Looking back to 2015 & looking forward

WordPress sent me a summary of my blog and it surprised me; I was thinking that I hadn’t written that much this year and I should have done more. Indeed the latter part of the year has been a bit quiet, but 2015 has been very busy and I didn’t always get time to write about it!

The best bits have been building connections and collaborations across the UK and the world. So many people are committed to making the lives of others better and I’ve been privileged to talk to many of them and work alongside a few, connecting like-minded folk when I can.

I approached the end of the year feeling a little disappointed that my goal of relocating to the South West nearly happened, but didn’t in the end. Looking over this blog however, and thinking back to all the amazing things and people that I’ve been involved with, I’ve realised that I am fortunate to have so many opportunities. I’m grateful for my family, my friends and my health, nothing else really matters.

My resolutions for 2016; I will learn more, connect more, travel more, stress less and continue to be creative and have fun!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 600 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 10 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Not many people know this… why supporting the Armed Forces is so important to me

I was very proud to receive my UEA community engagement award a couple of weeks ago. The pride came not because I wanted recognition for myself, but for the small charities that work tirelessly to support our Armed Forces. Getting the award has prompted colleagues to ask me, ‘Why do you do this?’

‘Why not?’ would be the flippant answer, but of course, there are reasons why I volunteer specifically with military charities. Like most people of my generation our fathers and grandfathers served. My maternal grandfather was an officer in the RAF and my father did his national service after WW2 had finished. This is nothing unusual, however, and I have hesitated to share the deeper reasons why I do this because they are very personal; but maybe my story should be told.

You might be surprised to learn that my commitment to those who have served goes back to the Vietnam War. ‘Surely you’re too young to remember that,’ I hear you cry. Well, not really. At the tender age of 19 I married a Staff Sargent in the United States Air Force and for 10 years I was a military wife. I know what it’s like to be a small cog in a mighty machine. I relocated my career on the basis of where we were posted and lived in a variety of homes (some pretty grim while waiting for a house on the base). I know what it’s like to be separated for long periods, alone to sort everything with the other half away on deployment and to have the anxious times not knowing where they are or what’s going on.

I never met my ex-husband’s oldest brother, he was killed after stepping on a mine in Vietnam. It was right at the end of the war and he was 19. I saw the lasting impact of that loss on his family and it would be fair to say that they never got over it. I became interested in that war and the ongoing struggles for those who fought in it, serving their nation. Public opinion turned against the U.S. involvement and that meant returning veterans were not treated with the care and respect they deserved. This has been echoed in UK conflicts. The poor health experienced by Vietnam veterans is staggering:

“According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the 3 million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.” (http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history accessed 30.07.15


The Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC; on my bucket list

When I was working as an occupational therapist with NHS mental health teams in Cambridgeshire I was fortunate to be trained by RAF community mental health nurses to recognise and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’m by no means an expert, but I have witnessed first-hand the devastating impact that this can have on people’s lives. I also know how transformative it can be to find an occupation or activity that is meaningful and engaging. That eventually led me to the voluntary work with charities, helping them and the people they support to reach their goals. So now I am working with veterans recovering from combat-injury involved in motorsport and surfing, bringing this blog right back to what I’m doing today. It is also why I am so passionate about The Baton charity which exists to ensure that we never forget the sacrifices that our Armed Forces make for our freedom. 

Baton blog

Charity links:

The Baton; www.thebaton.co.uk; Team Off-Road-It: www.offroadit.co.uk Surf Action: www.surfaction.co.uk


Community engagement; from motorsport to surfing

It’s been four years, almost to the day, that I offered to help a team of combat-injured guys with their Facebook page ahead of BBC 2 Top Gear featuring a film about them. Tony Harris and Tom Neathway with Andrew Taylor were putting together an off-road team with the ridiculous goal of entering the Dakar Rally in 2013. Richard Hammond thought that there was a real possibility that the guys could make it. Most people thought they were deluded. The rest, as they say, is history.

To read about Race2Recovery and their success in the Dakar Rally 2013 see this blog from Colene Evens-Allen: http://inspirationatspeed.blogspot.ca/p/race2recovery.html

                   MOTORSPORT -  DAKAR 2013 - PART 1MOTORSPORT -  DAKAR 2013 - PART 1

Last night I was proud to receive a UEA Engagement Award for outstanding achievement in public and community engagement. I had no idea in the summer of 2011 that this would be a part of my journey. There have been times when work and family quite rightly demanded my time and I wondered why I was making these commitments, adding extra stress to my life. Then just this week I saw statistics published on the number of ex-military suicides. The harsh realities of life for some people who have served in the Armed Forces keep me going.

UEA Community Engagement Award

I now work as a volunteer with two charities; The Baton and Surf Action. The Baton has the primary mission to raise and maintain awareness within the British public and our Allies about the reality of life for Armed Services personnel and their families. It exists to ensure that they are given the level of support that they are rightfully due.


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Surf Action provide evidence-based ocean therapy or ‘blue gym’ for veterans with PTSD and to promote health and well-being for Armed Forces families.


                             Surf Action 1Surf Action 2                               

I haven’t left the world of off-road rallying completely; I’m supporting two former Race2Recovery team members, Alec Savery and Tom Neathway, who are promoting The Baton with their motorsport. Moving on from ‘recovery’ and ‘disability sport’ they are just two ex-military blokes with the primary aim of having a good time. They are planning on racing in Bulgaria in September and possibly Morocco in March 2016.


                     ALEC TOM BATON NEWBURY IMG_1419Tom Dakar 2013

As my connections grow across the social media virtual world I’m finding more people who are working successfully to support veterans and they are often veterans themselves. The best ones are providing small, active projects to help people in recovery from the trauma of war, physical and psychological. I was pleased recently to facilitate volunteering for occupational therapy and physiotherapy students from the University of East Anglia with the Re-Org Trust and Walking with the Wounded. I was deeply moved by Jonathan Weaver, representing the Re-Org Trust, when he spoke at the student seminar ‘Actively Supporting Veterans’. He bravely shared his story and reminded our healthcare students that they have precious skills, pleading with them not to forget our veterans.

http://thereorgtrust.org http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk

I’ve written before, in my September 26th blog, about the ups and downs of volunteering. It still holds true that the friendships I made along the way are so precious. I also said, but it is worth repeating, that one person can’t change the world, but small acts of kindness can make a difference and even more so if we work together.



Eureka! Another week in The Shed

Week 2 of the FutureLearn Enterprise course has been all about ideas and inspiration. At the beginning of the week I enjoyed a series of TED Talks asking, ‘where do ideas come from?’ For someone who worries about finding that truly original idea it was refreshing to be introduced to the notion that ‘everything is a remix’. Not only that, the best ideas come about through sharing and collaboration. Indeed, as a species humans evolved because we shared i.e. traded, the things we made. Unlike the Neanderthals, who were quite clever, but they didn’t share between tribes and look what happened to them. Unfortunately the tribe mentality can still prevail in the human race and success is used to exploit others in our inequitable and unjust society. If we worked together the world could be a better place. It sounds idealistic but the ‘collective brain’, that vast network of total human knowledge that we have increasing access to via the internet, could hold the key to real progress.

Even important discoveries and inventions did not come about in sudden ‘Eureka’ moments. Even the proverbial light bulb was an idea that evolved over time and from a variety of different sources. Maybe the successful inventor or entrepreneur rides on the crest of a wave of ideas and thinking. They might add a novel twist or find a way of making an idea practical.

I love the idea of the enterprise shed that this course team have developed. It’s good to hear how it came about collectively through group discussions in the team, which we are learning, is how great ideas happen! I just love the whole ‘shed’ movement that has been growing recently. I’ve read about a lovely project for older men to support their health and well-being that exploits the concept of the shed. They gather together to make stuff, have cups of tea and natter. Men’s mental illness is a growing health concern and this is a creative and ‘manly’ solution.

I don’t have an actual shed. I do a lot of my thinking when I walk the dog and I have created a virtual shed. I have an Instagram account and post my photographs there, I write a journal, I started this blog and more recently my kids bought me a beautiful art book for colouring in. It’s awesome! I’m creating psychological space rather than an actual space, but it feels like somewhere ideas can grow. One of those little Shepherd’s Huts in the garden would be rather wonderful too…

I get inspiration from all over the place but I was prompted this week to think about people in particular who have influenced me. I have had the very great privilege throughout my career as an occupational therapist to support people at the most challenging times in their lives. I am constantly amazed at the human spirit to face adversity and overcome challenges. Over the past four years I have been a volunteer with military charities and the courage and sacrifice of people in our Armed Forces really motivates me to play my part in making the world a better place. One of the most inspiring parts of working with military people is their sense of humour and, as entrepreneurs, we must never, ever take ourselves too seriously.

Is inspiration enough for success, or are some people just lucky? In my opinion, anyone can be lucky; luck comes from being open to possibilities and seeing as many connections as possible between people and events. I work really hard all the time and make lots of little discoveries along the way. I constantly borrow and apply ideas from elsewhere especially in my teaching to keep it fresh and inspired. I’ve also learnt a lot about digital media from observing and working alongside others. Inspiration comes from such a multitude of sources; conversations, books, digital media, the news, history and, I mustn’t forget, my students who are endlessly creative.

The week ended with more TED talks and I listened again to Brene Brown on vulnerability. If you haven’t listened to this, you must. My mantra has been for some time; ‘have courage’ and now I will add ‘I am enough’.

TED Talks ‘Where do ideas come from?


TED Talk Brene Brown ‘Vulnerability’


The charity I support as a volunteer:  http://www.thebaton.co.uk/

Follow the course on twitter using #FLentshed and find the course and others at www.futurelearn.com

Some of my pictures from this week:

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Spending time in the shed and getting creative

In my Easter ‘break’ from the day job at the University of East Anglia I have been tempted to undertake another online course with Future Learn. ‘The Enterprise Shed; Making Ideas Happen’ from Newcastle University caught my eye because the concept of working from a shed full of ideas really appealed to me. I’ve nearly completed the first week and wanted to capture some of my reflections; it’s certainly got me thinking!

This course aims to help aspiring entrepreneurs and the course team are stretching the definition of ‘entrepreneurship’ in defining it as everyday problem solving and doing. I’m not disagreeing with the definition because as an occupational therapist I believe that humans are naturally driven to ‘do’, to be productive and find purpose in life. I’m wondering though if, to be a proper entrepreneur, your problem solving needs to have an impact on a lot of people rather than just your own life or that of your family.

I’m really enjoying the idea that the course team have developed that positive social impact can be a goal of the entrepreneur as much as making a profit. I’ve devoted a lot of time as a volunteer to help projects happen that benefit others, so perhaps I’m an entrepreneur already! The challenge is that at some point someone in the home needs to make money to pay the bills, even if the primary goal isn’t to get rich. Doing what you love, helping others and earning a living all need to be combined very creatively to work well.

The course team includes a man who has started his own business hiring bikes and kayaks from small premises on the coast of Northumberland with a little café upstairs. It’s called Cullercoats Bike and Kayak. He is successful as an entrepreneur because he genuinely wants to create a good experience and provide an excellent service for his customers. He didn’t set out to make millions; he wanted to do something he loved. He made the right connections and he wasn’t afraid to approach people who might help. Then he worked hard and continues to do so. Some useful lessons to take on board.

My dream is to set up a business or social enterprise that harnesses the benefits of engaging with the natural environment to promote well-being. We have a growing health crisis that cannot be solved by simple answers like ‘eat healthier foods’; it needs a bigger shift in tackling lifestyle change and social inequalities. In my small way I can’t have a huge influence on this, but I could perhaps make a little difference. The business would, of course, also be kind to the environment; so that future generations will have a natural world to appreciate.

I’m a trustee for the charity Surf Action that uses the power of the ocean to support veterans who are living with the effects of combat related trauma. I’m therefore very aware that there is strong research evidence to support the use of the ‘blue gym’ and the green gym’ for healing and health promotion. With my professional skills and knowledge as an occupational therapist I am well placed to take this idea further. The broad concept isn’t new or original, but perhaps I can find my own unique niche? Perhaps combined with my love of digital media, art and photography? Walk, talk, click and share? The possibilities are endless!



Follow the course on twitter using #FLentshed and find the course and others at www.futurelearn.com

Some of my photographs from this week walking the dog:

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Loud and proud; loving occupational therapy

Last week I spent two days with inspiring occupational therapists at a conference at Plymouth University. It was a good opportunity to reflect and check out whether my professional path is going off at a tangent or actually heading in the right direction.

The high point of the conference was hearing Karen Jacobs from Boston University speak with such passion about occupational therapy. It reaffirmed my belief that in everything we do we can demonstrating the transformational power of occupation. Karen promotes occupational therapy at every opportunity and engages anyone she meets in occupations. First she shows them what it can do, before then telling them about our profession. My social media work and doing volunteering with military charities no longer felt so eccentric!

The other key message that I came home with was that occupational therapists need to be confident in what our profession has to offer for the future of health and social care. Julia Scott, CEO at the College of Occupational Therapists, urged us to be loud and proud. Instead of being nice and polite, not wanting to rock the boat, we should be controversial and feisty. This resonated with a conversation I had the day before the conference when a colleague coaching me in leadership gently suggested that, as well as helping others to find a voice in social media, I needed to make my own heard. So true.

I presented a short paper at the conference encouraging occupational therapists to use social media to inspire as well as inform. I made the case that we need to go beyond marketing to integrate media creatively into our everyday professional practice. We can be leading a movement to form supportive, virtual and healthy communities that connect and engage people, instead of trailing behind these developments.

After two days in Plymouth I travelled to West Cornwall to meet with Mark Wesson the CEO at Surf Action. Readers of my blog will know that I have huge admiration for their work with veterans who have PTSD and I love the evidence base that supports it. Mark welcomed me on board as a non-executive director to join the board of trustees and shared some of the charities future plans to make a positive difference to people’s lives. This will complement beautifully the work that I already do with The Baton and Team Off-Road-It; so it does feel like I’m heading in the right direction!

Find out more about these organisations here:




Photographs from my stay in Cornwall:

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The power of social media: connecting colleagues who care about veterans, crossing oceans and disciplines

It’s been a week since I hosted the #OTalk on twitter with Dr Nick Caddick and I’m still a little in awe of the whole event.

The topic was surfing to support the recovery of combat injured veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We acknowledged the devastating impact of PTSD on the lives of veterans who struggle with it and their families and we all had a commitment to offering support to those who have served.

Nick, a sports psychologist from Loughborough University has carried out extensive qualitative research with the charity Surf Action in Cornwall. Joining in the OTalk was Carly Rogers, an occupational therapist from California, who has carried out research with veterans on an occupational therapy programme using surfing or ocean therapy. There are strong connections across their findings.

We also had OT experts from Combat Stress talking about their work. They also told us that engaging with the physical activity and the natural environment was beneficial. There are many benefits of sport; achievement, motivation, respite and relaxation. Carly noted that being in the sea could give an adrenalin rush, but was also at times calming and helped to nurture mindfulness.

One of the main themes that I recall from the chat was the importance of being a part of a close-knit group. Nick used the term ‘band of brothers’ to describe this. A veteran talking with us confirmed that was true for him.

I was anxious about making the twitter chat work and keeping track of everything, but it all went well and the hour flew by. The statistics are quite impressive. We had: 54 Participants, 409 Tweets and 775,491 Impressions. I felt proud of my profession and enjoyed working with such a knowledgeable, lively and passionate group of people. It was a privilege to be a part of it.

Background information is available here, including Carly’s TED Talk, Nick’s web site link to his work and a full transcript of the tweets:


Photographs from Surf Action’s resident photographer Paul Gillard, showing the power and beauty of the Blue Gym.

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