Shaping a diverse programme of work: a look back at Carena’s time at Healthwatch Central West London

Carena Photo

As many of you may know, our Programme Manager, Carena Rogers, is moving on from Healthwatch Central West London (HWCWL). Carena is the longest serving member of our team. She joined HWCWL as the Engagement Lead for Westminster in 2016, and became Programme Manager in 2017. She has been a constant calming, knowledgeable, and positive presence, and it’s difficult to imagine what the organisation will be like without her!

Before she leaves, we sat down and talked to her about her time at HWCWL, the work she’s most proud of, and what she’s planning to do next.

Hello Carena! It’s your last week here at HWCWL. How are you feeling?

I feel really emotional! It’s very hard to be leaving the team and stepping away from the work that we do. I’m looking forward to what’s coming next, but this is a time of real mixed emotions for me, and I have enjoyed my time at Healthwatch so much.

You’re the longest serving member of the team, having joined HWCWL in 2016. How has the organisation changed during that time?

I joined at a time when the organisation was in flux. We didn’t have a permanent CEO and I was the first of several new members of staff. We completely looked at how we were working and whether we were best serving the communities in our three boroughs and decided on how things needed to change.

We didn’t want to be an organisation that just represents the people who shout the loudest. Early on, we committed to hearing from people who often don’t get the chance to share what’s going on for them and what the challenges they face are.

When I became Programme Manager in 2017, I saw it as an opportunity to shape the values at the centre of the organisation and make sure we are hearing from as many people as we can. I supported the team to develop the Small Grants Programme, with its specific remit to work with local grassroots organisations that represent communities who find it most difficult to be heard, and to offer funding so there is capacity to support their work in the future.

When I joined in 2016, we also weren’t hearing from young people. We created Young Healthwatch to hear from local people about the health and care issues that are important to them. This group has grown so much since its beginning. It’s now a vibrant and active part of the organisation, and our young volunteers are right at the heart of what we do. It was brilliant to hear from them at our Annual Meeting back in December, for example.

Looking back over your time at the organisation, what piece of work are you most proud of?

For me, the thing I’m most proud of has been ensuring that our commitment to work with people who experience the most health inequality is at the centre of everything we do. I’m proud of my work supporting the team to develop engagement and research methods that best enable us to hear from as many people in our communities as possible. I’m also really proud of creating an environment in which the team can flourish!

In terms of pieces of work, I’m proud of our work highlighting issues in the changes to mental health provision and the move to direct payments to councillors on Westminster Scrutiny Committee. Our work had such an impact that the Committee launched its own enquiry. I think that is a really big thing to be able to achieve.

Recently, I’m particularly proud of our Voice Exchange project. This is a project we’ve carried out with Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust on the state of local mental health services. We’ve produced a really robust report about people’s lived experience of using inpatient mental health services that can be used to affect positive change in service provision. It’s incredible for such a big health trust to bring in our organisation as independent researchers for this, and to engage with us on the results. I think this work really shows the influence we have and the power we hold to improve local health and social care services.

What have been some of the biggest challenges during your time at HWCWL?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge challenge. We had to adapt very quickly and work out how to speak to people who were isolated or scared and not properly supported. We saw through our COVID-19 surveys that the impact of the pandemic was exacerbating existing inequalities in health outcomes. We could really see the value of our organisation to represent people’s views and share them with those who design services. We were listened to at Scrutiny and Health and Wellbeing Board meetings locally, but we were also listened to at North West London and London-wide level, and we had people coming to us, wanting to know what we were hearing.

Responding to the Grenfell Tower fire was a major challenge for us. Finding the right place for HWCWL within the wider response was very difficult. Our decision to use our statutory powers to get answers to questions local people and survivors were asking is something I am proud of, but it was incredibly challenging.

The fire was very local to us in North Kensington. We wanted to be able to support the local communities as best we could, but we also didn’t want to get in the way of the community groups on the ground. That’s why we focussed on our statutory powers, and I think we did a good job of holding local health authorities and the NHS to account.

As we’re coming up to the fifth anniversary of the fire, this year we will be returning to our recommendations and asking the statutory agencies what they have done over this period in response to the issues we highlighted.

Finally, what are you planning to do next?

As many people know, I have been training as a psychotherapist alongside working at Healthwatch. Over the last couple of years, I have been working as a therapist and counsellor as well. Now I am ready to dedicate more time to that. I work at the Maya Centre, a local organisation that supports women who have experienced domestic abuse, and I run one-to-one psychoeducational groups too. I also have my own private practice.

As exciting as this is for me, I’m very sad to be leaving Healthwatch. I will really miss all my colleagues and all our volunteers and friends from across our boroughs in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Enfield. I have really enjoyed my time working here, and Healthwatch will always remain close to my heart!