Focus on: Natalie Blake

Natalie Blake, our Health and Housing Coordinator at an event in Clifton, Bedfordshire

Despite being relatively new to Grand Union, Health & Housing Co-ordinator Natalie has already helped to revolutionise our approach to customer health. With a background in the sector, she’s well-equipped to help put health on the forefront of housing professionals’ minds. Not only committed to improving processes, she regularly meets with customers in the heart of our communities, providing them simple tips to help improve their health.

A dream job realised

Natalie has a wealth of experience which helps her in her work – from a Master’s degree in public health, to working as a Health & Wellbeing Officer for another housing provider.

“It sounds cheesy but I’m being completely genuine when I say that this is my dream job. The relationship between health and housing is something I feel really passionate about.

“It was during my undergraduate degree in health and social care that I learned the importance of health and housing. I did a module on housing and my lecturer, who is sadly no longer with us, transferred her enthusiasm about the field. I’ll always remember her saying ‘I want you to go out there and integrate health and housing!’ It really stuck with me.

“A couple of years later I started a role as a Wellbeing Officer, at a local housing association’s scheme for older people. Though it was a temporary contract, I adored it and really found my feet in the sector.

“I took some time out from work while my two kids were born and were very young, picking up admin jobs when the time would allow. As they got older, I was itching to get back into health and housing. When a role came up at Grand Union, it was perfect timing and I felt as if I’d gone full circle, back to where I’d started my career so passionately.”

Getting health and housing on the agenda

Natalie’s been with Grand Union since January 2022 and her work has already sent ripples through both the organisation and the communities we are proud to serve.

“The role of a Health & Housing Co-ordinator is a recently introduced position at Grand Union, so much of my work so far has been about establishing my role within the organisation. This has been a great opportunity for me, as I’ve been really able to mould the role and make it my own.

“As a Health & Housing Co-ordinator, I help to develop the link between public health and housing. It’s been interesting to see how things are currently running at Grand Union and the processes we have in place, highlighting any areas where we can bring more of a health focus.

“We’re keen to implement health as a key part of our customers’ journeys, as it is the platform for which they can thrive in other areas, such as financial wellbeing and employment.”

The benefits of a cuppa

One of the first projects Natalie implemented at Grand Union was a Tea and Talk initiative at Bilberry Road, Clifton. The events, held every two weeks, bring a breadth of health information into the heart of this Bedfordshire community, where many Grand Union customers live.

“The first few Tea and Talk events have been a real success and it’s been rewarding to get out into the community and meet local people.

“We’ve had some great partnership working at the events, with different local services, including More Life, Kooth and Stop Smoking, providing tips on different aspects of health, such as stopping smoking, healthy eating and mental wellbeing. We also offer BMI measurements, blood tests and health ‘MOTs’. Everyone is welcome to come down and talk about any health concerns they may have, in exchange for a cuppa.

Health and Housing Coordinator Natalie working in partnership with other agencies at an event

“We run the project in a converted flat, with bedrooms used as meeting rooms, and when the weather is nice we’re in the front garden; it’s a great way to bring the meetings to the heart of the community and to be visible among residents.

“There’s been a great response from locals so far, expressing how much they appreciate us reaching out to the community.”

Partnership working

A key part of Natalie’s role is working in collaboration with external organisations and with teams within Grand Union. This hasn’t just been through the Tea and Talk events, but in other projects too.

“I work alongside councils and local services to gain advice and resources to share with the public. This helps give our customers more ownership of their wellbeing and knowledge about health.

“Internally, I also collaborate with teams within Grand Union to help provide a collaborative approach to improving customer wellbeing. As I’m relatively new to the organisation, it’s good to spread the message about how I can help and to encourage colleagues to refer customers to me.

“I’m working with our Financial Wellbeing team on a stop smoking campaign, which specifically focuses on the money saving elements of giving up cigarettes. For example, people can save up to £3,000 a year in quitting smoking alone.

“I also liaise with the Communications team to produce easy-to-read guides on local health services – making wellbeing information available to our customers.”

Making a difference to people’s lives

On a daily basis, Natalie has a clear impact on the wellbeing of our customers – she doesn’t take this responsibility for granted.

“By far the most rewarding part of what I do is that I’m often involved in improving someone’s health in the long run, even if it’s just having a quick word in someone’s ear, which is their catalyst to make healthier choices. I’m making a difference to people’s lives and that’s something I am very proud of.

“Grand Union is a great place to work too, and I really appreciate its approach to flexible working hours. As a single mum, I may need to pop out and do the school run, or look after a sick child, and I am able to do this at Grand Union.”