The departure from PHWE of Kim Thomas, the Team administrator and PA, prompts Hildegard Dumper her manager for the past 3 ½ years to reflect on the vital role a good administrator plays in the success of a project.

The story starts in February 2014, when I was appointed to set up a new team that would support four partners to develop a strong public involvement approach to their work. The partners were Bristol Health Partners (BHP), CLAHRC West, NIHR CRN West of England and the West of England Academic Health Science Network (WEAHSN), with University of West of England providing the Academic Lead. When PHWE started we were originally based in the offices of WEAHSN in S Plaza. Rosie, Kim and I started our life with PHWE there. It was a time of great optimism and adventure. WEAHSN had just been set up, CLAHRC was embarking on new horizons, CRN was in the middle of being re-organised and BHP was developing a new business plan. This was an opportunity to put in a new approach to public involvement; to challenge the traditional NHS tendency to work in silos, and work in a collaborative way on the issue of public involvement. By sharing resources we aimed to increase the partner’s efficiency and effectiveness in public involvement.

Traditionally there is a big divide between public involvement in health research and public involvement in service provision and improvement. The public involvement staff in each sector rarely works together. We were being given the opportunity to work across these silos, sharing knowledge and expertise and avoiding duplication. There was a sense of adventure that comes with the realisation that we were pioneers in a new way of working and were treading new ground.  PHWE were going to put in place a model that would show how it could be done; we were going to change the world – and the admin post was pivotal to making this a success!

WEAHSN, CLAHRC West, BHP and CRN are all hosted by different organisations. In August 2014, Kim set about bringing together the culture, systems and processes of 4 quite separate host organisations – UHB, RUH Bath, UWE and University of Bristol with NIHR being an additional factor here and there. These were systems affecting how PHWE finance, expenses claims, reporting mechanisms, email addresses, website, codes, passwords etc had to be carried out. Kim became good friends with all the important people in IT, catering, estates, travel firms, HR, hospitality, venues, hotels and so on. She won all of them over with her charm and good humour, always done with such cheerfulness and a ‘can do’ attitude. Perhaps the fact that she came from outside the NHS helped – she brought a fresh eye to long standing challenges. In addition she came with experiences and knowledge of systems and practices which could improve the efficiency of PHWE and hence its partners also. Everything was a practical challenge which could be overcome with a bit of determination.

It was Kim’s patience and dogged refusal to give up that was instrumental in getting the people in the organisations she dealt with to make compromises. Her patience and recognition of her role in educating finance, HR and other staff, on the complexities of the project led to small but significant results. Small but important bureaucratic changes were made; expense claim forms were amended to be more user friendly for public contributors, finance staff were prepared to have some flexibility in managing claims and IT staff went out of their way to help make the different systems compatible.

Her leaving will be a great loss to us all at PHWE. Not just because she is a lovely person, but with her goes all the memory and knowledge that she has acquired in her role. We couldn’t have achieved what we have without her.

So thank you Kim for all your hard work, for having been such fun to work with and for having made the last few years such an adventure!