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I am Rachel Russell, the new Senior Regional Advisor here at Foundations. I’ve been asked to write this blog to introduce myself. I wasn’t sure how to do this, so I thought it would tell you a little about the journey that has led to me joining the team here.

Professionally, I trained as an occupational therapist, qualifying from Coventry University in 1994. Apart from a couple of jobs in the NHS during my early career and a stint as a wheelchair therapist when working in New Zealand in the early 2000s, I spent most of my ‘clinical’ career in Adult Social Care. Then in 2011, following the completion of a Master’s in Accessibility and Inclusive Design, I was awarded a full-time scholarship to complete a Phd at the School of the Built Environment at the University of Salford.

Initially, the research for the PhD focused on Building Information Modelling. However, after several twists and turns (quite normal when doing a PhD), the research transformed into the development of a process guiding occupational therapists through the various stages of the design and construction of an adaptation. For those of you who have a building background, the process is like the RIBA Plan of works but for occupational therapists involved in adapting and remodelling homes.

It was while completing my PhD I had my first encounter with Foundations when I met Francis Philippa. As a result of this meeting, and through my role in the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) Specialist Section for Housing, Francis and the team at Foundations collaborated with the RCOT to host the DFG Summit in December 2015. Shortly after the summit, I started as a researcher and occupational therapy lecturer, again at Salford.

In 2017 I was invited to be part of the government-commissioned team that conducted the external review of the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) and other adaptations. My main contribution to the review can be found in Chapter 11 – Working Better Together. While working on the review, I got to work with Foundations again alongside Paul Smith (Director at Foundations). One lasting memory I have of working with Paul on the review is a eureka moment that involved a Venn diagram that helped us reimagine the ‘Necessary and Appropriate’ and ‘Reasonable and Practical’ elements of DFG decision-making. This chapter’s evidence base and recommendations underpin my thoughts and vision about what good looks like if we take a proportionate and integrated approach to the DFG process.

After completing the DFG Review, I joined the Housing LIN team to work on the Royal College of Occupational Therapists project that led to the publication of Adaptations Without Delay in 2019. Again, I got to work with Foundations, as Paul Smith was a key member of the steering group for the project. Writing the publication was an opportunity for me to explore and provide evidence-based guidance on how to take a proportionate response to the delivery of adaptations. Particularly where and when, and when an occupational therapist needs to be involved in the DFG process.

Following the publication of Adaptations Without Delay, I decided to practice what I preach by becoming the Principal Occupational Therapist at Calderdale Local Authority. The role involved the management of the occupational therapy, assistive technology and adaptations teams. My time at Calderdale, although relatively short, has given me valuable insights into the strategic and operational realities and challenges of delivering an adaptations service in today climate, integrating teams and improving what we can achieve with the DFG.

I’ve joined Foundations because of their vision to lead and inspire positive change in the delivery of home adaptations and improvements. As the Senior Regional Advisor, I now have a great opportunity to use my previous experience, knowledge, and skills to work alongside you at a strategic and operational level to achieve the positive change called for by the DFG review and Adaptations without Delay. And I’m looking forward to doing this through the great information, products, and services we provide as regional advisors at Foundations.