Volunteer from Uckfield shortlisted for a national award

A Uckfield mother who has spent the past 15 years volunteering for a Sussex charity after her son sustained a brain injury has been shortlisted for a national award.

Arlette Foster, 70, from Uckfield, will join just two other finalists chosen from across the UK to be in the running for the title of Volunteer of the Year at the national brain injury awards ceremony organised by Headway – the brain injury association.

The accolade, sponsored by Anthony Gold Solicitors, will be presented at a star-studded ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel in London on Friday 7, December.

“It’s lovely to be nominated for the award but what make me really happy is to be able to play my part at Headway East Sussex and use what happened to me to help others going through a similar thing,” said Arlette.

Arlette’s first experience of brain injury began on a fateful night 23 years ago when her daughter, then aged 17, woke her at 3am to tell her that her older brother Philip, Arlette’s son, had been involved in a serious car accident.

Philip was out celebrating his 21st birthday with friends when the car he was travelling in hit a tree and he was thrown from it.

He suffered a brain injury which was so severe that he was put into an induced coma and his family were warned that there was little hope of survival.

Thankfully Philip did survive, and with the help of his family who played a very active role in his rehabilitation, he learnt to walk and talk again. In fact he made an excellent physical recovery which the medical team described as ‘miraculous’.

However, Philip wasn’t the same young man when he returned home: he had suffered extensive frontal lobe damage and had changed from a bright, happy, fun-loving 21-year-old into an aggressive young man who had difficulty controlling his anger, cognitive functioning difficulties and a lack of insight.

“It was a very difficult time as we had no-one to turn to and the medical staff didn’t understand as they informed me they were not trained in problems faced by suffers and carers of brain injury.”

He was just discharged from hospital and we had to get on with it. The services to help families like ours were just not around back then,” recalled Arlette.

“That’s why when I discovered Headway East Sussex, I knew I wanted to help them to make sure families didn’t go through what we did.

“I wanted to change a negative experience into something positive – by using the understanding that I’ve gained, I knew I could help other people.”

Arlette put this experience to great use when she helped set up Headway East Sussex’s Hospital Liaison Service team.

The team, which operates a weekly drop-in clinic at Princess Royal Hospital enables brain injury survivors and their families an opportunity to come and talk to someone who really understands what is happening to them, as well as offer them advice and support.

She said: “I’m very passionate about the service because I feel I can have a clear impact in helping people.

“As a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist I can recognise when people are at a point of crisis and refer them on for professional help where necessary. It is very rewarding.”

Arlette has also been trained to deliver the Headway East Sussex’s Hero’s Journey programme. It aims to help people understand brain injury and develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms.

The sessions were a tremendous success with attendees reporting that they had a better knowledge of their injury and a better understanding of their feelings and behaviours.

She is also a qualified art therapist and has put her skills to use at the charity’s art group.

The group is led by another volunteer and Arlette has been able to contribute her expertise of using art as a therapy and a medium for expression and communication

Arlette was nominated by former colleague Michelle Fleming.

Michelle said: “Arlette’s son still needs her to help him with everyday tasks such as paying bills, attending appointments and managing his finances.

“But despite this she still makes time to volunteer and is so generous with her time.

“Her understanding, compassion, tireless energy and commitment are greatly appreciated by everyone. She really does make a difference to families living with brain injury in our area and helps them rebuild their lives.

“We believe Arlette is truly inspiring and deserving of the Volunteer of the Year Award.”

The Volunteer of the Year will be named at a glittering ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel in London on Friday 7, December, along with awards for the Achiever, Carer and Campaigner of the Year, and the Stephen McAleese Outstanding Contribution to Headway Award.