14th April 2020

A Happy Birthday to Dr Elizabeth Casson!

Who was Doctor Elizabeth Casson?

April 14th 2020 marks 139 years since the birth of Dr Elizabeth Casson and the Elizabeth Casson Trust, a charity originally set up by her, wants to honour the memory of this remarkable woman. Not only is Dr Casson seen as the founder of occupational therapy in England, she was also the first woman to be awarded a medical degree by the University of Bristol. Heavily influenced by the work of the social reformer, Octavia Hill, whom she worked for in her early years, Dr Casson’s passion for the healing power of occupation drove her lifelong work in establishing occupational therapy practice, education and its professional association.

Her obituary, printed in Occupational Therapy, the journal of the Association of Occupational Therapists in 1955, talked of Dr Casson’s drive and determination:

“It was her faith in our healing work that enlivened and enlightened medical opinion regarding occupational therapy, it was her courage and foresight that first established professional training, and it was her determination and perseverance that carried it forward in the face of opposition and indifference.”  (Occupational Therapy 1955)

What is the Elizabeth Casson Trust?

Dr Casson established the original Casson Trust in 1948 to support her developmental work in occupational therapy and the Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy that she had established. When the School merged with Oxford Brookes University in 1993, the Elizabeth Casson Trust was established in its present form.

The Trust is governed by its Memorandum of Association, which sets out the primary purpose of the Trust to further the profession of Occupational Therapy.

What does the Trust aim to do?

The original Objects are regularly reviewed to ensure that the work of the Trust and the language in which it is written, meet the current needs of occupational therapists within the UK and beyond. Today the Trust’s Strategic Intentions (its Objects) focus on supporting four main areas of work:

  • The development and promotion of the evidence base of occupational therapy. Not only does the Trust support the production of evidence it is also supports the translation of evidence into practice
  • The development of occupational therapists’ knowledge and skills in research, education, leadership and management so that they can become confident and capable of taking the profession forward within ever changing practice environments, especially in the UK
  • The development of occupational therapy practice
  • The maintenance of the governance, relevance and sustainability of the Trust

The Trust achieves this by giving grants to occupational therapists who apply for funding. Applications are made online and against sets of criteria which are then used to assess the applications.

Who are the Trustees?

The Trustees are all volunteers who apply for the role when advertised. They are drawn from occupational therapists in the UK and come from all areas of the profession, bringing with them a wide range of knowledge and experience. This ensures that the Trustees understand the profession and can use their expertise to decide how best to support it and its individual occupational therapists. The Power Point presentation shows the range of experience that Trustees have brought to the Board over the last 5 years, noting some of these individuals have now stepped down following their service to the Trust.

The Trust knows that it’s important to have Trustees who can bring a wide range of perspectives to the discussions at the Board. While the presentation may give the impression the Trustees are only drawn from those with huge experience within the profession, this isn’t really the case. While there are those with national and international experience who have received professional accolades, there are also practitioners and educators who are nearer the beginning of their professional journeys. All Trustees have equal standing within the Board and these wide-ranging perspectives ensure lively debate at Board meetings! What distinguishes Trustees is their drive and passion both for their own professional development as well as the furtherance of the profession.

The Trust also draws on expertise from beyond the profession, especially in the areas of finance and law. The lay Trustees bring a range of knowledge that feeds into the Board’s decisions about how best to spend its funds and how to ensure competence and governance within the standards set by the Charities Commission. The Trust also employs a number of associates to do specific tasks. These include experienced occupational therapy educators who assess applications for funding as well as those who liaise with organisations on behalf of the Trust to ensure that contractual obligations are met.

So what has the Trust achieved in the last 5 years?

The Trustees relish their ability to be free to make decisions about how to spend the Trust’s funds. Guided by their Strategic Intentions, governance processes and Charity Commission standards, the Trustees have achieved much to help further occupational therapy. It can count the following amongst its successes in the last 5 years:

  • Funding research The Trust has been keen to fund the development of the evidence base that explores the efficacy of occupational therapy’s positive impact on health and wellbeing. As well as awarding individual grants of £10,000 to three research projects, the Trust has also awarded £250,000 over a five year period to the occupational science group at the Centre for Movement, Occupation and Rehabilitation Sciences (MOReS) at Oxford Brookes University to support the understanding how people’s engagement and participation in their everyday activities support their health and well being. At the moment (closing date May 8th 2020) the Trust is inviting you to apply for funding to study the implementation of research findings into practice.
  • Leadership awards The Trust has funded three leadership awards with the largest project being to £20,000 over two years to Elaine Hunter of Alzheimer Scotland to develop and implement a national leadership project with a group of twenty clinical leaders from across all the health boards in Scotland.
  • Conference awards Amongst some of the most successful funding activities have been the calls for occupational therapists to apply for funding to attend occupational therapy specific conferences. Applications to attend the World Federation of Occupational Therapists’ Congress held in South Africa in 2018 saw the Trust award a total of £52,000 to support 29 occupational therapists from 11 countries. The Trust also supported 40 occupational therapists to attend the Royal College of Occupational Therapists’ Annual Conference in Belfast in 2019 and other international occupational therapy conferences. The call for conference awards will be resumed once these are up and running again.
  • International Scholarship Award This new award was launched at the OT Show in 2019 and allows you to design you own international study tour to meet your professional learning objectives. The award supports UK occupational therapists who want to travel overseas to learn about their area of practice from experts in other countries. Lucy Salmon is the first award recipient for 2020 and will be visiting Rwanda to share learning and practice around stroke rehabilitation.
  • Postgraduate study awards The Trust has initiated awards to support you to further your knowledge through formal academic study. If you want to study for a masters or PhD programme, calls now appear twice a year.
  • Grants for Continuing Professional Development The Trust has always welcomed applications from occupational therapists who want to further their expertise through attending CPD events. Applications for this funding have risen enormously and continue to be amongst the most popular requests for funding that the Trust receives. Applications are assessed against given criteria by two experienced occupational therapy educators. Each year the Trust allocates £85,000 for these awards and has supported from 60-100 applicants each year.
  • Recognition for Elizabeth Casson Memorial lecturers The Trust has funded a badge that is presented to each Casson Memorial lecturer in recognition of their honour in delivering this prestigious lecture. The first badge was awarded to Dr Nick Pollard in 2018 and will be presented to every future Casson lecturer. All previous Casson lecturers were given the opportunity to receive the badge retrospectively.

 A final word from Dr Elizabeth Casson

“When I first qualified as a doctor …I found it very difficult to get used to the atmosphere of bored idleness in the day rooms of the hospital. Then, one Monday morning, when I arrived at the women’s wards, I found the atmosphere had completely changed and realised that preparations for Christmas decorations had begun. The ward sisters had produced coloured tissue paper and bare branches, and all the patients were working happily in groups making flowers and leaves and using all their artistic talents with real interest and pleasure. I knew from that moment that such occupation was an integral part of treatment and must be provided”

Quoted in The story of Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy 1930 – 1986, [Oxford: Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy, 1987], p.1

And finally ……………….

Dr Casson was a pioneer and an opportunist. As Professor Jenny Butler (an Elizabeth Casson Trust associate) quoted in her Casson Memorial lecture 2004, she knew that the ‘ordinary’ can become ‘extra-ordinary’ by taking opportunities that present themselves, believing that possibilities are always there, and by being bold.

So, in honouring Dr Casson, the Trust extends its invitation to all occupational therapists, especially those in the UK, to take the opportunity to follow in her footsteps and use the Trust’s awards to expand your knowledge and practice so that you too can further occupational therapy.

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