Connecting with communities during the pandemic - Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust

31st March 2021

Elouise Ross, Head of Service Delivery at Civica Engagement Solutions, talks to Sarah Waldron, Membership and Engagement Manager at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, about how she has adapted engagement activities to meet the challenges of the last year.

In early 2020, the world was thrust into a totally different way of life, which included adapting to new ways of working. For many of our Engagement Solutions customers working in NHS trust membership teams, this meant re-evaluating how we bring together people from diverse backgrounds and geographies to engage with the work being done by their local NHS.

This challenge was compounded by many NHS staff being re-deployed to assist in the response to COVID-19. For some trusts, this meant simply having to pause events and engagement activities planned for 2020. Others have been able to use it as an opportunity to do things differently.

We’re keen to share and celebrate best practice, so I spoke to Sarah Waldron, Membership and Engagement Manager at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, about how she has been able to adapt and continues to thrive in this challenging time.

We’re impressed with the personal touches that go into looking after Frimley Health staff and recognising the efforts put into responding to the pandemic. Can you tell us a bit more about some of the things you’ve organised over the last year?

We had a new situation with staff who needed to stay overnight near the hospital and away from their families. I negotiated local hotels and secured reduced rooms for them - in March 2020 alone 317 rooms were used by our staff members, some of these rooms were free, which was a huge cost saving to the Trust. At Easter, if a member of staff was off sick due to COVID-19, we arranged for an Easter egg and a personalised ‘get well soon’ card to be hand delivered to the employee’s home, that was really well received by staff. The Trust also wanted to recognise and thank staff for their work to date, so in May I designed a pin badge with the rainbow icon and the message ‘proud to be part of the team during Covid 19’. Every permanent member of staff and bank staff, received their own badge, once again delivered to their home. This was sent with a personalized letter for Neil Dardis our CEO, which meant a lot to staff. Many other Trusts have now copied the badge, which is a real compliment.

In April 2020 I organised the delivery of 10,000 Krispy Kreme doughnuts that were delivered to the three hospital main sites, Frimley Park, Wexham Park, and Heatherwood. These were given out by our volunteers who walked miles, to ensure that all members of staff received one. Further deliveries continued, and we still receive a weekly delivery, but on a much smaller scale that we share with our staff.

A local hotel, the Aviator, donated over £2000.00 worth of fruit. Many companies were donating products, food, gift, we actually had the have the army in to help the volunteers distribute the items donated, as it was such a huge task.

We’ve also created incentives for staff to have their flu vaccination, with prizes including overnight stays with a local hotel with dinners and a bottle of wine, afternoon tea, and £50 vouchers. I have just placed the order for pens our Autumn 2021 Flu and Covid campaign for staff.

We were inspired by the speed at which you flipped your programme of engagement from a physical to a digital setting. Can you tell us how you did that and how it went?

In the past, Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust has always had very well attended public events and meetings. I was keen to ensure this wasn’t diluted during the pandemic, so I focused our efforts on getting all our engagement online and accessible.

We arranged our first virtual constituency meeting in July, with a pre-recorded message from the CEO, the governors of the Windsor and Maidenhead constituency, and a consultant talk by Andrew Perry. It was very well received and we got some exceptional feedback from members. You can watch the twenty-minute recording at

We held our Annual Members Meeting via Teams Live on the 17th November, which also went really well with 150 members joining the event. A recording is available to view at

Following the success of the AMM, in 2021 we have scheduled Teams live Health events, and the first one was on March 17th, which went very well. Our Chief Executive Neil Dardis spoke of recent events, plus our key plans and projects including an update on our new build Heatherwood Hospital that will open in early December. Chief Operating Officer Dan Bradbury spoke about the virus, and our plans to get our services back on track. Paul Henry Public governor opened the event, and spoke of the role of the governor. Lead Dementia Nurse Ablen Dacalos spoke about Dementia, and we played a short video. Over 100 people joined.

We used Teams again to hold our annual Taste of Frimley and Wexham Careers Event for students aged 16-18 wishing to pursue medical careers within the NHS. Our CEO opened the event via Teams live, followed by a selection of pre-recorded talks from medical staff. It worked really well. We’ve also started to send our members an email update as well as their charity updates, in addition to the InTouch magazine which is sent out 4 times per year.

Last question - how does engagement fit into the Trust’s wider objectives?

Our positive approach to engagement is a reflection of the values and behaviours of the trust - Committed to Excellence; Working Together; Facing the Future. Our focus is on customer care and this approach seeps into everything we do. I was delighted to see NHS Providers recently use Frimley Health as an example of excellent engagement during the pandemic. Whether focused on staff, trust members or governors, I hope our work is an example of engagement done well within the community.

Exploring new ways to engage

Thanks to Sarah and Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust for that insight into some really good engagement approaches. We look forward to following the Trust’s journey as we move out of the pandemic into the new post-covid world of engagement.

We support a wide range of customers to develop effective engagement strategies. If you’d like a chat about how you can connect more effectively with your communities, during the pandemic and beyond, please do get in touch.