Happy Holidays to Our Service Users

I wonder if many of you feel a bit like I do, in that it is hard, almost impossible, to believe that the end of the year is so close and 2022 is right around the corner. And what a year it has been for us all! I think we were hoping that life would have gone back to some degree of normality, and I guess it has in some ways, but there continues to be significant uncertainty and concern, which is impacting us all.

Despite the difficulties, the education for our students has continued, predominantly online, but more and more face-to-face, over the last few months, and the involvement of service users has continued to be prominent, valuable, and so highly valued by the School and the University.

When I joined the University in October 2019, I was impressed by the Service User Reference Group. Over the last few years, I have come to know and meet some of you and get a greater sense of the immense contribution you all make to the School across so many different levels. This partnership is integral to our survival and success as an institution that delivers health and social care practitioners knowledgeable, expert, empathetic, and clearly in touch with the community they serve.

As 2021 draws to a close, I want to send you all my warmest wishes for the festive season, hope that it is a restful and peaceful one for you and all your loved ones, and also to thank each one of you for your commitment and friendship to the School, and the work you do for us.

Holidays have a habit of bringing joy and sadness, and I know that some of us won’t necessarily be looking forward to the festive season. However, I’m struck by the community’s resilience, our ability to help each other, and the importance of connectedness.

Let me wish you, our valued partners and collaborators, peace and wellbeing over the holidays and into 2022. Whatever life has in store for us, I hope we can all find someone to connect to, someone to support, and someone to support us. I look forward to meeting and working with many more service users in 2022, exploring new ways and opportunities to draw on your valuable experience and expertise, and working together as a team.

Take care, and go well,

Vicky Joffe
Dean of the School of Health and Social Care


A Christmas Snowflake Story

While it is marketed as the most magical time of the year, and some people wish it could happen every day, Christmas can be difficult time for many people. Elizabeth Attfield, a mother to an autistic son, has written an interesting blog called Surviving Christmas – One Family’s Perspective on Coping with the Festive Season. She points out that it is challenging to balance everyone’s needs at Christmas time. Her conclusion was that enforced jollity can literally be hell.

You’re a mean one, Mr Grinch! Image credit: Pixabay.

We’re are often frightened by the images of Scrooge, the Grinch or anyone who feels negative about Christmas. Last year, Dave Skinner published a book entitled A Snowflake’s Guide to Christmas: How to survive a deeply problematic holiday. This was described as a tongue-in-cheek book but might be seen as poking fun at some people. “Snowflake” is a slang term for an easily offended person who cannot deal with opposing opinions. Having been accused of being a Snowflake myself, I feel able to defend snowflakes everywhere. I argue that we place too many expectations on ourselves at Christmas and on the day itself.

For many families, the build-up to Christmas begins months before the actual event. Young children are whipped up into a frenzy by targeted advertising and the unreasonable expectations of others. Unfortunately, what often transpires is that the pressures around Christmas can create more unhappiness than yuletide joy.

So, if you feel down or lonely this Christmas, remember that you are not alone! Furthermore, it is essential to remember that lack of company is not a character fault, and solitude does not necessarily lead to misery. Having said all that, here are some helpful links if you, a close relative or a friend need support over the festive period.

Mind has published a guide on Christmas and mental health to help you maintain good mental health over the holiday period. In addition, Mind has included a list of useful contacts and helplines.

This Morning, the ITV programme, also published some helpful phone lines. Please remember that these were published last year, so they may not be the same this year.

And finally, a valuable support service for people struggling with cannabis addiction is Marijuana Anonymous UK.

So I wish you Happy Winterval in good old fashioned snowflakism!


Welcome from Dr Mary Kennedy, Lead for Service User Engagement

If I can say anything positive about our time in lockdown, it would be my delight in taking on the challenge of leading and promoting service user engagement in the School of Health and Social Care. As a mental health nurse, I’ve always been captivated by the different ways we engage with one another. Over the years, I have grown to value the use of storytelling as a powerful teaching tool.

Dr Mary Kennedy at a recent SURG meeting.

Storytelling has informed my nursing practice and my belief that by sharing personal stories, we can significantly enrich the teaching and learning experience. By listening to those most affected by an issue, and engaging in reflective conversations, we can connect, build relationships, and ultimately gain a deeper understanding of the people we work with.

Service user engagement

Nobody understands what we need from health and social care services better than the people who use them. These are the “real experts” with life experiences that can help influence future generations of health and social care workers.

The School recognises the value that service user engagement can bring to the educational experience we offer. We’re fortunate to have been supported by our Service User Reference Group for several years.

What is the Service User Reference Group?

Our Service User Reference Group (SURG) comprises service users, carers, and staff members from our teaching and learning community. Service users are involved in a wide range of activities and make contributions to many aspects of the School.

They’re involved in the curriculum’s design, development, and evaluation. Service user involvement ensures that what we teach resonates with the realities of being a receiver of care.

SURG members also get involved in teaching by sharing their lived experiences in a safe and supportive way; this enriches the learning and understanding of students within the academic setting. In addition, by sharing their personal stories and perspectives, service users help students understand the diverse needs and expectations of a wide range of people.

Matt, John and Murray, three active members of the SURG.

In addition, their active involvement and unique insights into service delivery encourage students to develop the correct values, knowledge and attitudes when engaging with and supporting the public.

Finally, our service users get involved with research activity, either as participants or through membership of research projects.

Sharing knowledge and experience

Academic staff, working alongside the SURG, support students to apply and relate theory (and research) into their practice. This means that engaging, sharing, and learning in the School is a joint endeavour, with service users, carers, students, academics, and practice colleagues working in partnership. Together, we want our students to fully understand how to achieve the best and most appropriate care for all members of society.

We have big plans for the future!

One of my ambitions as the Lead for Service User Engagement is to increase the amount of service user involvement in School activity. To facilitate this, I’ve been working with colleagues as well as Georgina Riches, our Operations Manager, to strengthen the systems that support our work. Together we aim to help Heads of Divisions and Programme Leads to identify, well in advance, the critical opportunities for the involvement of service users in a meaningful way. This will allow us to capture all relevant information and plan well ahead of time with our SURG members.

The grand plans do not end there! Of course, in normal circumstances, the SURG would be on campus to participate in teaching, meetings, and interviews. Since lockdown, we’ve had to adopt different approaches (many supported by our wonderful Technology Enhanced Learning team). This involved various online learning activities, such as Zoom training sessions, podcasts to support our simulation teaching and creative writing workshops. Even though we are hopefully returning to some semblance of normality, I would like to continue developing a range of flexible learning resources. So, watch this space as we already have some exciting projects in the pipeline!

How do I get involved in the blog?

What type of content would you like to see on the Involvement Matters blog? Leave a comment below to let us know. The editorial team are keen to encourage everyone, especially health and social care students, to read and discuss the articles. We’re also seeking student contributions to the blog. You can share personal reflections, write a poem, recommend a book or simply share an article that you think might be of interest.

Please get in touch if you want to write something for us, whether you are an experienced blogger or a complete novice. After all, involvement really does matter!