Star Alumni Series: FNF Scholar Leonie Brown reflects on Windrush Leadership Programme

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I was lucky to be one of the 44 offered the opportunity to be on the Windrush Leadership Programme for BAME nurses or midwives who are or were descendants of the Windrush generation.

What made the programme such a success for me was the quality of the people running it. They are true experts in their fields.
Leonie Brown
Leonie Brown
Head of Nursing for Clinical Service, Epsom and St Helier NHS Trusts

My background

My name is Leonie Brown. I am a nurse leader working in Reproductive and Sexual Health care for the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trusts. My colleagues are amazing, our patients are wonderful, our Trust is great, and my work life balance is super! Getting that right, in my experience, promotes excellent staff performance.

I was brought up in Jamaica as the eldest of eight children. The nursing attitude came easily – spreading the love amongst all my siblings and looking after them. I arrived in the UK in 2000, following in my grandmother’s footsteps. She came over on the Windrush. I made the hard decision to leave my own children behind in Jamaica to pursue my ultimate chosen path in nursing.

Initially, to be able to make ends meet I started out as security at various nightclubs, but I never had to get physical and always warded off trouble with my smile. They may sound like polar-opposite professions but are ultimately are about care in the community and looking after peoples’ wellbeing. I eventually entered nursing in the sexual health sector, which was a stigma at the time, but as caring comes naturally to me I steadily worked up the ranks.

My lightbulb moment

I had a lightbulb moment one day that to truly better myself, I was the only one standing in my way. That was what ultimately drew me to the FNF Windrush Leadership Programme.

On the very first day, I realised why the programme was so highly reputable. I started changing within the first few hours!

One of the standout moments of the course, was the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) sessions which helped me to find the tone in my voice. After assuming that, after all these years, I was shy and had a soft voice, I was humbly corrected. I practiced what I had learnt – to use my ideas more effectively. I knew then there was no going back. I had found my voice.

The Windrush Leadership Programme gave me real presence

Finding my voice, was a unique personal experience of significance – a key ingredient in delivering presence and making an impact. I was lucky to be one of the 44 offered the opportunity to be on the Windrush Leadership Programme to BAME nurses or midwives who are or were descendants of the Windrush generation. What made the programme such a success for me, was the quality of the people running it, true experts in their fields. The Leadership Programme was the ‘gold standard’ of learning. I completed a Quality Improvement project poster which had many elements of reflective learning. I was then asked to share it by presenting it to other departments in the Trust.

I gained self-belief and courage to champion improvements

Within a few months of starting my Leadership Programme, I became an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Champion at my place of work. I became widely known in my Trust and was interviewed about my programme and the effect it had on me and those I worked with.

I even played the role of Mary Seacole in a video interview and was introduced as an iconic nurse, hosted a Black History Month’s Webinar, wrote three articles, video interview, had presented an RCN podcast, met several members of the executive team, appeared on the Trust’s teams banner and in the teams news about my Quality Improvement initiative.

The life changing experiences, such as the RADA training, Quality Improvement, getting a greater understanding of leadership styles, leading with greater presence and impact, confidence building, influencing change, and being part of the Alumni are just some of the amazing benefits the Leadership Programme has helped me with. It all enabled me to further grow from the inside out with self-belief and courage. Health Education England also sponsored me and I would like to thank them and Florence Nightingale Foundation for making this possible with every fibre in me. It left me with a legacy to carry on. It was priceless!

Stepping stone to success

My son, called me shortly after I had completed my FNF Leadership Programme to have a serious chat. He told me that he had a dream that I was going to get people contacting me to ‘know what’s on my brain’. He further explained that I have positively affected his and the lives of others, and I should extend myself to more people.

He said, “mummy you leave a footprint wherever you go and help whoever you can, people need to know you, so you can fulfil your destiny”. I was stunned as this is my dream to help as many people as I can for as long as I can. I started to activate a belief system that I was ready for the next level. I discussed this and my wish to look for further opportunities with my manager.

Her support propelled me to start looking straight away. In Feb 2020, I saw three band 8b opportunities and discussed them with my family. I’m not attracted to ‘banding’ perse, it’s the role that important. I’m a leader, not a manager. I am a people person, and now, thanks to everyone’s support, I am now Head of Nursing for Clinical Services.

Part of the joy of my new role is that the majority of my work now is people facing and I love looking at the faces of my hard-working colleagues, knowing that someone is genuinely there to take care and support them through their working day. It is making the most of my strengths.

Inspiring family and colleagues

As a result of my leadership course and my recent promotion, now my son in Jamaica wants to change career and become a nurse. My daughter in Florida had restarted her nurse training and my two daughters living with me, also want to become nurses. They see how much I enjoy my work. As Sir Winston Churchill once put it, “if you find a job you love, you’ll will never work again”.

When I was on Clinical Matron Leadership Programme, I was the only one who was a band 7 and not a matron. I heard from the other matrons how much work they had to do.  I thought, I wish I could help them. Well now I’m the position to support them.

It doesn’t take much to give a helping hand. I think it’s natural for me. Recently I put this into practice by supporting two other nurses to apply for FNF Leadership Programmes.

Glass half empty? Then fill it up!

Some people’s glasses are half empty; some people’s glasses are cracked and some don’t believe they have a glass at all. My glass, is always full! I always look for the positive. I just turn things around.

 My secret to your success

My advice to others seeking change in their roles is, be grounded in whatever you do; check how you are perceived by others; live life with a matter of urgency; look for a job for the right reason – you want to make a difference and know you can.

Ultimately, if you’re told that a band 8a post is very hard to get, then apply for the band 8b posts instead, and you know what, just like me, you may just succeed!