the workplace, she was in contact with mothers who were.
Through the Rock on Tommy platform and the work she was doing online with their Facebook community, Rachel’s perspective shifted when it came to business, and ultimately the type of work she wanted to put her energy into.
In 2023, after sixteen years of outstanding success, Rachel stepped away from her childcare business and took some much-needed time out before taking on her new chapter; raising awareness and making change for families in the UK who have children with disabilities and special needs.
By combining both her career pathway and her home life, Rachel is now using ‘her calling’ to campaign across the UK to ensure that Tommy, and others like him, are seen and heard.
She said: “Tommy is 14 now, and he is my biggest motivator every single day. I know that if he can do that to me, he can do it for others too.”
Rachel explained: “I started my childcare business scared and very nervous, with only two children on my books, and yes it was a lot of hard work – just like this will be – but we made it a success. I know now that this is my calling to combine my years of experience to support other children and offer online learning and a voice to families who look a lot like ours. It’s obvious now that the work I’ve done over two decades has been leading up to this, I just didn’t know it when I was eighteen and stepping into a childcare environment for the very first time.”
In 2024 Rachel, alongside her family and of course her son Tommy, hopes to support families who may feel lost in a system, and at times, a world that isn’t always ready for them and if a New Year isn’t the right time to start, then when is?
Rachel will be hosting one of six webinars at the 2024 ECELU E-Seminar, centred around “Honouring the Child’s Right to Play.” Join her presentation at 9pm GMT on Tuesday the 30th of January.