Denise and her partner Andrew own Bamkins on Hampton Street. I’d been in there a couple of years ago to peruse their book collection and had a really informative chat with Denise. So, a couple of years later we met again and Denise explained to me what motivates her to do what she does and why their shop and practise is in Hampton Street…
I grew up in Leicester in the UK. I have an older sister and brother and a younger sister. My passion then was always music; I played the violin, the viola and the organ. I was teaching people the organ when I was 17. The expectation on me was to be on the first desk of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. That was too big of an expectation and I sort of retreated the other way.
My parents were quite strict and the expectation on my brother and I to be something sort of important was high, I think I have felt for a big portion of my life that I let the side down and didn’t live up to what was expected. I did love music but not the expectation to be something more than just loving it. So I left school and became a dental nurse and ended up working in the dental industry for around 10 years, in fact I was working as a sales rep for a dental company in Melbourne immediately before I had my children.
When I was 22 I moved out of home and went to live in Southampton, where I met the man who is my children’s father, he is Australian, and that prompted the move to Australia. His mother, who at the time was a psychoanalyst, has been a huge influence on me both professionally and personally.
In September 1989 I landed in Australia. I didn’t know anyone other than my partner and his family. I spent the first 6 to 12 months very miserable. I felt like I’d done a huge amount of stuff in the UK in terms of my work and none of it was really recognised. The dental industry was very different here and Safeway in Acland Street didn’t sell the baked beans or the tea bags that I was used to! Then one day, I remember it like it was yesterday, I was on the 246 bus to East Melbourne and the bus stopped at the intersection where the bridge goes over the Yarra, the sun was shining over the city scape and I looked over and went “wow that is so beautiful” and from that day on I never looked back. I did end up making my way in the dental industry and met my very dear friend Jo during that time. She has also been a major inspiration to me, interesting that she now practices as a psychotherapist in Sydney and has done for many years.
I married in 1993 and had James in 1994 and my daughter, Ellen, in 1997. Motherhood for me has been a profound experience, I don’t think you can really describe it in words. I just wish I had the head on my shoulders then that I have now.
I left the dental industry when I had James and had nine months off and then I went back to work after the first year. I was looking for a job that more supported my mother role and I got a job at the old Bank of Melbourne as a telephone operator. That was 22 years ago and I met my colleague Peter there. Peter runs the courses with me here at Bamkins, and he has a practice here 3 days a week. He is a somatic psychotherapist. Beautiful people have just rained down on me. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. I’m very, very blessed with beautiful people around me.
In 2003 my daughter went to primary school, we bought our first house and I felt quite unsettled, I felt like somebody had chopped off my arm, as both of my children were now at school.
During the kids early years I was lucky to find work that always fitted in with kindergarten and school. I did swimming teaching during school hours and later on I was doing private lessons for kids with a disability or phobias. One day after I had finished my counselling training, I was working at the pool and a lady came over to me and said “what do you do when you’re not here?” I said “I’m actually a counsellor, finishing my counselling training”. She was the principal of a local school and they were looking for a counsellor for the school and I got the job and stayed there for about 2 years. I loved it!
In 2003 my daughter went to primary school, we bought our first house and I felt quite unsettled, I felt like somebody had chopped off my arm, as both of my children were now at school. This felt like a massive leap in my parenting journey because I had lost part of my role as I had known it, I wanted to understand what that was all about, as I was finding it extremely difficult and I felt very lost.
I began my own personal therapy journey 10 years ago with a Psychoanalyst and that has had a major impact on how I work today, it’s something I will always have high regard for and value as a major part of my training.
So I was in my own therapy with a psychoanalyst, doing my counselling training and looking for work that fitted more in line with what I was studying. A friend had asked whether I’d heard of ABA Therapy so I came home and looked it up. ABA is Applied Behavioural Analysis and it’s a form of therapy that is used a lot with children on the Autism Spectrum. As an ABA therapist, I ran programs supervised by a psychologist. I have been very fortunate over the past 20 years to have been a part of some inspiring and yet challenging work environments and have worked alongside and learned from some really great people.
In around 2006 I was still feeling quite unsettled personally and my husband and I separated in 2007.
I have been in a relationship with Andrew my new partner for nearly 8 years now.
After the separation I finished my Diploma of Counselling and Communication, I was doing ABA Therapy and I was doing a lot of learning underneath a psychologist in behavioural work with children on the Autism Spectrum. I’d also spent twelve months reading psychoanalytic literature with a group of like-minded professionals in a course called Models of the Mind and again it was critical learning for me because it taught me about early childhood and infancy and how our experiences as infants and children can have a profound effect on our life journey.
My goal in my work life is two-fold: one is to take the word naughty out of the dictionary by helping people to be curious about behaviours in children, not as something to get rid of
I started my own private practice while I was still working at the school and I’d been in the practice for 6 to 8 months when Andrew was getting a bit sort of tired of the corporate world. He talked about starting up his own business and he looked in to what sort of business he could buy. During this time, we were having discussions about my work, supporting families who were struggling, and I’d been saying to Andrew that it felt to me like there was some sort of gap in supporting parents and families. Given how hard it can be for people to enter into a therapeutic space, how could we create a space for parents and families to begin their journey at their pace?
My goal in my work life is two-fold: one is to take the word naughty out of the dictionary by helping people to be curious about behaviours in children, not as something to get rid of, and the other was to have a place that people could come to and find resources and services that could support the struggles they were having in their families.
Andrew said to me one day “you know what, I reckon the best idea for a business is yours”. The shop, the practise, the courses all under the same roof in the main street.
Andrew spent the next six months researching products to support children on the Autism Spectrum, Sensory Processing, Emotional Regulation and products to help manage children’s behavioural struggles and learning and we started looking for a place that we could have a retail space downstairs and all the services upstairs and we found this space here in Hampton.
The other thing we wanted to do was normalise behaviours in kids. We wanted to open a shop in the high street, alongside all the other shops. We wanted to normalise behaviours and family struggles.
When Bamkins was actually born, we thought that it was very much going to be the Autism/Asperger’s space but what it became was a space for parents, because we realised that there was significant percentage of parents trying to get the kids to kindergarten and school in the morning and trying to get them into bed at night time, and it was a struggle.
Sitting in a classroom for some kids is really, really hard. There are certain things that people struggle with every day that are challenging, and they really wanted the knowledge and support to help them manage day to day and to understand a little more about their children’s behaviours and themselves. One day we realised we had created something of huge value to the community, not just a section of the community.
I have a full time practice here and Peter is here 3 days a week and we both work with individuals, couples and families.
We run a Social and Emotional learning course for children every term and we run Tuning into Kids which is a parent program developed by Melbourne University on Emotional Intelligent Parenting. We do professional development for teachers and have a naturopath here a day and a half.
At the end of the day we are very proud of what we’ve created. Better than that though, we’re passionate about what we do. First and foremost it’s about creating a space for people to get support. I’m very interested in understanding functions of behaviour, why people do what they do and I understand how hard it is to keep yourself regulated as an adult when you’ve got kids to get to bed or get out the door in the morning and then get to a job.
We need to respect where people are at and I think that’s why the shop helps because people might not be ready to take the journey up those stairs to speak to a therapist but they might be ready to walk into a shop. We want to recognise that for some people they just want to walk into the shop and talk to Andrew and buy a book and that’s okay.
You can visit the Bamkins website here.