How the Service User Ambassador role brings fulfillment to Dave following a brain injury

17 January 2024

Photo of Dave with a carer in front of a reservoir

In this blog, Dave Hollinger from Willowbeck gives us an insight into the Service User Ambassador role and how it’s supported his sense of fulfillment following a brain injury five years ago . He talks about the roles he gets involved in at Willowbeck and his plans for the future, all of which build on his past skills and experience as an Outdoor Senior Instructor.

I love being a Service User Ambassador! I enjoy feeling like I contribute to the community I live in, and towards the health and wellbeing of others.

As an ambassador, I get involved in a range of projects at Willowbeck and the wider company, and feedback on behalf of other residents, families and colleagues.

The role is a great opportunity to use a surprising number of my previous skills and experience to give everyone the chance to suggest, make or work towards changes for the better.

A bit about me

In March 2018, I fell while skiing. The resulting brain stem stroke has left me with severe physical difficulties, diagnosed as locked-in syndrome.

I have just enough function in my right hand to control a powered wheelchair.

I’ve been left nonverbal and 95% of my communication is via a computer screen attached to my wheelchair equipped with eye tracking technology. This technology is my portal to the world.

Prior to my accident, I was employed as a Senior Instructor at the Scottish National Outdoor Centre, using my qualification as a British Mountain Guide to teach the skills of rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing in the UK and in the European Alps.

I'm originally from Northern Ireland, later spending 12 years in Sheffield before moving for an outdoor lifestyle in the Scottish Highlands with my family.

Who do you do as a Service User Ambassador?

Being an ambassador is a good way to get a better appreciation and understanding of part of the care industry, something that, until my injury, I had limited experience and knowledge of.

I make myself accessible and approachable for other residents, family members and staff, and I get involved in activities around the home.

This year, I planned the walking stage of a triathlon event in summer and organised a popular casino event in autumn.

I've represented our home at the regional Service User Council meeting, which provides a wider perspective of Exemplar Health Care and other homes under its management.

It’s been great getting involved in projects such as brightening up our ambassador 'meet-and-greet' fleece and working with Sheffield Hallam University to develop the curriculum for their educational programmes.

I find it extremely stimulating and I enjoy both celebrating the successful outcomes and overcoming the challenges that arise.

Why did you become a Service User Ambassador?

Personally, it's something I find stimulating which is good for my own wellbeing.

Throughout my journey, I’ve been grateful for my undiminished capacity to make decisions about my life.

I’m aware that many others are not afforded the same opportunity and that I’m in a position, and have the experience to represent a larger group of people with a shared interest in their ongoing quality of life.

What are your plans for the next six months?

On a personal level, I'd like to support colleagues in continually developing their skills and having a better understanding of ‘why’ they’re doing something, alongside the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

My lived experience is invaluable to providing this insight and I think will enhance quality of care for everyone.

I’d also like to work with the managers to explore a peer-to-peer training model.

One of the things I’m working on now is sourcing new photographs for my unit, Ladybower.

Ladybower Reservoir is one of the prettiest and most recognisable places in the Peak District, and I’d love to see more photos of it around the unit to make it more homely.

Our Service User Ambassadors get involved in a range of roles in their home and the wider company. Read more about the initiative