My job

My job: mental health charity director Geoff Brennan

Geoff Brennan works anywhere there is a mental health ward or a mental health patient on a ward.

What is your job?

I work for Star Wards, part of the Bright Charity. It was founded by the fabulous Marion Janner, a service user/genius/dog lover/ex-chocolate maker, and effectively my boss. We are a tiny crew, but are nationally recognised for helping our member wards (and others) improve care and have fun! We are quirky, but we truly believe that acute wards can, and often do, offer great care.

Geoff Brennan
Geoff Brennan: 'Nursing students should forget the promise of limitless chocolates.' Picture: Lisa Payne

Why did you become a nurse?

When I left school I got a job doing scientific research. It was great. Among other projects, we researched alternative energy – wind, wave, solar and biomass. But I realised I wanted to work with people, so I changed tack and got a job as a nursing assistant, as they were then called. I had also been volunteering with people with learning disabilities, so that was the training I applied for. 

Where did you train?

I trained in learning disabilities at the now defunct Carshalton School of Nursing in Surrey and did my shorter mental health training at the now defunct Mausdley School of Nursing. Soon I will also be defunct, although some say I already am...

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I like seeing and hearing about good wards doing their thing, and the great people doing it. At Star Wards I have a colleague, Nic Higham, who is amazingly talented and also works on mental health wards. Nic could be anything, but he wants to help people and does it brilliantly. How can you not enjoy working with people like that?

What is the greatest challenge?

Staff and patients are under so much pressure and have so little time. The greatest challenge is to provide them with stuff that is both useful, succinct and upbeat. We don’t do boring!

What would you change if you could?

I would stop bed closures and increase the bed base so people aren’t sent miles away. I would increase nurse and peer worker numbers and give them a day a week for development and supervision, when they could all get to know about Star Wards. I would get people to appreciate the wonderful work so many nurses and other staff do day in day out, and that patients they do it for are worth the effort and deserve more.

Outside work what do you enjoy doing?

I support Charlton Athletic. Between matches, I write, sketch and go for long walks through London with my amazing wife. 

What inspires you?

Good nurses. Star Wards. Safewards. Marion. Nic. Len Bowers. Rachel, my wife. Family. Friends. Chocolate. The bottomless depths of the human spirit. You know – the little things in life. 

Of what achievement are you most proud?

That Star Wards exists, that I’m a part of it, that Safewards appeals to so many really good nurses.

What makes a good nurse?

Nurses have to like people. After that, it’s about caring, knowing and doing, so good nurses care as much as they can, know as much as they can and do as much as they can. It really helps if they have a sense of humour and know how to have fun.

What advice would you give to students and junior staff? 

No advice, just thanks for choosing nursing. Society needs you more than ever. You will hear people being negative, but you make a positive difference in the world and that’s really something. Sadly stories about limitless chocolates delivered by grateful people are untrue. Best you know now.

Geoff Brennan is executive director of the charity Star Wards, and a part-time Safewards champion

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