Diane Morton, 56, is founding director of Wag & Company North East Friendship Dogs, a registered charity enabling volunteers and their dogs to safely visit and befriend the elderly at home and in care and medical establishments.

We’re talking to people with a positive attitude to  mid-life, doing things differently, changing their pace of life, their priorities, reflecting on what’s gone before and the new opportunities and challenges to come.

I used to do this…

I worked in people and services management roles in consulting and then the water industry pretty much all my career. I became director of HR for a Northumbrian Water Group company in 1996 and ultimately, in 2002, for Northumbrian Water Group itself until I retired in 2010.

Now life is about…

Providing elderly dog lovers across the North East with friends with two and four legs. It’s something that has always been possible in care or hospitals but until we launched Wag & Company, it wasn’t possible for people in their own homes to have a visiting dog. For me, access to a friend with a dog is essential for older dog lovers.

Why/how I made a change…

I was only 48 when I decided to ‘retire’ from my role with Northumbrian Water and I always knew that I would want to contribute again. For two years up until that point, I had been spending a great deal of time in Shropshire; my 87 year old father became very ill and developed vascular dementia and had to be cared for in a nursing home. As anyone with a loved one with dementia knows, it’s emotionally hard for the family too, and once my husband sold his business it was financially possible to have more time in Shropshire.

Once Dad died, I started thinking about what the next phase of my life was going to look like. I wanted to give something back and to be useful and, other than my professional work, the most rewarding thing I had ever done was to visit the elderly with our dog in a nursing home.

We met lots of really great people who understandably missed their own homes and their lives which often included a dog and they were really touched by just an hour or two of our time every week chatting and stroking our dog. Rather than feeling like it was a nice thing to do, it pretty quickly felt like something essential to do – most Sundays for almost seven years.

When Dad became ill and we took Harry our black Labrador to visit, he recognised him and greeted him by name, even though he didn’t know who I was.  Precious moments really. So all those experiences led me to decide in 2014 that the best use of my professional skills would be to try to fill a gap – home visiting the elderly with dogs.

It’s been quite a journey, setting up from scratch, developing and continuously reviewing an appropriate model for home visiting as well as enabling care and hospital visiting too. But here we are, three years in – partnered with the Healthcare Trust in Northumberland to increase home visiting across the county. Fantastic.

I’m lucky…

I can spend so much time developing Wag. It wouldn’t be possible without Doug’s support and help; he contributes massively on a regular basis, most particularly as the trustee responsible for risk and strategy and also as the key player in our annual fundraising event at Kielder.

The people who are important…

My husband Doug, my daughter, my mum and our families and close friends; special people who share a corner with you!

Others who are tremendously important are the people who are part of the Wag vision. We have 223 volunteers right now and another 74 in our recruitment pipeline, and they impact over 1,600 people in our region. We also have companies, trustees, ambassadors, fundraisers and others who help us. Every one of these people has chosen to give their time and commitment to this project. I never take this for granted.

A day in the life of me…

The only consistent thing is that our two dogs need to be walked, so our day always starts at about 6.45am with a dog walk, typically around the golf courses in Slaley where we live.

Over breakfast I’ll check overnight Wag emails etc.

If I’m working from the office in Hexham, typically three days a week, I’ll be there by 9.45am until we close at 7pm.

Wag is essentially a small business which needs managing and I’m the volunteer manager.

A really special day involves meeting one of our visiting Wag teams at someone’s home for a chat, or going out for lunch, being part of the difference and enjoying their company. Aside from Wag, I love leisure time with my husband, daughter and friends; we love to travel and we’re looking forward to a big whale-watching trip next year; good job there’s Wi-fi in Baja California!

Work/life balance…

I struggle a bit with work life balance. Ask my family!  I’m very lucky that I have a life full of people and purpose that I adore, but the juggle to create the right levels of attention for everyone and everything is a continuous challenge.

Things are different because…

I feel personally responsible for the welfare of everyone we visit, so that obviously creates a unique level of pressure! I’m as busy as I ever was but I have more flexibility in that I can work from anywhere there’s Wi-fi and a good mobile signal.

I thrive on…

The lovely stories, finding a friend for the new referrals, hearing how it’s going, receiving the pictures and the feedback from all concerned and often meeting the people who benefit too. I love it that I can use my experience of volunteering and the loss of my dad to do something useful, something that wasn’t being done, and to see it happening in practice. My absolute determination now is to make sure that Wag & Company is sustainable and thriving long after I’m gone.

Mid-life means to me…

Choice.. we’re lucky to have our health, to be financially stable and to still be young enough to contribute usefully. I feel absolutely blessed that I can choose to do something I feel is very important.

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