Penny Brohn UK

Help change life with cancer. For good

Cedar Garden Sessions: Helen Seers

research and evaluation lead

Is it really the end of July already? It’s hard to believe but we’re onto our next edition of Cedar Garden Sessions, where Hannah, Brand & Web Marketing Officer, interviews a member of the Penny Brohn UK team to find out more about them and the work they do behind the scenes to keep our services up and running.

This month, Hannah speaks with Helen Seers, who has been at Penny Brohn since before the big move to Ham Green House (now our National Centre), currently as Research and Evaluation Lead.

Hi Helen, thanks for joining me in the Cedar Garden on this gloriously sunny day. What weather we’ve had!

It’s a pleasure! It really has been beautiful and we’re so lucky to be able to come outside into the garden here.

Yes, it can’t be taken for granted. So Helen, how did you come to work for Penny Brohn UK?

Well, after completing my PhD in Experimental Psychology at University of Bristol in 2002 I had a couple of jobs in Health Psychology research, but none of them really lit my fire, so I jumped ship in 2004! I wanted to use my academic skills to make a difference for a charity, so I found the role of Information Officer being advertised at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre – which is what the centre was called up until 2006 –  and just went for it. That was in 2004 and I can honestly say I fell in love with the job and the charity, and really felt I had finally found something I had a real passion for and could see how I could make a difference. I have worked at Penny Brohn UK for many years in several roles and with many different people, and I have been able to mature and develop my skills in my time here.

It does sound as though you are thoroughly at home here. So, what does your role involve?

I get up to quite a lot of things! I am the Research and Evaluation Lead for the organisation – so my responsibility is to lead a team of fantastic colleagues who measure the impact of what Penny Brohn services do for our clients, also capturing views as to how we can develop our services.

That must be very rewarding work…

Yes, very! Gathering the precious views of our clients and then being able to give evidence to our fundraising team to enable them to go out there and get more money to help us deliver more support to even more people is extremely rewarding. On top of this, I get to work with external academics and experts, and go out to present Penny Brohn UK’s work at conferences. We even manage to get our work written into prestigious academic journals, which really credentialise our work. I connect with academics nationally and internationally and find this really stimulating – I love working in this way as I can show that our work at Penny Brohn UK is really at the cutting edge! I also love working with my amazing and supportive colleagues at Penny Brohn UK who make all of my work possible – a big thank you to them all.

I am sure that your thanks is reciprocated. So, what is the most exciting thing you are working on at the moment?

Oh wow, there are too many to pick from! I think the newest set of big reports that we’re currently creating. My fantastic Research and Evaluation team are really skilled and we’re currently working on a project that will give even more evidence for the wonderful work we do at Penny Brohn for people living with and beyond cancer – this time we are looking at all of the services we deliver across the UK. It is a real privilege to be able to collect and present this evidence and then take it out there to the big wide world!

That sounds like great work. Would you say that this is your favourite part of the job?

Partly, yes. I love working with my team members to produce new reports and evidence to show off our wonderful services – they are wonderfully supportive and helpful to me! I also really love hearing from the clients when they speak at events – they ground me and inspire me and keep the passion burning to continue to try to make a difference in my work here. I really do feel so privileged to work here.

That’s fantastic. Do you feel there is a moment that stands out to you as a particular highlight of your time here so far?

Well – it has to be two things: First – meeting Prince Charles in person in 2016 when he visited our centre – it was so exiting to shake his hand and tell him that we have good evidence for our services making a real difference to our clients’ quality of life and wellbeing. Second – the point when, in June 2013 my team’s first proper impact report was presented to Pat Pilkington who came in especially to hear all about it – it felt so special to tell our co-founder that we now have good strong impact evidence for the charity – I hope it made her happy – it was wonderful to know her and I think she’d be very proud of what we’ve achieved in recent times.

1. Gingernut (2 votes!)
2. Custard Cream
3. Caramel Chocolate Digestive
4. Hobnob
5. Regular Digestive
6. Fox’s Creams

Those are fantastic stand-out moments. Something to be really proud of. I think a lot of people enjoyed Prince Charles’ visit, it was a special day! Finally, the all important question, what is your favourite dunkable biscuit? 

It has to be the trusty Ginger Nut. Many dunks and it still keeps going! [laughs]

[Laughs] That is two votes for the Ginger Nut, two months in a row, keeping it firmly at the top of the leader board. 

Glad to hear it! Quite right too.

Thanks to Helen for joining me in the Cedar Garden this month. It was great to hear her talk about Penny Brohn and her time here. The biscuit leader board is stable this month, with Ginger Nuts getting a second vote and staying firmly atop the podium! 

We’ll be back here with another member of the Penny Brohn team next month. So keep an eye out for the next Cedar Garden Sessions.

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