Our visit to Headway Oxfordshire

Our visit to Headway Oxfordshire

In June myself and a colleague had a morning out to visit our 2015 charity Headway Oxfordshire. Although we had a lovely time the main reason was to find out for ourselves what Headway Oxfordshire do and meeet some of the staff and most importantly the users of their services. As a reminder Headway Oxfordshire specialises in providing support and rehabilitation services for those recovering from brain injury and to their helpers. You can read more about this previous blog.

Outside Headway officeWhen we arrived at Headway Oxfordshire's office we were slightly surprised because it is actually a Church part of the Diocese of Portsmouth. Turns out that they are in the process of buying the building from the Diocese with church services to continue as before. This initiative is just part of Headway Oxfordshire's expansion plans, more of which later. So after Victoria on the left of the picture greeted us we went straight into the building for a tour.

"My Favourite Day"

There were already service users inside havng a chat and a catch up in preparation for the first of the day's activities, a chair yoga session with a cooking session in the afternoon. Yesterday there had been a picnic at the Botanical Gardens and quizzes, games and trips to the cinema are also favourites. As we discovered when speaking to Sheila and her husband Harry who had a stroke 3 years ago, the interaction with other carers and those in recovery is absolutely vital to them. Harry said it was "my favourite day" and said that it until starting at Headway Oxfordshire 18 months ago he had "felt very isolated". He went on to say that "seeing the improvement of others was vital to me to understand was was possble and inspire me to continue my own hard work". Sheila who is caring for Harry spoke of the ability to have a little time off during the activities in a "perfectly safe" environment and how much that break is needed. Having been married for 31 years the devotion to each other was very clear, but they acknowledged the challenge of dealing with Harry's changed circumstances. His impressive wheelchair had to be privately bought and Headway Oxfordshire was their ONLY opportunity for support after leaving hospital.

Activity BoardLeaving the users to their yoga we chatted to some of the volunteers. Jill has been an unpaid volunteer from its beginnings in 1982. At the time her own son had suffered a traumatic brain injury falling down stairs at home when he was 16 and has needed 24 hours a day supervision ever since. That is a huge adjustment and although her son now lives in a community in Cornwall where he is looked after Jill spent the first 10 years completely on her own looking after her son without a break. So it's not a surprising that she is a warm and passionate advocate of the charity.

 "Can Never Go Back To What They Were Before"

We were particularly taken by Jill's points that the impact of brain injury can be hidden by a superficial glance. Her own son being " a fine figure of a man in his forties and you don't know until you start speaking to him that this is someone who needs special help". Also that Jill has seen "more lives being saved by advances in surgery, resulting in people living for normal lifespans but no plan to help them do so". Which is of course where Headway Oxfordshire and their fund-raisers come in!

Patrick is a long term staff member who apart from arranging the extremely popular quizzes (Harry is a fan) visits a specific person twice a week. He noted that both volunteers and carers have to handle the frustration and even anger of people affected by brain injury who "can never go back to what they were before". There are sometimes actual changes of personality or missing memory as well as the understandable emotional rollercoaster of surviving, but being changed. Naturally this is nearly as traumatic for the carer often a partner or child who knew the person before. As a professional visitor this isn't an issue, but handling emotional outbursts is still very much part of the job. In the case of his client he can work with them on building skills that they just can't do unsupervised, but did every day for 40 years before their injury, helping their self-worth and confidence in the process.  

Headway Oxfordshire are careful to involve carers as much in activities as they want to be involved. The carers weekends away are a blessing for many but a complicated arrangement for the charity as some wouldn't enjoy it without those they care for, whilst others really need a complete break. So the staff are always "trying to find a balance" and "get feedback each time and act on it". They've just had their annual weekend break away, this time in Winchester.

"Headway Oxfordshire Is A Small Charity That Always Needs More Funding"

Physio areaWe moved on to see some of the permanent facilities available to users including some quite sophisticated physiotherapy equipment in a divided area from the main room. This area is naturally always supervised, but is used particularly intensively on Wednesdays when the high dependancy users visit.  Whilst we were there some users were making use of the co-ordination therapy items and having a chat at the same time.

The facility also has a quiet room for private conversations and some offices. In the first office we met Charlotte, Claire and Jamie the CEO of Headway Oxfordshire. So we were able to get a real look at the challenges facing them as well as the opportunities. Jamie noted that "Headway Oxfordshire is a small charity that always needs more funding" and also that "the longer term funding streams tend to come with very specific rules on how they can be spent. This makes the funding raised by companies like Boswells and individual contributions hughly valuable as the money can go as and where needed at that time. Which is why every donation is particularly appreciated."

outreach works in cabinA dependency on grants means that plans can only be made for the length of a grant and often there is a tendering process which can be time consuming. Jamie says "The increased tendering and subsequent monitoring processes have changed charities a lot in recent years. Now charities are more professional, with increased plan quality, but you have to ensure that you stick to the original ethos and provide the needed services rather than be all about meeting funding rules". That rang a bell with us as at Boswells we try to keep close to our customers and keep our identity whilst keeping pace with the modern world.

Part of the challenge to the original Headway Oxfordshire ethos is that although they provide their services for free the number of people who have a brain injury receiving funding has decreased a lot. This is because only those who undergo an assessment and are classified as having a critical or substantial need will now get funding. Many people don't even know about the assessment.

"More Lives Being Saved By Advances In Surgery, Resulting In People Living For Normal Lifespans But No Plan To Help Them Do So". 

Jamie and ambulenceAnother challenge is transport. Most users can't drive and require transport to Headway Oxfordshire. Thus their own ambulance, but this will soon need replacing. However the biggest need is drivers and co-ordinating the journeys across the whole of Oxfordshire to get to Kennington. If you are interested in helping, volunteering as a driver is definitely a good solution. They can even pay your transport costs if you are using your own car.

Another way they have reacted is to open satellite groups around Oxfordhire where users, volunteers and outreach workers can meet. Although the physiotherapy kit is missing at least that vital social interaction, confidence building and peer support can continue.

Even with the funding challenges this is an exciting time for Headway Oxfordshire. The aim of buying the building is the first stage to expand the building and its facilities, including a fully functioning kitchen. At the moment only cold preparation can be done and this isn't just about feeding users, but kitchen re-training for users to look after themselves. The outreach workers who currently share a portakabin may even get room to swing their arms when they walk around the office! The planning permission is already done.

My colleague and I were very moved by our visit and we are delighted that Boswells and its customers can help improve people's lives in this way. It is a sobering thought that accidents that result in brain injury as well as illness can strike anyone at any time. Although Headway Oxfordshire currently supports around 400 people there are actually over 3000 registered people suffering from traumatic brain injury in Oxfordshire. That is a lot of people potentially isolated and with overworked carers who more money can help reach.

If you are interested in helping Headway Oxfordshire then you can donate via Boswells in store or at http://www.headwayoxford.org.uk/ or by text HWOX01 plus your amount to 70070. Or contact Headway Oxfordshire to become a driver, volunteer for the centre, be a handyman or help with the admin. See what a difference you can make and you won't regret it.



Posted by Becky Web Manager
3rd July 2015
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