Burnley's Tracey is health trust Employee of the Month thanks to her 'Natter Shack' scheme

ELHT Employee of the Month for September Tracey Smith (front centre) receives her award from Chief Executive Kevin McGee
ELHT Employee of the Month for September Tracey Smith (front centre) receives her award from Chief Executive Kevin McGee

A Burnley woman who wants toget people talking in our hospitals was left speechless when she was named Employee of the Month by East Lancashire Hospitals Trust.

Tracey Smith, who has worked for the NHS for 31 years, set up a Facebook group called The Natter Shack Scheme in a bid to combat social isolation.

Tracey and Kevin

Tracey and Kevin

Visiting a local coffee shop during her annual leave, Tracey noticed there were a lot of customers sat alone and so struck up several conversations which highlighted how lonely some people are on a day-to-day basis.

That evening Tracey went on social media to express what had happened and, as a result, was inspired to create a Facebook group called The Natter Shack Scheme.

She said: “Natter Shack is a collection of coffee bars – in Burnley, Pendle, Ribble Valley, Rossendale and Skipton – who have come together to host a weekly drop-in for local people looking to meet new friends and increase their social interaction.

“Those who attend regularly say this has drastically improved their mental wellbeing and improved their social life.”

On the first Sunday of every month Tracey hosts an afternoon tea dance that welcomes over 100 people from the local community which helps people socialise on a day where people feel at their loneliest. An over 55’s disco is also in the pipeline for November called ‘Boogie Wonderland’ to encourage the older generation to step out on a Saturday afternoon for a dance at a nightclub in Burnley.

Tracey’s passion for the Natter Shack has been boosted within the trust with communications, HR and catering teams offering support. Her commitment to Natter Shack has seen it grow from strength to strength and persuaded Tracey’s colleagues Elaine Eyre and Jackie Simm to nominate her for the Employee of the Month award.

Natter Shack has spread like wildfire with GP practices, Home Start, Calico Housing and community mental health teams among others now fully supporting Natter Shack and recommending the scheme to their service users.

The response has been overwhelming - there are now 20 cafes across Burnley, Pendle and further afield taking part and allowing their premises to be used for Natter Shack drop-ins. And the head of catering at ELHT Tim Radcliff has agreed to launch ‘natter’ tables for visitors, patients and staff alike.