For many, Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun is a favourite “we can only dream” property programme. Couples jetting off to sunnier climes before making the big decision. “Do we relocate to that four-bed villa with its own pool and spectacular sea views”, or “Do we stay put in our four-bed semi just down the road from the grandchildren?” Aside from the timewasters who revel in their 60 minutes of TV fame, for those that take the plunge, it is a life-changing decision. For those that don’t have a hefty bank balance, or a good retirement income, it is also a career-changing one.

This is the situation I found myself in when I first joined the Difference Collective.

Following my partner’s diagnosis of a slow- growing, but terminal cancer, it was time to up-sticks and move to Spain. Here the pace of life and good weather has done wonders for his health. However, this necessitated giving up full-time employment. Being part of the Difference Collective, and having access to its 50+ network of expert consultants, made this an easier step into the unknown than anticipated.

Professionally, adopting flexible working has been nothing but a positive experience.  As for many of my Difference Collective colleagues, it has also enabled further development of two passions of mine – advancing patient involvement in all aspects of their health and care, and tackling the injustice of health inequalities.

Pro-bono support for Health Technology International’s (HTAi) Patient and Citizen Involvement in HTA Interest Group (PCIG), and ongoing pro-bono support as Director of Communications for New NHS Alliance, has enabled this.

For Difference Collective colleague Lottie Williams, working flexibly has allowed her to study part time for a diploma in nutritional therapy. Commenting on her flex for professional growth, Lottie said, “Being able to take breaks from work to allow me to focus on my exams, and generally having the flex to establish a working pattern that works for my clients’ needs, and my study commitments, has been crucial over the last three years. My clients have also benefitted from my studies. The scientific rigour of the course has built my confidence in navigating data publications, while the hands-on clinical experience has allowed me to experience effective behaviour change, something we’re trying to effect on behalf of a lot of clients. I think it’s been a win-win for both me and the people I work with!”

Pro-bono, or similar expertise-enhancing activities, enables the Difference Collective members to bring unique thinking to our clients. Insight that may not be possible to gain when in full-time employment. The pressure to bill, as well as a need to focus on the core business, often limits opportunities to devote time to professional development through study or pro-bono work.

For me, working and living in Spain has nothing to do with ‘Sun, Sea, Sand and Sangria’. Indeed, flexible working has enabled me to see how our industry can enhance ‘life, health and wellbeing’ through a different lens. Something that – unlike a tan – will stay with me forever, regardless of locality or role.

About the author

Neil is an accomplished communication professional with 30 years’ experience in the healthcare and associated sectors. More recently, his focus has been on patient involvement in all aspects of their health and care and he has a deep understanding of the science behind, and practicalities of, delivering meaningful patient involvement. Neil is also a communications consultant to the New NHS Alliance. Neil is the first international member of the Collective and chooses to #WorkDifferently from his home in Spain.

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