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Frigate Northumberland bags award for improving life for all on board

4 December 2023
A bespoke forum set up by HMS Northumberland has scooped the Devonport-based warship a Women in Defence award… and improved life aboard for all 190 souls.

The Change Working Group, which comprises able and leading rates, senior ratings and lieutenants – and with a disproportionately high number of female members relative to the composition of the crew – was set up on board the frigate with a big ask: to help improve the lives of all aboard.

Twelve months after the group’s inception the ship’s forward thinking earned Northumberland the ‘inclusive teamwork’ title at the awards.

The ship has been heavily engaged on duties in home waters and the North Atlantic especially in 2022 and 2023.

As well as being deployed for eight months of both years, when not conducting anti-submarine and maritime security patrols, the ship has been a hive of activity undergoing ongoing maintenance, training and preparations for renewed activities – all of which puts a strain on her men and women.

The Change Working Group was set up in the autumn of 2022 to improve the ‘lived experience’ of shipmates (a happy workforce = more effective workforce).

The group was created specifically to give an equal voice to all ranks and ratings aboard, regardless of background, race or sex and all members are volunteers – often bringing experience from being part of other groups/networks such as the Naval Servicewomen’s Network and Compass. In addition any member of the ship’s company can attend one of the bi-monthly meetings.

Weapons Engineering Technician Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Vincent, who works in Northumberland’s comms centre, followed her dad into the Royal Navy – although when he joined “it was a very male-dominated service”.

She’s delighted by the strides taken by the Service – and her ship since then. 

“The role of women in the Royal Navy has only grown and no doubt will continue to do so, we have women working in all branches of the Royal Navy, on surface ships, submarines and aircraft, occupying positions from admirals to captains and warrant officers,” Charlotte added.

“It’s always good to see anyone join the Royal Navy – it truly gives you a life and experiences that you cannot get anywhere else. But it is amazing to see the amount of women who are joining up now compared to years ago.”

It’s truly great to be a part of HMS Northumberland and to have our hard work and efforts recognised.

Electronic Warfare specialist Able Seaman Holly Toms.

The group has suggested ideas and changes which could be quickly and easily introduced by the command team on board such as

  • Creating an anonymous Diversity and Inclusion suggestion box – directly contributing to the inclusive nature of the ship as a whole;
  • Implementing a core working week which personnel can opt into on a weekly basis – significantly improving the work-life balance of the ship’s company while in base port (of huge importance given the extended periods Northumberland has spent deployed);
  • Extending ‘make and mends’ for watchkeepers (alongside and at sea) to reduce fatigue;
  • Adapting duty rosters to ensure parity;
  • Changing the working day during regeneration periods to improve the work-life balance for those who live ashore;
  • Improving information flow on board by creating regular updates for the ship’s company while deployed to enhance the understanding of all on board of the ship’s critical operations.

The improvements implemented via the Change Working Group have contributed significantly to the morale, resilience and, fundamentally, to the operational capability of the ship – and as a ship deployed on the front line of Royal Navy operations, the significance of that cannot be overstated. 

The frigate was one of several RN units/individuals nominated for ten awards across the Armed Forces and supporting industry and civil service sectors – but the only one to come away from the prize evening in London, hosted by TV presenter Julia Bradbury.

“It’s truly great to be a part of HMS Northumberland and to have our hard work and efforts recognised,” said Electronic Warfare specialist Able Seaman Holly Toms.

“The ship has won a number of awards this month showing high competency in engineering and communications, but to win an award that stretches across the whole of the Defence community is a true honour.

“In Northumberland we are all treated as equals working towards the same goals in the interests of our Nation’s defence.

“Here we are all part of a winning team and it’s great to see our efforts and hard work acknowledged.”

Chef Samantha McDonald added: “It was a huge honour to be invited and to liaise with other women in Defence from so many other backgrounds. It was great to speak with other women from all the other services and share our experiences.”

The title was an honour which, says Northumberland’s Commanding Officer, Commander Will Edwards-Bannon, is richly deserved.

“The original idea behind forming HMS Northumberland’s Change Working Group was to create a novel means of empowering all ranks on board to make a difference to their ship, capitalising on the energy of those already involved in the ship’s Naval Servicewomen Network as well as those who had not yet found their route to getting involved but were interested in doing so,” he added.

“Since then, thanks to the creativity and effort of all those involved, the Change Working Group has not only initiated a series of practical improvements to life on board but it has also served as a shining example of the power of inclusivity, teamwork and engagement.

“I am incredibly proud that this team’s achievements have been recognised on such a prestigious stage as the Women in Defence awards and am hugely grateful for the support of everyone who has made this possible.”


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