“Come together, right now. Over me.” – The Beatles

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Statistics tell us that 1 in 2 will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Flipped on its head, that means 1 in 2 of us will never know what it feels like to be told that they have a potentially life threatening illness. In seems incredible then, that some of us have the privilege of shaping, managing and leading services for patients affected by cancer without ever truly walking in a cancer patients’ shoes.

Fortunately in Greater Manchester, we’re doing things differently. We recognise that the sharing of experiences and opinions from those who have lived and breathed cancer or ARE living and breathing it, can help make sure that the care provided is what people really need. We realise that the more intelligence we have, the more likely we are to be relevant and meaningful, hence the Macmillan funded User Involvement service in operation. The service, established in 2015 involves a bank of circa 100 volunteers who have all been affected by cancer in some way. Some carers, some former patients in remission, and many patients currently LIVING with the disease.

I’ll be honest, I was sceptical at first (sorry Claire!) but after six months in post, I can confirm, it’s definitely not a tick box exercise. This is genuine co-production. Our “experts by experience” are a crucial and substantial piece in the service improvement jigsaw, with the same gravitas as the Clinical Oncologist, the same equal voice as the Surgeon, and the same seat at the table as the Clinical Nurse Specialist. User involvement is the true golden thread entwined in ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING we do, to the point where it’s not even a “thing”, it’s just normal run of the mill practice. It’s second nature. There’s a noticeable and genuine shift in authority here that’s embedded at every level.

Having worked in the health and social care arena for over six years in a variety of settings, it’s clear that this service is like no other user involvement offer I’ve seen – for a start it’s the only public sector job I’ve had where I’ve been interviewed/vetted by a member of the public – and rightly so! If that doesn’t say something about the Greater Manchester Cancer ethos, I don’t know what does! Coming into the team with a fresh pair of eyes, the Greater Manchester Cancer User Involvement model is definitely a feature that stands out to me and I can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more models and elements of routine practice like this adopted more widely across our region?

Consumer insights seem to be well versed in the private sector with mystery shopper schemes; customer surveys; and consumer “testing labs” to drive innovation. In fact, instantaneous customer feedback has become standard for successful brands to help them trail blaze. The public sector is no different. So why does it feel one step removed?

The uniqueness and originality of the Greater Manchester Cancer/Macmillan User Involvement model flourishing in a resource-strapped system can almost feel luxurious… but it’s a necessity. The richness of insight shared in this forum is uncanny and on another level to that derived from anonymous surveys.

There’s something unique and precious about those who have lived experience of cancer and we’re fortunate to be gifted with voices with a shared understanding of need who can craft solutions to make cancer services in Greater Manchester better.

The fact is, how do we have any chance of meeting patient expectation (let alone exceed it) without their input?

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“You gotta roll with it, you gotta take your time.” – Oasis

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t…” – Baz Luhrmann

Do what you enjoy! Do what you’re good at! That’s the level of careers advice I encountered at school. And so off I went at the ripe age of 16 without any real long term plan to select my A-Level subjects:

  1. English Language & Literature – purely because I achieved an A* GCSE so considered this as one of my strong areas.
  2. Business Studies – sounded far more interesting then any of the core academic subjects I’d been surrounded by at school.
  3. Psychology – I was intrigued and quite fancied being able to read people’s minds! How wrong I was!
  4. Physical Education (PE) – Absolutely loved it at school so was a no brainer really. Studying PE at GCSE level had opened my eyes to the anatomy and physiology of movement (and I was good at it!) so naturally very keen to pursue it further.

At that was that. Off I trotted. Nobody checked that the A-Levels complemented one another or whether they were considered a sensible suite of subjects to kick off a decent career. That was literally it. All my choice. No grand plan, just myself and a very random sixth form timetable!

I began my A-Levels in Autumn 2004 and MY GOODNESS, what an unbelievable shock to the system that was! Who knew A-Levels were so difficult?! By the end of the first year, I’d failed miserably in all but one subject and spent my second year right back at square one studying for a new collection of A-Levels with the year below.

When the summer of 2006 hit, the realisation of my failure set in. I watched all of my friends enjoy what felt like an eternity of celebratory chatter deliberating which university offer to accept over another. Whilst my peers basked in the glory of their efforts, I had another year to serve.

I was absolutely riddled with regret at the many lessons I’d skipped, the exams I didn’t prepare an ounce for and all the evenings of homework that I’d rudely ignored. I panicked at the prospect of my future. It felt like the end of the world. It really did.

My school career was relatively breezy. I’d performed pretty well with my GCSEs and had sailed through school life in the top sets with ease. I’d always been considered a high achieving student so my college “flunk” was quite a shock and hit me hard. Something happened when I left school. A taste of freedom and new found sixth form independence, distractions, a complete lack of energy to apply myself, a missing streak of pride, an incompatibility between me and the subjects I’d chosen – who knows? But I definitely didn’t adapt to my college days the same way that my peers did. Up to this point, my life had been pretty much plotted out in achievable chunks and ridiculously short time frames along with the rest of my year group, I’d never really had to make choices and consider life as a “grown up” with responsibility. I just wasn’t ready.

Looking back to my 17 year old self, I’m strangely glad to have experienced the feeling and consequences of disappointment and failure at such a young age. Messing up my first year of college really taught me a lesson and it’s something that I still hold on to today. Effort, energy and attitude account for SO much more than we ever give credit for.

Following my little set back, I worked incredibly hard to pull it back and spent three years at university. On paper, I shouldn’t have got in. But I somehow slipped through the net. And so when I got there, golden ticket in hand, I grabbed it with both hands and never let it go. I worked hard, squeezing the extra mile out of every single opportunity, desperately needing to achieve, all to prove to myself that I wasn’t a failure and could succeed at something. Would I have applied myself that much having not experienced the flop? Probably not, but it worked and I eventually saw the fruits of my labour. I graduated with a first class honours degree in 2009. And went on to attain a masters three years later. I did have the academic ability after all, I just had to work a hell of a lot harder than others for it.

I’ve heard many conversations over the past fortnight around GCSE and A-Level results, and seen the vast array of emotions this time of year presents. This fortnight will not dictate the rest of these students’ lives. Academic performance is a wonderful gift if you’ve got it but it won’t get you all the way. In fact it will get you no where without a hearty dose of ‘softer’ attributes… particularly ATTITUDE, EFFORT and PERSEVERANCE! All of which are ENTIRELY within our control.

It’s ok to break the hamster wheel and take time to try things and work out what you want to achieve in life. I wish somebody had drummed this in to me at 16! Entering adulthood is scary. Life beyond the comfort of high school walls is tough. You don’t need a grand plan at 16, 18, 22… or at any age for that matter! You don’t need to be the smartest student in the class either. But what you do need is a toolkit of values. Life really is about rolling with it and taking your time… there’s absolutely no rush!

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“We are in truth, more than half what we are by imitation.” – Lord Chesterfield

Like many of us I have thoroughly enjoyed the recent Educating Greater Manchester series. Not only have I been bowled over by the exemplary leadership of Drew Povey, but I have been completely and utterly fascinated by the high school students’ commitment to contouring* and eyebrow precision! Where on earth has it come from? How has it spread?

Firstly, I’m very jealous as I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up in high school (Face wipes had recently come into play and were regularly threatened to anybody that dared to dig out a mascara wand in a morning). Secondly, I am vaguely aware of the art of contouring but I had no idea of the depth and scale of it! How has the craze spread from a Kim Kardashian Twitter post, to a zillion online beauty tutorials, through to the youth of Greater Manchester?!

Having thought about it, this concept of behaviour ‘spreading’ is nothing new. In fact, this rather helpfully featured in my A level PE studies – I knew I’d use it one day! There are many theories of behaviour change but the one that sticks in my mind is Bandura. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (1977) states that people learn through observing others’ behaviour, attitudes and the outcomes of those behaviours. Without even realising it, a large proportion of our daily lives is influenced by those around us, and what they are up to (or are perceived to be up to according to social media!), and those around them… And likewise, OUR behaviours and attitudes are probably having a massive impact on them. As Kim Kardashian has rather effectively demonstrated, our behaviour has the power to influence the attitudes and behaviours of people we’ve never even met!

Of course, these personal connections can be good or bad. In 2007, Christakis outlined the person-to-person spread of obesity as a possible factor contributing to the obesity epidemic. In the longitudinal Framingham Study, if someone became clinically obese, their friends were 57% more likely to also become obese. A friend of a friend of that obese person was approximately 20% more likely to become obese. Whichever way we look at it, the force of our networks is strong (sorry!), I guess it’s how we choose to use them and which messages we choose to spread.

Now then, back to Kim… does it matter who the ‘spreader’ is? Gladwell (2000) believes that there are types of people who are important in the dissemination of information or social behaviour, one of which are ‘Connectors’. According to Gladwell, Connectors are able to influence large numbers of people. They tend to have a gift for establishing relationships and making friends, increasing the penetration and depth of their network, thereby more effectively spreading information.


So what’s the punchline? Well, I guess it’s a reminder that we are all in control of changing the behaviour that we want to see. If we can successfully create positive emotions around being physically active (or any healthful behaviour for that matter) the ripple effect will inevitably take hold. I don’t think you necessarily need to be a ‘Connector’ (and I’m not sure what the criteria for one is) but if you’ve found an awesome spin instructor, or had a great weekend dog walk with your family then tell your friend, because the chances are, your friend might give it a go and then tell their friend, who might also make a change and tell their friend… and so on… Go digital, write a blog about it, make a video diary, share a picture, update your Facebook status. It might not feel much but the combined influence of many has the ability to make incredible change.


*For anybody not up to speed, contouring is the art of creating razor sharp cheekbones through the application of make-up.


Bandura, A. (1977) Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Christakis, N.A. (2007) The spread of obesity in a large social network over 30 years. New England Journal of Medicine. 357 (4). pp.370-379.

Gladwell, M. (2000) The tipping point. New York: Little, Brown Book Group.

You are what you wear.

I’ve worn trainers as part of my active commute to work for pretty much all of my working life. Why? Because quite simply, trainers are my default footwear of choice, always. And in a time and age when every minute counts, they help me walk a hell of a lot faster than any of my other shoes! After suffering a bad stress fracture in my early twenties, I’ve endeavoured to look after my feet and have pretty much abandoned the heels ever since.

Last week I broke all corporate fashion codes and wore my Converse to work, keeping them strapped to my feet ALL DAY. Heaven. Despite the double takes and funny looks of fashion conscious colleagues, I couldn’t help but notice that I seemed to walk and ‘bounce’ more frequently that day than other typical days in the office. I genuinely felt the desire to move more and admittedly probably undertook the odd unnecessary journey around the floor just to feel the freedom in my feet! Could it be that there was a psychological effect to my feet sitting snug, laced up, cushioned in my pumps?!

Well, indeed, there is such a thing. In 2012, Adam and Galinsky published their theory of ‘enclothed cognition’ which recognised how clothes systematically influence wearers’ mental processes. The study reported positive effects on abilities when participants wore a lab coat, and I guess the same principles can be applied to sportswear. The researchers attribute the positive findings to the symbolic meaning and experience that we associate with particular items of clothing. Applied to sportswear, when we wear athletic clothing, it’s probable that we are more likely to choose to be active and lean towards fitness. Apparently, there are similar parallels to watch-wearers as research indicates that wearing a watch is a sign of conscientiousness. Although, it’s not quite clear whether being conscientious inclines somebody to wear a watch, or whether wearing a watch encourages conscientiousness! Either way, it’s clearly a marker for personality and as a compulsive watch-wearer and rather diligent human being myself, it must be true!

Joking aside, whether commuting to work or walking the dog, we need to keep moving. And to do that on a practical, everyday level we need active footwear to accompany it. The time has come to relax on the traditional corporate dress code, challenge social norms and stick on those sneakers!

And why stop there?!

Last week I bought myself a ‘corporate rucksack’ – oh yes. I am acutely aware that I lug a lot of ‘stuff’ around on a daily basis from one site to another, so it’s been on the cards for a while. But the real reason I’ve made the switch from handbag to backpack is because I honestly believe that it will encourage me to be more active.

I am very fortunate to work in Greater Manchester surrounded by the Mobike bike sharing system. Ashamedly, I have yet to use one, but now I have my backpack there’ll be no stopping me! I have now downloaded the app and have found myself analysing other more experienced users to see how they get on, so it’s only a matter of time before I take the plunge!

….stay tuned for the next blog: a blow by blow account of my first Mobike experience. I’m sure there’d be enough material in there! 🙂



Adam, H. Galinsky, A.D. (2012) Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 48 (4), pp.918-925.

Ellis, D.A. Jenkins, R. (2015) Watch-wearing as a marker of conscientiousness. PeerJ. 3:e1210.

“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.” – Doctor Who

Inspired by my childhood memories of replacing school lessons with a game of rounders if the weather was nice, this summer, I organised a summer social rounders event for my work colleagues (It was a shame about the weather on the evening itself, but the premise was definitely there!). The event was designed for team building purposes as well as promoting the concept of a physically active lifestyle and reintroduce people to the sport of Rounders which most people haven’t played since school.

Within minutes of circulating the invitation back in July I was amazed with the positive responses, it was like I’d unleashed the inner 10 year old in my colleagues. There was a real mix of excitement, curiosity and apprehension in the air. I can’t tell you how many panicked comments of “I can’t remember how to play, I haven’t played since school, I won’t be very good…” I received. But all that slipped away come 6pm when 30 smiley colleagues turned up to the cricket ground and cast their eyes on a basket of rounders bats, four metal posts and a couple of eager individuals who had arrived early for a quick warm-up! After a brief team huddle with the coach to run through the “Simplified Rules” of the game, the tournament kicked off.

It’s fair to say that everybody got stuck in, fully exerting themselves – some more competitive than others of course! It was wonderful to see a complete cross-section of staff connecting over a wooden bat and the stringent regulations surrounding a backwards hit!

Since the evening I’ve had lots of encouraging feedback. There were a couple reports of achey bodies in the days following which I’m taking as a sign of success! Many have been in touch to say how good it was to get to know their colleagues outside of work and enjoy a bit of fun with them. I’d like to think that some may have really enjoyed the short taster to think about playing regularly in a local team. But I’m more inclined to think that the majority have consciously thought about their fitness, reflexes and hand and eye co-ordination and are now sharpening up for round two!

I loved organising this event as I feel a genuine passion for the benefits of sport and physical activity participation and want to pass this energy on to others. I think there’s definitely something about resurrecting happy childhood memories of physical activity and making more time for adult play. Not least to boost creativity, problem-solving skills, and wellbeing but to forget about work and other obligations, and to be social in an unstructured, imaginative way. How awesome would it be if it became perfectly acceptable in our GM workplaces to down tools on a sunny day and congregate on the nearest grassy patch for a good old game of rounders… there’s a thought… and what a wonderful measure of success to GM Moving that would be!