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Harmony of the Seas – world’s biggest cruise ship from Royal Caribbean


The bionic bar - order or create cocktails on an iPad and the robots make it

The bionic bar – order or create cocktails on an iPad and the robots make it

Nightlife, live music, bars and restaurants on the Royal Promenade

Nightlife, live music, bars and restaurants on the Royal Promenade

The Ultimate Abyss - thrilling slide down 10 floors of the ship

The Ultimate Abyss – thrilling slide down 10 floors of the ship

Sumptuous interiors throughout the ship

Sumptuous interiors throughout the ship

So I’ve just returned from my first ever cruise and what do I think? This was a mini pre-cruise for the media and the travel industry, so not necessarily typical, but ‘amazing’, ‘surprising’ and ‘stunning’ are some of the adjectives I would use to describe Harmony of the Seas, not least because of the sheer size of the ship, the wide range of facilities on board and the number of attentive staff needed to make it all function.

Cruises and big ships have their detractors, but there’s no denying that many people adore cruising, and the market is growing. Royal Caribbean has gone out of its way to make its ships, and this one in particular, attractive to families, and the facilities for children, teenagers and parents are indeed brilliant. Teens have their own games arcade, a (non-alcoholic) bar area where they can chill out, plus DJ mixing desks, table tennis, football and basketball courts plus all the facilities open to everyone, such as a free ice-cream machine, Flowrider surfing areas, Perfect Storm waterslides, Ultimate Abyss 10-storey slide, swimming pools, whirlpools, ice-skating rink and the rest.  Continue reading

A first as giant otter brothers sent to Colombia

Simuni and Akuri

It’s another first for the UK – popular giant otter brothers Simuni and Akuri, who have delighted visitors to New Forest Wildlife Park for the last few years – have been chosen to go to Colombia as part of a prestigious international breeding programme.

It is the first time captive giant otters will have been sent from the UK to Colombia. Simuni and Akuri, noted for their loud and boisterous outdoor play, and with a popular following, will eventually be matched with two unrelated female partners in Cali Zoo in Colombia. Although the brothers, who are very close, will remain together when they first arrive, it’s hoped they will eventually start their own separate families of this rare and endangered species.  Continue reading

Changing culture at Birmingham Children’s Hospital

This article was written for the NHS Leadership Academy in March 2015. Read the full article on the NHS Leadership Academy website  at:

The NHS Leadership Academy’s guidance The Healthy NHS Board 2013 – Principles for Good Governance outlines the importance of staff and patient engagement, of openness, honesty and transparency, and of a ‘good organisational climate’ in trust Boards if sustainable, high performing organisations are to be achieved. At Birmingham Children’s Hospital they have made great strides in performance in the last six years but are determined never to be complacent.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, chief executive, Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation TrustAlthough there’s some doubt about whether it’s ever possible to turn around the culture of an organisation, many people would say that Birmingham Children’s Hospital’s (BCH) chief executive, Sarah-Jane Marsh has done precisely that.

In her six years as chief executive, BCH has improved considerably, developing an enviable reputation for the quality of patient care, leadership and governance and for its commitment to patient and staff engagement. It has won numerous awards and received highly favourable reports from the Care Quality Commission and Monitor. Members of staff generally now see BCH as a good place to work and patient feedback is positive. All of this has been done at the same time as making significant improvements to patient care and meeting all quality, finance and performance targets.

But Sarah-Jane, who was last year voted among the Health Service Journal’s Top 50 NHS CEOs in England, believes she has merely “tapped into a culture that was already there” and has helped it to re-emerge.

“You don’t just have an agenda for culture change, but rather you create the conditions for staff to be the people they want to be,” she said. “At best you can nudge culture along a bit. When we were formulating our strategy and mission we asked staff what are the values of BCH, not ‘what would you like them to be”.

“It’s more about getting under the skin of the organisation and listening to people and asking what makes them happy or sad about their work, and trying to use leadership tools to turn this into a strategy and objectives that are a part of everything.”

Helping the Board to change the climate of the hospital

Theresa Nelson, chief officer for workforce development, Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

“It felt like the hospital had lost its way and did not believe in itself,” she said. “There was no sense of purpose and the strategy was wrong – it had been developed by the Board top down and was disconnected from the main problems, with too much focus on side issues. There wasn’t enough direct communication with staff.

“For example, there was an issue about workload, so sick children were being assessed in accident and emergency and then put in a taxi to another hospital if there weren’t any beds for them here. I had never seen anything like it – staff didn’t like doing it. We focused on what the experience felt like for children and families and we stopped doing it immediately.”

Engaging everyone in defining mission, values and vision

Supported by her team, Sarah-Jane set about defining a mission, vision, values and strategy for the hospital from scratch. Staff and patient engagement was at the core of this, so the changes could be owned and developed by everyone.

“We had to ask some fundamental questions,” she said. “Were we a specialist or general hospital? What were we here for? What did people want the hospital to be? What was its mission and values?
“The most important part was about being focused on an excellent service for children and young people and on the training and education of the workforce. So we built on that mission. We developed a vision and objectives based around delivering excellent care, striving to make it better, and looking to the future. It was bringing forward the whole sense that we were a children’s hospital and that it is all about children and young people’s and families’ experiences and their individual stories.”

The drop-in InTent sessions, for example, hosted in a tent in the hospital grounds, have taken place annually since 2009. They involve often 1000 staff at all levels, including facilities, administrative and medical staff, in extensive feedback and consultation on chosen themes. The themes evolve from concerns and issues highlighted by staff themselves and lead to action plans that feed into future strategy and objectives, such as staff health and wellbeing, and resilience in the face of a demanding and challenging working environment.

Theresa Nelson, who took up her post as chief officer for workforce development in 2011, said it was important that staff understood their relevance and did not see them just as empty phrases.

“We held workshops on the values and how we could make them real for different wards and teams, since we wanted staff to feel that they owned them…”

Michelle McLoughlin says it is also crucial, in both patient and staff feedback and engagement,Michelle McLoughlin, chief nursing officer, Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust that people who share ideas feel that they are listened to and that their views are seen to have some impact on outcomes.

“The feedback goes on our website, both good and bad, and anyone can log in. At the moment it’s 88% positive and 12% could do better. We give feedback on all comments within 24 hours and sometimes within 10 minutes. For example a patient complained about a consultant being late in bad weather, and we were able to apologise immediately and say there had been a traffic accident that had made him late. So it can be very responsive. It’s not just about collecting information on the patient experience, but doing something about it. Our job is to action it to make sure that it does not happen again.”

She also says, “it’s crucial that the voice of children and young people is heard and is seen to help formulate strategy and direction.”

Importance of a people strategy

“The staff survey return rates were well below average and the Board did not challenge anything beyond the workforce data. As well as the values work with staff we held a facilitated Board workshop that focused on values and culture. This helped the Board to understand the important role that they had to play in influencing culture and helped them to get beneath the information presented to them, to really understand what impact our decisions were having on our people.”

“It’s important to recognise that any attempts at ‘culture change’ within an organisation need to be contextualised to the needs of different organisations and led from the bottom up,” said Theresa. “It’s not just a blueprint that can be imposed on others.”

With future challenges looming for BCH, not least a possible move to a new site, an increasing local population, rising patient expectations, changing workforce roles and ever more stringent budgets, Sarah-Jane says it is important for both the Board and the leadership team to keep a focus on their core role.



New Forest Wildlife Park curator champions cause of Asian short- clawed otters

Asian short clawed otters at Chestnut


They’re cute, they’re playful and they make a lot of noise, making Asian short-clawed otters one of the most common and popular species in many European zoos. Until recently, no-one thought their numbers were at risk, but recent surveys in South East Asia show that the species is rapidly being wiped out in the wild.  Now New Forest Wildlife Park’s Jason Palmer is at the forefront of helping to conserve the captive population.

Jason, who has just been promoted to the post of Curator of New Forest Wildlife Park and its two sister parks Battersea Park Children’s Zoo in London and the Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire, is leading the way in establishing a European studbook for Asian short-clawed otters that will help to establish healthy breeding bloodlines for the species in zoos in the future.

Because they were relatively common in the wild, no-one had kept accurate records of captive Asian short-clawed otters since they became popular in UK zoos in the 1960s. So Jason has spent two years creating an accurate record book of the names, dates of birth, parentage, re-homings to other zoos and locations of captive Asian short-clawed otters in the UK since that time and has submitted a report of his findings to the global studbook keeper for Asian short-clawed otters worldwide.

He is also working in close association with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and hopes to become the official studbook keeper for Asian short-clawed otters in Europe. Official studbook keepers are dedicated individuals who keep detailed records of particular captive endangered species with a view to matching healthy breeding pairs and conserving the species for the future.

“Carol and Roger Heap, who own the Chestnut Centre and New Forest Wildlife Park, had some of the first breeding stock in the UK, and had kept accurate records, so that gave me a good start with the record book,” said Jason.  “I tracked down the individual Asian short-clawed otters that came to the UK, what other zoos they were sent to and the names and locations of their descendants.

“A lot of the information was not recorded in other zoos so there were large gaps, but by painstaking research and by talking to people in other zoos who remembered the 1970s and 80s I have managed to build up a much more detailed picture.

“Zoos do not breed captive animals that are related to each other and if Asian short- clawed otters are decreasing in the wild, there will be a smaller genetic pool to draw on. So the records will enable us to look at every single Asian short-clawed otter in the UK and work out who it is related to and where it came from. It will benefit every zoo and aquarium in the UK and Europe.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s our duty to try to save every single species that is threatened – that’s why all zoo keepers do what they do.”

In his new role as Curator, Jason will be responsible for the animal collections at all three of Carol and Roger Heap’s wildlife parks. This will enable increased transfer of animals between the three parks, and hopefully, once official licenses are approved, an expanded breeding programme for captive endangered species.

“It’s enriching for the animals and better for individual species if we co-ordinate the work of the three parks more effectively,” said Jason. “In the longer term the public will see a greater variety of animals, younger breeding animals, and hopefully, more babies.”

Crack the code at NFWP this Easter

bison 2

Ready to sharpen your wits, dust off the brain cells and ferret out some fun facts about wildlife? New Forest Wildlife Park is organising a Crack the Code Challenge this Easter school holidays from April 1st to 20th. The cracking clues will be hidden in eggs around the park as part of the annual Easter Egg Hunt and anyone who unscrambles them will win a prize.

This Easter school holidays there will also be animal encounters and keeper talks throughout the day, allowing visitors to learn more about individual animals and their care from the park’s knowledgeable keepers.

200 new pupae have already been delivered for the Tropical Butterfly House, which re-opens on March 27th, when these colourful creatures will begin to emerge. New pupae arrive weekly throughout the season, allowing children to witness all stages of butterfly development and to watch the tropical visitors in all their glory.

The park’s glasshouses have recently been refurbished, with a centrepiece of a new glass home for the harvest mice, so that visitors can watch the everyday activities of these busy creatures in a re-creation of their natural environment.

Great Grey Owls Patty and Selma are the latest new arrivals, transferred from the Chestnut centre in Derbyshire. New Forest Wildlife Park now has 12 species of owls, as well as a wide range of other animals to see in beautiful natural surroundings, including free-roaming roe, sika and fallow deer, and Asian short-clawed, North American River and Eurasian otters.

Vocal giant otters Simuni and Akuri are always popular with visitors and you can also see lynx, Scottish wildcats, wolves, wallabies, foxes, wild boar, European bison, red deer, polecats, pine martens, mouflon, ferrets, badgers and hedgehogs.

There are two fabulous adventure playgrounds for children and adults – Go Wild and Mini Go Wild – where you can let off steam, have fun and explore your climbing, swinging, bouncing and balancing abilities.

New Forest Wildlife Park rescues injured and abandoned wildlife, such as orphaned otters, in association with the RSPCA and is involved in international captive breeding programmes for endangered species, such as the giant otter.

The New Forest Wildlife Park is at Deerleap Lane, Longdown, Marchwood, Southampton, SO41 4UH. Tel 02380 292408.