Meet a Public Partner

Wendy McConnell

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you enjoy doing in your free time.

My name is Wendy McConnell and I am a Parent and Community Organiser for Citizens UK. I am married and have 2 children, blessed with a girl and boy. In my spare time I love spending time with my family at our caravan but also like to have time to myself to go for runs or to go to the gym, this is my way of relaxing! Before working for Citizens UK and having children, my career was in retail management. I loved the fast pace and talking to customers. I also enjoyed seeing staff progress and thrive in their careers. After having children, I decided my path should take a different route as retail hours did not work around children and my focus on life was different. I had two traumatic pregnancies and felt alone as a mam. Even though I had fantastic support from friends and families, there was nowhere I could go to talk to others, who felt how I felt, without feeling judged. This is why I am so passionate about being a Parent and Community Organiser.

Tell us a little bit about PACT (Parents and Communities Together).

PACT was first set up in London as a community-led social support project, designed to empower parents and improve the health and development outcomes for young children. The project was also piloted in North Tyneside. As part of the project, we run a group called MumSpace. This group is a safe, welcoming space for mams to come to and talk without feeling judged. We run a friendly play group for the children but also offer the mams a half hour away to have ‘their time’, while the children are looked after by the amazing volunteers.

In this space, mams are able to share worries and offer each other advice. We signpost mams to the relevant services they need. Sometimes mams just want a hot cup of coffee and a chat!

How have you been working with Fuse?

Through Fuse and its Public Partner Network, we are working with researchers from Newcastle University on poverty-proofing maternity services. This is so important for the mams to be involved with as they have a chance to share their views and hopefully change services for the better.

Has your community group been involved in public health research before?

We often have different organisations coming in to talk to the mams. We have been involved with Healthwatch research many times so the mams can have their say on key topics such as the Living Well plan. I think it is vital for mams to have their voices heard. Not only does it increase confidence and provide a sense of achievement, having your voice heard in public health research is so important to the mams as they are the ones with the lived experience. If something was not available to them, they can speak out and maybe change that for others. It is about making better lives for future mams.

Tell us about some of the positive changes that have come about as a result of listening to your community group.

By listening to mams and asking them what their concerns were in the community, we identified a number of areas for change. They mentioned - along with other things - that the local park in North Shields was run down, had no swings on frames, no bins, no zip wire, graffiti everywhere. We organised a litter pick at the park with the mams, Tyne and Wear Citizens and the local community, took photos and sent them to the council. They agreed to meet us at the park. One of the mams from MumSpace asked the council official and the councillors if they would change this park to give us a safe, green space to enjoy with our children. They agreed! After years of ruin, the park is now flourishing and the council later invited PACT to be part of a tree-planting. This win proved to us that we do have a voice and we can be heard. Now, every time one of the mams takes her child to the park, they feel a sense of pride knowing it was because of them that it is flourishing.

As part of the my role, I have also worked with students from a primary school in North Shields where the children were complaining about the dog mess on the street. Now they have a designated bin outside the school. I am also working with a local high school to secure fairer fares for the students who are frustrated about being charged adult prices when using public transport. Work is well and truly on the way with this project, and it looks like the students will be successful!

Our impact has been recognised too. We were runners up for the Jannette Kirkton Darling Award for outstanding creativity and impact in developing effective means to #ShiftThePower. PACT has also been nominated twice for the Spirit of North Tyneside Award for helping families in their community.

What one piece of advice would you share with someone curious about public involvement and engagement?

One piece of advice I would give to someone who is curious about public involvement and engagement would be that all the people I have worked with - no matter what their age - have felt a great sense of pride and achievement in having their voices heard in research, and that they can make a real change.

Last modified: Mon, 24 Apr 2023 14:52:28 BST