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Julie Wagstaff is the lead public and patient representative on Wellbeing Erewash. A teacher by profession, Julie, now in her early 80s, plays a vital role in ensuring the health and wellbeing of local people in the vanguard is driven by the needs and aspirations of local people. Julie is originally from south Wales but moved to the East Midlands a few decades ago with her husband. She has taught at schools in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire both in permanent roles and as a supply teacher. Julie, who now lives in Long Eaton, has contributed to the success of Wellbeing Erewash in many ways, including attending meetings and taking the lead patient and public engagement role on specific initiatives such as community connectors and the alcohol and women aged over 45 project. She has spoken to a national audience at the annual NHS Expo exhibition and provided her views to healthcare experts Professor Don Berwick and Chris Ham from the King’s Fund during their visit this summer to Long Eaton Health Centre.

Here, in our latest blog post, Julie provides her thoughts on developing a truly public and patient- centred NHS and the ways in which local communities can best work together to help themselves.

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“I’ve been involved with Wellbeing Erewash from the very beginning having attended one of the inaugural launch events in Ilkeston. I was a member of the
Moir GP practice patients’ participation group so had some knowledge of how the NHS works. I’ve loved being involved in the vanguard and the fact that I’ve always felt valued. I am an old woman but my age
has been immaterial! I’m treated as an equal and always listened to; it probably helps that I don’t tend to refer back to a bygone era and spout about how things used to be! I’m actively engaged and find the discussions stimulating. I have a lovely life - I’m retired so every day feels like a holiday - but I love coming to the meetings, hearing what’s being said and contributing where I can.

The challenges of attracting a cross-section of our community

“I do try to get other people involved but the public are very reluctant and you can understand why. There needs to be more representation across the whole spectrum but younger people tend to be at work or looking after children. Even evening meetings may be difficult as people have so many responsibilities. Those who are not employed may possibly not have the confidence to attend while others may be in poor health and unable to attend. You tend therefore to get older people attending representing the public but I do my best to represent a viewpoint across the generations. They say I’m the ‘voice of the people’ – I’m not sure about that. I just try to put forward my honest opinions, hopefully in a constructive way, and if I feel people around the table are deviating from the original aspirations of Wellbeing Erewash – to be responsive to the needs of the people – I will remind them.

“I am often asked for my opinions, I feel I’m listened to and responded to. I am engaged more on the resilience workstream areas than on the medical side. They are looking to do more medical follow-up work with people aged over 80 and I said they should have contacted me because I’m 82, I’m one of them. I’d let them know though that not all people aged over 80 are vulnerable and frail. I’ve always been physically active and used to play a lot of sport. As a youngster I was selected for a trial with the county hockey team. After moving from Swansea to Loughborough I played ladies and mixed hockey as well as squash and netball. I used to run marathons and ran my last half-marathon in my late 60s. I don’t run now but I do walk. I’ve been looking for somewhere locally recently to play walking netball; there are a lot of

clubs in London and the south-east but less so here. I have now found a walking netball club in Nottingham and hope to be playing there from September. In the past I have done committee work willingly giving my time to WI, pre-school playgroups and the parents’ teachers association. I also acted in and produced plays with an amateur dramatic group.

People power at the heart of the vanguard

“I am a great enthusiast for the vanguard. What really attracted me initially was the whole concept that the people would say what was needed or what they would like to see happen and the professionals would respond. It is sometimes easier for the NHS and the partners in the vanguard to impose services – they don’t always have the resources to be holding large consultations – but there are times when I
feel I should remind the vanguard of their original intentions to be responsive.

“I attend all the personal and community resilience meetings. It seems the various projects within personal and community resilience are generally being well received and being seen as successful. Credit must go to Sara Bains who has worked so hard on this. Some projects are obviously more advanced than others. I’m fascinated by Brilliant Erewash but that is because I used to be a teacher and I’m really interested in seeing how we can help our young people. One or two people I have met outside of the vanguard have said Brilliant Erewash has been really good, that the children have gone home and spoken about it. I would like to see a follow-up on this project after a period of time, to see how the young people have taken this on and to check whether it is still of value or has the excitement among those who have taken part faded?

“Erewash Time Swap has been an outstanding success thanks largely to Jo Perkins who has worked so hard to establish a firm foundation. Initially it was really difficult to build the momentum, recruiting the Time Swappers, but once it took off it has positively blossomed.

“The Petersham project has included a survey day of gathering people’s views in Petersham about what the local community would like to see. It was well received and it will be interesting to see how that develops.

“The Alcohol and Women over 45 project is being undertaken with help from researchers at the University of Derby. It’s been difficult to recruit this study because no-one wants to be associated with drinking too much alcohol. Anonymity is preserved for anyone taking part but the topic is a difficult one.

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 Creating a strong network

“The biggest challenge we have now is establishing the community connectors. There has been a lot of talk about how this could work but now we have Jo Hallam in post there is a direction to this and people are being recruited. Sara (Bains), Stella (Scott) and Jo (Hallam) say I’m a natural connector. If I’m talking to someone I will often find myself telling them where they can find help or access something. I’m a people person and maybe because of being a teacher I’ve tried to offer advice and guidance for a long time – whether that’s accepted or not I don’t know but I do try to help people.

“There’s a lot of work taking place and a lot of things to keep up-to-date with. One thing I would like to see in the future is the different workstreams meeting more together. Over time the agendas have become divided and I lost contact with the other work going on. I know that all the other work is happening but I don’t know exactly what is happening but that’s just me – I like to know!

“As we approach March next year and the end of Wellbeing Erewash things will obviously change. There is a risk that people might revert back to their previous roles in their own organisations but I would like to see some time set aside for them to be able to carry on with aspects of the vanguard work. To extend the learning and actions further across Derbyshire we need to be able to tell people what we did, what we found out, what were the problems and challenges and how we overcame them. We need to make sure all this is not lost at the end of the vanguard.

“Overall it has been a really enjoyable experience contributing to the vanguard. Resilience is such an important aspect of our lives. I had a wartime childhood – everyone was part of a community, resilience was essential, and we knew we were all in it together. Lifestyles have changed since then – you can look back at the 1960s and 1980s for example and see how community ties have loosened. This is why Wellbeing Erewash is so important. We need to make it work here in Erewash. And if it can work here, we need to tell everyone else what we’ve done and how to do it. I’m just glad I’ve been able to help.” 

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