A talk with Catriona Keeling of Meningitis Research Foundation. Thank you for working with us to create a unique blog about you, and the development of your charity. We hope this will help to raise awareness of all that has been achieved so far and help to develop the further the aims of the charity.
1. What is your role within Meningitis Research Foundation?
Support and Membership Manager
2. To start us off, please can you let us know a little about how the charity was founded and your motivation?
Meningitis Research Foundation was founded 30 years ago by a parent who had sadly lost a child to meningitis aged just 14 months old. He started the Meningitis Appeal from a truckers café by the side of the road with volunteers of parents determined to beat meningitis. In 1991 after being contacted by so many people affected, we started offering support and focusing on research. In 1996 the name changed to Meningitis Research foundation and moved to offices in Thornbury near Bristol. The team then relocated to central Bristol 2 years ago following CEO Vinny Smith joining the organisation.
As a mum of 5, Meningitis was always something I was very aware of Group B Strep has touched me and my family very personally following a bereavement, and after having a friend who lost a family member to Meningitis, I began to look in to the statistics and what organisations were active. It was then that I saw what a wonderful role MRF play in support, research and global work.
3. What is your role within the charity, how long have you been doing it, and what does an average day look like for you?
I joined MRF 10 months ago after the Helpline manager had retired following many years of wonderful service. I definitely had big boots to fill, but set to work adding support events and updating the service. I wanted to come away from the notion of Helpline and look at the Support services as a bigger picture.
Daily no two days are the same, We can be out delivering awareness talks, home visits, members events, but if we are not doing that we are talking to people who access our services via phone, email or Live chat and making sure they feel heard and supported. I also oversee the Ambassador service and Befriender service. The ambassadors are so important to us and represent the charity all over the country at events and talks. The befriender service links two people who have been affected by the disease. We train people who approach us to become befrienders, and match them with someone who wants to talk. This can be tricky and we take extreme care that we match the right people together and monitor the befriending relationship through its entirety.
We recently arranged our biggest members day yet with a trip to LEGOLAND Windsor, and to see the children’s faces and families come together was quite something! I have a wonderful team who I love working with. They care very much and between us we make sure that the support that everyone receives is consistent, kind and correct.
4. What are the main aims of the charity?
Our mission is to defeat Meningitis and Septicaemia wherever they exist by 2030. We love our jobs but nothing would make us happier than if there were no cases both nationally and internationally and we didn’t have to do the work that we do. We will see a world free of Meningitis!
5. Is there a particular project or aim that you’d like to share with people or a focus over the next 12 months?
Our national focus has really become bigger over the last year or so. We have a great international team who have been travelling to Uganda, and delivering different resources and services, meeting with Government teams, training the trainers who then go in to the smaller villages and raise awareness of signs and symptoms. They have been working in the hospitals and helping to lower the wait time for anyone suspected of having meningitis. They have also been designing a Meningitis Progress Tracker to bring key data and meningitis estimates together in one place. We are really proud of this work.
In the UK we are continuing to enhance our support services. We have added live chat recently, and introduced Members meet ups, bringing members old and new, the chance to meet and share experiences. Making our face to face support services easier to access will be my focus over the upcoming year. We also have a very exciting new project that we are working on, more to be revealed soon!
6. What motivated you to do the job/role that you are doing now?
My background is working in Sexual violence and policing teams providing support to survivors. I have also worked in prisons, supporting around complex mental health and addictions. What a change…but it doesn’t matter what background you have worked In if you understand people and what they need in a crisis, that doesn’t change…just a warm friendly welcome, a chance to talk and feel heard, and receive a consistent and correct service of support.
I really wanted to make the support services my own and with such a wonderful team, it was important to make sure they feel held and supported in their roles.
The Helpline service I saw when I applied for the role was absolutely amazing and had provided support to people in their worst moments of their lives for many years. Who wouldn’t want to get involved and build on it!
7. Who else do you work alongside within the charity? Are there any charities that support you, or perhaps a colleague/volunteer that you couldn’t manage without?
The whole office is very friendly and helpful, it makes working at MRF such a great experience. For me, Katherine Carter and Rosanna Russell who work in the support office with me, not only work extremely hard, but provide such a lovely atmosphere to be around. We welcome Danielle Duggan back to the team at the beginning of November this year, and Rosanna will be working on our new project.
We work closely with our regional offices in Dublin, Edinburgh and Belfast and this relationship makes supporting people all over the UK and Ireland so much more efficient.
8. It’s likely that somebody new to the services of the charity is reading this. What would you like to say to them?
You have probably gathered that I am extremely proud of what we do. There are so many research projects, campaigns and international projects ongoing that I didn’t have space to talk about. If you are worried about, or have been affected by meningitis, or you just want to know more about what we do and how to get involved… please visit our website or give me a call.
9. What are your specific hopes for the future in terms Meningitis Research Foundation?
To continue doing what we do, both in the UK and nationally, to grow and succeed in eradicating Meningitis and Septicaemia all over the world.
10. Thank you so much for taking part in this interview series. Lastly, before we finish - Is there anything else about you, the charity or your job/role that you’d like to let people know about?
Our next big event is Pushing the Boundaries, which brings together whole families from all over the UK and Ireland who have a child with a limb loss as a result of meningitis and septicaemia. We are so proud of this event and can’t wait to host it. This will be happening in spring 2020.
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