Total understanding: hearts and minds

John Timpson, Chairman of services retailer Timpson Ltd, explains why he is giving £750,000 to establish a new research programme at Oxford’s REES Centre for Research in Fostering and Education.

John Timpson has been involved with the shoe repair and key-cutting firm, Timpson Ltd, since the age of 17. His great-grandfather founded the business in 1865, but it was under John, the fourth generation to run the firm, that Timpson Ltd evolved into the successful organisation that it is today.

‘I don’t actually conform to what most people do in business,’ says John. ‘We don’t run things in a normal way, we like to just do what we think is best.’ Upon joining, members of staff become part of the Timpson family; they are invested in, developed, trusted and rewarded. To John, his colleagues are the heart and soul of the business. ‘Being people focused is what it’s all about,’ he stresses.

Beyond the business

Unsurprisingly, John subscribes to this ethos outside working hours too. For 31 years, he and his late wife Alex were foster carers, providing a safe and nurturing family environment for children and young people in need.

‘My wife was a trained nursery nurse before we got married. Her passion was looking after children,’ says John. ‘When the youngest of our three natural children was at school, she looked for something else to do, and that’s how she found fostering.’ In addition to having three children of their own, John and Alex adopted two, and fostered 90.

I hope that the findings of the programme provide real encouragement for families.John Timpson

Becoming attachment aware

It was sometime in the early 90’s, John recalls, that they first learnt about attachment awareness. A now important concept in the care system, attachment awareness draws upon the theory that a strong emotional and physical attachment to at least one primary caregiver is critical to a child’s personal development.

‘At that point we’d been fostering for 10 years or more, and it was the first Alex or I had ever heard of it,’ he says. ‘It was a light bulb moment for us. It made a very big difference to how we felt about how we were doing as foster parents, and the way we approached things as far as future children were concerned. And it made me want to help people understand the background to attachment as well.’

Evidence and encouragement

Oxford’s Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education is about to embark upon a five-year research project focused on attachment awareness – supported by a generous gift from Timpson Ltd. The programme will target 300 schools, with the aim of providing the type of robust national evaluation that has, until now, not been possible.

‘My prime objective is to try and ensure that every school understands why looked after children can present challenging behaviour. And I know very well that that won’t happen unless there’s an evidence base,’ explains John. ‘I don’t just want to change policy; I want total understanding, hearts and minds. And I don’t think I’m being too ambitious in that.’