One of the best things about my job is that no two days are the same. It is the law of communications that when you arrive at work, whatever you thought you were going to do that day; it is likely you will end up doing something completely different! A media enquiry or information request with a tight deadline can take your day in a completely different direction.
Although I am based in the Trust’s Headquarters in Aldgate, today I am on my way to Bedfordshire so I have to get up earlier than usual as you can never predict what the M25 and the M1 will be like. I prefer to drive on my Bedfordshire and Luton days as I can get around to more places. I love the change of routine from the tube or cycling, and I like listening to the radio as I go. I’m not really a morning person so it’s nice to be quiet and reflective.
Thinking About Newham
Before I leave, I check my emails and have an email discussion with a colleague in Newham CCG about a special community meeting which took place yesterday evening. The meeting was in response to the stabbing of a young person in the street which has left the community reeling. The meeting was proactive, informative and hopefully cathartic. But there are some actions for ELFT in terms of supporting young people and adults in the community to cope with the trauma of these events, so I want to report back the key actions from the meeting to our CAMHS service lead and the Newham Talking Therapies lead.
Dunstable - Meeting New Community Staff
Today, the traffic has been ok and my first stop is at Queensborough House in Dunstable. ELFT took over the provision of community health services in Bedfordshire on 1 April, so I am here to drop off a bundle of staff IDs and lanyards. (Yes, I am the unofficial pack horse for the Trust!) Last time I was up here, I came with a HR sidekick, Isabella. She was Cagney and I was Lacey and we ‘tweeted’ our way around the county! Now they think I’m an honorary member of the HR team – which I am of course!
It’s a chance to say hello to some of our new staff. Prior to being a communications professional, I was a general nurse for 20 years. For 13 of these, I was a district nurse so hearing a nurse talking to a GP on the phone about someone’s high glucose levels brings back memories – I am back with my people! I ask how it’s going since the transfer? The technology which is often the issue following a transfer, is working OK. Now that everyone has got their laptops configured correctly, they’re happy. Community staff are a stoic lot. They get over things and move on. I take a photo and tweet about my brief visit, and am on my way.
Mental Health Awareness Week - Luton
Next up, I am attending a networking coffee morning (Did someone say cake?!!) at the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Mind (BLMK Mind) offices based in Luton. It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I receive my green ribbon to pin to my jacket. It’s a talking point for the rest of the day - which it is supposed to be! (What’s that green ribbon for? Well …) The event is buzzing and everyone is really friendly and so pleased that I have come from London to pop in. (I’ll travel a long way for cake!) It is apparently National Doughnut Week so BLMK Mind have cleverly combined the two. I have some great conversations - with a Reflexologist (Debating how can pressing the pads of your feet helps your health? Seemingly it just does!), with someone trying to get back into exercise after cancer treatment (Bravo), and the organisers who are totally chuffed at how many people have turned up. I take a few photos, and tweet before heading back to the car to get back on the road.
Bedfordshire is a Big County!
I check my emails while stationary in the car, answer a few queries, bug the comms team back at base about a few things, before wending my way to the Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service at their Bedford base. One of the issues about being a London townie let loose in the countryside every so often, is that I totally under-estimate how long it will take to get anywhere. I have to pull over midway to text a colleague to say I’m running ten minutes late and to start the meeting without me.
Bedford Wellbeing Service
The meeting at Gilbert Hitchcock House is to discuss with the Bedfordshire Wellbing Team ways to increase referrals to the service. They are just not getting the numbers of referrals that they need to and it’s a service that many people can really benefit from if they are struggling with low mood, anxiety, dealing with the psychological effects of a long term condition, or having difficulty adjusting to changes in their lives. Roza, a London colleague and the marketing specialist in the comms team, has come up by train. With the Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service team, we reflect on the marketing campaign conducted last year and which elements of it brought the greatest results. We agree on some short term activities, such as distributing leaflets to all homes in Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard (Well, if it works for pizza delivery companies, why not the NHS!) and some social media activities. We all fire off ideas and suggestions. We will scope these and reconvene in a couple of weeks to discuss longer term marketing activities.
Lunch and Birthday Presents!
It’s lunchtime. I am delighted to discover the supermarket across the road has a post office. I have been driving around with someone’s birthday present in the boot of my car for weeks so glad to deposit it in the mail! And buy a sandwich at the same time. Things like that are surprisingly difficult in London. City post offices have impossibly long queues.
I find a (hot) desk at Gilbert Hitchcock House and get back down to work, making a few calls, okaying a press release, answering a few queries, and emailing folk. I like hot desking wherever I go as it is nice to be near staff. It's also important that staff in Bedfordshire and Luton know that the comms team are there for them as much as we are there for London staff. People ask you stuff they wouldn’t bother to call you about but as you are just there, they ask. And I can listen to the ebb and flow of their day, and the stresses and issues they deal with it. It keeps me grounded and aware of the working environment our eBulletins and global emails land in, and how staff have many other priorities other than reading the latest missive issued by Comms, riveting though they are. We recognise that and truly try to provide information intelligently and in bite-sized pieces. As my boss Steve says, corporate communications is becoming a science more than an art these days. What we have to avoid, however, is information overload.
Bedfordshire CAMHS - It's Showtime!
Next, Roza and I are meeting Nikki from the CAMHS service at The Vue Cinema in Bedford. No, it’s not a comms beano to watch a movie, but the culmination of months of planning to host a Bedfordshire CAMHS Film Showcase. We have invited 80 people who work with children and young people in the county to view four professionally produced short films and animations that have been made for and by young people in the service. There is a room full of teachers, SENCOs, health workers, paediatric professionals, counsellors, commissioners, and some parents and young people, all ready to view the films – with a packet of popcorn courtesy of ELFT. Well, you can’t watch a film without popcorn, can you?
While we prepare, I have a quick check of my work emails and fire off a few of my own. It’s a relief to see the films are working on The Vue’s equipment before the event begins. There are a few hiccups – the AV and PA system haven’t arrived. Fortunately, one of the performers has an amplifier and a microphone - and Jo, the service manager who welcomes everyone HAS A LOUD VOICE! The films are moving, inspiring and hard-hitting, and three of the young people involved are there to introduce the films and take questions at the end. It is a great experience for them to see their films on the big screen. One young person performs her own songs accompanied by her guitar. If there was ever evidence of how the life of a young person can be turned around by contact with CAMHS, this is it. These one-time vulnerable, fragile youngsters have found their strength, their mojo, whatever you want to call it and are addressing an auditorium full of strangers.
It’s time to go home. Roza and I help Nikki lug boxes to her car. Spookily, we have parked next to each other without knowing each other’s cars. That’s how smooth we are here at ELFT!
It’s been a long day but I have got a lot in. I drop Roza at Bedford station. I have a final look at my email before switching off my phone.The best invention is having access to email on your phone. It means that you can really get around but keep on top of the action back in the office. But I firmly switch it off at the end of the day.
I’m on my own time now so I detour to a fish and chip shop, and visit my 91 year old auntie Mary to put the world to rights while we eat chips!
I'll be London-based for the rest of the week. As I drive home later, I remember it’s Equality and Diversity Awareness Week and all staff are being encouraged to wear their national dress on Friday. Now where did I put my leprechaun hat!
Janet Flaherty is Head of Communications at ELFT