Natalie Tomlinson is Head of Marketing and Communications for Dementia UK. Having initially taken a Communications Manager position as a maternity cover job-share in 2018, she was promoted to the ‘Head of’ role in July 2020. Previously, Natalie had worked as Head of Marketing at The Scout Association and then Haven House, the children’s hospice.
The coronavirus has given our work increased urgency. Callers to our Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline have increased 44% from this time last year. When carers message us on social media there is definite urgency to the messages. There is that real sense of: “I really do not know what to do. I have got nowhere else to turn. How can you help me?”
People think they know who we are, but they don’t. In terms of both prompted and unprompted awareness, people will know Dementia UK. They think they know what we do because obviously we have got the name in the title. But we know that many people do not really know what we do — that we focus on the carers of people with dementia and do not do research.
We know we have a brand confusion issue. For historical reasons, our dementia specialist nurses are called Admiral Nurses. Obviously, for cold audiences just talking about Admiral Nurses straight off the bat, they do not understand, so quite often we talk about dementia specialist nurses. And then as we go through the journey we start introducing Admiral Nurses more and more into the copy. We know through our research that out of the people that have heard about Admiral Nurses, a small percentage of people know that they are associated with Dementia UK.
This cause became much more personal to me. My dad had dementia. Actually, when I started at Dementia UK, I did not know that he had dementia, but it became quite quickly apparent. He sadly passed away in April with coronavirus. I saw how hard it had been for my mum to cope with my dad’s dementia. I just love my job because I am able to speak to family carers about how difficult their life is but how an Admiral Nurse has made it a little bit easier for them, what a lifeline they have become. A lot of them would describe their Admiral Nurse as a friend.
Digital kind of crept up on me. I wish that maybe I picked up and learned more about digital earlier on. I had two periods of maternity leave and they probably did coincide with the big boom in digital.
I am quite good at switching off. I think that probably comes from when I worked for the children’s hospice. We were based at the hospice and I got to know the children and the families really well. Sitting listening to some of those stories was quite hard to do and I had to learn to separate that, especially as my two children were very young at the time. It was a 10-minute drive, but I would often walk home and just compartmentalise that part of the day. Now, nothing really keeps me awake at night. I just deal with all the problems during the day as much as I can.
It would be nice to be out of a job. The ultimate aim is that we are all out of a job because they have found a cure for dementia, and there is no need for Admiral Nurses because this horrible condition could be eradicated. Being realistic, that is not going to happen in my lifetime or certainly not in my working lifetime. We know that there are a lot of areas that do not have Admiral Nurses. My aim is to make sure that whatever their postcode, every family that needs access to an Admiral Nurse gets one.
Cause & Effect is a series from Hope, in which leading figures who have been involved in building and promoting good causes tell us what they’ve learned from their experiences. Interview by Michael Isaacs.