Championing Disability Inclusion Award - 2019 Winners
Seonaid Webb – chair of the Cross-Government Working Through Cancer Network
Last year the Home Office Working Through Cancer (WTC) network was lucky enough to win the Championing Disability Inclusion award. Not only was the ceremony a great experience, it became a pivotal moment for our network and created a visibility that saw a sharp uptake in demand and membership.
I established the WTC Network in the Home Office in 2018 after a personal cancer diagnosis in 2016. Whilst I felt well supported in my decision to work throughout treatment (and living with permanent side effects afterwards), hundreds of colleagues told me they had often felt isolated, anxious and unsupported at work. I couldn’t let that continue, so with a brilliant, small army of volunteers we set up a three-part offer to address that: 1) buddy groups for people with cancer, carers and line managers, 2) a training session co-designed with Macmillan to build line manager confidence and capability, and 3) a one-stop-shop intranet page with signposting for advice and an online support group.
The demand was huge, and we started to grow very quickly – gathering hundreds of members, training more than 1,000 line managers and hosting a series of high profile events (including blood type testing with the NHS blood team, and adding nearly 1,000 new blood donors to the UK register). Feedback has been fantastic and we have genuinely started to change the taboo of talking about cancer in the workplace.
In 2019 I was asked to talk about the network at the Civil Service Disability Champions meeting, and from there we started to get requests to expand to become a cross-government network, sharing advice and good practice and setting up departmental-level cancer networks in a number of departments over the past 12 months. I now chair a monthly meeting for 23 departments and agencies, who come together to hear from guest speakers, talk about improvements to HR policies, and plan whole CS events (such as the successful February “Confident about Cancer” day celebrated not only in the UK but also overseas!).
Winning this award was amazing. A genuine celebration for everyone who works so hard to make this an active and engaged network. It opened doors for us with disability champions, made it easier to bid for funding and to encourage experts, permanent secretaries and ministers to support our events, and ultimately it got people talking about, and normalising, conversations about cancer.
Sadly in the UK 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Nearly 1 million people of working age, right now, have been told they have cancer – our mission across the Civil Service is to make sure our colleagues have the support, advice and empathy they need to work through cancer together.
For anyone keen to get in touch you can contact the network on Twitter @CSCancerNetwork or https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/working-through-cancer-network/