Published: Tuesday, 1st October 2019
This October for Black History Month, we are celebrating the vibrant and diverse communities in the borough. Greenwich would not be what it is without the many histories and futures within it.
Phyllis Iwowo is 86 years-old and has worked in the NHS and lived in Greenwich for 36 years - and is still working! She is a general practice nurse in two different practices in the borough and in 2017 she won the Royal Borough of Greenwich Lifetime Achievement Award, and the award for the South East London General Practice Nurse of the year.
We were lucky enough to catch her before she went to work, to talk to her about her life, her achievements and her thoughts about the borough.
86 year-old practice nurse, Phyllis Iwowo
How long have you been living and working in Greenwich?
I first came to Greenwich in 1975 as a student midwife. I moved away after I married but then when my husband died in 1981, I came back again and worked in Greenwich District Hospital. I qualified as a midwife in this country when I was 46 and I decided to stay. I have lived and worked in Greenwich since 1983.
What was it like for you when you first moved here?
Since the very first time I came to London in ’68 so much has changed and the same goes for the borough. But the thing about it is, geographically and personally you can see that it’s a mixed area and the people are not hostile. I haven’t found any hostility. It’s a well balanced area to live in.
How would you describe Greenwich in a few words?
Friendly, open and I would not live anywhere else.
You are 86 and still working as a practice nurse, why is it so important for you to keep working?
I retired as a midwife at 65 as that was the retirement age at that time. But my friend recommended that I should look for a job as a practice nurse. So, I’ve continued working as a practice nurse since I qualified. I don’t know what retirement means!
But honestly, I don’t see it as working. I see it as giving back. I enjoy what I’m doing. I can’t walk down the street without meeting mothers of babies I’ve delivered or people who I’ve looked after. They in return give me their friendship and I am fulfilled. I’m not lonely, I get up in the morning I’ve got something to do. I don’t think of it as work, it’s communicating and giving back to the country that has given to me.
What changes have you seen in terms of nursing over the years you’ve worked?
There have been many changes in nursing, but the most important thing for me is to learn and adapt to new changes. The clientele today are inquisitive. Social media and computers mean that people look up what might be wrong and so you need to work with them and not against them on that. The access to information has influenced their approach, and so you need to work with them to get the best for them and for the health system.
You got into swimming and aerobics at the age of 80, what drives you to stay so active?
They say that if you stay in one position for two hours you get tired. I have to remember how to sit and stand properly. I wouldn’t be able to do this without going to exercise classes. At my age, I haven’t experienced any illnesses and I think exercise has helped with this. You also make friends, we encourage each other. They ask me when I think I’m going to stop and I say, “I still fit in and I can still do both swimming and aerobics”, so I will keep doing it as long as I can.
You will be a role model for so many people, is that something you ever think about?
No, but one thing I can say, there are kids who are now nurses or health visitors I have met and encouraged. I have met some young people who have been doing a job they don’t enjoy, and I’ll ask, “How long are you going to do that for?”. I can say that there are now health visitors, nurses and teachers out there because I’ve said, “Go and look for something else and reach your potential.” In that way, I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to change the course of other people’s lives. I do encourage people to not sit there and say “this is enough”. It’s not enough. The doors open if you knock, if you don’t knock, you won’t be able to go in.
What are you plans for the future?
What we have is here and now. I plan to go on as best as I can for as long as I can. Luckily for me, my health hasn’t given me concern. If I’m healthy and able to meet the requirements of my job, and my employers are happy with me then that’s all I need, I’m just plodding along. I’m not planning anything for the future. I’m just getting on with it.
Find out about all the Black History Month events going on in the borough.