Walton Parish Nursing, FelixstoweWaltonParishNursing

A presentation by the Walton Parish Nursing Team was a feature at one of the events held in Felixstowe during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The team have quite a story to tell.

This was an appropriate event to hold, as the work of Walton Parish Nursing has become a genuine ecumenical service to the local community. When it all began, back in 2003, it was a small project started by Maidstone Road Baptist Church, with a District Nurse from the church working voluntarily for one day a week. Parish Nursing was very new to the UK at that point, and our founding Parish Nurse, Jane, was one of the first to train with what is now Parish Nursing Ministries UK.

The work grew from being a ministry to church members to a service to the wider community - providing wholistic care that met spiritual, emotional and social needs as well as the more obviously medical. A team of volunteers was built up, and a management structure, and a link was made with a local residential home. One of the volunteers was trained in chair-based exercise work, which has become very popular. Others became 'sole mates', providing foot and leg care in clients' homes. We were literally following Jesus' example by washing feet. Courses on healthy lifestyle were developed. Close links were made with local health providers, enabling two-way referrals to take place. Our focus was on Walton, one of the poorer areas of Felixstowe. Funds were raised that enabled us to employ Jane for two days a week. And we were recognised nationally when we won a Faithworks Award, with a presentation ceremony at the House of Commons.

In 2009, however, personal circumstances meant Jane had to return to full-time nursing with the NHS. This could have been a serious blow, but one of the volunteers, Nicky, was a trained nurse, and was able to step into the breach. Nicky, as happened, was not a Baptist, but a member of the nearby Seaton Road Methodist Church. It was not long before her church got excited about Parish Nursing, and wanted to launch their own project. Instead, the two churches decided to work together, and we were able to obtain generous funding from the Methodist District and the local Circuit.

Nicky decided to move on in 2011, and her replacement, Lorna Bellamy, was actually a member of the PCC at St Mary's, the local Anglican church. Her appointment generated a lot of interest there, and financial support, too. A legacy from a former nurse provided even more funding for the project. Walton Parish Nursing was set up, with three participating churches and a new constitution. We eventually registered with the Charity Commission as a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) and opened our own charity bank account - we encourage individuals to become Friends of Walton Parish Nursing, as well as seeking grants from outside bodies.

The newly formed Trustees, representing all three churches, did not want the work to stand still. We needed more staff to develop the service we were providing, so we appointed an Occupational Therapist, Marilyn Flower, to join the team. Marilyn stayed with us until April 2015, when her husband (a Baptist Hospital Chaplain) relocated to Dorset. We found another experienced OT, Wendy Hubbard, to replace her, which coincided with an increase in our funding: generous legacies and a further grant from the Methodists allowed us to increase staff hours to the equivalent of a full-time worker.

A sizeable legacy in November 2015 gave us a new challenge. We had funds to employ another Parish Nurse, for two days a week, at least for the next two years. The Trustees - particularly the ministers of the three churches - felt that we needed expertise in the area of mental health. There were needs in our churches, let alone in the wider community. We were able to offer a fixed term contract to an experienced psychiatric nurse, John Gillett, who joins us in February 2016.

We continue to be amazed at how God has blessed this Parish Nursing service. Other Parish Nurses operate throughout the UK - there are at least 90 PN services, working with all the major denominations. But the Walton service is unique, not only in its ecumenical structure, but in the range of health professionals we employ. At any one time, we have at least a dozen volunteers supplementing the work of the professionals. The Parish Nurses are licensed to take communion. But at least 50% of the clients we serve have no church connection, and represent a wide age range. "We are filling in the gaps the NHS does not have time to fill," Lorna told the Unity Week meeting. "Maybe time spent understanding medication or explaining the treatment they have had."

Whether it is running a drop-in clinic or a home visit, referring a client on to another service or praying with them, our team are there. We have become well-known in the local community, and this in itself is a powerful witness to God's goodness, demonstrating what can happen when churches work together and pray together.

More information about Walton Parish Nursing: http://www.waltonpn.org.uk/

Parish Nursing Ministies UK: http://parishnursing.org.uk/

Pictured: Wendy Hubbard (Occupational Therapist) and Lorna Bellamy (Parish Nurse) with the Acting Chair of Churches Together in Felixstowe, Andrew Marfleet, and Secretary, Sue Hockenhull.

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