1 Jun

Marion Janner’s Gift



After thirteen years of incredible work in running the Bright Charity, the incomparable Marion Janner OBE is now, in her own words “stepping down” and retiring from the full on, full time lead of the charity. For the last eighteen months, Marion and the Trustees and staff have planned and prepared for this change and Geoff Brennan has taken over as CEO of Bright which hosts all of Marion’s innovative work such as Star Wards, Wardipedia, Ward Stars, CHAMeleon, Marvellous Care and Animal Magic.

As a Board, we are very sad that Marion is stepping down but understand that having spent so much of her time, energy and compassion on keeping Star Wards and Bright on track, she has now taken to retirement with the adorable Buddy.

In January, this year, the Board of Bright gave Marion a unique award on behalf of all our supporters. Fashioned in the same style as the “Full Monty”, the Board called the award the “Ultimate Monty” and here is a picture of Kathryn Hill, the Chair of Trustees, delivering it to Marion flanked by Nic Higham and Geoff Brennan. Although the poster on the wall was there by chance it sums up everything we have tried to do as a charity. Just so you know, we also awarded Buddy a Full Monty.




Although Marion has retired she will always be the founder of Bright and the inspiration behind the wonderful work we have been able to do over the years. We know she has also been an inspiration for so many of the staff who share the same compassion and care for the people who use their services.





A Request for Help to Help Us Continue to Help Mental Health Wards

In the past, we have been lucky in that a number of fantastic individuals, foundations and trust have provided funding for the work of Marion and Bright. Much of this financial support has now come to an end. As a Board, we not only want to preserve the immense legacy that Marion has left but continue to support staff in their caring and compassionate work.  We know that services have improved immensely over the last 20 years but the reality is that a number of services still need support, and, with money tight and morale low, there is a real danger that some of the gains will disappear. To stop this, we need your help and we would like to ask you to become a supporter of Bright and Star Wards and help us continue building on Marion’s amazing innovation, talent, creativity, passion, and endeavour – and perhaps most importantly, her capacity to love all creatures, be they with two legs or four legs.

You can do this by visiting our Charity Choice donation page



We also wanted to pay tribute to Marion as a visionary campaigner so we asked some of the people who have worked with her over many years to say a few words in honour of all her many achievements. While the star ‘word cloud’ above attempts to visually sum Marion up, this is what they said about our remarkable friend and mentor…


“Marion features prominently in my fond and unforgettable memory bank in so many ways.

She brought a huge number of attributes to the world of Acute Care, in particular, fresh ideas, challenge, humour, networks, influence, energy, humility, courage, verve and an enhanced awareness of the importance of pets!

What was amazing was her ability, in such a short period of time, to create and galvanise a national movement for change and improvement in attitudes, practice and motivation.  All of this whilst still experiencing periods of acute distress.

Marion’s forte was to enthuse and speak up for hard pressed staff as well as service users and families.

Attending Star Wards events became a must, as one came away inspired with an incredible range of new ideas and connections, but also energised to do things differently and better.

The many reader friendly Star wards publications will ensure her permanent legacy.

I’m very grateful that my career was considerably enhanced by my close association with Marion and of course Buddy!”

Malcolm Rae OBE FRCN

Former Joint Lead of the National Institute of Mental Health England (NIMHE). Preston North End fan, loved by all who meet him and a true gentleman.



“I had the pleasure of attending a conference in 2006 where Marion was the guest speaker alongside “The Happy Manifesto” author, Henry Stewart. At that time, I had never heard of Star wards or Marion but I was absolutely blown away by the little bundle of energy and creativity she is. I loved her message and her ideas.  Who would have thought you could have cushions and art work on acute mental health wards? Who would have thought you could say to the infection control team it was ok to have animals on wards? This was a totally revelation and a massive learning curve for me. To be honest, it absolutely and fundamentally influenced the way I worked and my future career in acute mental healthcare.

Within weeks of the conference we had Marion visiting our then “not-fit for purpose” acute wards and throwing Buddy pixie dust all over the place. I remember people queuing up to just meet her! So, we got cushions, we got a rabbit and guinea pig and a pat dog and our world was turned upside down and the right way up. Truly amazing!

Marion and Star Wards have continued to support me and my organisation, NAViGO, in so many ways. We’ve had inspiring visits from her, we’ve had her speaking at a forum we arranged, we’ve had her pinging ideas to us. When we opened our now fit for purpose, new build acute lodges in 2010, they screamed Star wards at everyone who visited and praised what we had achieved. It was not only the working age adult  lodges – our older people’s services used star wards principles and ideas and have the most amazing range of activities, many inspired by Marion herself.

Who would have thought that 2006 would see the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and one that I deeply cherish? I am now proud to call Marion my friend, my inspiration and someone I admire immensely.”

Ellie Walsh

Assistant Director for Adult Acute/Rehabilitation Mental Health Services in NAVIGO. NAVIGO have won a host of awards and accolades for their acute care services. Ellie has been known to take ponies and goats to work with her and is looking for an Orangutan, if you have a spare.



“I have a photo of Marion, Buddy and me in my suit, on a bench in the garden at the Maytree Respite Centre. I like it because there’s a warmth to it, even something light-hearted in a place where the task is so serious. It sums Marion up.

I first met Marion over Star Wards. She treated me to a string of observations about inpatient care, all expressed with that colourful turn of phrase, and all too recognisable. But what struck me was how she refused to judge the ward staff, seeing them as victims of bureaucracy and neglect. If their jobs could be more varied, creative and rewarding, then the experience of patients could be less tedious, more therapeutic, safer.

In the years since then, I have been in so many meetings with Marion, chaired committees that she has come to with Buddy and her ever-present rucksack. Humorous or outraged, she is always worth hearing, always looking to turn her experiences into something that can help other people. She is a model of what a voluntary sector champion should be, though having said that, I know many champions in mental health but none quite like her.”

Louis Appleby

National Director for Mental Health from 2000 to 2010 and presently Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manchester. Louis is owned by a lovely retriever dog who endorses this testimonial.



“In the 10 years I have worked in mental health I have met some very special people and Marion is one of the most special.  She is special for who she is, for what she has said and most importantly for what she has done to improve the lives of people, like her, who have experienced severe mental illness.

I first met Marion through Rethink Mental Illness’s Regional Committee for London.  I was struck at once by the direct, practical, totally honest, and at times even humorous way, in which she talked about her own experience of mental illness, about what it was like to use services and about her ideas of things, big and small, which would make a difference to people.

Later on I became aware of her work with Star Wards and from time to time have had the pleasure of working with her on issues around inpatient care.  I loved the name, I loved the mission, I loved the passion which Marion and Star Wards displayed about getting on with whatever could be done to make inpatient wards be better places for people to be and get better in.

One of the best things about Marion’s approach was her commitment to working alongside staff to improve care.  Sometimes it is too easy, in campaigning mode, to knock the system and, when things are not as good as they should be, be critical of those providing services.  Marion, although quite capable of a hard word about failures in systems and attitudes, has always been on the side of the majority of staff who work in inpatient care who want to do a good job in a difficult environment and who are looking out for encouragement and inspiration on what can be done better.

Despite what she had been through Marion’s sense of fun and ability to look imaginatively at less conventional ways of improving care have been infectious and inspirational.  Nothing epitomises this more than her crusade for pets on inpatient words, a recommendation I was very pleased that we included in the report of Rethink Mental Illness’s Schizophrenia Commission.   I once had a wager with Marion as the largest animal we could get on a ward.  We got as far as a small pony.

So as Marion stands down from Star Wards it’s my enormous pleasure to raise my light sabre and salute one of mental health’s most inspiring and loveable Jedi Knights.”

Paul Jenkins 

Chief Executive at Rethink Mental Illness from 2007 – 2014 and now Chief Executive Officer at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Proud Welshman and author of a very cool series of blogs.



“Marion made me stop and look at my own life and make me ask myself whether I was what I wanted to be as a human being. Was I aware enough of the challenges others faced that I took for granted? Was I brave enough? Did I swear enough? Was I comfortable with a dog sniffing my leg in a meeting? Love her to bits (even though there’s not much of her!)”

Jonathan Jenkins

CEO London Air Ambulance Charity, runner of marathons, rabid Spurs Fan and Bright Trustee (but not the treasurer!)




“Dear Marion,

You are amazing. You are a free thinker, an innovator, a disruptor (in the best possible way). You are funny, challenging, insightful.

Thank you for all you have done for Star Wards. Many thousands of people with mental health problems owe you!”

Paul Farmer CBE

Chief Executive of Mind, Chair of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), Chair of the NHS England Mental Health Taskforce and dreams of playing cricket for England.



“If Marion were a dog what type of dog would she be? She might be:

An adorable Andrex puppy, delightfully cute and a never-ending source of entertainment. Anyone’s spirits would be lifted by time spent playing and having fun in the company of this lovable puppy. You can feel your enjoyment in life being regenerated with every second you spend in its presence.

A St Bernard, the saviour of all lost souls, miraculously appearing with a barrel of much needed brandy (a fine choice indeed), demonstrating a fundamental understanding of people’s needs. This dog is a lifesaver who goes off into the dark, cold night full of dangers both real and imagined, battling through ice and snow, ignoring its own discomfort and pain while it searches for lost individuals who may themselves have lost hope. The deep furry, cuddly coat makes you feel warm again and takes you to safety.

A Border Collie, guarding the sheep, protecting them and letting them develop completely, paying no heed to the well-worn adage that sheep are easily led. There may be call for a gentle nudge, but this highly intelligent and intuitive dog realises that a nudge is all it takes for them to flourish, develop, and become creative. The shepherd and the farmer rightly understand how essential the work of this dog is and provide just rewards for excellent work done.

Marion, you would be all these dogs, and many more besides. Most importantly, you would be the dog which everyone needs, and it’s reassuring to know that you’ll still be around with your own lovable canine companions.”

Joy Bray

Pioneering Mental Health Nurse, the genius behind “Brief Encounters” and presently bringing Mental Health First Aid training to the masses.



“I have had the privilege of knowing and working with Marion for around 10 or so years.

What started out as a relationship to provide her some support soon saw me appointed as a Trustee (in a memorable meeting with Buddy in an Ewok costume) and then as Chair of Trustees to the Board of Bright home as we know of Star Wards.

 It has been a humbling experience to work with a person who I have come to view as a true reformer in the tradition of so many great predecessors in history. I have learnt so very much from her and believe that the mental health services and experiences of those who work in them and use them are so much richer for her very individual and indefatigable input.”

Ian Hulatt

Mental Health Adviser for the Royal College of Nursing in the UK, former Chair of Trustees or the “Bright” Charity, another proud Welshman and part time train conductor.


“Marion is the single most innovative, creative, challenging, thought-provoking, funny, enthusiastic, revolutionary person I have ever had the pleasure to work with!

Marion has provided outstanding public service in challenging and shaping mental health services through her pioneering work. The ‘Star Wards’ initiative and its parent organisation, the social justice campaigning charity ‘Bright’, works with mental health staff and service users to improve inpatients’ daily experiences and treatment outcomes. Her work has rightly been recognised through the honour of an OBE.

In this work, Marion has been at the forefront of knowledge transfer and creativity to engage with the psychiatric/mental health nursing profession and the academic community to bring about significant and actual change in the quality of care for mental health patients and to improve staff morale in hundreds of inpatient psychiatric units across the UK and abroad.”

Alan Simpson

Professor of Collaborative Mental Health Nursing, City, University of London. Proud owner of an open mind, even if he does support Chelsea.



“The first time I met Marion Janner she literally chased me down the street. We had both just attended a dreary meeting to discuss yet another critical report about the state of acute wards. It seemed like everyone knew what was wrong but no one was doing anything to put it right – except Marion that is.

She must have sensed that I felt the same way so, once she had caught up with me and got her breath back, she thrust a single piece of A4 paper into my hand and said “I think you’ll like this”.

It was an almost complete version of the 75 Star Wards ideas and from that moment I was completely hooked on the whole Star Wards concept and Marion’s role in it in particular.

I was delighted to be at the launch of Star Wards and even prouder to get my own specific mention in Star Wards 2 the sequel. To get such a positive endorsement from someone I admired so much was just the boost I needed to push forward with what I believed in.

Star Wards blossomed and, while Marion was busy getting an OBE, I was busy trying to get a much-coveted Full Monty award. I never quite got there but something even better happened as we ended up generating some specific ideas of our own instead.

So, we held quiz nights in which the staff and patients from each ward literally put their heads together to compete. Everyone knew something that no one else did and it proved a big boost to self-esteem. We held bingo nights and dinner parties, held an anniversary BBQ each year, celebrated the Royal wedding, the list is endless. We did serious things too, like getting rid of queues and doing medication clinics. Every idea was considered and Marion backed us at every turn.

To say that I am eternally grateful to her and that she had a huge influence over my thinking is an understatement and that got me thinking as to whether I had ever given Marion anything in return? I drew a blank and then finally I remembered.

When she generously gave up her evening to attend our Prepare and Share Group I taught her how to fold a serviette properly; an essential skill that I’m sure she has put to good use many times since. Not sure if that quite makes us even, but it’s a start.”

Jo Spencer

Previously the fabulous Modern Matron at the Highgate Mental Health unit, contributor to the early development of Star Wards, Arsenal Fan and an exceptionally talented and caring acute care nurse. 



“Like most people, I vividly remember the first time I met Marion and Buddy. 2005 and I had organised a conference for acute wards and asked Marion if she would come down and open it. So she arrives – four foot nine with a rucksack bigger than her, all energy and fizz with the most zen dog I had ever seen. She got up on the stage of a packed hall and blew everyone away with ideas, positivity and belief while Buddy snoozed at her feet. She talked about the possibilities for acute care, she talked about Star Wards, she talked about chocolate. I was instantly hooked. Marion has been my leader, collaborator, boss, mentor, inspiration, confident and pal ever since.

She can cheer you up with a well-chosen Yiddish word, she can make you laugh with a gesture and she can change your world with an idea. She has an unrivalled belief in the healing power of chocolate muffins. She has the ability to make you want to do better without ever saying the word “better”. She is determined in her search for excellence, and fastidious in getting the small details right. She lights fires in people and not under them. Marion believes in people and they believe in her.  She is naughty and she is nice.

I have met some great people in my time in acute Mental Health, but she stands out for me as a beacon of positivity. After twelve years of running Star Wards, while dealing with her own demons, she has been the midwife for the range of amazing and timeless resources. Many of her ideas have become mainstream. Nothing she has done has been half hearted. Everything has been enhanced with a zany, “Marionesque” twist.

Marion, I wish you well in your rest from Bright and Star Wards. I’m not going to say goodbye though.  I fully expect the odd brilliant e-mail, complete with doggy photos and glorious observations. In fact, I will welcome them.

Be well, lovely lady, and thank you for everything. Next time I see you, the muffins are on me.”

Geoff Brennan,

Executive Director of Star Wards and administrator of the Buddy Janner Fan club.



“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to pen a short tribute to Marion.

This tribute could easily simply say how beneficial Star Wards has been to patients and nurses. How it has taken and strengthened the good qualities in both populations. How it has been packaged and communicated in a way that is overwhelmingly positive and helpful.

Or as a psychiatric nurse I could say that Marion has re-awakened an aspect of the soul of my profession, re-energising and re-invigorating many nurses. I could say how much I have learnt from what she has done, and how much my own work with Safewards has benefited from her example.

This would all be absolutely true. However, what really makes a hero of Marion to me is how she has faced and found a way around her own personal difficulties, climbing over the cards life has dealt her, and still made these immense contributions to other people. Truly inspirational!”

Len Bowers

Artist, photographer and musician who in a previous life was Professor of Psychiatric Nursing at the Institute of Psychiatry and led the research and dissemination of “Safewards”. He and Marion share the distinction of receiving an Eileen Skellern Lifetime Achievement award.



“Over the last six years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be personally inspired, challenged and nurtured by Marion. What I love about her is that she’s overflowing with appreciation and love for ward staff and the people they care for. I first met Marion in 2010 when she visited my Trust to give a presentation on Star Wards. I’ll always remember the moment she and Buddy came running down the corridor towards me, shouting “Nic, my hero!” as she greeted me with a huge hug. That was such a massive confidence boost for me (although, I was thinking to myself “Hold on, you’re my hero!”). Marion’s valuing and trusting of me and my skills has positively changed my life. Every ward needs a Marion and Buddy clone. I’ve never met anyone like Marion; her boundless energy, depth of thoughtfulness, abundant generosity, and quirky creativity have been such a rare offering to the mental health world. And what a difference she’s made. Thanks so much, Marion!

I’d like to share the following list as a way to celebrate and reiterate the key values and overall ethos Marion has firmly interwoven into Bright, and consequently, the lives of the people we influence through our work. It’s also a list of the things I love about Marion:

  • Marion’s core values are of social justice, specifically supporting those helping people who experience severe and multiple disadvantage. Marion embodies (and lives) the egalitarian view that everyone deserves equal rights, opportunities and fundamental worth. Unswerving respectfulness and egalitarianness are at the heart of Marion’s philosophy.
  • Marion has a very inclusive approach. Bright are concerned about the experiences of everyone involved in the lives of experience severe and multiple disadvantage. Star Wards, for example, is mindful of everyone on the wards – clinical staff, non-clinical staff, patients, visitors, family, friends and pets.
  • Bright’s very aware of the needs of those people who are particularly lacking in power, validation and or culturally reflective experiences.
  • We aim to do right by those whose lives most need improvement.
  • We prioritise our work with those people most socially powerless. We focus on situations where the most marginalized people are even further disadvantaged.
  • Our suggestions, strategy and practice are informed and continuously adapted in line with what’s happening out there in the real world.
  • Being appreciative and loving of people. We might not be related or share the same views, but we’re all fundamentally connected, and therefore have a responsibility to one and other.
  • We love animals: what they offer and represent. Buddy, Marion’s support dog, has always conveyed an accessible, unthreatening, informal organisational ‘personality’.
  • Our approach is to be palpably appreciative of staff and to provide resources which are appealing, validating, practical and easy to use. We want the tone, intention and contents of the resources we create resonate with the people who use them and this plays a big part in their motivation and energy to participate.
  • Mirroring back to mental health ward staff themselves in their best possible light.
  • Communication is what we do at Bright. We find out about excellence enthuse about and publicise this.
  • In our free-form way we work in partnership with other service user and staff associates, other charities, services and organisations to improve the experiences of those social groups in the most need.
  • Essentially, we celebrate what’s good. We love staff public recognition through non-competitive awards’ schemes, and avoid the ‘winner takes all’ approach.
  • We take an appreciative inquiry approach – focusing on increasing what an organization does well rather than on eliminating or trying to fix what it does badly.
  • We encourage out of and weave into our work: happiness, diversity, flexibility, responsiveness, creativity, improvisation, adaptation, spontaneity, serendipity.
  • We aim to create resources which are pretty future-proof. We’re mindful that mental health wards are very low-tech and our focus is on how people feel and act – basically, the power of relationship.
  • We’re big fans of frugal innovation and celebrate Jugaadness. Scouting, spawning, sustaining and scaling up grassroots innovations.
  • Our greatest influences and teachers are our wards. We recognise that front-line staff necessarily have a much better grasp of what’s needed than we can do. And the process and fact of developing their own methods, priorities and practices also increase the likelihood of sustainable improvements.”

Nic Higham

Inpatient Care Project Manager/ Young persons lead (2008 – 2019), beat-maker, coffee-lover



So, thank you, Marion and Buddy. You will be cherished and honoured in all we do in the future. You have left a very BRIGHT legacy.