Chris Walbank is back on home ground for top job at £12m Sue Ryder centre

Former Preston schoolboy Chris Walbank is delighted to have been appointed to a top job on his home patch.

By Fiona Finch
Thursday, 14th October 2021, 12:30 pm

Chris, 53, is the new Service Director for the Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre in Fulwood.

The graduate of UCLan and former pupil of St Cutherbert Mayne High School in Fulwood took over the reins of the £12m centre, which opened in 2020, this summer.

He said he was attracted to the post because of the "amazing" work of the team at the Teal Avenue state of the art centre.

Chris Walbank pictured otuside the Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre in Fulwood Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

He said: "We had our 100th referral last week...It's an opportunity to do more good stuff for more people. I see my role as unblocking hurdles for people to go and do amazing work. I hope to grow and develop a centre of excellence."

Chris, who was brought up in Garstang, started out as a mental health social worker after graduation, developing a career working in the local government, the NHS, charity and rehabilitation sectors. Most recently he was Head of Transformation Delivery at the One Fylde charity which supports adults and young people with learning difficulties and those with mental health issues. He was previously a programme manager at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust. Prior to those two posts he was Head of Business Development and Performance at the Spiral Health Community Interest Company.

He said: "Sue Ryder has invested so much time, thought and expense into this new facilitity. It's just such a solid foundation from which we can make a real impact on people's lives who are living with a neurological condition. You see people in a wheelchair.and you'll see them walk past with a frame. It's such an impactful thing. It doesn't happen for everyone, but it happened twice last week."

The centre works in collaboration with the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust and Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria and cares both for people with long term neurological conditions and for those who will benefit from a shorter stay in its specialist rehabilitation unit. Clients range from those with conditions such as Huntington’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease to those with conditions resulting from a stroke or a brain or spinal injury.

Chris Walbank has great ambitions for the Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre at Fulwood, not least that it becomes an established part of the local community (photo: Kelvin Stuttard)

The centre prides itself on its innovative and often pioneering person centred approach. Chris stressed that even the "little things" can make an enormous difference to a person's rehabilitation.

He said: "We've started a breakfast club, not having breakfast in a normal place. It's just so simple - we just have somewhere different for breakfast."

Chris explained that the whole process of being encouraged to walk to a different place in the centre, a "hotel cafe" in the activity area, and to select breakfast choices provides a range of rehabilitation opportunities "in a really nice ambience."

For example, he said, it provides an extra opportunity for social interactions, improved concentration and to build motor function skills and confidence. He said: " It's not an amazing million pound machine just something really simple, staff have worked on how we can do something really different .. and make it enjoyable."

He added: "We do have fantastic machinery which can support people, for example the hydrotherapy pool."

His ambitions include ensuring that the centre becomes a neurological hub for Lancashire and also facilitates more learning and education about the care and rehabilitation of those with neurological conditions and injuries.

The Centre plans to work with many small and local charities such as the local multiple sclerosis society and motor neurone disease society, aware that when rehab clients leave the centre they will benefit from links with such groups. Chris said: "We're helping them find information and resources now and forge some links with a different community."

He said this followed feedback that starting a new life after rehabilitation can bring other challenges including relationship and job issues and loneliness. Such outreach work was limited by the pandemic.

Equally in time it is hoped to welcome more members of the public to the centre. He said: "Covid kind of stopped all that, but in introducing some of the smaller neurological charities hopefully then the next step will be to start inviting people in...we still want to be part of the community.".

Another area of development will be harnessing assistive technology to help the centre clients: "We'll start small and build out. Let's find out what the problem is and what's our solution. It just grows our offfering and knowledge base."

The centre has bungalows on site, designed as a half way house for those getting ready to leave the centre, but they have not yet been opened to clients and Chris said a next step is to assess how they can best be used.

As for the two to three acre garden area, that is another vision project. He said: "We're going to embark next year on a complete review for our garden. We want the garden to mirror, replicate and complement the rehabilitation we have inside."

Changes such as creating a gravelled area and different textures for people to walk on, steps to negotiate and for example, an area with sounds, and a "mindful area" will add to residents' enjoyment and skills.

Chris, who lives Catterall, is also a volunteer outdoor activity trainer and, is a member of the Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team. He said: "It's just a love of the outdoors, green spaces, just staying active and fit. It's just that giving back really to your community.

The father of one, who is married to Nancy, a diocesan education adviser, at one time had his own coaching enterprise too.

He added that coming to work for Sue Ryder felt absolutely right: "The values and vision all mirror my own personal values and that of the staff as well. We all have that shared vision of values that just makes working life a delight.

"We want to set our targets really, really high and they are great now. But I want (it) to be amazing and the feedback has to be amazing as well, from the people we've supported and the families - something to be really proud of. That's Proud Preston isn't it?"

For more on the work of the Centre and its first birthday celebrations in April see here and here * The Lancashire Post is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. For unlimited access to Lancashire news and information online, you can subscribe here.