Health and employment champion to train next generation of experts

Fiona Maher is leaving Healthworks for a new role in the NHS.

Fiona Maher is leaving Healthworks for a new role in the NHS.

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A LEADING light who helped launch a pioneering centre to tackle a community’s health and employment troubles is to take up a new job training the next generation of experts.

Fiona Maher began working on the Healthworks project in September 2006 and became its co-ordinator as it opened its doors to the residents of East Durham a just over a year later with just two staff and 11 volunteers at the helm.

Now its team of six is bolstered with 70-plus volunteers, who dedicate their time to running education, creative and fitness sessions credited with turning lives around and used as a blueprint for other scheme.

The centre, in Paradise Lane, Easington Colliery, has also won awards for its work and became so popular its expansion plans were brought forward to deal with the hundreds of visitors it welcomes every week.

At the end of the month, Fiona will bid farewell to her job as she starts a new challenge with the NHS’s graduate management scheme, which takes on 130 people across the UK after they are chosen from 20,000 applicants who hope to work in the service and become its future leaders.

She will remain on the board of Rosebery Road in Horden, a community centre which is taking its lead from Healthworks and will be run by a committee of residents.

Fiona said: “It’s going to be a massive change for me and has been a really hard decision to make.

“I’ve seen this go from nothing to become award-winning for its services, but I’m quite ambitious.

“It will be sad, particularly to say goodbye to the volunteers.

“A big part of my job has been to work with these people, to see them develop.

“We’ve seen volunteers employed, 12 last year and 10 the year before and this week somebody came in who has become a health trainer.

“We’ve just had such an impact through Healthworks locally, we’ve improved employability in the area, more people are accessing us for service such as stop smoking, physical activities, healthy eating and for qualifications, and our earn to learn activities have increased skills.”

Fiona, who gained a masters degree in public health during her time at Healthworks, plans to take another in information technology.

She will also work alongside her partner, Chris Bungoni, through their Castle Eden-based management consultancy Designrevel Ltd.

Healthworks is run by NHS County Durham and Darlington Community Health Services and based in a former pumphouse building owned by Northumbrian Water, which backs the project along with Durham County Council.

Age UK, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, a careers service, police surgeries and a GP practice are all based at the centre, which homes a gym and IT suite among other facilities.