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Nursing lecturer’s garden party visit was the crowning of a perfect career

Date 17.05.2019

A nursing lecturers’ commitment to promoting mental health initiatives – including first aid training for students – was royally recognised with an invite to Buckingham Palace.

Emma Dillon, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health (MH) Nursing, attended the most recent garden party – 15 May – accompanied by her daughter Sophie.

Emma qualified as an ‘MH’ nurse in 1993, a foregone professional conclusion in her eyes: “My Mum and Dad are both mental health nurses, in fact they first met each other at what was St. Crispins, the old MH hospital in Duston, Northampton.

“I’ve worked in some form of MH role since I was 15 as it lets me do exactly what I love – work with people and make a difference to their lives. It was never up for debate what career I’d go into as an adult”.

Every year, the Queen hosts four garden parties for members of the public, three at Buckingham Palace and one in Holyroodhouse, as a way of recognising and rewarding public service. More than 30,000 people will be welcomed into the grounds of both residences this summer.

The University of Northampton receives invitations for two people each year. Faculty Deans are asked to put forward nominations for exceptional individuals who they feel should be recognised with an invitation to the palace.

Emma was nominated by Faculty of Health and Society (FHS) Dean Dr Steve O’Brien and FHS Deputy Dean Dr Helen Poole for her work promoting mental health to University students and staff. She was selected by Vice Chancellor Nick Petford as the invitee of choice.

The day itself was rewarding and surprising – and led to an unexpected and happy reunion. As Emma explains: “The actual garden party was about three hours long, starting after lunch, but the day kicked-off for me at about 8am with a little pampering before getting the train to London.

“By coincidence, one of the other attendees was someone I know very well, my first supervising matron Tracey Dodds, who is now head of clinical support at Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust (NHFT).

“We met before the party itself and it was lovely to see her in person again. We both thought going to the palace was one of those “Wow! How did we get here?” moments. Connectivity is so important to me and it was such an honour to see her again, it set the scene for a perfect day”.

image photo tracey dodds emma dillon buckingham palace

Catching-up with old friends…Emma and Tracey Dodds in the garden at Buckingham Palace.

The event itself turned out to be more relaxed than anticipated: “We had the expected security checks, but inside the mood was not as stuffy or ‘stand-on-ceremony’ as I thought it might be.

“There were a lot of people there, including Beefeaters having a walk-about. It seemed like thousands, but the party as a whole was really low-key. One thing I noticed was how diverse the guests were – people of many different backgrounds were there. It felt like the whole of the UK had gathered in one, very big, back garden.

“We had the chance to walk around, mingle and soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the food (yes, they served cucumber sandwiches!). Then, the national anthem was played and things became more official as Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall came out, but they just melted in to the proceedings. You could go over to see them but if not, you could just sit back enjoy the day. Not what I thought would happen at all”.

Emma is now back at her professional home, the Learning Hub at the University’s Waterside campus in Northampton. But her MH awareness work continues: “Going to the palace was a treat, but royal trappings aren’t enough to keep me away from the day job.

“Since November 2017, when the University began to roll-out Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to nursing students and staff, a total of 469 people – including external service users and health trust colleagues – have signed-up and completed the course.

“We have big plans for making sure our Waterside community of students and staff is as healthy as possible, so having new MH ‘first aiders’ on hand will ensure that continues”.

Do you share the same passion for Mental Health provision and helping people as Emma does? Check out the details of the University of Northampton’s MH Nursing degree.