Chief Executive - Michelle Thompson BEM
As Chair and Director of Healthwatch Darlington Ltd. between May 2013 and December 2014, I was proud to have led our team to be the first Healthwatch in the North East to float independently as a Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee by 31st March 2014.
In January 2015 I was honoured to have been given the opportunity of using my senior management skills for the role of Chief Executive Officer and to continue making a positive difference to health and social care users in Darlington. I am driven by a passion to ensure that the patient, carer, and public voice is not only listened to but understood and acted upon appropriately.
I lost my 18-year-old sister to an aggressive form of teenage bone cancer in 1995 and in 2003 at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Since then I have run, hiked and cycled all over the world raising money and awareness for Macmillan Cancer Support. By using my voice locally, regionally and nationally throughout my fourteen years of volunteering, I have gained invaluable experience and made a difference not only in my own community but in the health and social care and voluntary and community sectors. I was incredibly proud to receive the British Empire Medal in the 2013 New Years Honours List for Community and Charity Work in Darlington and County Durham. I feel very strongly that volunteers are a charity’s most valued asset and I am keen to empower local people, explore recruitment opportunities and create new and exciting engagement ideas that appeal to our diverse population.
In my personal life, I'm married to Mick and we have two grown-up children Emily and Billy. We like to travel, visiting family and friends and we split most of our weekends between Darlington and Folkestone where Mick works as a Health and Safety Advisor in the Renewable Energy sector. I'm a keen runner and cyclist taking on lots of different challenges during the year and I enjoy being a member of the Rotary Club of Darlington, raising money for local and international causes.
Diane Lax - Operations Manager
Diane’s role is to provide operational support to the CEO and Board members this includes the management of the budgets and supervision of office staff. She has a vast knowledge of local networks and is passionate about bringing local groups together to build a ‘Network of Networks’.
Her passion outside of work is horse riding, owning her own horse and competing in one day events, this along with keeping up with her 6 grandchildren ensures she never has a dull moment.
Jemma Austin - Senior Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator
Jemma coordinates two of Healthwatch Darlington's volunteering programmes - the Health Connector volunteers assist with project work and outreach activities in Darlington aswell as supporting us with providing information & signposting to the local community and listening to service users. She also coordinates our young volunteering project 'Youthwatch Darlington' providing young volunteers with confidence and guidance to improve health and social care for young people living in the town.
Jemma joined the Healthwatch Darlington team in 2014 and is an undergraduate in Business & Management. She has worked in the voluntary sector since 2010 and started her career as a Learning & Development Administrator with Victim Support, and over the years she has dedicated her own time as a volunteer.
Working in the voluntary sector is a passion of Jemma's and gives her first-hand experience to enable her to understand the importance of volunteering and the impact volunteers have on local communities.
Jemma spends her spare time with her family and is a mother of two young children. She has a love for the outdoors/countryside, food, cooking, Netflix, movies and her dog.
Rachel McCabe - Project Officer
Job Description: Rachel's role is to oversee and support the addtional projects at Healthwatch Darlington. Rachel's research and data handling skills enables Healthwatch Darlington to develop information and signposting in the local area.
Having always lived and worked in Darlington Rachel has a good knowledge of the local community and has enjoyed working in the voluntary & community sector since 2003.
During her free time Rachel loves to spend time with her family and enjoys walks in the countryside in Northumberland and the Lake District.
Jamie Odgers - Health Connector
I'm originally from Northern Ireland and moved to Darlington in 2017. My many hobbies lie in sports - I'm a massive Liverpool FC fan as well as watching basketball and wrestling on TV regularly. Academically I have 2 computing degrees and so, I've had an interest in this field from a very young age.
I've been a volunteer with Healthwatch Darlington (initially in social media) for 3 years now and this has enabled me to further develop my IT skills as well as become a more active part of the community.
I enjoy getting out into community settings and events with Healthwatch to understand the needs and opinions of the public regarding their vital health and social care services and this helps me feel like I can make a worthwhile difference to the lives of people like me, in my community.
Val Douglas - Health Connector
I am a retired Nurse, having had a long and varied career in the NHS.
Having been involved with Health, Social Services and Local Government for many years I was interested in volunteering for Healthwatch, to assist in their programme of identification and highlighting areas of discrimination and the inequalities in our Society, in an effort to include, enable and empower the most vulnerable people in our population.
Despite being retired from work, I do not have a great deal of time for volunteering, so Healthwatch's very flexible approach suits me well.
Sue Kirk - Health Connector
I'm a 47 yr old mum of four, and nana to two grandchildren. I moved back to Darlington 5 years ago after living in London for 18 yrs. My youngest to children have been diagnosed with ASD, learning difficulties and mental health problems, so a life out of the city was better for them. I joined Healthwatch Darlington just after the first Lockdown during the Covid pandemic. Since joining I have helped do research, data analysis, leaflet distribution and participated in zoom sessions. I also volunteer with Darlington Support Group, and liaise between the two groups, which has been very beneficial for both groups. I love the work that I do for Healthwatch Darlington and also the interaction between my fellow co-workers.
Lorraine Dunn - Health Connector
I have retired twice and still keep busy even though I have some health problems. I knew nothing about Healthwatch until I came across an on-line article. I looked into it and it sounded like something I would like to volunteer for. So I did and I love it!
The staff and other health connectors are just lovely.
There are so many things that we can get involved with from outreach work where we can tell people all about Healthwatch, admin and listening to what people want for our local health and social care services. It's so flexible, you do as many hours as you want and when it couldn't be easier.
I am so glad I got involved with such a worthwhile organisation.
Ross Bowman - Health Connector
I am 31 years of age and do a lot of research and media. As a fellow autistic I am very creative and self-sufficient being a volunteer allows a lot of pride and exquisite thought when providing help and experience to a cause. I enjoy giving back to the community whilst gaining experience to follow new and exciting job opportunities.
Faith Miller - Health Connector
Over the last twenty years I have worked in community settings such as substance misuse, homelessness and cancer support. Volunteering at Healthwatch complements the Health Psychology MSc that I am currently studying for at Teesside University; being a Health Connector has given me a fantastic opportunity to interact directly with patients and the public in Darlington, hearing their views and better understanding about the services that are available in our locality.
Patricia Martin - Health Connector
I am Jamaican and I have lived in Darlington for 27 years. I have always been a volunteer even before I moved to England. I used to volunteer in Jamaica in Youth Clubs and help to teach adults to read and write. I believe the greatest skills anyone can have is to be able to read and write.
In 1993 I began volunteering with Citizens Advice Bureau and was an advisor. I was involved with a variety of committees and over the years have met some inspirational people.
Being a volunteer means I can give advice, help people, feel useful in society, meet a mix of new people and it gives me confidence.
Amy Adams - Youthwatch Darlington Volunteer
Hey there! Amy here, and I am very excited to be volunteering with Healthwatch Darlington. I am volunteering for Healthwatch Darlington because, even though I know a few things, I want to learn and experience so much more!
Jessica Mather - Youthwatch Darlington volunteer
Hi, I'm Jess. I am a psychology graduate and after completing a health module at university I realised how important it is to improve health services that fits the views of the public. There are so many issues that need exploring and I am excited to be working with Youthwatch to reflect the views of health service users and to improve the support that we all need.