Photo of Laila Charlesworth

Laila Charlesworth

Laila Charlesworth, a self-employed Registered Associate Nutritionist, has been nominated by Ian Kenvyn, former lecturer at Leeds Trinity University.

Ian says: “I believe Laila to be an Inspiring Woman Changemaker because of the impact she has made to the quality of life for vulnerable people in the region and for the courage she has shown in making a new start to more fully follow her dream when in her late-thirties.”

Laila’s Story

Laila is committed to improving the quality of life of others. Some of this passion is driven by her unique cultural perspective; Laila is Swedish/Iranian (Mum Iranian, Dad Swedish) and was educated in the Far East, she is married to a Yorkshire man, has two children and lives in Kirklees.

Formerly a Personal Assistant and Office Manager, after having her youngest child she wanted to follow her dream to go to university and study Nutrition. This field has always been of interest – Laila believed it would influence positive change, for herself, her family and for the wider community.

Who will the initiative help/who has it helped already?

While she was still an undergraduate at Leeds Trinity University, Laila conducted research on patient opinions of hospital food in the Calderdale and Huddersfield Hospitals Trust.

This research led to the improvement of food communication with patients and improvement to food quality. It was so successful that the Hospital Trust accessed an award of £1 million towards improving its food even further. It also made the Trust a national pioneer in taking account of food choice.

This innovation empowered patients by giving them better choices at a time when they might have been feeling vulnerable or frail.

In another body of work, Laila also negotiated the delicate task of encouraging the providers of elderly residential care in Kirklees to reveal their levels of understanding of the nutritional needs of their elderly residents.

The bombshell here was that there was a yawning gap in that knowledge. Many elderly residents were being provided with nutritionally incorrect diets.

Having revealed this issue, Laila presented her findings to policy-makers at boardroom level. She was so persuasive that changes are being made to the nutrition of elderly residents.

One of the key components of this change is that the council developed and provided free nutritional training to care home staff as a direct response to her recommendations.

The impact of improved nutrition on the elderly includes lower incidents of malnutrition and dehydration, in addition to fewer hospital admissions and improved quality of life.

What’s worked?

Laila is now studying for a Masters by Research degree. Her latest area of activity has been in understanding the health issues and obstacles being faced by people in emerging communities, including asylum seekers and refugees.

This work has led to Laila authoring a report for Kirklees Council staff to help them better understand the issues of these often vulnerable communities.

A key outcome is an information-card that people can present to health providers such as GP surgeries and dentists that explains that they do not have to provide formal ID or an address to access health care.

The access-to-health card is very new innovation in Kirklees, but there is evidence that already it is having an impact across communities who face barriers to access to health care, such as language. Laila feels that this card might also help the homeless and the Roma/Traveller community.

What have you learnt? Any challenges?

Laila says “Sometimes the research I conduct is under difficult circumstances. People are sick or very vulnerable and have experienced trauma.

They understandably mistrust others and I must win back some level of trust in order for people to confide in me or share their viewpoint without feeling threatened.

I have been brought to tears many times. Hearing stories of those experiencing hardship and it can be very frustrating when you can see the effect an unequal society has on the most vulnerable people.

I’ve learnt how important it is to listen to my gut instinct, because usually if something doesn’t feel quite right, then it often isn’t.

I want to increase the geographical boundary of nutritional training in care homes, so that more elderly people are eating delicious AND nutritious meals, which would help them to feel good and simultaneously reduce the burden on the NHS.

What advice, contacts or resources would help you?

Laila requests “It would be wonderful to find a mentor who can help me access policy-makers in the public and private sector to take this work to the next level.”

Why we’re sharing these stories

An individual or organisation from each of our five categories will be recognised at our Igniting Inspiration recognition event in November, but we want to publish all relevant stories to spread awareness of all the positive work that goes on in the North!

This category is sponsored by Needle Partners Ltd.