Sue Newell is a senior consultant in our health and care team and plays a key role in developing and delivering projects for our clients. A commitment to tackling social justice has shaped her 25-year career, during which she has focused upon facilitating relationships and building trust between people, communities, and health, public and voluntary sector services to drive positive and meaningful change.
Well-versed in empowering diverse communities and people to tackle complex issues around inequality and prejudice, Sue has developed and delivered evidence-based strategies, programmes and projects across a range of organisations and partnerships.
What brought you to Traverse, Sue?
Well, it’s a bit odd really because I wasn’t looking to move from the job I had and loved before Traverse. But I was just too tempted - both by this new, shiny role and what I saw of Traverse - particularly the impact of our work with our lived experience advisory group REBLE (and Jessie, our head of health and care).
Jessie and I had the good fortune to work together before so I knew I would learn a lot from working with her and the Traverse team, and have some fun at the same time as working hard on issues that I am interested in. These stretch beyond health and care to our public sector work but also issues like climate change. Need I say climate change is going to have, and is already having, massive health implications.
What type of work do you get involved in?
My role is a great combination of many different, interesting things. At one moment I might be advising on projects and writing proposals for how we can help those we work for that make use of my experience of working across many different types of organisations (local authorities; the voluntary, community and faith sector; Healthwatch, and health) to address inequalities; the next I might be leading a workshop with an ICS supporting them to coproduce people and communities strategy development and evaluation frameworks. My favourite (but don’t tell anyone else) and possibly the most challenging element is our work with REBLE. I’ll tell you more about them below.
Why is it important?
REBLE is an incredible group of ten individuals with diverse lived experience who generously share their wisdom with us and push us to be more inclusive. It certainly isn’t easy. Why would it be as it is clearly a challenge many people are grappling with.
But why is it important? It’s important to me on a deeply personal level given my experience of trying to live up to my own potential as a woman born in the 1970s; and constantly wanting and needing to challenge by own thinking and how I personally address all issues of inequality. At Traverse, with inclusion and curiosity as two of our values, we have to question whether we are the most inclusive we can as we certainly ask others to be in our work with them.
Our REBLE friends come with their whole selves and expect us to do the same – and we have the most honest conversations I have ever had in 25 years of working. They encourage us to come out from behind our fears, assumptions and ‘professional identity’ so we can hold up a mirror to ourselves. With kindness and without shame, they help us do what we do well and understand where we have a way to go. That’s invaluable!
Tell us about work you’re proud of
I could say lots about the social impact of specific projects, more about REBLE, but the other bit of my work that I love is delivering our leadership development programme for working with people and communities. We get to ‘walk with’ health and care colleagues who may not be particularly confident about engaging with patients, carers or the public.
The reasons for this are wide and varied (play Status Quo BINGO for all those you may have heard) but the underlying sentiment is often not wanting to get it wrong or not being able to meet people’s expectations.
Through action learning sets on real projects, we encourage colleagues to explore by gently asking open questions - modelling how to approach this with people - about the purpose of the conversation they want to have and why.
This enables them to plan who they want to engage with and how, as well as to consider all the uncertainties so they are more comfortable with ambiguity before embarking on any activity.
It sounds simple but it requires power sharing leadership in the context of change, an understanding our how our personal styles affect our engagement approaches. Building these skills, knowledge and most importantly confidence makes engagement much more meaningful for everyone and supports colleagues to change the culture around involving people.
In light of the massive challenges the NHS is facing today, what support do you think NHS leaders need?
Oh my … what a question … is there a challenge that they are not facing? In no particular order - increasing demand for services from people who are living longer with more complex needs; higher expectations and greater dissatisfaction; widening health inequalities; the consequences of the pandemic; major workforce shortages; cost of living crisis; changes to the configuration of health and social care services; political instability; real term funding cuts; probably many others I have missed.
All these challenges lead us to needing to have really difficult conversations with the public. Without engaging, inclusive leadership at all levels, this could spell out disaster for the health and care social support system that is taken as read by people. I think, as I have said above, leaders need support to have the skills, courage and confidence to do this in meaningful ways.