Meet The Locals: Sandy Tickell

When the Singleton community comes together amazing things happen.

Take, for example, the excellent Singleton Public School Breakfast Club. It’s a cool morning hangout open to all students who might be feeling hungry and is run by a dedicated team of school parents, grandparents and the wider community.

I spoke with Sandy Tickell, one of the busy volunteer coordinators, who also has two children at the school and works full time as a mining engineer. Sandy typifies Singleton’s get involved and make-it-happen attitude. Here’s what I found out.

Hi Sandy, before we talk about the breakfast club, what led you into a mining career?

I liked all the engineering-related subjects such as maths and science at school. Mining engineering sounded like a very exotic part of engineering compared to chemical and electrical engineering. Also, the opportunity to get outside city areas appealed to me.

Where did you grow up, Sandy?

I grew up in Suva, the capital of Fiji, and migrated to Sydney in 1996, just in time to start year 12. After I graduated from university I worked in Emerald in central Queensland for four years. While there, I married my husband, Graeme, then we moved to the Hunter Valley for work in 2006.

And you loved it here so much that you stayed?

Many people in the mining industry stay somewhere for four years and potentially look to move after that. So we came here with a four-year-plan in mind but my husband and I loved living in Singleton. I’ve always gravitated to regional areas as they remind me of the sense of community we had in Fiji. Singleton has a similarly strong sense of community, where we all know each other by name and everyone says hello. Our girls were born and raised here. Whenever my parents visit from Sydney, they laugh about the fact that I stop and talk to everyone every time we go to the shops!

Tell me about the Singleton Public School Breakfast Club and how you got involved in that?

The school had asked parents for support to start a breakfast club in 2012, as there were students who needed breakfast and lunch assistance. Penny Clancy and El Keulemans were the two original Breakfast Club coordinators. I signed up as a volunteer and loved it.

Now you’re one of the coordinators. That must be a big job?

After Penny’s child finished year six, I took over in 2015 and co-ordinated with El until her family left in 2017. Then I was co-ordinating with Alethea Nichols and then Dale Green until last year. Breakfast Club has been on hiatus during COVID, as parent volunteers aren’t allowed on school grounds. However, we will be back as soon as we can.

What does coordinating involve?

One of us looks after the team of volunteers. We have an amazing team of about 30 to 35 volunteers. We recruit for the volunteer teams from parents, grandparents, as well as community members. Most of them are working parents, with lots of them on shift work, so there’s a bit of juggling with the roster. And, in addition to that, the second coordinator handles all the logistics regarding the food, ordering our produce and groceries.

How are you funded?

We have really good partnerships. We receive funding from the Singleton Neighbourhood Centre. We also get amazing support from the Singleton Heights Bakery who provides our milk and bread. It’s a huge donation for a small business, so we’re very grateful.

Who attends Breakfast Club?

It’s available to any child that feels hungry or wants a place to hang out in the morning. By making it open and inclusive, there’s no stigma attached to coming to Breakfast Club. It’s effective because all the children know they can go if they’re hungry, or they need a top up. As we live in an area where many parents are shift workers, kids may have had to have a very early breakfast at home and they’re hungry again. We have a group of tables and the kids happily sit down together. It’s lovely watching them in a big mixed group, not necessarily with their own class or their age group. Social connections are made and you get the beautiful buzz when they’re all outside talking.

I believe you provide a lunch service too?

We also prepare lunches when we have requests from the school. We will prepare sandwiches, fruit, sticks of carrots and cucumbers. We put the lunches in the same lunch paper bags that the canteen uses. Breakfast Club lunch orders are in with all the canteen lunches, and then get dispatched to the class.

What do you love about it?

I find it incredibly rewarding. We’re helping all the kids have a great, happy and healthy start to their day and seeing the group of volunteers that come together to make that happen is fantastic. It’s a huge effort from a big group of people, who put time aside to come to help out. We’ve got great support from the school, the community and local businesses.

You mentioned the mining community are often transient. Will your family stay in Singleton, Sandy?

I do feel very settled here. We’ve raised our children here so we’ve made amazing connections and friendships over the last 14 years. I do feel very content.

I’m very happy to hear that!

Breakfast Club usually runs from 8.40 am to 9.10 am on every school day.

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