Our Board of Trustees

The Board of Vetlife consists of a maximum of 12 Trustees, appointed from the membership by the Membership of the Charity. 

James Russell (President)

After graduating from RVC in 2002 and being involved as a student in the national effort to control Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001, James worked initially in Essex, before moving with his wife to a practice in Uttoxeter. Over his time there and in Ashbourne, his interest in infectious disease control developed, seeing him coordinating regional BVD control schemes as well as being amongst the early advocates of controlling the controllable with Bovine TB.

James joined helpline in 2016 and remains involved as a helpline volunteer, as well as a trustee of the charity. It is his hope that over the coming term, the charity will continue to thrive by further joining up the threads of excellent work that it does for so many in our profession.


Paul Horwood (Honorary Treasurer)

I graduated from RVC in 2000, and following an Internship and Residency, I joined a farm animal practice and stayed and helped grow the business as Owner, Partner and finally Director until December 2017.

For many years I was also an Officer in the Army Reserves and deployed to Afghanistan where I commanded infantry soldiers under intense physical and psychological pressure.

I now run a successful leadership training company and spend a lot of my time talking to professionals about leadership, resilience and motivation, based on my experiences in the veterinary field, running a large veterinary practice, and my time in the military.

As my career has progressed, I have become more aware of the issues surrounding mental health and well-being, and the support and advice that is available to vets. I got involved with Vetlife because I value the support that it is able to give and the unique way it helps the profession.

John Chitty (Honorary Secretary)

I graduated in 1990 from the RCVS and have been in private practice ever since. I currently co-own a practice in Hampshire with my wife, and am an Advanced Practitioner in Zoological Medicine. As with many veterinary families my daughters (now grown up and non-veterinary) have also had roles in the practice from a young age!
I have published and presented widely and am a Past-President of both BSAVA and the European Association of Avian Veterinarians. While with BSAVA I had the privilege of acting as their representative to the Mind Matters Taskforce and to Vetlife. I was also able to become involved in many areas of support for vets and nurses and have a particular interest in mentorship and its role in practice.
Vetlife are a core part of the veterinary community and I am honoured to have the opportunity to work within the organization and use my experiences in practice to assist Vetlife’s essential work.

Danny Chambers

I primarily work in equine emergency practice in Hampshire, but still do occasional days of small animal practice. 

I grew up on a sheep and beef farm in Devon and graduated from University of Liverpool in 2008 with an intercalated MSc in Veterinary Infectious Disease Control.

I have spent my career in mixed, equine and small animal practices all over the UK and New Zealand and have spent part of my career teaching at the University of Bristol Vet School.

I was elected as a member of RCVS Council in 2017 and I founded the Veterinary Voices UK which provides a forum for around 16000 vets and vet nurses to support each other and discuss issues in a safe and friendly environment. I also help organise the Vet Voices Hiking group to get vet and nurses out on adventures to raise money for Vetlife

I firmly believe that good communication skills are key to a less stressful and more fulfilling career. Students and graduated vets need to be fully aware of this and not view communication with clients as a side issue to their medical knowledge.

Paul Freeman

I joined the Vetlife Board of Trustees in November 2020 after twelve years as a Vetlife Helpline volunteer. I retired from a large mixed practice in Northumberland in 2017, where I had worked for over thirty years, initially single-handed and then as a partner and director. I have long first-hand experience of the stresses of a veterinary life, as well as the business experience that I can apply to the good governance of Vetlife. My involvement with Helpline has opened my eyes to the real need that there is in the veterinary community, and the tremendous job that Vetlife does in meeting that need, whether it be in the form of emotional, financial or mental health support.
On a personal level, I am married with three adult daughters. I am enjoying a busy and active retirement, through my involvement with Vetlife, BVA, my role as a school governor, and competitive rowing (albeit, these days, in more geriatric events).

Kirstie Pickles

I graduated from Glasgow Vet School in 1996 and after a short time in practice undertook an equine residency and then a PhD at Edinburgh Vet School becoming a diplomate in Equine Internal Medicine in 2009. I have enjoyed the ability to travel with my veterinary degree and have worked in New Zealand and the USA, which has brought me into contact with many veterinary students, surgeons and support staff who face the same stresses and strains the world over. I have been affected both personally and second-hand by mental ill-health and am a massive advocate for supporting wellbeing within the profession. Since receiving an adult diagnosis of autism, I am also particularly interested in improving support for neurodiverse individuals. I am currently a Clinical Assistant Professor in Equine Medicine at the University of Nottingham and am passionate about embedding a culture of wellbeing awareness within the veterinary curriculum to prepare and sustain veterinary students for their career.

Nichola Saunders

I graduated from the RVC in 1991 and my veterinary career has encompassed a period as an assistant in a traditional mixed practice, being a partner in a small animal practice for around 14 years, working as a locum for a range of local small animal practices, both corporate and independent and finally being involved as the small animal clinical lead in the amalgamation of three independent practices to set up of a 16 vet hospital practice in West Wales.

Being a veterinary surgeon defines me as a person and I have always been passionate about mentoring and supporting younger colleagues during the course of my career. I joined the Veterinary Defence Society in 2011 combining this with some part-time work in practice initially and became a full-time small animal claims consultant in March 2012. I have also been a member of the Mind Matters Taskforce for the past 5 years.

I am very aware of the stability and support Vetlife can bring to a person during times of crisis. Vetlife offers a life-line to the profession and I am honoured to have been elected as a Trustee and very much looking to working within the organisation.

Robyn Lowe

I graduated as a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) and have continued to study, gaining my advanced diploma in clinical veterinary nursing in surgery, medicine and anesthesia. I work in small animal practice, and have worked on a volunteer basis for Elephant Nature Park, Canine Arthritis Management and Street Paws.

I am passionate about my profession, and invest a lot of time speaking to the veterinary community to explore challenges they face. During lockdown I realised that loneliness is high among our profession, and to that end set up the Veterinary Voices Hiking Group with two co-founders Danny and Paul to help encourage our profession to get out for their mental and physical health, meet new people and forge friendships, connections and support networks.

I am incredibly proud to be the first RVN to sit on the board of trustees and hope that I can continue to be a strong advocate for my community.

James Glass

After graduating from the RVC in 1992 I spent my first seven years working in mixed practice, before setting up a dedicated small animal practice with my wife. Twenty years as co-owner, senior vet, and eventually clinical director followed.
Over that time, I have become increasingly aware of the serious stresses and challenges that exist for all of us in the veterinary team, from the vet’s office to the nurses consult room, to those at the front line on the phone and the reception desk.
I have been a Vetlife Helpline volunteer for several years and have seen first-hand the difficulties and pain that many in our profession face. But I have also seen the amazing help and support Vetlife can bring to people facing real challenges and crisis.
A protracted period of serious illness in 2018/19 has given me valuable first-hand experience of the huge challenges of living and working with mental ill-health, and the difficulties of asking for and accessing help and support. I have personally experienced that Vetlife is an essential lifeline for our profession.
Having left practice in 2019 I have completed an MSc in the Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health, with a dissertation focusing on shame and stigma around disclosing veterinary mental ill-health. In Autumn 2022 I commenced a PhD entitled “Towards an enhanced understanding of suicide risk in veterinarians” in the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory at the University of Glasgow.

Jo Oakden

Jo graduated from the RVC in 2008 and has since worked in a variety of small animal practices in the UK. Jo has worked in roles as a Head Nurse, Practice Manager, Clinical Coach and Clinical Lead. Jo was also BVNA President and Chair of VNFutures in 2021. In her time with BVNA Jo created and chaired the VN Diversity Inclusivity and Widening Participation Working Group (DIWP) 2022; and was part of the RCVS Legislation working party and BVA’s Good Workplaces working group and Vet Sustains greener veterinary practice working group.

Jo is currently a Business Support Manager at Vet Partners. In this role Jo supports teams in practice to develop and work together to be the best they can be, as well as coaching and mentoring. Jo has lectured at BVNA Congress in the leadership stream and about delegation and communication and diversification of the role.

Outside of her role for Vet Partners, Jo sits on the Veterinary Woman Editorial Board and is passionate about empowering Veterinary Nurses.

Kelly Blacklock

I graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2005 and after 18 months in small animal general practice, completed a rotating internship at the Royal Veterinary College and a three-year ECVS approved residency programme in the Small Animal Surgery at the University of Bristol. I joined the Animal Health Trust in 2011 and was awarded a PhD from the University of Liverpool for studies into the genetics of metastasis in canine cancer. In 2019, I returned to the R(D)SVS as a senior lecturer in Small Animal Surgery, where I am involved in the clinical service, teaching, and research.

I am a volunteer for Vetlife Helpline, and am passionate about supporting mental and physical wellbeing within the veterinary curriculum to best prepare veterinary students for all aspects of their career


Liz Barton

Since graduating from Cambridge in 2004, I have enjoyed a varied clinical career, from mixed practice in Cumbria to a small animal internship, sole-charge out of hours and shelter medicine.

Despite a few ups and downs I’d arrived at a happy place in my career, working part time while bringing up my young family. However, I was becoming more aware of the challenges facing veterinary colleagues and the impacts on their mental and physical wellbeing. I set up what become WellVet – a not-for-profit initiative to support the mental, physical and social health of veterinary team members through resources and events.

Parenting as a professional also opened my eyes to pressures and challenges not often aired in practice, and I co-founded the Vet Mums Facebook group, which now provides peers support to over 7,700 members.

All of this led to career diversification, and I have written, spoken and presented on a wide variety of wellbeing and parenting topics to varied audiences. I developed PR and marketing skills as part of this journey, leading to somewhat unintentional career diversification and my current role as Head of Communications at VetCT.

I’m excited to join Vetlife, bringing the experience I have gained through sitting on SPVS board, Mind Matters Taskforce, Veterinary Woman Editorial Board, Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify and various other platforms. The work of the charity is vitally important and I am honoured to be able to support in this practical way by serving as a trustee.