Flora Stewart is Community Wellbeing Champion for Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity. In 2016 she graduated from the University of Exeter in BA Sociology and Anthropology.
Thinking about careers can sometimes feel overwhelming, so this week we’re partnering with our friends in Wellbeing to bring you a range of career-focused sessions on the topics you’ve told us are the most stressful.
What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?
I graduated from Exeter in 2016, and started working part time at Marks and Spencer’s whilst volunteering with Young Carers, and gaining IT certificates as I wasn’t confident with Excel and wanted to apply for administrative positions.
I then started paid employment at Carers in Bedfordshire in December 2018 as Dementia Services Activity Organiser within which I carried out administrative duties, events and activity organisation, hosted events and activities, facilitated and led therapeutic and social sessions for people living with dementia and their family/friend carers. There was a lot of communication and liaison with other local charities, organisations and services including Age UK, Fire Service, and Memory Assessment Service.
I started a new role in March 2022 as Community Wellbeing Champion, delivering Social Prescribing in Bedford. I work for the charity Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity (BedsRCC) and am the Social Prescriber for two local surgeries, taking referrals from GPs and other healthcare professionals to help support people in linking them to their local community to help them improve their health and wellbeing. I completed a Foundation Certificate in Psychodynamic Counselling in July 2022.
“I wanted the opportunity to support people to connect to their community and its projects, groups, services so that they can live as well as possible.”
Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?
Studying Sociology and Anthropology helped develop my understanding of the wider determinants of health and wellbeing. I wanted the opportunity to support people to connect to their community and its projects, groups, services so that they can live as well as possible. I have seen friends and family been discharged from the more traditional health services and not be given further support other than medication. Social Prescribing acknowledges that other changes can be made in a person’s live to improve their health and I think this holistic approach is logical and the future of healthcare and I wanted to be involved.
What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?
Anthropology modules were so eye-opening and helped expand mindsets and question perspectives consistently. I enjoyed most when we were challenged to think differently about our culture in relation to other cultures, particularly when these challenges broke down ideas of Western ‘superiority’ or the idea of Western culture as the norm vs just one of the many cultures.
There were great opportunities for discussion particularly within modules run by Anthropology lecturer named Hannah (Human-Animal Interactions, my dissertation tutor) and Tom (first year core Anthropology modules lecturer). The fieldtrip to Skanda Vale Ashram was brilliant.
Why did you choose to study at Exeter?
I made a list of my top 5 options and put a tick against categories such as ‘social life’, ‘course’, ‘location’, ‘entry requirements’ and Exeter came out as having the most positive marks, so I put it as my first choice. I felt confident in the quality of teaching I would receive and the overall experience I would have, partly because of its status and also because of positive reviews on review sites and league tables. The city was somewhere my family had lived before and I knew one or two people who had gone to the University and had a positive experience.
What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?
Cultural awareness and sensitivity particularly from Anthropology modules which gave a rich and varied opportunity to look outwardly at cultures different to that which I had grown up within but with plenty of opportunity to reflect inwardly at my own perceptions and viewpoints that I had gathered throughout life so far.
This has been very helpful because I work in a culturally diverse town with service users from many different backgrounds and walks of life. I feel open to listening to everyone as an individual, and make time for reflecting on my own interactions with the situation to make sure I acknowledge what I am aware of and what I need to work on in terms of my learning.
“By getting involved in opportunities such as Grand Challenges and The Exeter Award, I developed my interpersonal skills and this has been really useful for confidence with connecting with colleagues throughout my career so far.”
I feel studying modules including Disability and Society which introduced concepts such as ‘people are not disabled, it is their environment that disables them’ has been an ongoing encouragement to consider different angles when it comes to other people and my own wellbeing. By getting involved in opportunities such as Grand Challenges and The Exeter Award, I developed my interpersonal skills and this has been really useful for confidence with connecting with colleagues throughout my career so far.
What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?
Make the most of opportunities for discussion and reflective thought within your modules to make sure you’re challenging your viewpoints, as you will need to be able to be open to new perspectives and ways of seeing the world in any job that is focussed on working with and supporting others.
Attend extra talks and lectures that interest you. If someone has an interesting job, ask them how they got there. Make the most of online learning options to boost your skills and knowledge such as FutureLearn. If you have time, get volunteering – anything and anything that sounds remotely interesting to you can leave you with a wealth of experiences to draw from.
“Learning to balance life and ‘work’/study is so useful for your future and especially in a line of work where you are hearing a lot of people’s struggles and challenges, you must have space outside of work that is for you and keeps you well whilst you are supporting others.”
I recommend all students treating their week like a working week and studying wherever suits you best roughly between 9-5 with a good lunch and coffee break or two. Then make the most of evenings and weekends to socialise and explore the beautiful city and surrounding areas you’re in! You will not regret it. Learning to balance life and ‘work’/study is so useful for your future and especially in a line of work where you are hearing a lot of people’s struggles and challenges, you must have space outside of work that is for you and keeps you well whilst you are supporting others.
Get involved in as many societies as you are interested in – especially in first and second years when you might have more time than final years. This is so you have chance to mix with people outside of your course and accommodation, and try out different interests – as you will want to do this throughout life.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to learn British Sign Language and gain a TEFL qualification so that I can steer my career towards helping others communicate. I would then consider either teaching BSL / TEFL to others or using these skills, combined with my other job experiences, to work in advocacy or accessible counselling.