“Live adventurously” says Zephyrine Barbarachild – Ackworth’s New Visiting Friend

by | Jul 23, 2020 | Ackworth School, Quaker

Zephyrine has life-experience in abundance. From running a one-woman business for nearly two decades to volunteering within the prison industry, Zephyrine is happy to listen and share her experiences wherever and whenever they are needed.

Firstly, what is a Visiting Friend? The term dates back to the early years of Quakerism in the latter half of the 17th century, when Visiting Friends travelled between different communities, bringing news and ministry from other Friends (known as Quakers).

The dynamic Quaker faith has always tried to meet new challenges. Ackworth School has appointed Zephyrine to offer support and advice to all pupils, staff and parents who may seek a listening ear and support – drawing on the Quaker values of simplicity, truth, equality, peace and sustainability.

A friend (of the non-Quaker variety) once called Zephyrine a marmite person –you might love her or not immediately ‘get’ her. However, perhaps a better food based metaphor is that of marmalade; a little bit zany, heart-warming and a welcome addition. She’s certainly interested in hearing everybody’s story.

Zephyrine was born into a Quaker family, her father then a recent convert. She joined her siblings at Ackworth School which – as many others have experienced throughout the 240 years since Ackworth was founded – became her second home. Decades later, she served on Ackworth School Committee (the board of governors) for some years as Deputy Clerk.

Her mother’s encouragement to live life to the full included the advice that “nothing in this life goes wasted”. This, and the Quaker advice to “live adventurously”, shaped her attitude to life.

“I have followed the new paths at every fork in the road”.

After leaving Ackworth, Zephyrine planned to be an au pair in Germany for a year. Her father, hoping she would go to University, refused to pay the fare. Always a lateral thinker, Zephyrine approached London Quakers, who agreed to support her move. Being an au pair was her first role following the Quaker value of service, a motif which runs all through her life.

Zephyrine went on to study modern languages at the University of Wales, and later briefly worked as a dictionary editor. Following this, a stint on an Aberdeenshire croft, where she met a particularly ill-tempered goat.

Like many young people experiencing life, Zephyrine moved to London, where she chanced across another interesting job as a roadie-cum-cook for a two-piece girl band. “When I was asked if I could drive, I said, ‘No – at least, not legally!’” So she lugged band equipment to gigs and delivered their meals by bike!

Striving for excellence

Then came yet another “fork in the road”. After a chance question about fuchsia propagation to her older brother – a lecturer in horticulture, who replied “Go and find out for yourself!” – Zephyrine enrolled in a course at Horticulture College.

The horticulture course would bear fruit.

Zephyrine went on to work at the Icelandic State Horticulture College, before becoming a founding member of an innovative horticulture scheme for young adults with learning difficulties. She later set up, and for 18 years ran, her appropriately-named one-woman garden design and maintenance business Rose Among Thorns – Zephryine was named for the thornless Zephyrine Drouhin rose.

The multilingual holder of two master’s degrees, Zephyrine is always eager to expand her knowledge. Her first master’s (in Women’s Studies) was one mark short of a distinction; this did not sit well.  “[It] annoyed me – I don’t get out of bed for anything less than a distinction.” Her dissertation was about early Quaker prophetesses. True to form, she completed a second MA, in Creative Writing – this time gaining a distinction. This led indirectly to a six-year stint as a University Health Research Associate, interviewing children, teenagers and older people in hospice and palliative care settings.

Zephyrine has took part in volunteer work for decades. “It’s a calling, something I felt I had to do,” she explains. She enjoys the relative freedom of volunteering, compared with more traditional paid work – preferable for someone with creative initiative and a predisposition to question ‘the rules’.

For 14 years Zephyrine was an independent prison monitor, a role which required her to visit a prison several times a month, to ensure that prisoners are treated with respect and decency. In addition to this she would attend and monitor serious incidents. Personal protection training gave her the confidence to enjoy the challenges of working in a prison setting: “I never felt scared in prisons. A well-run prison is a safe place.”

Zephyrine has also taught creative writing to homeless people, and currently volunteers with the Royal Voluntary Society. This work involves supporting patients with dementia on the frail elderly wards of her local hospital.

Volunteering enables her to draw on her Quaker beliefs to “give something back” to the community.

“Retire from what? Life? I don’t think so!”

Zephyrine’s horticultural experience is put to good use on her allotment, a no-dig ‘forest garden’ which does not always meet with some of the other gardeners approval. Weary of their criticism, she decided to quietly take on the allotment traditionalists by joining the Allotments Committee – to bring about “change from within”.

A woman with infinitely varied life experience who has “lived adventurously” and is always happy to listen, Zephyrine hopes soon to have the opportunity to contribute more fully to Ackworth’s pastoral care.

“”l am delighted to have been recently appointed as Ackworth’s Visiting Friend, to advise on and encourage the 240-year old School’s Quaker ethos. I also hope to be of service supporting students, staff and parents across the School community.”