Camping Showed me the True Spirit of Community

I started packing bags, folding sleeping bags, filling flasks, writing lists of things I needed, topping up the car with Diesel and checking our travel emergency bag to ensure it had every medicine known to man in it – just in case.

Yes, we were going camping.

On the spur of the moment, I had decided that I was bringing my three daughters on a camping trip. My husband, who couldn’t take time off work, was staying at home, but I was determined that I could do this on my own.

So off we went in the car up to the beautiful mountainous scenery in the heart of Co. Wicklow, all the while my heart pounding thinking about how I would be setting  up the huge tent we had bought; how would I manage lighting the fire; where would we go to the toilet; and would we be okay sleeping at night – would we be safe?

13892069_1297446566962875_5678641007724371496_nUpon our arrival at the campsite, I was pleasantly surprised to meet the staff – answering all my questions and telling me that the site had 24 hour security and that they had onsite facilities such as toilets, showers, kitchen cleaning areas and loads of things for the kids to do such as kayaking, movie nights, archery, rock climbing, and even really funky bumper boats!

But just as I entered the tent zone, my heart started leaping again – would I manage to set up the tent?

The wind was howling, the lovely Irish rain that we’re all accustomed to was starting to pour, and I had to find a place to pitch. My girls, oblivious to my concerns, happily plodded behind me laden with sleeping bags, gas stoves and even their comfort teddy bears!

It was only when I eventually found a big enough space to pitch our tent and proceeded to take out the instructions – that the real panic set in – I didn’t have a clue what I was at.

Being in the Scouts for years, and even being a Scout Leader myself, you would have thought I knew what to do – but I didn’t! I had always left the crucial tent building exercise to those who knew how to do it best!

I started putting down the base, only to realise that the outer cover should go up first, all the while asking my girls to stand on each corner because everything was blowing away. It was probably quite comical if you were a bystander nearby!

And then, just like that, 13906978_1296768227030709_4360134836710592910_ntwo lovely Malaysian men (who I now know as Roger and Paul) came to my rescue. They quickly took all of my pegs and covers (which were now sprawled all over Ireland it felt- thanks to the wind!) and they proceeded to pitch my tent – in no less than 10 minutes, I might add. I (to my shame) had even forgot to bring a hammer, but these guys did not laugh at me like I thought they might, instead empathising, and telling me they had done the same many years ago.

I was just so grateful to them – they didn’t have to intervene, but they did.

This was the start of me feeling an overwhelming sense of community on the campsite.

13939466_1295641480476717_1404820719818770017_nThe first night we headed over to the log cabins where friends were staying and we all proceeded to work together to cook food, mind each others kids and wash up afterwards.

On the second night we then met with a couple and their little girl who were staying in another tent and we decided to set up a fire on the beach at the river. We were finding it difficult to start our fire but our excuse (that we still stand by!) was that it wasn’t because of our lack of skills in fire-lighting but because the wood wasn’t dry enough 😉

13932785_1296691063705092_2119393846058158528_nAnyway, just as we were giving up hope, a lovely family beside us were heading off to bed and then offered us their bonfire of a campfire for us to use for our hot chocolate and marshmallows.

We were in our element!

13903434_1296768440364021_6528789431899105121_nOn this same day earlier in the afternoon our girls saw a tent with an inflatable boat and we’re skirting around to see if we could get them one. The lovely owner of this dinghy then kindly came over and offered it for the girls to play in – not long after four teenage girls are deep in the river, with full clothes on, rowing their boat gently down the stream!

13921109_1296768497030682_6139150757624559849_nAll the while our smaller kiddies were catching tadpoles with paper cups and buckets!

I also saw one situation where a daddy was concentrating on his barbeque and his toddler had wandered a little away from the tent – another daddy quickly guided the child back, and the two dads then proceeded to chat and even open a beer together.

Over the next few days, I would hear random people shouting out asking for forks, coal, lighting fluid – and even nappies! You’d suddenly hear a voice come from nowhere offering what they had to help each other out.

13895527_1296768287030703_2712056114857432844_nHonestly, this was the most wonderful experience I had when camping – the sense of kindness, teamwork, and overall sense of community.

I thought to myself how lucky I am to have fantastic neighbours on each side of me at home in Mayo, and that I knew I could call on them at any time if I ever needed anything. But I also knew from my days living in Dublin, in large estates, that this was not always the case.

I think communities working together is so, so important.

Kindness can go a long way and it doesn’t always take a lot to show it.

In the healthcare arena there is a much need for a joint community approach, and sometimes this is very evident that it is being done – many times, not more so.

whis pictureLast year the World Health Innovation Summit launched into a global mission to bring local communities together to address healthcare issues that affected their towns, villages and cities. In the heart of Cumbria [UK] in a beautiful city called Carlisle, a collection of local and global leaders came together to discuss the various matters that were affecting their communities. Since this Summit, Carlisle as a community have pulled together, shared work, communicated effectively and now, just one year later, are experiencing this similar community spirit that I witnessed at this little campsite.

Working together to inspire, to share, to be kind.

With the community at the heart of it all.

Not just giving a person a fish, but teaching them how to fish for themselves.

13902617_1297841270256738_3992260243216495574_nSo at the end of my camping trip, so inspired was I to see if I could pitch my tent on my own after watching the lovely Roger and Paul do it for me, I went into my back garden and set up my tent again – I lit the barbeque, put down a fire and invited my family over for some sausages and burgers. I decided to bring my community around me, in my own little garden.

I also learned that while I was scared initially to go on my own with the girls, without my husband, that there was this whole other camping family that were there to help me along the way.

And it drove a simple message home to me – it really does take a village to raise a child!

Authors Note:

I couldn’t write this without referring to the campsite I stayed at – it was just so beautiful. In the heart of Co. Wicklow, in a village called Rathdrum, lies the wonderful little Hidden Valley campsite. It was extremely cheap to stay there (€33 a night in a tent) and there was just so much to do with the children.  It was clean, safe- and even had a restaurant on site where you could fill your flasks and get pancakes for breakfast!

Highly recommended by myself – an amateur camper – and now expert tent pitcher 😉 


Speaking at the National Patient Forum 2015

At 7.30am last Tuesday, I found myself talking aloud in my car, en route to Dublin, practicing for a presentation that I would be delivering at the National Patient and Service User Forum that same morning. Looking back,  I was really getting into it and I quite animatedly corrected myself when I went off track by shaking my head and frowning– I’m sure if anyone saw me, they surely had an early morning laugh on my behalf!

Anyway, it was just as I said the words “collaboration is key” that my GPS decided to gently interrupt my thoughts to let me know that I was coming off the motorway unto a national road. I suddenly realised where I was and was surprised because I didn’t recall the two hour journey I had just made, being so caught up in my thoughts about the oncoming day’s events.

Now I realise this isn’t just me that goes on autopilot when behind the wheel– so many of us on a daily basis put the key in the ignition and off we go – allowing one part of our brains to change gears, indicate, look in mirrors, check on the kids in the backseat, chat to the passenger beside us, merge across three lane motorways – while the other part of our brain is thinking about what we’ll have for dinner that night.

But every day, regardless of whether we’re “in the moment” or not, we have to rely heavily on collaboration to get to our destination safely.  If you ever drive along a busy dual carriageway it can be fascinating to watch cars move in and out between the lanes and synergise with one another, as if each knows what the other is doing.

Added to this, more often than not, we presume that everyone will always abide by the rules.

Red lights, stop.

Bus lanes are for buses.

No mobile phones.

Stick to speed limits.

Now some of us stick by the rules, and some do not. We can question why and how some of these rules came into play in the first instance and can often forget the collaboration that is required to ensure millions of road-users can use the road at the same time…safely. Because we actually don’t know the next move of the driver in front of us, a proactive approach is required (like the seat-belt for instance), and many’s a time this comes about because of a reaction to a negative incident.

We need engineers for planning and to ensure our traffic lights are working smoothly; we need mechanics to ensure our cars are roadworthy; we need our council for sign and road markings; we need our Gardaí for governance; we need provisions made for accessible communications and we need educational campaigns to increase awareness.

Collaboration is the key to getting to our destinations safely – and all of these same structures, teams and approaches are required for a safer health care service too. It can be extremely difficult to understand and manoeuvre between all of the different services and teams but one thing is for sure –  we all need to take responsibility for ourselves and for every other road user too – always remembering to expect the unexpected.

So how do we keep on improving on services while preventing possible accidents along the way? And when accidents do happen, is it good enough to just put a “Danger Accident Black Spot” sign up and not actually change the structure of the road?

It’s simple – we need listen to what every stakeholder needs. We need to learn from the negatives and the positives – and then improve on the quality of services based on these needs.

So this is what the HSE’s Quality Improvement Division are aiming to do. One of the priority focus areas of this division for 2015 is person centered care and they want to ensure that the voice of patients, their advocates and representatives are heard, and are central to how they design and deliver their services.

Now with this being the first meeting of the Forum, I was quite fascinated to see so many diverse groups willing to give up their time and work together on behalf of their users, to help improve services. I felt it was good too, to have this first initial meeting to give everyone a chance to meet one another and to discuss what expectations the organisations themselves had of the Forum. The Quality Improvement Division’s hope going forward is that organisations can discuss and provide feedback on a range of issues of national significance that have an impact on the experience of patients and service users accessing our health services, and then this feedback, can be communicated to the relevant HSE divisions and clinical care programmes.

To open the day, the National Director of Quality Improvement, Dr Philip Crowley started talking about the importance of kindness in our health care services.  Yes, he said, there were many, many things that needed changing and the past few years of austerity had had its toll on health services across the country but that each and every one of us can still play our part by showing just a little bit of kindness to one another.

I sat there listening, meaning to take notes because I wanted to remember everything that was being said, but I stopped what I was doing because this is exactly what I think person centered care is all about.

Remember those rules on the road from earlier that we should all abide to? Now what would be the harm, if we just added a bit of kindness to them?

I know I am always grateful when the tractor pulls in to let myself and other drivers by. Or when a car flashes to allow me to cross the road safely. Or when someone offers to fill my tank at the petrol station. Or when the truck driver allows me to pull out of a busy parking space.

Kindness always restores my faith in humanity – and simply makes me feel better.

If we were to combine this simple approach with the right structures, teams and collaboration, in our health services, I really feel we could be on to something.

And this is what the Forum was made for. During the meeting we all broke into groups to discuss the expectations from the representatives and service users from the various organisations about the Forum and even though each table had different ways on how they approached the discussion, every one of them still had many of the same visions and hopes. This outbreak session was then followed by Public Health Doctor, Dr.Carmel Mullaney and I both showcasing separately, the different self-management projects that we are working on – thus showing how we can ourselves both work together in the ideal “patient plus professional partnership”.

After an interesting morning of discussions, Director of Advocacy, Greg Price, then closed the session and thanked everybody who attended, including his team in the Quality Improvement Division for their support.

At this moment, I looked around and realised that if everyone could really pull together on this one and truly collaborate then they would be showing our whole health service a level of kindness that could be truly outstanding.

Yes, everyone has their own or their organisations unique health issues to advocate for, but the reality is, no matter what type of patient you are, a lot of the time, the same issues come up, again and again – for each and every one of us.

And so as I always say–

We’re all here to either get better or to help someone get better…

Collaboration is Key.

(And kindness is an added bonus!)


[This blog was created on the June 6th 2015]