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Build your A Team

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Craig Pankhurst - former athlete and A Stroke of Luck founder

After Craig Pankhurst had a stroke, he saw the need to promote a greater positive outlook amongst survivors. Here, the successful former athlete and businessman discusses his new venture – A Stroke of Luck, a charity dedicated to post-stroke exercise-based recovery – and why survivors need their very own A Teams.

With a background as an elite international swimmer and successful business owner, it’s little surprise that Craig Pankhurst is pushing forward his latest venture with the drive and determination which have been the staples of his professional life so far.

But his latest venture is one with a difference – far from the high-pressured worlds of top-level sport and corporate demands, Craig is now creating significant momentum around a charity which seeks to support people in rebuilding their lives after a stroke.

A Stroke Of Luck – a name chosen to reflect the positivity with which Craig lives his life, and which punctuates the work of the charity – offers a range of exercise-based resources, direction and advice to people who have experienced stroke, empowering them to move on with their lives.

And as a fellow stroke survivor, Craig – who experienced his stroke in April 2018 – knows only too well how badly that is needed.

“I’m lucky that I have a positive outlook on life, and for me surviving a stroke was the biggest hurdle I had overcome, there was an element of luck in that,” he says.

“But as I looked at what was out there for survivors like myself and joined a number of online groups and communities, the overriding emotion was one of negativity, resignation, a victim mentality. That made me really sad.

“I thought that if I have been blessed with this positive mindset, then I can help other people get that too and show them there can be a positive future post-stroke – and that’s where A Stroke of Luck came from.

“Now, when people say ‘I’ve had a stroke, what’s next?’ I can say ‘We’re next’.”

Through an array of engaging content and innovative initiatives – from online exercise videos to Friday Live Q&A sessions with guests who have experience of stroke, either professionally or personally – A Stroke of Luck is supporting stroke survivors across the UK to move forward with a new-found confidence in themselves and their capability.

In another unique and inventive approach, survivors are also encouraged to build their ‘A Teams’ – the name inspired by the 1980s classic TV show – which brings together people whose different strengths and attributes can combine to give the support they need.

“Sport is my thing and I’m convinced people have a more positive and successful journey with the right people around them – and that’s the same in a survivor’s recovery,” says Craig.

“The survivor, as the captain of their A Team, has to play to the strengths of the team – whether that’s family, NHS, therapists, charities, whoever it is that surrounds that survivor, they need to make an assessment on when and how to bring the team members in.

“You don’t want to go to someone for an arm around the shoulder who you know is more of a practical person, or else they’ll end up frustrated at not being able to give what you need, and you’ll end up disappointed.

“If you think hard about who is around you and pick a team which has the attributes you can call upon, which you use at the right time for you, then like in sport, you can achieve much greater success.”

As a theme which runs throughout the charity’s approach, and even its branding, A Stroke of Luck makes use of a novel ‘traffic light’ principle, which enables survivors to articulate feelings or levels of ability, which may be constant, or else vary throughout each day.

“My daughters were only eight and 12 when I had my stroke and one of the main effects for me was the fatigue,” says Craig.

“Trying to explain neurofatigue was very difficult, so we used green, amber and red to help.

“When daddy is in the green zone, he can walk, talk and function pretty much as before. I’d start to fatigue throughout the day, so might then go into amber. But if I was in the red zone, and we were sitting in the living room chatting, cognitively I’d understand everything, but trying to verbalise that was impossible.

“So, by using the colour coding, that helped us all to understand the level I was capable of functioning at.

“It was something I used in business a lot – you’d have your green clients who you were certain of retaining their business, through to the red ones who you’d need to wrap your arms around – but it translated very well into our situation.”

During the pandemic, the exercise sessions offered by the charity really came to prominence among the stroke community, with A Stroke of Luck working alongside The Stroke Association to create a 12-week programme tailored by Neuro Physiotherapists, and again working to a traffic light principle.

For Craig, promoting the concept of exercise is hugely important, with his own experience being a case in point.

“When I had my stroke, I’d gone from being an elite athlete in my early to mid 20s, training every day and having less than six per cent body fat, to the ultimate sedentary male aged 39. I’d neglected my physical and mental health,” he says.

“While I was as relentless in business as I was in the swimming pool, the lifestyle I was leading, working ridiculous hours, couldn’t continue.

“My stroke was the best thing that happened to me, and although that might sound twee, it gave me the kick up the arse I needed.

“After my stroke, I realised the huge importance of exercise, not only for physical and mental health, but also for a positive mindset and outlook on life.

“We had a fantastic response to the exercise videos we created, which focused on a different body area on each of the 12 weeks, and again were accessible for everyone through the red, amber and green, which made them as available for those people who have limited movement as those who can exercise independently.

“We’re now seeking funding to build the next move of this content – there is an ongoing need and desire among stroke survivors for a resource like this, so the ambition is to do more.”

And alongside plans for more exercise videos – which, to date, have been viewed well over 20,000 times – Craig is also looking to develop the A Stroke of Luck website into a platform to connect survivors with the right therapists for them.

“I’d probably liken it to a dating site in some ways, on one side you have your survivors, then on the other the experts – it could be speech and language therapy, neurophysio, any service provider – and our platform can link the two,” says Craig.

“We understand that for many people in accessing these types of services, finance may be a barrier, so we are creating a system where we can give them digital credits to pay the therapists – which are based on means tests and a needs analysis – so if people don’t have enough cash, we’ll pay for it for them.

“Plans for this were well underway, but then the pandemic hit – but it’s something we will certainly pick back up.

“It’s so important that stroke survivors can access these services and we can support them not just to find the right provider for them, but also to finance it, if that’s what they need.”

To help raise funds for this initiative, and to sustain the wider work of the charity, A Stroke of Luck has launched its 99p A Month campaign. This campaign and the subsequent donations will be used to fund the development of more stroke-specific content which will support survivors in their life after stroke.

To donate 99p per month, visit the website at www.astrokeofluck.co.uk

Inpatient rehab

New brain injury hospital given go-ahead

The Disabilities Trust retains its 20-year presence in York through its new development

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Plans for a new brain injury hospital are to become reality after The Disabilities Trust secured approval for the project, which will maintain a vital service in Yorkshire. 

For over 20 years, the charity has operated York House in the city of York, but was forced to look elsewhere due to the closure of the site. 

After a lengthy search, The Disabilities Trust has chosen its new site, south of The Residence at the city’s Chocolate Works development, and construction is now able to begin to create the 36-bed purpose-built facility. 

The four-ward hospital, which retains around 145 healthcare jobs in the city, will be dedicated to acquired brain injury rehabilitation and will also include four assessment flats and a therapeutic garden. 

The new centre will add further to the charity’s brain injury inpatient portfolio, which extends across England, Scotland and Wales, in addition to its community and supported living services. 

“We are delighted to have received planning permission which will allow us to continue our presence in York after more than 20 years of service,” said Bill Chidgey, director of corporate services at The Disabilities Trust.

“This development will enable us to provide the people we support with the highest quality of facilities, to aid and support them in their treatment and rehabilitation.   

“We’re proud to call York our home and are looking forward to building strong ties with local residents and our new neighbours. Throughout this process our priority has been to retain our workforce and provide long-term assurances to the people we support and their families. 

“Now our plans have been approved we can look forward to our future in York.”

Tom Wheldon, director and head of region at HBD, said: “We’re pleased to have been able to partner with The Disabilities Trust to bring forward this new facility – it will bring huge benefit to so many people and retains a vital mental health service for York.

“We’ve worked closely with the local community to create a scheme that is both considerate of its surroundings and incorporates high quality facilities for the benefit of service users and staff.”

The planning application to City of York Council was submitted in July following a public consultation, and the project will be completed in partnership with development company HBD. 

The project team supporting the scheme includes planning and heritage consultant JLL, principle architect Jefferson Sheard, and specialist landscape architect, re-form landscape architecture.

The development will also include 50 car parking spaces, bicycle racks and additional landscaping adjacent to the Peace Garden. The building will aim to achieve BREEAM Excellent rating, a 28 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in line with Council objectives, and include a green sedum roof.

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Inpatient rehab

‘The challenges are ongoing, but our resilience is getting us through’

Chase Park Neuro Centre discusses the challenges faced by care providers and how ongoing investment is enabling it to look forward with confidence

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A specialist neurological care centre has highlighted the impact of the compulsory COVID-19 vaccination policy for staff as the latest in a series of major challenges for the sector to deal with during the pandemic. 

During one of the most challenging periods for healthcare in living memory, care has been particularly adversely affected, with the loss of staff through the introduction of rules around vaccination being the latest storm for providers to weather. 

Chase Park Neuro Centre has said it, like many other specialist care centres, has lost staff as a result of the new Government-led policy – exacerbating the social care recruitment crisis further – but its team has pulled more tightly together as a result, to continue to deliver the best possible care to its residents. 

“Much of the industry is reacting quite furiously to the Government making COVID vaccination among care homes staff compulsory, because we are the only industry that has been mandated to have all staff double vaccinated by November 11, otherwise, staff will lose their jobs,” says Paul Smith, director of operations at Chase Park, in Whickham, Gateshead. 

“Whatever the rights and wrongs of such policy, we are in a situation whereby people who may have been with a company for many, many years are going to have to be let go, or redeployed to an off-site service, and most care homes simply can’t do that.

“Luckily, across our dedicated staff group, there is only one person who has declined the vaccine.

“Of course, in tandem, what we’ve also got is a population that is tired, a population that is concerned about facing a fourth wave and future restrictions, but as a positive we have a workforce who has come through all of that. 

“At the end of the day, as tiring and as stressful as it has been, we have more resilient and committed staff at the end of it and that’s a strong position to hold.”

Chase Park, a 60-bed care home which provides rehabilitation services to people with neurological and long-term nursing conditions and more recently opened a villa for people living with dementia, has been running at 50 per cent capacity throughout the whole of the pandemic. 

A voluntary decision was made in March 2020 to close one of the two main buildings as some of the residents were highly vulnerable. They have since begun to safely reopen the closed unit with four residents already in situ at the site. 

For operators such as Chase Park and the teams working within the businesses, the impact of the pandemic physically, mentally and financially has also been significant, says Paul. 

“Although there has been some Government support in terms of COVID funding, that has mainly only been for PPE and testing,” he says.

“The testing regime itself has been a huge strain on managers and care, combined with the quarantine of up to 14 days. 

“I don’t think any care home, or any provider, is coming out of this in a healthy state, either the kind of physical and mental health of the teams and the managers in particular, but also on the financial side. 

“We are all trying to dig ourselves out of a very large COVID hole at the moment, but we have chosen a particularly proactive means to do this.”

Throughout the pandemic, Chase Park has continued to invest heavily into its facilities and offering. 

Under the ownership of Dr Niraj Brahmabhatt, Chase Park – a nurse-run service owned by medical practitioners, with management from clinical backgrounds – has strengthened its management team and appointed two non-clinical deputies through internal promotions to support the centre manager, Jane Webber. 

As well as refreshing its therapy team, it also has a new physiotherapist joining and will have both a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist on-site.

Chase Park has also invested heavily in digital technology and rehabilitation technology, including the implementation of a Tyrostation. It has introduced PCS, a person-centered software e-care plan system, as well as the Croner-I governance support system. It has also taken out a subscription with the Royal Marsden for staff to access vital clinical resource support anytime. 

Reflecting on the development of the centre and its team, director Dr Brahmabhatt says: “We continue to invest in Chase Park and our staff. We focus heavily on our culture and progression. 

“We want our staff to feel supported and confident in what they do. We run a staff satisfaction survey every six months as well as a service user satisfaction survey and incentives such as ‘employee of the month’. 

“With several staff starting their careers with us as carers and progressing to team lead and non-clinical deputies, we are committed to creating a culture of continuous learning.”  

Centre manager Jane adds: “Chase Park is very special and one big family. We believe in developing people, and they really do count every single day. 

“We currently have seven new recruits coming on board, we’ve also had an influx of nurses and we are now looking at tier two applications. If anyone is considering a career in care, we would encourage them to give us a call to find out more, our door is always open.”

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Inpatient rehab

QEF appeal hits £1million milestone

The disability charity’s £2.7million fundraising drive is to complete and fully fund its Care and Rehabilitation Centre

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A charity has reached the £1million milestone in its three-year fundraising appeal to complete and fully fund its state-of-the-art Care and Rehabilitation Centre. 

Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF) launched its Edward Guinness Appeal to raise the final £2.7 million needed for its centre of neuro rehabilitation expertise, supporting people to rebuild their lives after a stroke, acquired brain injury, incomplete spinal injury or neurological illness.

Over the last 22 months the charity, based in Leatherhead, has had support from individuals and the local community who responded to the appeal and took part in a variety of fundraising activities. 

Marisa Goldsborough, head of philanthropy at Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People, said: “This is such wonderful news to be able to share with everyone. The last 18 months have been tough for many charities including QEF, so we are delighted to have achieved this milestone and are so grateful for the generosity of everyone who has supported us so far.

“We still have a long way to go to reach the final £2.7m needed but this has given us a real boost. 

“The funds raised through The Edward Guinness Appeal are vital to fully funding the Care and Rehabilitation Centre and supporting people when they need our expertise most to rebuild their lives after a traumatic event such as a stroke. 

“We also want to ensure items like additional lifts and automatic doors can be added to the building and we can install accessible technology throughout such as eye gaze technology, sensory zones in the gardens and provide additional therapy equipment.”

The Care and Rehabilitation Centre is a £15million development that was opened by HRH The Countess of Wessex in June and has played an important role in supporting the NHS in South East England throughout the pandemic. 

The charity launched the Appeal in November 2019 to raise the final £2.7m needed to complete and fully fund this landmark development, which puts QEF at the forefront of neurorehabilitation. 

The centre, recently rated as ‘Good’ by the CQC, can support up to 48 people at a time, providing integrated and person-centred neurorehabilitation and nursing care under one roof. 

The facilities have been designed to meet the needs of clients, including large ensuite bedrooms each with tracking hoists, a state-of-the-art therapy gym and adaptable therapy rooms, multi-purpose recreational rooms and informal social areas and large, spacious dining rooms.

The charity has a series of unique fundraising events planned over the next 12 months to raise the final total needed, including:
– The Guinness and Oyster Luncheon on November 25 at Mansion House,
– Magical Christmas at Lambeth Palace on December 2
– The ‘Best of British Wine’ tasting event on February 1, 2022
– Rugby Legends Gala Dinner on March 3, 2022.

Find out more about the appeal and how you can get involved at qef.org.uk/edwardguinnessappeal

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