Lost his voice, found new life

THE CALL OF THE CHILD: Phil Robinson and wife Cal are returning to England to be closer to children and grandchildren after almost 12 years in Gisborne. Picture by Liam Clayton

Phil Robinson got a sore throat while he holidayed on the Greek island of Corfu, and it changed his life.

He lost his voice for six months, gave up his job as head teacher of a large primary school in Derby, England, and came to New Zealand with wife Carolyn (Cal) to see how their eldest son, Dan, was doing in Gisborne.

So started a train of events that led to Phil and Cal Robinson settling in Gisborne, staying on after Dan left — having married local woman Jannah File — and making a new life for themselves on the other side of the world from where they started.

But they hadn’t banked on the call of grandchildren.

Phil Robinson said farewell to Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti last Thursday, retiring after almost 12 years with the organisation. Cal was librarian at Gisborne Intermediate for nine years, retiring at the end of 2017. They both turn 64 this year.

They had planned to have a holiday in Britain, spend time with children and grandchildren, and return to enjoy their retirement in Gisborne.

That’s no longer the plan.

Instead, they will have their holiday, return, sell their Gisborne home and go back to live in Britain.

What brought about the change in plan?

“It was a general realisation that we would have three grandchildren and we could miss out on a large part of their early-years development,” Phil said.

All three of their children — all sons — are married. Two have a child each and the wife of the youngest is expecting their first, in five weeks.

Phil Robinson was born and raised in Derby, went to teacher training college in Reading and began teaching in Derby in 1977. His first head teacher’s job was at a small primary school in Rosliston, South Derbyshire, for four years. He did four more years as head at Eureka Primary School in Swadlincote, also in South Derbyshire. Then in 1996 he was appointed head teacher of Silverhill Primary School in Derby. It had over 400 students and he was head there until 2005.

“In 2004, we were on Corfu and I had a throat infection that rendered me speechless, literally,” Phil said.

“I couldn’t even whisper. It was a paralysed cranial nerve. I lost my voice in August 2004 and didn’t get it back until February 2005. Some of the medical opinion was that it could have been stress-related.

“Cal and I talked about it and decided I would finish as a head teacher, and I basically went to work in four schools, just teaching physical education.

“When you’re a man in a primary school, you get given all the sport to do. These schools were happy to have me one day a week to do all the PE and give cover for teacher-release time.

Coast acceptance personally satisfying

“Also, in 2005 at the end of my head-teacher career, we decided to come to Gisborne to see what Dan was up to.”

Dan Robinson (or Danny, as he was known in football) had been the second-choice goalkeeper at Burton Albion, then a non-League English football team and now a League One (third tier) side. He was recruited for Gisborne City in 2004 and returned for a second season in 2005.

For the first week of their holiday, Phil and Cal stayed at the Waikanae Beach Holiday Park.

“We stood on the beach and I looked up and down and said, ‘I could live here’. I asked Cal if she could live here if Dan wasn’t in Gisborne, and she said ‘yes’.”

Back in England, they weighed up their options.

Phil had refereed football to a “reasonable level” in England. He was a linesman for the first televised Premier League game — Nottingham Forest at home to Liverpool — in 1992. Nigel Clough was playing, and Teddy Sheringham scored the only goal of the game for a Forest win. Clough is in his second spell as manager of Burton Albion and Dan Robinson is manager of the football academy there.

Central Football offered Phil Robinson a job as director of refereeing, based in Napier. He turned it down because he wanted to live in Gisborne.

Phil had a phone interview for a job at Sport Gisborne, working with schools. He missed out but was invited to drop in for a chat.

“We came over in September 2007 on a six-month visitors’ visa, but intending to stay if we could.”

Phil accepted Sport Gisborne’s offer of a job — half director of coaching and half community development — and started work in November 2007. In June the following year he took on the role of Active Schools co-ordinator.

Rather than tell schools what they should do, he travelled the region asking what they needed, and tried to help them get it. The fact he had been a head teacher also opened a lot of doors.

“For them, sport was not the No.1 priority,” Phil said.

“They were not judged on sport when ERO (Education Review Office) came knocking.”

It also helped to know the nature of each school.

“The needs of a school of 12 pupils are different from those of a school of 450. If we understand the difficulties we can come up with solutions. You can’t have a five-a-side competition at Motu. You’d be lucky to have 10 to start with.”

A morning spent helping at the Central School swimming sports opened his eyes to a problem and a possible solution.

“We had to finish at lunchtime because half the kids were involved in the interschool triathlon.”

What was lacking was an interschool events calendar. Phil got together with Te Wharau School principal and Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti board member (now chairman) Steve Berezowski, and they put a proposal to a meeting. Out of that came a system for setting up a calendar. Teachers would meet and set a calendar in November, meet again after Term 2, evaluate how it had worked, continue the organisation for terms 3 and 4, and towards the end of Term 4 re-evaluate and plan for the following year.

That was about 10 years ago, and since then the number of students and schools taking part in interschool events had increased markedly. The calendar covered all the interschool events happening in school time, generally on a Wednesday — cross-country, athletics, badminton, football, Fast 5 netball, cricket.

For the past 15 years, Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti had organised the Gisborne Schools Gymnastics Festival. This year’s 1455 registered gymnasts (from 34 schools) was the highest number of festival participants in the 10 years Phil had been involved.

And last year Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti organised — in conjunction with Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Kawakawa Mai Tawhiti — the first Ngati Porou East Coast Gym Festival, at Hicks Bay.

“We expected 50 or 60 children but we got over 200. This year we had 270.

“Part of my role has been to help teachers develop the skills to prepare the kids for these events.”

Talking with intermediate and secondary school colleagues six years ago, he learned they were amazed at some children’s lack of basic movement skills — throwing, catching, running, balancing.

“I worked with Quentin Harvey at Central School,” Phil said.

“We came up with a fundamental movement skills programme. He trialled it in his school and I used to go into schools and pilot it.”

Wainui Beach School principal Nolian Andrew obtained funding to have it prepared as a professionally produced programme on cards that were distributed to primary teachers in the region.

The wide use of those cards as part of schools’ PE programmes and the establishment of the interschool calendar were his most satisfying achievements in Gisborne from a professional viewpoint.

From a personal perspective, the welcome and acceptance he had received from schools, particularly on the East Coast, had given him most satisfaction.

It had helped that he was prepared to leave Gisborne just after 6am to be in Hicks Bay or Potaka at 9am, so that distance from Gisborne was not a disadvantage to them. He could walk into any school on the Coast and be welcomed, but felt he had taken at least as much as he had given because he had learned so much about the people and culture.

Schools would continue to benefit from outside help with physical education, Phil said.

The constant movement of children through schools, and changes in teachers and principals would see to that.

“Of the 47 schools I’ve dealt with, only 14 have the same principal they had when I started almost 12 years ago,” he said.

He would miss the day-to-day contact with workmates but he and Cal looked forward to being part of the upbringing of their grandchildren.

In retirement he might do some “voluntary stuff”, like crewing for the narrowboat operated by the Friends of the Cromford Canal.

“We’ve got a new lease of life for a new stage of life,” Phil said.

On the Coast they understand.

“Several people up there said, ‘Of course you are going back . . . you need to be with your moko’.”

Phil Robinson got a sore throat while he holidayed on the Greek island of Corfu, and it changed his life.

He lost his voice for six months, gave up his job as head teacher of a large primary school in Derby, England, and came to New Zealand with wife Carolyn (Cal) to see how their eldest son, Dan, was doing in Gisborne.

So started a train of events that led to Phil and Cal Robinson settling in Gisborne, staying on after Dan left — having married local woman Jannah File — and making a new life for themselves on the other side of the world from where they started.

But they hadn’t banked on the call of grandchildren.

Phil Robinson said farewell to Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti last Thursday, retiring after almost 12 years with the organisation. Cal was librarian at Gisborne Intermediate for nine years, retiring at the end of 2017. They both turn 64 this year.

They had planned to have a holiday in Britain, spend time with children and grandchildren, and return to enjoy their retirement in Gisborne.

That’s no longer the plan.

Instead, they will have their holiday, return, sell their Gisborne home and go back to live in Britain.

What brought about the change in plan?

“It was a general realisation that we would have three grandchildren and we could miss out on a large part of their early-years development,” Phil said.

All three of their children — all sons — are married. Two have a child each and the wife of the youngest is expecting their first, in five weeks.

Phil Robinson was born and raised in Derby, went to teacher training college in Reading and began teaching in Derby in 1977. His first head teacher’s job was at a small primary school in Rosliston, South Derbyshire, for four years. He did four more years as head at Eureka Primary School in Swadlincote, also in South Derbyshire. Then in 1996 he was appointed head teacher of Silverhill Primary School in Derby. It had over 400 students and he was head there until 2005.

“In 2004, we were on Corfu and I had a throat infection that rendered me speechless, literally,” Phil said.

“I couldn’t even whisper. It was a paralysed cranial nerve. I lost my voice in August 2004 and didn’t get it back until February 2005. Some of the medical opinion was that it could have been stress-related.

“Cal and I talked about it and decided I would finish as a head teacher, and I basically went to work in four schools, just teaching physical education.

“When you’re a man in a primary school, you get given all the sport to do. These schools were happy to have me one day a week to do all the PE and give cover for teacher-release time.

Coast acceptance personally satisfying

“Also, in 2005 at the end of my head-teacher career, we decided to come to Gisborne to see what Dan was up to.”

Dan Robinson (or Danny, as he was known in football) had been the second-choice goalkeeper at Burton Albion, then a non-League English football team and now a League One (third tier) side. He was recruited for Gisborne City in 2004 and returned for a second season in 2005.

For the first week of their holiday, Phil and Cal stayed at the Waikanae Beach Holiday Park.

“We stood on the beach and I looked up and down and said, ‘I could live here’. I asked Cal if she could live here if Dan wasn’t in Gisborne, and she said ‘yes’.”

Back in England, they weighed up their options.

Phil had refereed football to a “reasonable level” in England. He was a linesman for the first televised Premier League game — Nottingham Forest at home to Liverpool — in 1992. Nigel Clough was playing, and Teddy Sheringham scored the only goal of the game for a Forest win. Clough is in his second spell as manager of Burton Albion and Dan Robinson is manager of the football academy there.

Central Football offered Phil Robinson a job as director of refereeing, based in Napier. He turned it down because he wanted to live in Gisborne.

Phil had a phone interview for a job at Sport Gisborne, working with schools. He missed out but was invited to drop in for a chat.

“We came over in September 2007 on a six-month visitors’ visa, but intending to stay if we could.”

Phil accepted Sport Gisborne’s offer of a job — half director of coaching and half community development — and started work in November 2007. In June the following year he took on the role of Active Schools co-ordinator.

Rather than tell schools what they should do, he travelled the region asking what they needed, and tried to help them get it. The fact he had been a head teacher also opened a lot of doors.

“For them, sport was not the No.1 priority,” Phil said.

“They were not judged on sport when ERO (Education Review Office) came knocking.”

It also helped to know the nature of each school.

“The needs of a school of 12 pupils are different from those of a school of 450. If we understand the difficulties we can come up with solutions. You can’t have a five-a-side competition at Motu. You’d be lucky to have 10 to start with.”

A morning spent helping at the Central School swimming sports opened his eyes to a problem and a possible solution.

“We had to finish at lunchtime because half the kids were involved in the interschool triathlon.”

What was lacking was an interschool events calendar. Phil got together with Te Wharau School principal and Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti board member (now chairman) Steve Berezowski, and they put a proposal to a meeting. Out of that came a system for setting up a calendar. Teachers would meet and set a calendar in November, meet again after Term 2, evaluate how it had worked, continue the organisation for terms 3 and 4, and towards the end of Term 4 re-evaluate and plan for the following year.

That was about 10 years ago, and since then the number of students and schools taking part in interschool events had increased markedly. The calendar covered all the interschool events happening in school time, generally on a Wednesday — cross-country, athletics, badminton, football, Fast 5 netball, cricket.

For the past 15 years, Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti had organised the Gisborne Schools Gymnastics Festival. This year’s 1455 registered gymnasts (from 34 schools) was the highest number of festival participants in the 10 years Phil had been involved.

And last year Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti organised — in conjunction with Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Kawakawa Mai Tawhiti — the first Ngati Porou East Coast Gym Festival, at Hicks Bay.

“We expected 50 or 60 children but we got over 200. This year we had 270.

“Part of my role has been to help teachers develop the skills to prepare the kids for these events.”

Talking with intermediate and secondary school colleagues six years ago, he learned they were amazed at some children’s lack of basic movement skills — throwing, catching, running, balancing.

“I worked with Quentin Harvey at Central School,” Phil said.

“We came up with a fundamental movement skills programme. He trialled it in his school and I used to go into schools and pilot it.”

Wainui Beach School principal Nolian Andrew obtained funding to have it prepared as a professionally produced programme on cards that were distributed to primary teachers in the region.

The wide use of those cards as part of schools’ PE programmes and the establishment of the interschool calendar were his most satisfying achievements in Gisborne from a professional viewpoint.

From a personal perspective, the welcome and acceptance he had received from schools, particularly on the East Coast, had given him most satisfaction.

It had helped that he was prepared to leave Gisborne just after 6am to be in Hicks Bay or Potaka at 9am, so that distance from Gisborne was not a disadvantage to them. He could walk into any school on the Coast and be welcomed, but felt he had taken at least as much as he had given because he had learned so much about the people and culture.

Schools would continue to benefit from outside help with physical education, Phil said.

The constant movement of children through schools, and changes in teachers and principals would see to that.

“Of the 47 schools I’ve dealt with, only 14 have the same principal they had when I started almost 12 years ago,” he said.

He would miss the day-to-day contact with workmates but he and Cal looked forward to being part of the upbringing of their grandchildren.

In retirement he might do some “voluntary stuff”, like crewing for the narrowboat operated by the Friends of the Cromford Canal.

“We’ve got a new lease of life for a new stage of life,” Phil said.

On the Coast they understand.

“Several people up there said, ‘Of course you are going back . . . you need to be with your moko’.”

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