Bolton School Former Pupils

Heather Henry

Heather Henry (née Fisher, 1972-1979)

I left school to become a student nurse at Manchester Royal Infirmary.  After that I worked for the majority of my career as a nurse and then manager in the NHS, before starting my own business, Brightness Management, with the aim of offering ‘a few bright ideas for health and social care’.

My focus is on social innovation – new approaches to help the most disadvantaged in society.  I work in equal partnership with communities across the UK to build community spirit and enable local people to help themselves.  Currently I am working on new ways to help disadvantaged fathers improve their own wellbeing, and by doing so, improve the lives of their children.  If you look up ‘Salford Dadz’ on Facebook, you can see how they are doing.

A former Director of Primary Care, in January 2016 I was elected as Co-Chair of the NHS Alliance, which for the last 18 years has had a reputation for being a forward-thinking primary care membership organisation which influences national health and social care policy and strategy.  It is the first time that the NHS Alliance, born from a group of passionate GPs 18 years ago, has ever elected a nurse as Chair and I am so proud to have my profession acknowledged in that way.

I was a practice nurse in the rich community of Longsight Manchester and now I try to support others.  In 2015 I started the NHS Alliance national network for general practice nurses alongside fellow nurse Louise Brady, and the network is gaining ground fast.  My other passion at NHS Alliance is addressing inequality and explaining how equality can be achieved by giving people control over their own lives, addressing social isolation and giving confidence back to some of the most damaged in our society.

I was  recognised in 2013 by the Queen’s Nursing Institute, an organisation that drives forward nursing outside hospitals, for my leadership ability in community nursing and I hold the honorary title of ‘Queen’s Nurse’.  The QNI enables nurses like me to have a voice at the highest level and it allows us to talk about what really matters to ordinary people and how, together with local people, we can make things better.  Being listened to is so powerful and I try to give this to residents who offer me their time and knowledge.

In 2015 I was named as one of the 48 most inspirational nurse leaders in the country.  I was nominated by readers of Nursing Times and was selected by an independent panel of national nurse leaders in the four nations of the UK.  They tell me I am changing the way public health is done and this is my mission.

I believe in being an active resident myself.  I became a trustee for the award-winning Greater Manchester charity Being There, formerly CALLPlus, which offers emotional and practical support to people with cancer and other life limiting illnesses.  I didn’t have the support of such an organisation when my own parents became infirm, so I try to ensure that others do.

Born in Bolton, I now live in my adopted town of Sale with my husband Keith, where I volunteer my time as a community ambassador and as Co-Chair of Sale Locality Partnership, where local people and services come together to make the Sale area a better place.  I have a step daughter and two lovely grandchildren, a dog and a cat.  I’m learning to paint and I write poetry – my uncle Jim Atherton is a famous Lancashire dialect poet and he inspires me.

What is your connection to Bolton School?  Were any other members of your family here?

My family was a very ordinary Lancastrian one, full of general managers of the local Co-op and mill workers, but they pushed me to do my 11+ and I attended Bolton School on a direct grant.  I am still the only family member to go to Bolton School. My parents aren’t alive to read this, but I just want to say thank you and how very right you were.

What is your fondest Bolton School memory?

My friends of course, and all the fun we had – at Cautley, on The Levels, writing stories together, the Great Hall at Christmas, singing in Latin and French – I still know all the words! My neighbour Mandy Strickleton (née Evans) was my best friend at School and still is today.

Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at School?

Mrs Tate I guess.  She was my first form teacher and surrogate school mother.  Every time I hear Latin I hear her voice.

What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?

Independent thought and spirit.  I am afraid it did not serve me well in the NHS.  It was due to these traits that I was selected by forward thinking NHS managers, but those who inherited me often felt challenged by it.

What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?

Know your strengths and find ways to develop them rather than always focus on correcting your weaknesses.  Know what makes you happy and do that, not what is expected of you by others.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  Don’t decide what you want to be too early because you and your circumstances will evolve.  Take chances, even later in your career, like me.

What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?

As a nurse, the evidence tells me that we need to give all children the best start in life in order to address inequalities, because inequality leads to premature mortality and morbidity.  It’s as simple as that.  Education is one of the biggest social determinants in a person’s life, but the family one is born into is the most important.

My advice to all those involved in the 100 Campaign is to consider how to support the parents as well as the child from a challenged background.  If the parents don’t understand what happens at School and how to offer support, then the child may feel conflicted.  Monitor progress to check for any inequalities across the social gradient in terms of progress, so it isn’t just equal entry it is equal outcomes.

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