If your idea of a hospital matron is a fierce looking individual in a starched uniform, then nothing could be a greater contrast to Jasmin Archibald's smiling face. Jasmin, who was born in Jamaica, came to the UK when she was 12 years old. "I just couldn't believe the cold. And I couldn't believe that houses opened straight onto the street. In Jamaica everybody has a little bit of yard even if they're very poor."
Jasmin and her three brothers and sisters are all high achievers: two of them have MBEs, one is a vicar, another a retired headmistress and the third is a senior policeman. Jasmin herself trained as a nurse in London, then specialised as a midwife. "When I was put on the neonatal ward, I lost my heart to the tiny babies. I knew this is what I wanted to do." She specialised in the care of premature babies, eventually becoming matron in charge of the neonatal unit at the Whittington.
"I remember when matrons were very strict. I tried to be very different, to run a unit where all the staff were supported and supportive, and where all the staff smiled - it's hard for a mother to be separated from her baby because the little one is in an incubator. So it's important that parents don't have to look at staff with sad faces."
Once, Jasmin tried to create smiles by playing an April fool joke on one of the doctors. "I smeared a (clean!) nappy with peanut butter, then took it to him and asked his advice because it 'looked odd'. As he watched, I picked it up and started to lick it... I thought the poor man was going to vomit so I had to own up very quickly!"
Now retired, Jasmin is bringing all her skills and experience to volunteering as the group coordinator for the BLISS organisation. "We specialise in providing support for parents of children who have spent time in a neonatal unit (usually because they were premature)."
BLISS, which started as an information exchange and support group for parents of premature babies, has widened its focus to become a leading educator on the subject and campaigner for better facilities. It's also a major fundraiser - Jasmin first had contact with the organisation when BLISS raised money for improved equipment in the Whittington's neonatal unit.
Jasmin has started a monthly BLISS group at Archway Children's Centre. It's free and open to anyone with a child who has been on a neonatal unit. "It provides an opportunity for parents to meet each other. These parents can be very isolated and lonely. They can be helped by meeting others in the same situation and not having to explain their difficulties." As well as support, the group hosts specialists to talk on various topics such as speech development, diet and physiotherapy.
To get more information on the BLISS sessions Jasmin organises in Archway, phone 07436102347