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RCOT 2018 Blog 15 Lessons learnt by an occupational therapy graduate at conference

This year was my third experience of the buzz and pure magic of an RCOT conference. But unlike the last two visits, this year I wasn’t a student.
Before arriving I didn’t think my new non-student status would make any difference to running around the exhibition hall collecting as many free pens as would fit in my bag or rushing from session to session desperate to experience everything. But, things couldn’t have been more different and this year was the year I really felt I made the most of the experience.
So from one new graduate to all of those thinking of attending in the future, here are 5 lessons I’ve learnt.
1. You don’t need to see everything!
For the last two years I’ve run around conference attending back to back sessions.
This year, however, I marked off sessions I wanted to see and decided not to fills the gaps just because I could.  Going for the calmer approach meant I didn’t leave each day feeling burnt out, sessions hadn’t all merged into one and overall I enjoyed it more. So my advice, don’t feel pressured into attending every session, give yourself breaks and you’ll find it a lot less stressful.
2. Have a peek at the posters!
Previously I ran past the posters trying to take them all in. This year I took time, looked at  each of them and read those of interest. I loved the placement journey described as a trip on the a75, considering all the bumps in the road. And Kirstie’s CPD on the sofa. Taking time to really read them was worth it.
3. Talk, talk and talk some more!
As an inherently shy person I’ve often avoided talking to others. I’m that person that awkwardly joins a conversation or doesn’t know if I should join in so I don’t. This year, partly because of my role with RCOT, I embraced my awkward nature and started talking.
Yes, there were a few moments where I stood on the outside figuring out when best to join in but it didn’t matter. Speaking to people, I found out about sessions I didn’t attend, got into interesting debates and networked like I hadn’t before. As much as talking can be awkward at times, I’ve definatley met people that I will stay in touch with.
4. Restore your occupational balance!
The conference bubble is intense and at times overwhelming. It’s important to make time for yourself. It’s ok to walk out the door and go for a coffee and come back later. It’s good to shut your hotel door and turn off your twitter notifications for the night. Those moments, however brief, to restore your occupational balance and get you ready for what you’ve planned next are precious, use them and don’t feel guilty about it.
5. Less is more… with freebies!
I always joke about going to a previous conference and competing over the number of pens I could collect. This year, I didn’t end up going home with more free pens and tape measures in my suitcase then clothes. I swapped 200 pens for less than 20, I picked up leaflets of interest and an occupational therapy car sticker (because why not?). Not only did going home with less avoid an having to find a place to store it all, it meant that I picked up items of value and can remember why i picked them up.
Finally, conference is what you make of it as Julia Scott hinted at in the closing address it’s is a great opportunity for occupational therapists and students to share their work and learn from one another.
Written by @Amie_OT
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RCOT2018. Blog 14.Sess. 91 How I’ve become a better occupational therapist by being a foster carer

This session was led by Esther Day @otesterday from Essex Partnership NHS University
Foundation Trust
The aims of the session were:
  • To address the value of becoming a foster carer
  • To provide insight into the lived experiences of a foster carer for children with complex care needs

Given caseload, time constraints and pressures in the workplace it can become challenging for occupational therapists and students to focus beyond day to day work. Aspects of work, appointments being late or lack of service user engagement can become frustrating. Yet, how many of us have considered this from the other side? How many of us understand what it feels like to be the person attending an appointment be it for yourself or with someone you love?

Esther, occupational therapist currently working with adults with learning disabilities, talked openly and honestly about the day to day challenges of being a foster carer for children with complex needs and the heartwarming insight into the joy and happiness that comes with it.

She started with getting us to consider the little things. Sometimes as an occupational therapist there is nothing we can do, things may happen beyond our locus of control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference. Simply giving someone the time, listening to them, validating their feelings may not solve the problem but can make all the difference. You don’t always have to provide a solution to provide support.

That’s where working collaboratively comes into play. The best therapy, if implemented at the wrong time, can lose meaning and impact. How do we know what’s going on in a family without talking to them? Yes, we are experts in the field of occupational therapy, but they are the experts in knowing their child, their family situation and potentially the right and the wrong time.

When it came to timing, Esther talked about the challenges of lone caring for children with complex health needs. As she said, sleep is her super power, yet while foster caring, the child becomes a priority. While she has children for respite, limited and disrupted sleep is a way of life for a lot of those caring for children and adults with learning disabilities.

That’s where we play a vital role. It’s time to start thinking about how we can make life easier, how can we ease the pressure of attending appointments and avoid setting carers up for failure. We need to consider family needs, ask them for a prefered location or time of day, be mindful of the families experiences and again, start making a difference by changing the little things.

The expectations and reality of being a foster carer are different, yes it does bring with it a number of challenges. Esther openly talked about a lack of sleep, the hour it takes to get everything ready before leaving the house and the reality of the experience. But ending the session with heartwarming stories of children giggling, crossing the mid line and playing.

At the end of the presentation it was obvious that despite the challenges and realities of being a foster carer it was the good moment and valuable time with the children themselves that made all the difference. As occupational therapists, it’s our duty to remember the little things, listening and work with families that will make life easier for those we work with.

Written by @Amie_OT

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RCOT 2018 Blog 13. The Elizabeth Casson Memorial Lecture: Occupational stories from stories from a global city. Dr Nick Pollard.

To begin my blog I want to say I feel honoured to be undertaking this role for such an inspirational leader of Occupational Therapy. Nick Pollard has been justly nominated to deliver this year’s Elizabeth Casson Memorial Lecture. However it will not be easy to sufficiently encapsulate the content of the lecture in this blog.

I will highlight a number of key messages for you and include some personal reflections. The complete lecture will be available on the RCOT & Conference website to listen at your leisure and as the leading article in next month’s edition of the British Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Nick was nominated to deliver this prestigious lecture by Dr Rebecca Khanna Assistant Dean Faculty Health Well-Being Sheffield Hallam University. During her introduction, Rebecca reminded us that this was the 42nd National Occupational Therapy Conference and of the following advice, that the person delivering the Elizabeth Casson Memorial Lecture “should speak from and to the heart of occupational matters”, that for her this was clearly evident in the wide ranging achievements of Nick Pollard’s work over many years.

Further she recalled coming to know him and of his work in occupational therapy in the late 80’s and early 90’s, particularly that he was “deeply applied” to occupational therapy practice and the narratives of individual people”. His early commitment was far reaching, especially for  service users who were marginalised and challenged by occupational injustice. Rebecca continued to summarise by recounting Nick’s impressive range of texts  including “Occupational Therapy Without Borders”, and his means to promote social inclusion at a local, national and international appeal, whilst also engaging with people and projects at a local level and is an inspiration around the world.

A personal reflection, over many years Nick’s work  has encouraged has inspired me and numerous other occupational therapists, his work is of international acclaim and yet he also gives time and interest to the small and local spirit of occupational therapy, giving this equal credence. This has included opportunity to write a chapter in his book ‘A Political Practice of Occupational Therapy’.

As a visiting lecturer from Sheffield Hallam, Nick came to see a student on practice placement with me, he took great interest in the MACA Group, (Music and Creative Activities) and wholly endorsed our work. He could see immediately what we were doing and the great significance of the power of occupational transformation that he spoke about today. For me Nick has enabled the international and political perspective of Occupational Therapy feel accessible, within reach. This is no mean feat. He is a truly amazing occupational therapist. Elizabeth Casson would have be pretty pleased with his work as he endorses the political philosophy and power of occupation.

Nick began his lecture on a humorous note with a game of Word Bingo and a prestigious prize of a bottle of Henderson’s Relish (Google  this for more detail it is truely famous, revered and treasured in Sheffield), also signed by his colleagues in Sheffield Hallam University, some great names will be on the bottle!

Nick continued to say what a great honour it was to be nominated for this Casson Memorial Lecture and he wanted to begin by thanking the many people in his life who had supported his work. He included Silvia Sans Victoria and her hospitality and friendship, especially for himself and Frank Kronenberg after achieving approval for a publishing contract to begin writing the now acclaimed ‘Occupational Therapy Without Borders’.

Nick reminded us that Elizabeth Casson was a true hero who fought for change, but that she did not do this alone. The need to work together in teams alongside and with other people to create social change.  Nick gave a truly welcome plug to our Human Library work (see RCOT 2018 blog 11).

DSC_1404He spoke of the political history of our precious NHS reminding us all of how life was before its inception. Recalling his own family history, stories of health challenges both before and after the NHS came into being and pre-post war politics with pressures for change. Further Nick went on to talk of the current and relentless austerity damage within the NHS with the professions working to cope with what is called ‘Winter Pressure’. The challenges he has seen recorded in students academic assignments in a way not seen before, where the human story is often lost.

Key messages (contributed by Nick):

  • Occupation is complex, but that doesn’t mean that the concept is so difficult to get across to people.
  • Narrative offers a powerful vehicle for conveying the significance of occupation and enables the imagination of possible change.
  • Our shared narratives can facilitate connections
  • Our shared narratives can facilitate connections in a global city of occupational therapists with social transformation objectives.
  • We can build on that global city through actively talking to each other about practice research ideas, sharing our stories and translating critical discussions into actions.
  • Those connections lead to action.
  • We are a small profession though we are international and can use this as an advantage. Our Global City does not have walls, we can use occupational based transformation, actively listening, developing narratives, doing, being, becoming and belonging across generations.

Nick’s closing words:

A city of occupational therapists – a city itself which is heroic!! To shape thinking and politics of our profession, to build a global city with narratives to involve people in action. Working with consequences of health inequality, reaching out to gain power by sharing power, doing being, becoming and belonging. What is our story?

Nick you are a brilliant man a fantastic occupational therapist, I hope this blog will encourage everyone to find your lecture on-line RCOT 18 conference website and to read your paper in the next edition of British Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Yes there was a winner for the bottle of the famous Henderson Relish!!

  • This blog was written by Catherine McNulty you can find me on twitter @cathymc9781 best wishes to you all!!
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RCOT 2018 Blog 12. Sess. 15. Multi-site randomised controlled trial of Community Occupational Therapy in Dementia (COTiD-UK) versus usual care: the Valuing Active Life in Dementia (VALID) research results.

This engaging session presented by Dr Jennifer Wenborn and Jane Burgess from the Valuing Active Life in Dementia (VALID) research team provided insights into the teams achievements during the development and delivery of this monumental clinical trial.

To introduce the session Jennifer outlined the aims of the VALID Programme which are to:

‘adapt, develop, evaluate and implement an occupation based intervention to promote independence, meaningful activity and quality of life for people with dementia and their family carers living in the community’.

Jennifer informed us that VALID is the largest randomised controlled trial of Occupational Therapy to have taken place within the UK with 468 dyads (a dyad is a person with dementia and their family carer) recruited to the trial across 15 sites in England. Jennifer went on to highlight the screening and consent process which ensured that all of the participants met the eligibility criteria which included having capacity to consent upon entry to the trial.

Jane then explained that her role was to supervise and train all of the occupational therapists delivering the Community Occupational Therapy in Dementia (COTiD-UK) intervention. She emphasised the importance of providing standardised training to support the fidelity of the occupational therapy provision. Jane then described the component parts of COTiD-UK taking us through the assessment process, goal setting and the types of activities facilitated as part of the intervention. She went on to explain that the final session was used to evaluate and celebrate the dyads achievements.

Jane then shared some of the feedback from participating occupational therapists. What particularly resonated was their delight at being able to focus upon delivering pure occupational therapy and having the time to gain a deeper understanding of their dyads needs and goals.


I have a personal affinity with the VALID project as I was fortunate to lead the delivery of the trial at Devon Partnership Trust and to carry out the COTiD-UK intervention. I am passionate about using this blog to stress the significance of the VALID programme for occupational therapy. Already the trial has been recognised for its attainments with Jennifer receiving a Fellowship from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) for her contribution to occupational therapy practice and research for her involvement in the trial.

It was deeply rewarding to hear Jennifer and Jane discussing the wider impacts of a clinical trial that I had contributed to. I felt privileged to be present to hear the preliminary results which are literally hot off the press and I feel sure that they will inspire occupational therapists in their future research endeavours.

Jennifer and Jane advised that I would be unable to share the preliminary results within this blog as the team plan to inform all of the research delivery sites of the results first. So for those of you waiting in anticipation you will have to wait a little longer! The results will be available in full later this summer.

What had real impact today are the challenges involved in delivering and analysing the components of a complex intervention and the importance of identifying outcome measures that capture real change. As an occupational therapist in my early research career I have reflected with admiration upon the accomplishments of this trial and wonder where the learning from it will take our profession next!


Written by Faye Dunford. Find me on Twitter @FayeDunford




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RCOT 2018. Blog 11. Learning in a Human Library: Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover!

Presenters: Catherine McNulty & Chris Wood, Social Change community group Lincolnshire and Sheffield Hallam University.

One of the last presentations on the last day at the Occupation station at #RCOT18

If I had to choose only one word it would be FANTASTIC!! All occupational Therapists need to know about this concept that fits beautifully with our core principles and focuses on capturing the human story without it feeling like you are being assessed, treated or put under the spot light. It is an excellent approach to facilitate understanding. Enabling people to learn from each other and promote empowerment.

Human Library’s originated in Copenhagen, Denmark following a tragic violent incident where a young man was attacked with a knife at a music festival. The root cause was tracked back to prejudice and discrimination.

Menneskebiblioket means ‘Human Library’. It has been a very successful movement and its trademarked concept spread globally earning recognition as an international inequalities movement.  It is successfully addressing barriers and enabling people to not only get their views heard but learn from each other, developing understanding, compassion and finding common ground.

The Hearing Voices group in Sleaford learned of the Human Library movement and identified a need within their Hearing Voices Social Change group to facilitate conversations that did not feel pressured, negative, and anxiety provoking or focused on vulnerabilities. The group decided on a gentler perspective where the focus was not purely on discrimination or prejudice but facilitated conversations.

Catherine and Chris were engaging and fun. They explained how a Human Library works and brought it alive in the space. Within a few minutes the participants in the room were encouraged to take part and grab a badge that said one of the following:


Book. Choose story about you, your life, your experiences, wishes, fears anything you wish, write the title on a piece of paper and brief synopsis. Once a reader chooses your book you answer the questions of the reader.



Librarians.The librarians put the papers on a metaphoric book shelf and once the reader has chosen a story they sign it out and introduce you to the ‘human book’, they time keep as the maximum book loan is 15 mins.


Readers. Read the synopsis and choose a book to read, once introduced to a human book they ask questions or share what interested them about the book.


Group rules

Books must be treated with respect. They do not have to answer questions and can end a conversation if they wish.

15 mins is kept and there is no opportunity to extend or renew.

The Librarians facilitate time and guidelines and rights of the readers and books.

Similar to standard library there are a selection of books on offer.

Once we all had decided which role we wanted to try and briefly prepared, Chris read a poem written especially for Human Library movements by the poet by John Welsh 2016,


Silence read the poster

Quiet was the command

Hush the words whispered

Study, read, understand

But now a new library has opened

Where words are said out loud

Talking, Living, human books

And vocal readers allowed

Come to Human books

And vocal readers allowed

Come to Human Library

Have stories all explained

Know from your close engagement

That understanding will be gained

The session was lively and engaging I had a go at being a book and a reader. It is incredible the flow and ease of the conversation and I was surprised by some of the things I said while talking about my book ‘The leaf’ and reading a colleagues book of returning to her home town in Ireland. Discussions were filled with laughter, support, sharing, encouragement and empathy.

The feedback was extremely positive, see the photographs of some of these.

In keeping with the fun and engaging theme of the session it was finished with a song

I’ll Tell Me Ma – The Belle of Belfast City


The concept is so transferable while I sat there I got excited about the potential of this approach with an intergenerational approach to address negative stigma on ageing or  cultures.

Thank you Catherine, Chris and facilitators for an inspiring and fun afternoon.

For further information look at the website or the UK twitter site.

www.humanlibrary.orgor twitter #HumanLibraryUK (is in its early formation)

Written by Marie Barstow. @mrsbaistow