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Management Team

Belinda Johnston

Belinda Johnston

  • MA VetMB MRCVS

Founder and Chief Executive

Belinda trained as a vet and worked in London, becoming a founding partner of a veterinary practice in Battersea. Life experiences and her time in practice stimulated her interest in the relationship between people and their pets – the mutual benefits these relationships offer and the impact of losing them. Moving to Suffolk, she developed her person-centred approach and trained in bereavement support and counselling. She now lectures veterinary and animal welfare staff on how to help people cope with companion animal end of life decisions and loss.

She saw the need for a charity which would promote and enhance the bond between people and their animals, providing support to enable these relationships to continue through difficult times, whilst empowering and supporting difficult decisions and loss. Our Special Friends was born! Today Belinda is our Chief Executive. She is also our main practitioner, visiting potential users of the services we offer, assessing their needs and matching them to appropriate support from our volunteers and affiliate organisations. She believes firmly that people need pets and pets need people because they both benefit from being together - but they need to be a good match and, when necessary, to be supported by others to maintain the relationship.

Carolyn Bradburne

Carolyn Bradburne

Finance Manager

Carolyn held senior positions in financial control and planning for major fashion retailers such as the Burton Group and River Island for many years before moving to the voluntary sector. Since then, she has built up considerable experience in fundraising for a wide variety of charities, including Spinal Research, Motor Neurone Disease, St Nicholas Hospice in Bury St Edmunds and the restoration appeal for the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. Carolyn handles the day to day management of our finances and fundraising.

Rebecca George

Rebecca George

Communications Manager

Rebecca is a highly experienced consultant in marketing, PR and communications. During her career, she has run PR campaigns for household name companies including Microsoft, AXA Insurance and Xerox. She started working in the veterinary sector in 2004. She heads up Our Special Friends' marketing activities, helping us to communicate effectively with those who may benefit from our service, as well as volunteers, supporters, stakeholders and the wider public.

Trustees

Deidre Carson

Deidre Carson

Deidre Carson BVSc (Syd) MRCVS is a veterinary surgeon. She worked initially in small animal practice and is now a Partner at a large equine practice in Newmarket. She is a past President of the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA).

Charles Hamilton

Charles Hamilton

Charles Hamilton is the founder of a number of insurance brokers specialising in the areas of bloodstock and private client. He is currently Chief Executive at insurance broker Weatherbys Hamilton. He has significant experience in launching and establishing new ventures and identifies with the aims of Our Special Friends through family circumstances.

Mark Johnston

Mark Johnston

Mark Johnston trained as a vet and worked initially at a large equine practice in Newmarket where he took a special interest in equine anaesthesia and intensive care. He subsequently earned a PhD in this area. He is now Managing Director of Vetstream, a company providing online clinical information, continuing professional development, websites and other digital services to veterinary practices.

Charlotte Philipps

Charlotte Philipps

Charlotte Philipps was involved for many years with Riding for The Disabled and witnessed at first hand the benefit contact with horses could offer to both mentally and physically disabled people. She has also worked with The Elizabeth Finn Trust, a charity which helps people in financial need, and where, again, she saw the vital role that animal companions could play to people facing difficult times.

Ian Hartley

Ian Hartley

Ian spent 34 years in the RAF as a fast-jet and test pilot who, on leaving, moved to Suffolk from his native Gloucestershire in 2001. Here he managed GP health centres for 5 years before becoming the Bursar at Moreton Hall Prep School in Bury St Edmunds. He retired in 2012 and now, in addition to joining Our Special Friends as a trustee, is a governor of his local school.

Support Team

Jane Paley

Jane Paley

Jane has spent most of her adult life either being a volunteer with charities benefitting children and families or working with volunteers in various Suffolk and Norfolk charities. She has worked as a Project Manager for the Campaign for Single Housing (now Solo Housing), helping to set up a charity finding accommodation for single homeless people. She has also worked as Norfolk Community Fundraiser for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) and, more recently, as West Suffolk Volunteer Manager with Age UK Suffolk.

Jane certainly recognises the enormous value that volunteers bring to charity organisations and her aim is to develop the existing and new stars of the Our Special Friends volunteer team, increasing both the number and geographical spread of human and animal companions that can be helped. 

Alison Martin

Alison Martin

Alison has considerable experience in administration, she has worked in archives and spent many years as a government committee secretary. She is also an experienced complementary healer. She has worked with sick and vulnerable people within both the NHS and in private practice and understands the importance and implications of the human animal bond. It is her task to ensure that the office is well organised and runs smoothly.

Volunteers: past and present

Maureen Johnson

Maureen Johnson

Stanton

I became involved with Our Special Friends after meeting Belinda at an event in our village. Our dog, Bonnie, is a rescue dog and is very calm and sweet-natured. Once we had been assessed, we were asked to visit an elderly lady suffering from dementia whose carer had seen an item in the newspaper about Our Special Friends. The lady is a life-long dog lover but her dementia means that she is now unable to care for a dog of her own. We have been visiting her for more than year now and know she enjoys our visits and making a fuss of Bonnie. I enjoy sharing Bonnie's good nature with this elderly lady who obviously misses the company of a resident dog.

Michelle Kavanagh

Michelle Kavanagh

Newmarket

I worked in animal rescue for a long time and saw at first hand the benefits that owning an animal had on people. When I came across Our Special Friends, which focuses on both people and animals, I wanted to get involved. Through my volunteering, I have met a couple of elderly ladies and it was a wonderful feeling being able to help them find and settle in the new dog, which has gone on to change their lives. At the same time, they have also given an unwanted dog a wonderful new home. I always feel supported in my work by Belinda and the results can be amazing.

Linda Sadler

Linda Sadler

Higham

I first heard of Our Special Friends when I saw a leaflet in a local church. At the time my beloved dog was very old and I knew it would not be long before I had to say goodbye to him. I lost him a year later and lost my mother just a week after that. I contacted Belinda and she helped me get through this terrible double loss. Once I had started to recover, I offered to volunteer and walked the dog of a lady in Moulton who couldn't walk her herself for two years until the dog sadly died. I also take my own dog Meg, a Border Terrier, to visit an elderly lady who misses canine company as she could not take her own dog in to the care home.

Animal Helpers: past and present

Rolo

Rolo

Rolo is a six year old long-haired Jack Russell Terrier and is one of Belinda Johnston's two dogs. He is a happy soul and just thrives on attention and fuss. Belinda says: "Rolo is just adored by the people he visits and even somehow manages to adapt his personality to suit each of them. He's a little star!"

Maisie

Maisie

Maisie was a youthful, 11 year old, rough-coated Patterdale Terrier. Her owner, volunteer Sue Perry says: "She was very scruffy and very cute and was a happy, social dog who loved long walks with our other dogs. She might have been small but she had a big personality and was a real people dog!"

Bonnie

Bonnie

Bonnie was adopted from the Dogs Trust by her owner, volunteer Maureen Johnson, seven years ago. She's a 'grande dame' at 15 years old, looks like a medium-sized German Shepherd but is a real mixture! Maureen says: "Bonnie is calm, affectionate and very loveable. She had been visiting an elderly lady with dementia for some time. The lady was unable to have a dog of her own and was always so happy to see Bonnie!"

Meg

Meg

Meg was found abandoned in a village outside York in January 2012, two weeks after Christmas. I knew the owner of the kennels as I'd had a dog from them before. As I'd recently lost him, the owner rang me to say that she had an ideal dog for me. I went up to meet her and loved her. She came back to live with me and my other dog Ben and settled in very quickly to her new life on Newmarket Heath, enjoying lots of runs and chasing the odd rabbit. She joined Our Special Friends and enjoys attending events, visiting an elderly lady in a local nursing home and another local lady. She loves her new role as she gets spoilt, is made a big fuss of and is always warmly welcomed by staff at the care home.

Affiliate Organisations

St Nicholas Hospice Care

St Nicholas Hospice Care

St Nicholas Hospice Care provides practical, medical, emotional and spiritual support to local people and their families who are living with an illness that is life threatening such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, heart or lung disease. They offer support to people in their own homes and cover the West Suffolk and Thetford areas.

Age UK Suffolk

Age UK Suffolk

Age UK Suffolk works with, and for, older people in Suffolk, campaigning with them, and on their behalf. It also provides direct services and support across the county.

Cats Protection

Cats Protection

Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket Branch

Cats Protection looks after abandoned and unwanted cats and kittens, giving them food, shelter and veterinary care until new homes can be found.

Ageing with Optimism

Ageing with Optimism

Ageing with Optimism is a local business which aims to help people get the very best out of growing older.