I was extremely pleased and very proud to receive a New Year’s Honour for my contribution to consular services in France, a career which spans over more than 25 years! I didn’t know anything about the nomination until a few weeks before the official publication so it also came as a huge surprise.
A quarter of a century is a long time in any job but working in Consular services in France has given me the opportunity not only to do a job I love with different challenges every day but most importantly which gives my team and I the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives.
When I first came to France all those years ago the very first thing I had to do was clear all my personal possessions through French customs in Calais, including checking that my UK washing machine had the right voltage. An interesting first encounter with French officials! It’s hard to imagine that now, within an expanded European Union, where we have free movement of goods and people.
It was also a time when we had no mobile phones, internet or social media so for our customers, being stranded in France meant first trying to find the Embassy number – often with the help of French officials in rural France who spoke no English. My earlier recollections are of the sheer relief of customers at hearing a friendly English-speaking voice at the end of a phone often after a traumatic incident.
I particularly remember the very first fatal road traffic accident I was called for, with 2 other members of the same family being hospitalised in separate hospitals. I helped the family over the following 2 weeks until everyone was repatriated. I will never forget them telling me that I was a life line not only to those directly involved but also to their worried families in the UK. I knew then that this was the job for me!
Consular services have over the years changed so much. We are still in the business of offering a first class service to the thousands of Brits who still turn to us for help every year in France, but what I find really exciting 25 years down the line is how we have improved our professionalism.
We have many more opportunities for personal and professional development in line with this: I completed an Open University course last year, for example. The way we deliver consular services has changed in line with the many changes in our everyday lives and not least of all thanks to the technology. You can now check out our travel advice on line before travelling, look at our preventative campaigns on line, find at the touch of a button your nearest Embassy. Call centres manned by trained Consular staff mean that frontline staff like myself now have more time to handle those urgent assistance cases as well as undertaking more proactive work on preventative campaigns.
Recently, our team has worked on raising the awareness of the dangers of drug trafficking, on helping people stay safe on the ski slopes and we’re currently preparing a big campaign on driving safely in Europe. We have also improved our own crisis preparedness, and put more effort into working with local authorities and partner NGOs to continually improve what and how we deliver our services to customers.
Through the years I have worked on so many different and often difficult cases as well as playing a part in crisis work, such as the Ash Crisis and several coach crashes. I have had to adapt to the many changes in our service delivery and continually update my skills. Yet 25 years on, my consular work still involves dealing with those same traumatic situations such as road traffic accidents, deaths, hospitalisations, arrests and detentions and stolen passports, I still offer that reassuring friendly voice at the end of a telephone or in person, and I still make a difference to people’s lives every day.
Vice-Consul in the Consular Services of the British Embassy in Paris, Pam is the first contributor to our #BritsinFrance series. She was awarded a British Empire Medal in the 2014 New Years Honours list for Services to British Consular Services in France.