Studying for a Maths degree, part-time, was my free-time occupation whilst looking after my three young children in the 1970s. Once they were old enough, I started my teaching career in Staffordshire. Over a period of twenty years, I was a maths teacher, advisory teacher and a primary school Headteacher in three very different communities. In that role I became interested in community dynamics and supporting the most marginalised.
In 1998, my husband and I realised our dream and headed off to Namibia as VSO volunteers. VSO looked at my experience in education and sent me to work as a welding instructor in a former black township. Our two year stay extended to four years and I moved to work as an education officer for ‘boys in conflict with the law’. HIV&AIDS was a constant theme in our work. It became even more of an issue when we moved to Swaziland where I was involved with training community members to educate children affected by HIV.
After six years of volunteering, I secured a staff position in VSO Cambodia as the Technical Advisor on a large Inclusive Education project. Phnom Penh was a culture shock after the wide open spaces of Africa but we loved it. My husband volunteered with organisations for the disabled and we soon learned a lot about stigma as we socialised with people he worked with and people from the leprosy hospital where he taught English.
After a period working as a Country Director in Vietnam and for Theatre for a Change in Malawi, we returned to Leek in Staffordshire. Short-term projects in Rwanda, Papua New Guinea and Malawi followed. For a number of years, I was M&E advisor to a small charity which trains therapists and teachers in Africa to work with children with Cerebral Palsy.
Living overseas made me more aware of having to take responsibility for your own health. We also learned about the health problems people face in LMICs and the stigma they face because of health issues.
When I retired, I wanted to help my own community and gravitated towards getting involved, as a lay person, with improving health. I started as a volunteer with RNID (Royal National Institute for the Deaf) and as a member of the GP Patient Participation Group. I became involved with knowledge mobilisation at Keele and have been a member of two NICE guidance committees and currently sit on a NICE Quality Standards Committee. I am currently a lay member of a NIHR Health and Care Service Delivery (HSDR) funding committee.
It has been a wonderful experience being part of ECLIPSE. I have had the opportunity to join many of the training sessions offered virtually and as well as learning from others my input about my experiences working with communities has been welcomed. I have met with visitors from Sri Lanka and Brazil at Keele and enjoyed talking about their work. I was delighted to contribute to an academic paper for the first time. I was able to input into the paper Community engagement in cutaneous leishmaniasis research in Brazil, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka: a decolonial approach for global health. My learning from ECLIPSE has enabled me to make a positive contribution to the NIHR CEI Network and I was able to use examples from ECLIPSE to talk about community involvement in dissemination and implementation at Academy of Medical Sciences 2023 FORUM Sir Colin Dollery Lecture.