London People: Dr Jane Collins
Interviews with people, who live, or work, in London who have made an impact on the city; each in their own way. And their relationship with the capital.
by Sarah Kinson
Dr Jane Collins is a paediatrician and the chief executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital. She also writes a weekly column in the Times called “Ask Dr Jane”.
Where did you grow up?
In a place called Porchester, near Portsmouth. It was a relatively small community based around the Navy, which my father was in. I went to school every day down by the sea in Portsmouth, so there was a nautical feel to growing up there.
When did you first arrive in London?
I came to work here in 1982, actually to Great Ormond Street Hospital, soon after I graduated from medical school in Birmingham. To begin with, I lived in Hampshire and commuted to London. In contrast to Portsmouth, London had such an extraordinary diversity, vibrancy, and excitement, which I still feel today.
Why did you move to London?
I commuted from Winchester until 1986, when my husband got a job here and we decided to move to Kew. The aircraft noise there was too much so we moved to Teddington, where we live now. I remember my husband saying, when we were first married, that he never wanted to live in London, but ended up moving here!
What parts of London have you lived in?
South West London is the only area that I have lived in, and part of the reason we chose it was to have access to my family and friends who live in Hampshire. What I like about it, is the access to the river and the fantastic open spaces like Bushy Park and Richmond Park.
Describe a normal days' work for you
I get to the station soon after 7am and I usually get a seat which means I can work on the train. Then I get the bus from Waterloo to Great Ormond Street. My day consists of meetings and events to do with running the hospital. That includes hearing from staff, patients, and families, when I can. We rely on fundraising, so I often meet with people who may donate money to us. Three times a week, I have some sort of evening event to do with work. But whatever time I finish, I try to walk back down to Waterloo, for my 30 minutes of exercise, and then I get the train home.
What is the view from your window?
There is a tree outside my window and I look out onto the road. Opposite is a house used for rehearsals and I can sometimes hear the opera singers ,which is fantastic! The whole area has improved enormously since the Kings Cross development happened.
Does the great history of the hospital you run help or hinder your work? (Working for one of the most famous hospitals in the world, must be quite a daunting challenge?)
It’s fantastic to have a founder who lived and worked in this part of the world, a bit like a GP nowadays, although they didn’t have GPs when the hospital was founded in 1852. He realised that there were children in need and he decided to set up this hospital. Having that history, and our motto: ‘The child first and always’, helps bind staff together to try and do their best for children.
When I first became chief executive I didn’t realise managing the brand, if you like, would be part of it. It can be daunting because one wants to protect it but one doesn’t want to over protect it so that you are not open to new challenges.
Is London a good place to bring up children?
I think it is hard to generalise because London is so diverse. If you can live in a more affluent area, then it can be good because children experience the diversity that London offers, as well as access to all sorts of museums and galleries. But we see some London children coming to Great Ormond Street who live in a very poor environment. And so, if you are talking about children in London more generally, then I would have to say, quite sadly, that it is often not a good place to grow up.
Why do you think that?
Traffic accidents involving children is a big issue. And then, there is a feeling of social breakdown in some areas which means that children aren’t supported in their most vulnerable years. There is also a real fear in children and young people about whether they are going to be safe. On top of that, although there is access to alcohol and drugs throughout the UK, one feels that we are in a more concentrated area and therefore access is probably even greater here.
What do you think would improve the health of London's children?
It would be to concentrate on keeping children well, rather than just treating them when they become ill. We need to encourage and make children feel safe to walk to school and go outside to play.
We need to help parents understand that part of being a parent involves letting go a bit, so that children can develop their own strategies to cope with the world. That’s hard if you live in an area where there has been a lot of knife crime. If I was a parent there, I would be terrified, but there needs to be a balance because children need to learn to look after themselves. And although we hear so much about the world being more dangerous, it isn’t as dangerous as it used to be, and so maybe we have gone over board on molly coddling children.
In the United States, they talk about the idea of getting people back on the streets, because just having more people around makes it safer. It might mean changing the traffic conditions and having more pedestrian roads. Make areas better for people, so they feel more comfortable outside. I know it is partly to do with our weather but we tend to stay in our houses and flats, rather than get outside more, as they seem to do in Europe.
What do you do to relax?
Gardening, or going out for a walk with the dog and spending time with family and friends.
What is the worst thing about London?
What is the best thing?
The South Bank. Whenever I go over Waterloo Bridge, which I do twice a day, I just think it is the most wonderful view, looking over to St Paul’s, one way, and then looking along to the Houses of Parliament, the other way. The Festival Hall and all that area used to be quite grotty, but that whole stretch, from Westminster Bridge right down to beyond the Millennium Bridge is absolutely fantastic now.
If you had only one more day in London (i.e. had to leave tomorrow) what would you spend your last day doing?
I would spend my time walking along the South Bank, and the day would be lovely and sunny!
Where do you want to end up when you pop your clogs?
I would like an eco-burial with a tree planted on me. I don’t think I have much choice about where, because you can only do that in a few places, but I happen to know they do it in Surrey somewhere.
last updated: 04/11/2008 at 15:04
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