Diane Gray , a self-confessed sports enthusiast, will be coaching six local swimmers to compete in next year’s Special Olympics in Newcastle. Most of the swimmers are employees of The Ascent Group, where Diane works as Human Services Manager.
Tell us about your background as a swimming coach.
I started teaching swimming 20 years ago on the Central Coast, because it was something that fitted well with my personal interests and family life. I learned to swim in Kindergarten and later became a keen member of the local swimming club where I grew up. It’s something I’ve always loved. Teaching swimming seemed a natural progression. I taught people of all ages, including some with disabilities.
I grew up with a brother with a disability, and I remember all the challenges he faced learning to swim. This really helped me to understand people who struggle with learning. I found it very rewarding to see them accomplish the smallest of goals and be totally amazed when they achieved more than you thought possible.
What brought you to Armidale?
My husband is in the NSW Police Force and was transferred here. He put in an application for this area, because we both thought it would be somewhere we would enjoy living – and that has proved to be the case. I started as a swim school supervisor at the TAS Swim School and then became the TAS Sports Centre Assistant Manager/Head Coach a year or so later. It involved a lot of early mornings and weekend work at carnivals.
It was a great opportunity to see swimmers and swimming instructors/coaches develop. I had a team of 4 swimmers from Armidale Alligators competing in the National Age Championships in Perth, which was one of the highs. I really enjoyed working with young people and with parents and children, seeing them succeed. During that time I was able to develop my management skills and graduated with my MBA in Human Resources and Marketing from UNE.
Tell us about your new role at The Ascent Group.
It’s very busy, and I love it … and I love it because it is busy. I really enjoy seeing systems improve and processes develop because if they are working, it means everyone in the organisation is succeeding in their part. I enjoy being engaged with staff and employees to improve their work life, and that flows on to improve the whole ethos of The Ascent Group.
I really believe in putting systems in place that benefit and respect the role that employees play. The benefits I see are having a more consultative work place and better communication, that ultimately flows into good results for the people we work with.
Are there special challenges working in an organisation that provides services for people with disabilities?
We live in a red tape environment these days, and compliance forms a large part of what I do. In The Ascent Group, we have 120 employees and of those, 35 work within Acacia Park Enterprises.
These are Office Paper Recycling and Security Shredding, Printing Packaging and Mail-Out Services and Cleaning and Maintenance Services. We support 350 clients and their families across the region in Armidale, Inverell, Glen Innes, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha. Our services cover supported accommodation, community participation, respite, transition to work, and home and community care, as well as our employment services mentioned earlier.
We work with five State and Federal Government departments, which all have separate compliance requirements. Thankfully, both governments are moving towards a reduction of red tape, without reducing the high standards now in place. I really appreciate my experience as Quality Assurance Manager with the NSW Police Force. It helped me develop the skills in compliance, quality and internal audit, which are essential in my current role.
What are the attractions for you of working in the disability sector?
Two years ago, I never thought I would be working in this industry. When the position came up, it rekindled my passion for working with people with disabilities. I like being part of an organisation that works at a high standard and fits with my values. It is important to me to work with an organisation that respects its employees, as well as clients and their families.
There is tremendous job satisfaction in this sector, and it is a common factor amongst all the people I am working with.
The prospects for people with disability have improved enormously in recent years, and that is because so many people have been committed to working through these changes.
More changes are on the horizon, and I am looking forward to working with our highly professional workforce, with a ‘bring it on’ attitude to change.
I think that attitude comes from being passionate about the work they do and being well educated in the sector. It’s rewarding work, because the people we work with are inspiring in the way they approach life and overcome difficulties.
Tell us about your hobbies and interests?
I have three grandchildren, and I love being a grandma and see them as much as possible. Having family time with my husband, Stuart, two sons and their families is really special. I still remain interested and involved in swimming with coaching the North West New England Special Olympics Swimming Squad and continue to present training courses. My goal is to work towards a work-life balance.
I am currently training as a ChiBall instructor at the Embody Wellness Studio, where I do Pilates, and next month I am starting a workplace wellbeing class for our employees. My philosophy is ‘live life while you can, so make the most of your opportunities’. I’m a glass half full girl, and that positive perspective applies to everything I do. Well … almost!
Thank you Diane.
This story was published in issue 62 of New England Focus