Podiatry students at the University of Huddersfield have been helping some of the most vulnerable people in the local area by giving free foot care sessions at the Huddersfield Mission.

The students, all in the third and final year of their courses, have also worked with the public in the Podiatry Clinic  on campus, but taking their skills out in the community and working with the homeless and people at risk has proved to be a humbling experience.

The Mission, on Lord Street close to the University, contacted the Podiatry team to see if there was anything that could be offered to the Mission’s clients as part of health and wellbeing that it hosts on Mondays.

“We jumped at the chance to help the Huddersfield Mission,” says Neville Parker, Senior Lecturer in Podiatry, “They indicated that they would be grateful for any support we could offer, so as clinical module lead for the final year it was up to me to see if we could integrate it.

“We don’t do any domiciliary visits with our students. If they go on a placement they may go to a care home or a person’s house but not every student gets that. We thought it would be good to offer students that experience of treatment outside the clinic.”

The sessions have been hugely successful, with the Mission’s clients delighted to be treated with a respect and dignity that they are not accustomed to.

Mission’s clients treated with dignity and respect

“These sessions mean so much to our clients, and they have been an absolute success,” says Kath Browne, support officer at the Mission. “The students have all been incredibly polite and engaging, and they have treated our clients with a dignity and respect that is wonderful to see.

“It is not an easy environment to come into, and some of our clients have a lot of issues that have to be taken into account. The students have all taken in what we have told them about certain visitors before treating them, and they have clearly listened because they have treated our clients with utter respect.

“One of our clients told me, ‘they have treated me like I’m a paying customer’. They have been so kind and sensitive, and our visitors feel pampered and cared for.”

Positive response from Mission visitors and staff

The sessions take place in a room next to the Mission’s popular café, with Mission staff encouraging customers to pop in to see the students. Knowing the situations of many of the Mission’s visitors helps the staff to suggest a foot care session to certain people, but the take-up has been good even amongst some who were initially reluctant to have their feet assessed or cared for.

“The response has been great, and the Mission staff have all been very positive,” Neville adds. “The students treat a variety of clients, from the homeless to people who visit the Mission for support. There was one person who had not washed their feet for three weeks so we cared for them and padded the feet for prevention and protection. Other clients have been individuals with refugee status, people accessing the food bank, the kind of people who may not have the money to access this kind of treatment normally.

“Our student panel feedback has also been good, they say it has been very humbling, eye-opening and a really good experience. They have been in a situation where they have had to work and think differently, but with compassion and sensitivity as well.”

‘Fabulous’ students offer invaluable service 

Carol Roberts, the Mission’s Community Manager, is delighted with the sessions and in particular how the students are interacting with their customers.

“The students are fabulous – personable, jolly and it feels nice when they are with us. Our customers are people, and they are delighted that something is making their lives a bit easier. The value of this cannot be underestimated.

“We know that foot care is fairly low down on our customers’ list of priorities, but it is something that is fairly problematic. With their histories, many of our customers are vulnerable to leg or foot problems but podiatry was out of their reach.”