Most Innovative Mental Health Intervention
Suicide Crisis is a registered charity which provides Suicide Crisis Centres in Gloucestershire. It also runs a separate Trauma Centre (focusing on early intervention to help prevent people from deteriorating into suicidal crisis).
We provide a combination of Suicide Crisis Centres, home visits and emergency phone lines for our clients. This provides more ways for them to access us, and more ways for us to reach them.
Our Suicide Crisis Centre was devised and set up in 2013 by a psychiatric patient who had recently experienced suicidal crisis herself. She had been under the care of the crisis team (crisis resolution and home treatment team) and had been admitted to psychiatric hospital in 2012, following a traumatic experience.
There was initially huge scepticism that a “psychiatric patient” could set up “such an ambitious project”. But it was her lived experience that provided such important learning and understanding of what is helpful to people in suicidal crisis. It gave her a profound insight into what crisis services should be providing. She was able to see why the crisis team (CRHT) wasn’t working for some people, and that some people needed a very different approach and ethos to help them survive suicidal crisis. She has said: “In many ways, I set up the opposite of what I experienced under psychiatric services”.
Although our services are very different from psychiatric services, we include psychiatric professionals in our team, recognising the skills and knowledge they have. Our advising psychiatrist and other advising clinicians provide specific information and guidance, and give advice about specific matters that may arise when we are working with clients. Our team members who work with clients in crisis have a combination of counselling training, suicide intervention skills training, input from our psychiatric advisers (especially in assessing suicide risk) and training in the lived experience ethos and approach of our charity.
Going above and beyond the expectations
In the eight years that we have been providing services, no client has died by suicide during the period in which they have been under our care, whether they have been under our care for a period of days, weeks or months. This is unusual in a crisis service, and it has led to national and international interest in our work, including from the Ministry of Health in New Zealand.
We have frequently used the following phrases to describe our approach:
“We do everything we can for each individual to help them to survive” and
“We are tenacious in helping people to survive suicidal crisis”.
In order for every client to survive, we feel it has been necessary to go above and beyond what would be expected of a crisis service.
For example, we have noted that some men say they only feel able to be supported by one member of staff – the person who first assesses them.
Some men find it extremely difficult to ask for help. In coming to see us, our male clients take the hugely courageous step of expressing their deep emotional pain, their distress and their fears to another person. This may be something that they have never revealed to anyone before because they have spent their adult life keeping this part of them hidden. They may only feel able to show this level of vulnerability to one member of our team.
A high-risk male client told me retrospectively that if I had passed him to another member of our team for subsequent appointments, he would not have come back to our Centre.
Our experience shows that in order to help such men, who are the least likely to disclose their risk to anyone, organisations may need to put in place very specialised and targeted support as we have done, and go above and beyond what they would usually provide. It has always been our aim to reach people who would not usually seek help from any other source and whose silence about their suicidality puts them at great risk. They may tell no one.
We know it is exceptionally difficult for crisis services to put in place such individualised crisis support. In most crisis services, a team becomes involved in someone’s care, when they are in crisis. But we felt it was essential to adapt our service, to ensure that our high risk clients survived. After a period of time, the men were able to accept a second member of our team to co-support them, but in the early days, this sense of continuity with one person was vital for their engagement.
Our tenacity and “going beyond what is expected” are also demonstrated in our commitment to reaching clients. Last year we were able to drive through areas of flooding to reach them, because of our highly trained professional drivers who were able to safely drive through water to reach the homes of clients in crisis.
1. The Suicide Crisis Centre was devised and set up by a psychiatric patient. The concept of a psychiatric patient setting up a crisis service was considered radical in 2013. It is still exceptionally unusual. It goes beyond co-production. It turns the traditional MH service model upside down – the psychiatric patient creating a service and employing psychiatric advisers. Our advising psychiatrist used to like to remind her: “You’re my boss”.
2. The model of service is a combination of Suicide Crisis Centres, home visits and our emergency phone lines. We know of no other crisis service model which provides this combination. Our suicide crisis service operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Our first client showed us we would need to provide home visits, back in 2013. He had been through severe trauma and was unable to leave his home. He was too afraid to travel to our Suicide Crisis Centre. So we risk assessed the situation and went out to him. We realised that we would have to provide home visits, if we wanted to reach everyone who needed our services. We were able to adapt our service in the first few weeks to create a model which would really provide what our clients were showing us they needed from a crisis service.
3. Altering the traditional power balance: Our clients are much more in control of their care than under traditional services. Our clients decide how often we see them (every day if they wish), they decide the kind of care and support they receive from us, and they decide when they feel ready to leave our service. Under traditional services, psychiatric clinicians usually make these decisions for the patient/service user.
Although we place our clients in control of their care as much as possible, we actively intervene to protect their life when they are at risk of suicide.
People who have experienced trauma may find feeling in control extremely important. They may have felt a loss of control during the traumatic event – and so subsequently losing control (or having control taken from them) is something they may find very difficult and distressing. Men also often find it very important to have a sense of being in control of their care – to counteract the feeling of vulnerability which they can experience.
4. We know of no other crisis service where the team has the combination of different training that our team has. All but one team member is a qualified, BACP-accredited counsellor. They have additional suicide intervention skills training, via the ASIST course. They also have input from psychiatric clinicians – in particular in assessing suicide risk. And of course they have the vital training in the lived experience ethos, approach and methods of our charity which are described in detail in the book “Suicide Prevention Techniques: How A Suicide Crisis Service Saves Lives” https://www.hachette.co.uk/titles/joy-hibbins/suicide-prevention-techniques/9781784509491/
Our clients provide the best evidence of the impact being sustained over several years. For example, Allan Fawlk is now a trustee of our charity and also works as a driver/support worker. He has safely driven members of our team through the most adverse weather conditions to see clients, including through floodwater. He is a skilled driver (a former postman who used to drive post office vans).
Allan is well now, but in 2013, he was a client at our Suicide Crisis Centre. He accessed our services after a series of adverse life events. We assessed him as being at high risk of suicide, and we were very concerned that we might lose him. We worked tenaciously to support him through his crisis.
Sometime after he recovered from his crisis, Al wrote a comment on the charity’s Facebook page:
You remain in my pocket for life, supporting, guiding and aiding my recovery. Still here, thanks to the Suicide Crisis Centre.”
His comment highlights the strong connection that we build with our clients. It is as if he carries us with him (in his pocket). And his comment shows how the impact of our care and support continues after he has left our services – his eloquent quote highlights how the things he learned and experienced under our care have stayed with him, and continue to assist his recovery.
As well as the sustained impact on our clients, the wider impact of our work is shown through the books about our Suicide Crisis Centre, which continue to inform people about our methods, approach and ethos. The book “Suicide Prevention Techniques: How A Suicide Crisis Centre Saves Lives” (published in 2018 by Hachette UK) explains in detail why all clients have survived under our care. It was this book which led the Ministry of Health in New Zealand to contact us about our work. We continue to be contacted by individuals and organisations about the book:
Another book focusing on our methods, ethos and approach will be published in the autumn of this year.
Most innovative wellbeing intervention
We, at Black Dog Outdoors, are all keen on the promotion of improved mental health and wellbeing. We’re also passionate about outdoor activities, predominantly climbing, paddle sports and hill-walking / mountaineering. Recent studies have shown that there is a positive link between outdoor exercise and improved mental health and well-being, which is now being promoted (and socially prescribed) by the National Health Service. This is a positive step forward however, for many people, their poor mental health may actually prevent them from getting outdoors.
We’ve established our organisation to support those affected by poor mental health into accessing outdoor activities. In addition to our website (www.blackdogoutdoors.co.uk) we organise walking, climbing and paddle sport events throughout the UK that are free to attend for those affected by poor mental health. These events are managed by qualified outdoor professionals and supported by Mental Health First Aiders to ensure that the attendees are safeguarded and can fully enjoy the experience, meet like-minded people (without fear of being judged), and gain some confidence in their own abilities.
We are also active on social media through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where we promote the benefits of outdoor activity.
Going above and beyond
The Blackdog Outdoors team all have full-time jobs but give up their time voluntarily to support those affected by poor mental health. Often this means us driving across, down, or up the country to one of our many national parks to host an event. We receive no income from this and operate on a non-profit basis; i.e. any money received through donations goes back into providing safe and fun experiences for the attendees. Our event leaders have all completed Mental Health First Aid training, again in their own time, to ensure that our attendees feel fully supported during our events.
Some of our team members sit on the British Mountaineering Council’s (BMC) Equity Steering Group, which is a committee of BMC members that focusses on supporting under-represented groups into the outdoors. Through this forum we have linked up with other similar mental health support organisations, such as Climbing Alongside Mental Health (C/A/M), to support their work and hold joint events.
We have given several online presentations during the recent COVID pandemic, as well as producing articles for outdoor magazines, to promote the mental health benefits of getting outdoor exercise during local and national lockdowns. Again, these have been produced and presented in our own time outside of work.
We organise walking events for Trail Magazines online community, Mountains for the Mind, which is a forum for those with poor mental health to inspire each other into getting outside. We also work with various local authorities to provide outdoor events for people that are referred through social and green prescribing.
We ensure that our events are free to attend for those affected by poor mental health. Rather than charging a ‘booking fee’ we provide an opportunity for attendees to donate to the charity where they can. This approach removes any financial barriers that may exist for some of the attendees and means that we are not reliant on booking numbers to make an event viable.
We ensure that all our events are run by qualified outdoor professionals and supported by mental health first aiders – all volunteers giving up their time to provide a fun, supportive and safe experience for the attendees.
We provide opportunities for trainee leaders / instructors to join events and gain experience of group management, which is difficult to attain when working towards outdoor qualifications. This experience also provides them with an insight into how the attendees can benefit, mentally, and how they can help to make a difference for people’s wellbeing when qualified.
We work with, and promote, other charities to provide access to the outdoors for under-represented groups.
We provide subsidised navigation training to help upskill and empower people to get out on their own – confidence through competence.
We work with governing member organisations (British Mountaineering Council, Mountain Training Association, Scottish Mountaineering, British Canoeing) to promote mental health issues to their members and the outdoor community in general – some links to this work are below:
We believe that this holistic and sustainable approach to our work sets us apart from other organisations.
We launched our website in November 2018 and held our first group event in April 2019, which was an organised walk in the Peak District. Since that inaugural event we have held a further 34 throughout the UK, engaging with more than 400 attendees as far South as the New Forest, and as far North as Fort William.
We issue a feedback survey to our attendees and a screenshot of some of the data is included below. Testimonials from attendees and supporters of our work can also be found at www.blackdogoutdoors.co.uk/testimonials
Included with this entry form is a short video testimonial from one of our event attendees, Mark Hunter, which he has given us permission to use for promotion of our work.
Extract of survey feedback:
|Did attending the event help improve any of the following:|
|Feelings of achievement / accomplishment?||96%||24|
|Self confidence / self belief?||76%||19|
|Connecting with others?||84%||21|
|Connecting with the outdoors?||76%||19|
|Being present / mindfulness?||64%||16|
|Providing an escape from ‘every day worries’?||88%||22|
Support During the Pandemic
Bedford Borough Council
Team BEDS&LUTON are one of 43 Active Partnerships across England. Our vision is to have a Healthier and Happier Bedfordshire. We bring together a range of groups across Luton, Bedford and Central Bedfordshire, including community organisations, national governing bodies, coaches, clubs and volunteers. Supporting, developing and promoting physical activity in the local area so everyone can have the opportunity to achieve a healthier, happier and more active life.
Our mission is to work in partnership to support, develop and promote safe, high quality and inclusive opportunities for people to participate in sport and physical activity for life.
In the context of this application, Bedford Borough Council are one of our key stakeholders to deliver a healthy and active lifestyle to the residents of Bedford Borough and we saw first-hand the amazing work Robert has to engage all residents during the pandemic to remain active. We work with many other local organisations and local authorities across Bedfordshire, but the work Rob within the Bedford Borough Council Sport Development Team has been above and beyond the expected levels seen across the country.
Going above and beyond
Robert has been instrumental throughout the ongoing pandemic to ensure that the community across Bedford have been able to access online free movement and physical activity sessions via ZOOM. This has been provided by the local council and Robert is a key part of the Sports Development Unit.
Whilst the younger population embraced the online world, the older generation struggled with it more and found going online quite hard. It was a big learning curve for large parts of the community as many of the activity sessions were designed for the 50- 80 age group who had never used a video conference software before. We interviewed many of the participants and all said that Rob went above and beyond his normal role at the council. The sessions have become a lifeline for them during the ongoing lockdowns and helped them established a routine and a virtual connection to the local community. All sessions were free and the variety and depth of sessions was far more innovative than many other council ran sessions in the area. Rob made himself available to help individuals with their computer issues and helped several couples find the right way to get online easily and without the need to buy any new equipment (for example using their mobile phone to do the classes if their computer did not have a video camera).
You can see a video of the impact it had on one couple here:
“The online exercise classes concept was completely new to us and one which we probably wouldn’t have gone looking for before the Pandemic but now we really understand the benefits and would gladly recommend to anyone how good there are. The technology side of it is a little daunting at first but you quickly overcome that. You also get lots of support from Robert at the council if you need it.”
After a session they have a coffee and catch up which really helped the community stay together and talk. With many of the participants being on their own this really helped motivate and improve mental health during a very lonely time.
Making an impact during the pandemic
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, with alot more time spent at home and the closure of a majority of services and business, it has been really difficult for the community to become and remain physically active as well as socialise with friends and family. Robert worked tirelessly in his role at Bedford Borough Council to ensure sport and physical activity sessions were available online throughout the ongoing pandemic and national lockdowns. Robert adapted his areas of work which focussed predominantly on mental wellbeing with a link to CAMHs and activity for older adults linking in with numerous care homes. Robert reacted swiftly to the initial lockdown in March 2020 providing online sport and physical activity sessions online via a secure platform, delivered by a qualified coach with the opportunity to socialise at the end of the session to make new friends and ensure the community felt connected.
A key area of Rob’s work which he feels strongly about supporting surrounds mental wellbeing. Prior to the pandemic he worked with CAMHS (Children and Adolescents Mental Health Service) to provide unique sport and physical activity sessions with a CAMHs support worker on hand to support the young people or provide guidance to any parents or carers who had questions or needed support. The session typically had around 8-10 young people attending each week with the activities including badminton, table tennis and yoga, unfortunately due to the pandemic and closure of leisure facilities the session disappeared overnight. Although, Rob adapted the sessions and service to run online, with different activities, adopting a multi-sport fitness session as well as continuing the yoga online with support from CAMHS participation officer. The virtual session has continued to grow in number with accessibility no longer an issue and young people looking for ways to become and remain active whilst wanting to make new friends and socialise, below are some quotes from participants and parents who have been involved in the programme:
Participant- “Despite the pandemic, I think using sport to help people with conditions like mine is positive- it gives me motivation to carry on and I need a place where I can meet other people like me and talk. Exercise helps take my mind off things.”
Parent- “The Young Minds Yoga is a weekly exercise session which gives young people the chance to relax and discuss problems with professionals if they want to. Their parents and carers can also stay and chat to the Children and Adolescents Mental Health staff (CAMHS) or each other which provides peer to peer support which I think is great for us.”
Rob continued his partnership with care homes and understands the importance of movement and impact of loneliness on this age group, providing an EngAGE together programme as part of his role at Bedford Borough Council’s Sport Development Team. The EngAGE programme offers physical and social activities with the intention of improving mental and physical wellbeing. All the sessions are chair based and specifically designed for older adults and isolated older people, to date Rob has facilitated 33 weeks of the EngAGE programme with 88 live sessions offering a range of activities including; chair dance, chair yoga and chair cycling reaching over 307 participants. The feedback from participants and partners has been really positive and complimentary of the work Rob has done and how he has gone above and beyond his role, taking the time out to ensure individuals have the opportunity to be active in a fun and comforting environment despite this being their homes and ensuring individuals, specifically the elderly are able to access the online sessions, supporting them with technical queries and even arranging weekly 30 minute catch up meetings with residents who said they felt lonely.
Innovative ways of working
With the face-to-face opportunities for residents to get active stopped overnight, Robert innovatively moved the sessions he could online to give the current services users access to still staying physically active via the newly created https://bedfordsportlive.crd.co/ website. Then at speed the sessions multiplied to target a wide range of residents to stay active. For example, the Keyboard Warriors session was to target those working from home who have been sitting at the desk all morning to get up and move to reduce the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
“I miss not being able to attend sessions face to face and whilst I would prefer this method, I like having the online sessions, it gives me something to look forward to and gives me a routine and structure to my week with my school being closed.” -Yoga Participant
To date since March 2020, Rob has facilitated and organised 872 hours in total of online activity sessions with the total of 17,321 attendees across all the session which is an incredible amount. The statistics below demonstrate the incredible growth and sustainability of the sessions.
“As an instructor, it’s been challenging to not be able to deliver but I am grateful to be a part of this project and see the regular participants logging in. The participants help me have structure and feel like my virtual family.” – Coach
With recent concerns by local residents returning to face-to-face activities even though restrictions have eased due to the new variant within the borough the online sessions have still continued to support every staying active. Not only were the sessions about keeping moving but also gave opportunities for people to have conversations with other participants with a chat after each session.
Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy
Nordoff Robbins is the UK’s largest music therapy charity dedicated to bringing high quality music therapy to as many people as possible. We use music to enrich the lives of people with life-limiting illnesses, disabilities and feelings of isolation. Our music therapists are expertly trained to tune into each movement, reaction and expression of the individuals they work with to discover how music can enrich their lives. This could be to unlock memories, to communicate where words have failed, to socially connect with family and friends, or build confidence and self-esteem. We provide a range of different sessions for children and adults of all ages in our bases across the UK including London, Manchester, Newcastle and Scotland – from one-to-one music therapy to shared sessions for groups of different sizes and formats. All these sessions are free. We also work in partnership with over 200 organisations to bring music therapy to as many vulnerable people who could benefit from it as possible. These include schools, care homes, hospices, hospitals, mental health services and brain injury units.
Music therapy is a registered profession regulated by the HCPC, and its cognitive, emotional, physical and social benefits have been well-established over the profession’s history since the 1950s.
One of our much-valued partnerships is with the Mountbatten Group supporting people living with or affected by death, dying and bereavement across the Isle of Wight and Hampshire. We began providing a music therapy service at Mountbatten Hospice, Isle of Wight, in 2016 and this was extended to Mountbatten Hospice, Southampton, in 2018. Music therapy sessions are provided individually and in groups to inpatients, day patients, children, young people and adults externally referred into the hospices’ psychology service, bereaved family members and carers, and the Mountbatten Hospice community. Our provision at each hospice also includes a community choir comprised of patients, relatives, staff, volunteers and members of the local community. The Isle of Wight choir being longer established has been particularly impactful, attracting 70-80 singers each week, and has been demonstrated through a qualitative research project to have given participants a stronger sense of connectedness, improved physical health, improved mental and emotional wellbeing, a sense of purpose and a changed perception of the hospice.* Music therapy groups are also run for people with dementia and young adults with life-limiting illnesses.
Our music therapist at Mountbatten Isle of Wight, Fraser Simpson, is currently part of an international research study examining music therapy in hospice settings sponsored by Exeter University supported by an AHRC research grant, entitled Care for Music: An ethnography of music in later life and end-of-life settings (www.careformusic.org).
*Ambrose, A (2017) Hospice in Harmony. University of Southampton.
Above and beyond
In 2019 Nordoff Robbins conducted an evaluation of the service at Mountbatten Isle of Wight with 129 participants amongst service users, families/carers and staff. The evaluation report showed that Nordoff Robbins music therapy was seen to have a positive impact in four key areas:
- enabling people to engage in music by 98% of respondents.
- quality of life and well-being by 96% of respondents
- interaction, communication and/or relationships by 95% of respondents
- working environment in partner organisation by 99% of respondents
The following results were identified in the area of ‘quality of life & wellbeing’ in examining music therapy’s impact on service-users:
• 100 % for supporting relaxation, improving mood and relieving stress
• 100% for enhancing quality of life, improves sense of wellbeing, supports independence and opportunities for choice
• 99% for increasing motivation, enthusiasm to interact and participate
• 98 % for providing emotional support, outlet for self-expression, helps regulate emotions
• 97 % for providing a distraction form everyday life experience, relief from pain
• 91% for reducing symptoms, reduces depression or anger
Here are two personal stories of people who have benefited from the music therapy service at Mountbatten Isle of Wight.
Vignette 1: Joy’s story
Singing in the Mountbatten Community Choir helped Joy to feel herself again, after her beloved husband Andrew passed away. Joy, who has been singing with the choir for several months, described the positive impact it has had on her:
“I lost Andrew on Easter Sunday this year. We’d been married 43 years, we were best friends and I couldn’t imagine not having him with me. When he passed away at Mountbatten Hospice it was devastating.
However, joining the hospice choir has been my life saver. I look forward to it every week. When I’m singing I get a special feeling – it’s as though Andrew is standing right beside me. It’s the only time that this happens.
Everything in life is difficult now, but when I’m concentrating on singing I forget everything else and it takes me to a different place. The songs we sing are uplifting and I go away contented and peaceful. Often I am awake at night, but after choir I sleep well. It’s like a kind of anaesthetic.
Singing is so enjoyable but it’s more than that. The choir is like a kind of counselling. When I am singing my heart wells up and all the deep anxieties, the stresses and strains I’ve been carrying around all week all come out when I sing and are lifted away. At choir I feel like I come out of my bubble – I feel like a person again. It does me the world of good and Andrew would want me to be enjoying myself. It’s a blessing!”
The story is also available via this link: https://www.nordoff-robbins.org.uk/stories/joys-story/
Vignette 2: Richard’s story
Richard, 82, has early stage dementia as well as Tourette Syndrome and lives at home and is looked after by his wife. Richard has reduced mobility due to scoliosis, which makes it hard for him to get out and about. He has limited opportunities for activity, occupation and social interaction. His increasing care needs are placing a strain on both himself and his wife. His isolation and poor health leave him with little agency or creative choice.
Richard has been taking part in music therapy sessions for two years. Initially attending a group for people with dementia, he had the opportunity to continue his life-long love of music-making by singing and playing instruments. The improvisatory nature of the music-making allowed Richard significant moments of creative development and imagination that enabled his musical expression to blossom. Richard also liked to use a drum stick to ‘conduct’ the music therapist playing at the piano, becoming animated in the control and connection he experienced in this role.
When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, Richard’s music therapy sessions continued online, and this has provided an opportunity for Richard’s wife to join him in the sessions. She said:
“Richard has always enjoyed music, he can get lost in some classical orchestral music, deeply involved in it. Music is like a switch, his mood changes almost instantly, first his foot starts tapping and then his grumpiness just disappears, he seems to forget it. When he is singing he doesn’t twitch [a symptom of his Tourette Syndrome]. Music seems to be a key that closes the dementia fogging and unlocks or loosens some clarity, he is certainly better for it.
“He really enjoys his times with Fraser, he was quite uncertain at first but soon he seemed to develop a unique sort of relationship, I think it’s because he can be himself during these sessions, and doesn’t have to struggle to hide his Alzheimer’s, perhaps music breaks down barriers. His confidence has improved as well. I am amazed at how happy he looks when conducting. Some music brought him to tears, some songs made him cry, it seems to waken his emotions.”
Here are some further comments taken from the above mentioned 2019 evaluation report, providing evidence of the impact of our work on participants’ mental health and wellbeing:
“Suddenly experiencing a life changing condition and no longer able to carry on with my normal way of life I needed an outlet to help me to adjust. Music Therapy has helped me immensely to come to terms with my new way of life by giving me something to look forward to each week and helps to take my mind off how I feel.”
“It’s been an exploratory musical journey that has also helped me explore and address personal difficulties. My Music Therapy referral has been a great emotional support in helping me be able to function generally after losing my Dad in June.”
“I worked at the hospice for some nineteen years and am recently retired. In my opinion music therapy brings so much to staff and patients, a very positive experience that can be shared. Music very easily changes our moods, brings memories to the fore, gives an experience that we may never have had, how wonderful for those, in the later stages of life, can experience the wonders of music be it learning to play an instrument, singing or just listening…”
A short video about one patient’s experience in music therapy can also be viewed here:
The development of the hospice’s community choir has been a particularly noteworthy phenomenon. We will focus in particular detail on the choir in the following sections but would like to highlight here its central role within the music therapy service provided by Nordoff Robbins.
The choir has served to ‘open the doors’ of the hospice to all and reveal it as a friendly and welcoming place, changing the concept of death and dying by opening conversations, and reducing the isolation felt by many bereaved and dying people. It makes a valuable contribution to Mountbatten Group’s 2020 Strategy* of challenging the stigma associated with hospices and changing public perceptions around death, dying and bereavement.
There are extensive benefits of drawing normally segregated people (ie staff from different departments within the hospice, patients, members of the public) together in a common purpose where differences do not matter.
The choir is also an arena where many people sharing common experience can offer and gain mutual support. The joy and physicality of singing has provided a welcome outlet for many in contrast to the difficulties faced in their life experiences. Members commented in the 2019 evaluation report:
“Music for myself and my husband has completely changed our lives. I have breathing problems and I am sure it ‘helps me to breathe’. We get out and interact socially, meet people and have made friends. We both feel that we now ‘depend’ on this music time and would be lost without it, it means that much to us both. I would give our musical director called Fraser a medal if I could, he is so very patient and kind, and brings out the best in all of us.”
“I joined the choir from the beginning and I really enjoy singing with the other choir members. I have certainly learnt a lot as I had not sung in a choir before. I think it has increased my powers of concentration and recall when remembering words and parts. It has been an opportunity to experience music and join in with others. This is a very powerful experience we have surprised ourselves and gained lots of confidence. The most important thing to say is how much fun it is, and how much I enjoy participating. I really look forward to going and always feel great afterwards.”
“Being a member of the Hospice Community Choir is helping me through a very sad time in my life. Having lost my husband earlier this year. Everyone is so welcoming. There is a feeling of togetherness and when we are singing all the mental stress and pain I feel a lot of the time through my loss just lifts. I am sure everyone there has their own story and you can tell that everyone there really feels that it is a very important time of the week.”
“Being part of the choir has added more depth and wellbeing to my life. I lost 4 very close members of my family to cancer, my brother the youngest member suffered a great deal, without the hospice it would have been unbearable. Coming to the choir at the hospice has helped me to come to terms with his passing and enabled me to laugh again and look forward to the future. I hope the choir will continue, it’s good to see us all grow in confidence and to come to terms with our losses.”
“Singing in the hospice choir is helping a dear friend to work through a period of deep depression and enabling that person to support bringing another person into the choir. It’s a safe place to be as you are.”
“Participation in music of any genre is good for well-being. From never being in a choir and having just lost my wife to cancer (starting at a very low ebb), the experience has changed my life for the better.”
*Mountbatten.org.uk, (2020) Mountbatten Group Strategy. [online] Available at: https://www.mountbatten.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=7943a049-282c-44ae-b4fc-bae9b78a0202 [Accessed 24 May 2021].
Making an impact during the pandemic
When the pandemic hit in March 2020 the onsite music therapy services were initially suspended, and those aspects of the work that could be delivered online were transferred to Zoom.
The problem of latency (sound delay) when working online is a significant one for music therapy – it makes it almost impossible to make music in time together, which is the cornerstone of the work. The situation required a creative approach by the music therapist who tried out and discovered other ways of working that could be of benefit to service users, which included:
• Music appreciation sessions and musical ‘discovery’ projects – group members introducing their musical passions and new discoveries to each other
• Singing together with users muted (only the music therapist is heard)
In this way, at Mountbatten Isle of Wight, a pre-pandemic open group, a group for young adults with life-limiting illnesses, a dementia group and the community choir were successfully taken online. Over the course of 2020 starting from 26th March up until 21st May 2021, 292 sessions were delivered in the partnership of which 165 took place online. An average of 36 people attended the online choir each week and an average of 14 people attended the other groups. Alongside the online work we were also able to resume 1:1 sessions onsite from September 2020.
Our music therapist has written about the challenges and the successes of the online choir in his article here:
Although members could not hear each other sing and felt the musical limitations of that situation, there was something important that was not lost, which was the sense of community that is such a vital part of the choir experience. It offered relief from the social isolation experienced almost universally during the pandemic. As one member said:
“Thank you so much for sustaining our choir throughout lockdown and beyond. It has been such a joy and tonic to positive well-being to sing together on Wednesday evenings and in a strange way I have felt I’ve got to know choir members even better even though we’ve been apart.”
Giving members the opportunity to share and reflect during the choir session brought a new intimacy between members and the realisation that the Zoom choir is not merely a watered-down version of the ‘real thing’, but brings its own unique enrichment.
The novelty of taking the choir online (the Mountbatten choir being among the very first choirs to do so when the pandemic hit) was featured on the hospice website and attracted the interest of the local Isle of Wight press:
The situation gave rise to an unexpected benefit that the choir was able to invite and welcome members of the pre-lockdown choir at Mountbatten Hampshire in Southampton to its online sessions, enabling members of the two communities to get to know one another in a way that would otherwise not have happened.
Innovative ways of working
How is the impact sustained over at least two consecutive years? This might include data, testimonials, feedback or other types of evidence. (for the pandemic category, please describe how you have found innovative ways of providing or growing services)
A song-writing project undertaken with the above-mentioned group of young adults with life-limiting illnesses was begun in the early weeks of 2021 over Zoom. The finished song, written by the group members with the support and guidance of their music therapist was entitled One Day Soon, a song of hope that expressed the isolation experienced during the pandemic and the growing optimism of return to normal life.
Kate Newitt, a member of the young adults’ group who worked together on One Day Soon, said: “For anyone living with a disease or disability, coronavirus has been another hurdle in life to conquer, but this time we were all in it together. We started many new indoor projects during lockdown but what I looked forward to so much was the Wednesday groups on Zoom. It was lovely to have the human interaction and meant we felt less isolated and still like a team. When hearing that restrictions would start to be eased, we all thought it would be a perfect time to write a song, representing hope. It was great teamwork as we could all connect together and understand each other’s feelings. We hope you all enjoy the catchy lyrics as much as we did creating them!”
When the song was played to members of the community choir, it struck a chord of common experience, and the choir decided to make a virtual recording of the song. For the singers this project – the learning and recording of the song – was an exhilarating experience bringing a shared sense of purpose that for many had been sadly missed during the months of lockdown. Choir members commented:
“Our Wednesday nights during the last 12 months have been a great help with the isolation we have all suffered, but this piece of work has brought us all closer together, and the younger members of Mountbatten have developed a great song which they should be very proud of. It will always be an event that will stay with me.”
“Taking part in the recent video project provided a very welcome sense of purpose and belonging. I detected amongst my choir friends a glimpse of the old ‘esprit de corps’ that makes the Mountbatten Community Choir so special to us.”
“I think the young people just caught the mood of most people at the moment longing to get out of lockdown which must be especially trying for them. It was an honour to put voices to their words.”
“Such a privilege to sing a song of joy and hope. We had such fun doing the recording.”
“It was a much-needed boost to us all.”
“Such a great opportunity to share music and create friendships.”
“I really enjoyed every minute [of the recording], I felt as if I had had a night out with a lot of friends, ended on a high.”
“It was a great night. A good laugh and lovely to be able to feel that we were all doing something ‘together’ although apart.”
“It felt like a family gathered around the piano when we all stayed to listen and encourage each other as we sang and recorded our parts… we are all healed in some way when we sing together, and this experience was another tonic.”
The song was released through Mountbatten’s media channels to mark the anniversary of the first lockdown (23 March) and was reported in the local press. The One Day Soon project was an outstanding achievement for all involved and additionally brought together different service user groups from the hospice communities that in normal circumstances would have remained apart. The limitations of online working were transcended, and music undeterred did its work of connecting, uplifting, enlivening, and enabling.
Nigel Hartley, CEO of Mountbatten Group, said: “With the gradual easing of lockdown we have all got hope in our hearts. The pandemic has been tough for everyone, especially for those who live with an illness. Reflecting on the last year as we mark the anniversary of the first lock down is important and we should all take a moment to remember those who have lost their lives to COVID and other illnesses as a result of the pandemic. The song ‘One Day Soon’ is like a beacon of light at the end of a dark tunnel and gives me a sense of better days to come. It’s a fantastic effort by the choir members hailing from both sides of the Solent and it makes me ‘proud to be Mountbatten’.”
Nordoff Robbins’ aim of ‘musicalising’ the communities of our Partner Organisations, bringing to them all that music can afford, and thereby enabling them to take such pride in themselves could not be better illustrated than by this story of innovation, creativity and transformation.
The full story including the song itself can be viewed here:
onHand is an award winning volunteer matching solution. IBM describes us as an “Uber for Volunteering”. Our mission is to make it simple for businesses all over the UK to engage employees whilst also giving back to communities. Our on-demand volunteering app makes it fast and easy for people, charities and organisations to receive help. Our solution has the ability to capture the huge rise in social good to come out of the Covid pandemic and harness that good for all our futures and across the UK.
Today, onHand matches vetted volunteers with older adults and vulnerable people who need help with simple tasks such as shopping, medicine collection/drop offs, urgent errands and other essentials. By tapping into the sharing economy we can address one of society’s most pressing issues, at a time when NHS resources are most strained. Prior to Covid, onHand’s volunteer matching platform had established itself as a disruptor to the care industry, using tech to simplify the way volunteers and older adults connect. The response to our platform has been applauded by various industry experts such as the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and across the media.
Charities and organisations refer their clients and activities to onHand so that we can use our tech to match them with local, vetted volunteers. We work closely with the British Red Cross, NHS referrers, Age UK, Independent Age, Pret Foundation, North and South London Cares, W12 Together, The Youth Group and Surfers Against Sewage to support their causes.
Above and beyond
There are several different areas of the business which have gone above and beyond what we expected for onHand in 2020.
Prior to the Covid pandemic, onHand expected to grow at a steady pace. We started by helping hundreds of older and vulnerable people across London with basic tasks like shopping, changing a lightbulb and companionship, and we were considered a disruptor to the care industry. 2020 and the Covid pandemic saw the greatest outpouring of civil society in a generation. When the outbreak hit the UK, we saw an opportunity to help more people. We developed our app within two to four weeks of the first UK lockdown, and are now helping 10,000s of people across the entire country. We didn’t expect to be operating nationwide this quickly and efficiently.
We knew that volunteering had a positive impact on wellbeing when onHand began, but the pandemic saw a huge rise in loneliness and mental health issues. The CIPD 2020 Health and Wellbeing Report named mental ill health as the single most common cause of long term absence from the workplace. Employers not only needed a way to engage employees who were working remotely or on reduced hours, they were also taking a much greater and necessary interest in supporting staff wellbeing.
77% of employees surveyed by Deloitte say that volunteering is “essential to wellbeing.” In order to help even more people, we altered our business model. Today, onHand partners with corporations to help them support their employees; offering them wellbeing resources and engaging them in volunteering activities. Volunteering with onHand throughout the pandemic has given employees a purpose when they needed it most.
The response to our platform has been applauded by various industry experts such as the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and across the media. We’ve been named the ‘uber of volunteering’ by IBM and have now partnered with over 50 businesses that want to do more social good. Whilst there are incumbent organisations providing Corporate Volunteering programmes, we know of none that are able to enable local and safe opportunities, solving for remote, shift, seasonal and office based employees. With onHand, volunteering is kept close to the employees location and so works for remote or office teams.
onHand now holds regular webinars with other professionals to help corporations further support their staff in all different areas of wellbeing – financial, social, physical, emotional etc. We also offer our partners free wellbeing content to combat stress, loneliness and burnout, as well as company culture resources.
In our North East Impact Report, created in association with the National Innovation Centre For Ageing and Newcastle Building Society, 80% of volunteers surveyed said volunteering through onHand has had a positive or very positive impact on their wellbeing.
Friendship and loneliness
onHand was already helping to tackle loneliness pre-Covid, but on a small scale. Our expectation was to steadily continue providing older people with companionship and expand nationwide eventually. Covid-19 saw loneliness in the UK reach peak highs and the group most affected were 16-44 year olds (ONS). Thanks to our matching technology we were able to create intergenerational friendships all over the UK and build ‘social capital’ for tens of thousands of people of all different backgrounds and age groups at a time when it was needed the most.
Neil, a Newcastle Building Society employee was matched with Jean, an elderly resident in the North East who lives on her own. What started as a few gardening ‘missions’ grew to weekly phone calls and, when social distancing rules were eased, ended with socially distanced dog walks. Neil helped Jean find the confidence to go out for walks – something she wouldn’t have been able to do alone.
“I don’t think Jean realises, as much as I’ve helped her, she’s helped me too. Having that human contact, albeit socially distanced, has helped me with my own mental health and wellbeing, by being able to get out and about, talking with people I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to meet.” – Neil
“It really has brightened my life. Neil is a guardian angel. He’s such a nice young man. I’ve never experienced any volunteer help before. I’m so pleased to receive the help.” Jean
Jean wasn’t able to find help from other volunteering organisations because she lived too far outside of Newcastle, where fewer volunteering organisations operated. Without onHand Neil and Jean, much like hundreds of our other matches, most likely wouldn’t have met.
Other areas of growth
The unexpected expansion that onHand had in 2020 allowed for us to grow in other areas and have a bigger reach. We recently introduced different volunteering opportunities to put the user in the driver’s seat and have the ability to choose activities that really interest them, creating even more of a strong sense of purpose, and a better user experience for the volunteers.
In February we added Youth Mentoring opportunities to our app for the first time. Within just a few weeks we were on track to schedule over 500 Youth Mentoring sessions. We just started tackling food waste, partnering with the Pret Foundation to take excess food to homeless shelters. We’ve also added environmental support in some areas of the UK, organising beach cleans for our partner volunteers to take part in, as well as tasks to increase biodiversity in other areas. We’ve built an even stronger sense of community in our volunteer base by adding in a wider variety of opportunities.
Impact during the pandemic
Every interaction we enable generates social impact. From a simple call to walking someone’s dog. We track all activity from incoming requests for help, to being live on app, matched, completed, and repeated. We produce regular case studies for referrers and partners, gathering statistics and feedback from beneficiaries to keep track of impact.
Since January 2020, we have delivered over £80,000 worth of food, equating to ~45,000 meals (based on ONS data) and spent over 2 months on befriending calls (when adding all our calls together).
A new report conducted in association with the National Centre of Innovation for Ageing also has showcased the North East impact on service users receiving help and employees who are giving help.
● 91.7% of respondents said that using onHand has made them feel either a lot, or a little, better than usual. Reasons for this include having someone to talk to, building confidence, and benefiting their mental health.
● Hardly any of the requesters who responded to the survey had concerns about using the onHand service. Although, 91.6% were concerned that it was ‘too good to be true.’
● 100% of people requesting help from onHand said that it had either a positive or very positive impact on their life.
Micro-volunteering using the onHand app has also had a positive effect on employees. 80% of employee respondents said that onHand volunteering has had a positive or very positive impact on their own wellbeing, with 46% adding the app has helped them combat feelings of loneliness or isolation by providing them with someone to talk with, and helping them forge connections.
Covid-19 has left a huge strain on the NHS and councils that have limited resources. onHand has helped relieve some of that strain and the charities and organisations we work with have expressed how much of a positive impact our volunteers have made on them and the people they refer to us.
● “Your ability to find befriending volunteers is invaluable to our clients. The fact you can provide this for all age groups is also an added bonus as befriending support for under 60’s is indeed very difficult to find and almost non-existent.” – Age UK Islington
● “Just A BIG THANK YOU!! You guys have been amazing for the past year… Thank you on behalf of everyone you have supported… Keep up the great work! “ – NHS
● “Great communication from the team, which enables us to see the outcome of our initial referral. Also, all the referrals made have been responded to quickly, and volunteers matched to our referred Service Users very promptly. Great service all round.” – British Red Cross
Innovative ways of working
Prior to COVID-19, onHand was a charged-for service, with the person receiving help paying £10p/h (80% going to charity, 20% going towards DBS costs and staffing). onHand has now waived all charges for those who can’t afford it, thanks to our partnerships with corporates wanting to do more social good.
We developed our tech to meet the growing need for help within 2 to 4 weeks of the pandemic starting. Our project now delivers systems innovation, using tech to find and automate matching of volunteers with people in need. The onHand app has the ability to vet and track volunteers and allows volunteers to instantly claim shopping refunds, payment of which are then automated back to the volunteer. No other app has this level of functionality built in, proven and easily activated. As a result, the number of onHand volunteers has grown by 250%+ since the start of 2020 and the number of people requesting help has more than doubled.
During the first Covid peak, with local services overrun and spiralling food parcel costs, Lambeth council partnered with us to help deliver food to isolating residents. They purchased bulk packages of hours from us to help them support their residents. Our matching tech could help 1000s of people quickly and save the council from the crippling costs of food parcels. Volunteers are continuing to help out in the London borough.
Some quotes from the people we’ve helped in Lambeth:
● “I love my weekly phone calls with Donna, I feel like I can talk to her for hours. Chloe, who does my weekly shop, is amazing. She can find everything in Tesco so quickly and easily. She didn’t even mind going out in the rain for me!” – Ernest
Ernest lives alone and has regular phone calls with volunteers to keep him company. He also received regular shopping help from onHand as he’s vulnerable and shielding. Donna had similar kind words to say about Ernest as well…
● “He’s such a lovely guy, I feel like I’ve known him for years, not months” – Donna
The partnership between Lambeth council and onHand helped to combat loneliness in younger people too. Intergenerational friendships have been formed through the service, creating a sense of community.
● “As usual, Walter was a ray of sunshine and happy to have his paper and a window chat. It’s like having a grandfather all over again!” – Alexander
onHand now partners with businesses to get their employees volunteering. As well as creating social impact in local communities this aids with employee engagement and wellbeing by making team’s feel good by doing good. So far in 2o21, onHand has seen a 240% growth in corporate partnerships. These include large organisations like Newcastle Building Society and Softcat plc and high growth companies, like FinTech leader, GoCardless, and FemTech pioneer, Elvie. Most recently we have partnered with the Trainline.
Businesses give employees an estimated 11m days of volunteering time every year and Deloitte reports 70% of employees want to volunteer more often. However, “traditional” corporate volunteering simply does not work. Engagement in employee volunteering is just 14.3% (London Benchmarking Group), meaning 200 million hours of corporate volunteering go unused. With numerous studies finding career choices, especially for millennials, are increasingly based on an employer’s social impact, the opportunity has never been stronger to help corporations engage their employees in volunteering en masse. It was always our view to expand onHand and provide help to the entire country. To do this we partnered with businesses wanting to engage their employees in social good.
We’ve seen first hand how volunteering can have a huge impact on wellbeing, for the volunteer and for the person they help, with our ‘‘Heroes’ saying that they’re “the happiest [they’ve] been in a long time” thanks to onHand.
Sanjay Lobo, onHand Founder and CEO was awarded with the Tech for Good Great British Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2020. Following this, he was presented with the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award. onHand won the Lord Mayor’s Community Partners Award for their ‘Innovation During Covid” and successful partnership with Lambeth Council. Winning awards has given onHand wider exposure, supporting our growth and sustainability.
onHand was developed with the support of a £75,000 grant from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Healthy Ageing challenge via COVID fast track funding. This allowed our team to automate the end-to-end volunteer matching experience – including built-in automated ID and DBS checking, the ability for volunteers to search for help opportunities and contact the person in need directly through the app, as well as submission and daily automated refunding of reimbursement (such as for shopping).
onHand has benefitted the lives of 10s of thousands of older and vulnerable people all over the UK over the past 2 years. The help that they have been given by volunteers has enriched communities and boosted morale for employees who take part in volunteering activities. One employee even said “If I could do this full time I would!” Our aim is to continue to grow our pool of corporate partners and further expand our variety of volunteering opportunities to be even more diverse and accessible to more people and causes. We want to go from 10,000s of missions to 100,000s.
At a glance, Harry Bliss’s story seems to be one of positivity and inspiration. Over the last 18 months, he has saved at least 4 lives through his work driving positive mental health outcomes across leading UK businesses.
But scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll see that his achievements are deeply intertwined with a heart-breaking reality.
If you ask Harry what one thing drives him every day, what keeps the fire in his belly roaring, you will only get one answer. Harry is driven by a desire to prevent more tragedies like one that touched him incredibly personally: the death of his friend and mentor, James, who tragically took his own life.
For a long time, Harry has been aware of the importance of mental wellbeing. After experiencing his own mental health struggles during university, he graduated determined to use his knowledge to galvanise change in the way people view, approach and deal with mental wellbeing in the workplace.
At the age of just 24, he took a leap of faith, and founded his own company: Champion Health. Champion Health would work with organisations to help them be proactive about looking after the mental health of their employees. In doing so, they would ensure that struggling employees could quickly get the help they needed.
As any entrepreneur will tell you, establishing a business is incredibly difficult. Harry knew he had the drive, the idea and the vision to make a real difference, but he was also aware that he lacked experience in how to run and scale a business from an operational side. Without that, he would not be able to get the Champion Health platform into the hands of the organisations who needed it.
To address this issue, Harry approached a friend, James, whose children he had coached at the local cricket club. James was the director of a global organisation and, according to Harry, knew business like the back of his hand. Despite being one of the most time-poor people Harry knew, James agreed to guide Harry through the early stages of building a company. The two began to meet up regularly, and the relationship quickly developed into a mentorship, as well as a close friendship.
James was the sort of person who looked to have it all. He was a husband to a wonderful wife and father to two amazing children. He had cultivated a successful career and lived in a lovely house in a lovely area. He was an incredibly well-liked member of the local community and had an extensive network of friends and loved ones. He was also a brilliant mentor. Harry really looked up to James, not only as a businessman but also as a person.
All of this made what happened 6 months into Champion’s journey even more heart-breaking for Harry.
James, who had become such a huge part of Harry’s life, tragically took his own life, due to a short but acute bout of workplace stress.
Receiving the news was devastating for Harry. Even now, three years later, he still finds it difficult to talk about the day he found out that James had taken his own life.
But alongside the grief he was experiencing, Harry also found a new level of drive. Not only was he going to ensure that James’ legacy lived through Champion Health, he was also going to do everything he could to prevent what happened to James happening to others. Champion Health’s guiding mission had now been clearly established: to change and save lives.
Harry knew that this would take time. The sad truth is that one in five working-age adults contemplate taking their own life. Harry knew that saving even one of these lives would take an extraordinary amount of hard work and sacrifice. Champion Health was barely an established company and Harry would have to work through the grief he was experiencing, whilst being acutely aware of the absence of his mentor.
This didn’t stop him. For the last 3 years, Harry has worked tirelessly, directing any available resources towards improving Champion Health. These resources have included an incredible amount of his own time. By Harry’s own admission, there are important areas of his life which have had to take a back seat. But the hard work has paid off emphatically, as Harry’s commitment, motivation and clear vision have translated into life-saving work.
In the last 18 months, he has been informed that the platform has saved at least four lives. The first time Harry was told this news, he was brought to tears.
He is now responsible for a team of 10 with an additional 40 professionals and academics working with Champion Health, all of whom were made aware of the “why” behind Champion Health the minute they joined the company, all of whom are committed to the mission of changing and saving lives.
Harry’s story is inspirational because it is an example of someone flipping adversity into opportunity.
Harry has led the Champion Health team on an incredible journey since 2018, not only in terms of business, but more importantly in terms of impact.
Throughout all of this, Harry has ensured that the legacy of James is never forgotten, and that the “why” behind what Champion are doing is always made clear. The mission always comes first.
Nothing proves this more than the actions Harry took during COVID-19. As the pandemic took hold, Harry could see the negative impact it was having on the nation’s mental health. He responded by offering Champion Health’s online mental health training free of charge to anyone who wanted it.
It was a huge risk for such a young company to take, but Harry knew Champion Health’s platform could make a real difference to people’s lives at this much-needed time. The training reached tens of thousands of people and over 400 organisations across the globe, including the NHS.
The Champion team, led by Harry, have also worked hard to raise awareness of suicide, and to stimulate conversation about it. Their Suicide Prevention guide (find the link below), which they released on World Suicide Prevention Day 2020, drew widespread praise due to the effectiveness with which it tackled such an important topic.
Champion Health has grown significantly over the last 3 years and the company now works with key clients including the NHS, Honda and Rabobank. The company was successful in achieving significant investment in 2020 to support its fast growth. A product of his own success, the workload on Harry has not eased yet. However, despite often working 6-day weeks, Harry is always willing to make time for others, and to talk to them about mental health.
He has drawn on his own experiences to deliver guest lectures about mental health to students in various UK universities, as well as some local primary schools. It is an impressive feat for someone so young to be trusted with guiding others on such an important issue, but Harry is incredibly capable and keen to share his expertise to help others succeed. He is unafraid to be completely open and vulnerable about his own mental health, and that inspires others to do the same. In this way, he has been ahead of his time. Leaders everywhere are starting to realise the advantages of talking to people about their mental health. Harry has been doing this for years.
Harry and James’ story is also inspirational because it is an example of something so tragic being used to drive something incredibly positive. James’ story will always be intertwined not only with Harry’s story, but also with the story of Champion Health, and the people they help. His legacy lives through Harry, and lives through Champion Health.
What Harry has achieved was made possible because an incredibly busy person made time for a young man who needed a mentor. He has never forgotten that, which is why Harry always makes time for others, and particularly those who were close to James. He makes it clear to everyone the role that James played in his life, and the role James played in the journey that Harry and Champion have been on. Recently, he took the decision to sponsor Holmesfield Cricket Club, the place where he met James.
Having worked with Harry for a year now, I am very aware of how busy he is, and how hard he works. You’ll often find him still working late into the evening, or on a weekend. One time he does not work though, is 5pm until 6pm on a Thursday. That is the time he spends coaching cricket to James’ kids. No matter how busy he gets, Harry will always make time for James, just as James did for him.
On Friday, March 13th 2020, I walked into The Starling Cafe in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, for a meeting with Harry Bliss. His LinkedIn profile photo was pretty small and somehow, the name Harry Bliss conjured up expectations that I might be meeting with an ageing 1960’s Michael Caine movie character. Imagine my surprise, when sitting waiting for our meeting was a young, fresh-faced, twenty-something, armed with a laptop, who told me how he had founded a tech company to support the mental and physical wellbeing of thousands of company employees in the UK. Within days of our meeting, I joined the Champion Health team and with eyes wide open, I have since been part of a journey, that, at times, has taken my breath away, as Harry and the young team at Champion have developed a platform of wellbeing solutions, which is fast becoming the envy of all other wellbeing solution providers globally and has already been dubbed ‘The Netflix of Wellbeing’. Technical abilities, ambition and drive, should all be prerequisites to enable Harry to have achieved what he and Champion has in just a couple of years. However, I have rarely seen such inspiring, compassionate, value driven leadership in any entrepreneur, let alone one so young and I have known and worked with many over my 40+ year career in consultancy. Without question, Harry has great business acumen, but he has something else that you can’t teach, he cares about people and is passionate about making a difference in this world – he’s already achieving this, and the future of workplace wellbeing is going to see a seismic shift in the next 5-10 years as Champion Health continues to deliver on its mission.
Founder, The Jordan Legacy
Harry came into my school and spoke to the whole year group, not directly about death, but about personal wellbeing and how to look after your own mental health. Harry was brilliant at relating his message to a group of 9/10-year olds and his interactive, caring approach allowed them to feel at ease at once. The children Harry spoke to have regularly asked me about different aspects of the message Harry shared. It clearly stuck with them and I can’t thank him enough for his help in a situation that I would otherwise have found incredibly challenging.
Teacher, Birkdale School
Since meeting Harry I have rarely seen someone so driven by the mission they are on. A mission to change both the conversation, awareness and attitude towards mental health and wellbeing for everyone. When you then understand the backstory of what happened and how his life could have taken a very different path, you realise how unique he is. I hear many people talk on this topic, but few take action. Harry is the exception, not only has he taken massive action but he is making the world take notice. I can’t think of a more worthy tribute to his friend and mentor.
Founder and CEO, Benefex
I was introduced to Harry through our late friend, and Harry’s mentor. From the early stages of Champion, you could see someone who wanted to make a real difference. However, following our mutual friend taking his own life, you could see that it lit a spark for Harry and the team at Champion to go that step further. Flipping adversity into opportunity is something that I admire the team at Champion Health for, and it’s been wonderful to see Harry grow and have the impact that he’s having.
Olympic medallist, BBC commentator and mental health advocate
Having worked with Harry and Champion Health across a number of different projects it is totally apparent how clearly the company’s mission and purpose are built on Harry’s powerful experience of losing his mentor to suicide. Everyone at Champion is infused with a passion and energy for positively impacting the health and wellbeing space and ultimately saving lives and this shines through all their content and interactions. It is hard not to be inspired by spending time with Harry and his team and I have every confidence that they will continue to make real and lasting human change.
Staff Wellbeing Lead, People Services: Derbyshire Community Health Service FT
Harry Bliss is the embodiment of turning tragedy into purpose. When you meet with Harry you can instantly tell that the business he has grown has come from a genuine and passionate mission to do good, to help others, and to prevent others suffering. Harry has ensured that when building Champion Health its culture keeps true to this mission, even if it makes it more challenging for his business to grow. Harry is what I would consider as ‘productively dissatisfied with the status quo, always pushing to do better, do deliver more, and to reach more people who need help’. He not only delivers a service that does good, but one that actively transforms the mindsets and actions of the businesses that work with him. I can speak from personal experience, that after working with Harry and Champion Health, neither I nor our business will ever be same.
Chief Operating Officer, Twinkl
Some people just have something special, and this is Harry. I came across Harry on LinkedIn and was instantly enamoured by his personal mission to support others’ wellbeing through his young company Champion Health. I reached out to see how I could get involved as I lost my dad to suicide when I was young so mental health, wellbeing and suicide are deeply personal issues close to my own heart. It was clear that Harry was (and remains) incredibly mission-led and how much he cares about supporting people. When he told me he had just made Champion’s online mental health training free, to keep support free for people for as long as possible throughout Covid, I knew he was a credible driving force. There is no doubt that his friend and mentor James’ legacy will live on via the work Champion Health is doing. Harry has built an incredible team and he is a natural, authentic leader, leading from a place of vulnerability. I challenge anyone not to be moved when hearing Harry speak about his mission which I’ve absolutely no doubt will be a success.
Founder and managing director, MacComms
Life changing events can make you stop in your tracks. Life gets put on hold for a time as you take stock, re-evaluate, and move forward again often in a new direction, with a different focus and drive. Whilst Harry Bliss was already on the road with Champion Health and knew the general direction he was travelling, tragically losing his friend and mentor has focused his journey. His destination is now very clear, to make a positive difference to as many people as possible and to save lives. I have been travelling with Harry from the early days of his journey and am privileged to be a part of his trip. His bus is filling up nicely as he surrounds himself with a remarkable team. Champion Health are, and will continue to make an impact on so many people’s lives. They have only really just begun.
I met Harry when I was working as Head of Wellbeing for BBC Studios. What immediately strikes you about him is how open and honest he is, how clear his vision is, and how driven he is to achieve it. When you hear the “why” behind Champion, you understand where all of this comes from, and you can’t help but buy in to Champion Health, and Harry. I’m delighted to now work alongside him as we strive to drive positive mental health outcomes across UK organisations.
Olympian, Mind Ambassador and YoungMinds Ambassador
Harry spoke to Rachel (my colleague) and I at Sheffield College about 18 months ago, he told us his inspirational story and his passion to make positive change and to support others understand and find ways to improve their mental well-being immediately shone through. Since then, Harry’s company, Champion Health, and the Sheffield College have become firm partners and Harry continues to ensure tragic events remain a catalyst for positive action. He has supported many of our students during particularly difficult times through numerous innovative initiatives.
Vice Principal Student Experience, Sheffield College
Harry’s passion shines through in everything he does. He’s trailblazing in the mental health space turning adversity into opportunity and changing the well-being landscape for the better.
Managing Partner, Thrive Law
Harry has taken his own personal experience and turned it into his Purpose. Most businesses struggle to define their mission and vision and yet Harry has achieved this from day one. This is what attracted S&G Response to partnered with Champion Health since 2019 and their intuitive online evaluation tool has been a central plank of our employee mental health support strategy.
Managing Director, S&G Response
I met Harry when he was 23, full of energy, enthusiasm, and a passion to make a positive difference. Whilst Harry’s experience and knowledge in how to run a business was lacking, you could see he truly cared about the mission he’s so clearly set out on – to change and save lives. It’s no surprise to see where Champion Health are now, and having the true impact that society needs. When James ended up taking he own life, I could see an additional level of drive in Harry. The business had turned from something that he wanted to work to something that he needed to work. Harry had set up the business from scratch with no experience, and to see them working with global organisations now it gives me a huge amount of pride to say I supported him at a time when Harry needed such support.
Adviser to Harry
“When I first started struggling with mental health, I was really lucky that a close friend recognised the signs and helped me get the support I needed. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. It is because of my own challenges that I was so keen to take Champion Health’s online mental health training course during COVID-19. If you haven’t already, I really recommend taking course. Thank you to Champion Health and Harry Bliss for empowering me and giving me the confidence to be ‘that friend’ to someone else should it be needed.”
PR Executive, Twinkl
“We chose Champion Health based on a number of factors, mainly around the credibility of the co-founder, Harry Bliss, and the story which sits behind the foundations of the company. Harry is a seriously impressive young entrepreneur, with huge amounts of integrity and an excellent product offering.”
Chloe Dekowski on behalf of the Executive Committee at Rabobank
The why behind Champion
Champion’s suicide prevention guide
A LinkedIn post from Harry Bliss, about James
Kate is an amazing woman. Not only is she my wife, but she is also my best friend and soul mate. That’s all the clichés out of the way.
My Kate, who is from Canada but has lived here 28-29 years, is truly an amazing woman. At the very young age of 24, having just left drama school as the girl most likely to succeed, kate started on her road to acting work and theatre success. After almost 6 months of working in schools and colleges, teaching drama, Kate began to show signs of not being well. She was not getting the acting work she was told she would be getting and was working in restaurants to supplement her teaching income.
Because of her work load and the hours, Kate’s health began to deteriorate and her mental health was beginning to suffer; badly. She was sleeping sixteen hours on her days off and going for long walks in the middle of the night, she could not sleep. Her dream, of making the world a better place through her theatre work was slowly slipping out of reach. Kate did not end up in the big theatre in Down town Toronto, but ended up in the psychiatric wing of the big hospital in downtown Toronto. Her family thought this would be the best thing for her. So began her journey of mental health and mental illness, but more so, her journey of maintenance and recovery. It was going to be a long road and she was not prepared for much of what was going to happen.
Having found that life was just too challenging, Kate found herself in what was called, at the time, the revolving door syndrome. She was in and out of hospital and she was in and out of psychosis. We are still not sure how the illness came on her, but the way she was behaving, convinced the system to offer her medication. In some cases more medication than her body could cope with.
She was in and out of the general hospital for many months and with each visit, they changed her medication. Her body was going through chemical warfare. During this time though, she knew that the treatment she was being given was there to help with her recovery. She kept telling her self that; “she would recover, as a year ago, she was fine”. However, some of the treatments were a bit harsh and on one occasion whilst in hospital, the authorities deemed it necessary to chain Kate to the bed, with leather shackles around her wrists and ankles. They thought she was being too disruptive on the ward; whereas Kate saw it just being theatrical bravado and being over the top. They chained her for almost a week and it was whilst there that she found a sense of calm and started to reflect on what was happening. And when she was calm they released her. She asked why, and they told her that her behaviour was inappropriate. She was confused, as her behaviour as a classically trained actress, to her, was appropriate.
From this action, it led the authorities to sending Kate to a long term psychiatric unit with a prognosis of several months plus. This broke her heart; as all her dreams of an acting career and working in theatre and making the world a better place through her art and theatre where, in her mind, gone. Years of hard work and study all for nothing. She had read and heard about the long term unit and had gathered that not many people ever come out in the short term. The saying was, “this place is full of human shrapnel”
Kate was only in there a few months and, eventually, asked to sign herself out. She was not certified so she was allowed to do this. They told her if she left she would find it difficult getting back into the system. She said she was ready and would take her chances in the outside world. Brave or just silly? She needed to find out for herself.
When Kate got out of the psychiatric system, she went to live at her sister’s house and whilst there started her own journey of recovery and self-help. She knew she needed some type of medication and found this at her GP’s. She knew she needed to take better care of her self physically and started a regular exercise routine. She knew she needed a better diet and change the way she ate completely. She also knew that she needed to help others understand their own journey of mental illness. To encourage people and tell them that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. She had a burning need to help others.
She did this by buying her own medical records and researched what had happened to her of the many months she was in hospital. She read and studied the medication she was given. She studies the diagnosis they gave her; of which there where many. Piece by piece she built up a picture of what had happened and what she went through. This was very good for her recovery journey, as some medications took away the memory of what she was going through, at the time, whilst on that medication.
From all this research, she wrote a play called ‘Cracked Up’. Cracked up mentally and cracked up with laughter. It was based on her behaviours whilst in hospital; some of the things she did, according to the records. She discovered some were very funny. So, cracked up mentally and cracked up with laughter was the theme of the play. It was a one woman play and Kate was to be the star. She wanted to act and share her story. She wanted to tell her story in the hopes that it would help people with their recovery journey.
That play became incredibly successful and filled the theatres were ever it played in Canada. It also did a national tour of New Zealand. Whilst in New Zealand, Kate was asked to speak in many diverse places such as schools, libraries and women’s refuges and safe houses. It played to theatres in England and Ireland. On the back of the play Kate started to be asked to come and be a guest speaker at many mental health conferences around the world. When we began telling Kates story, she often says she was the ‘lone wolf in the prairies’. But thanks to Kate and her openness, honesty and her constant encouragement, many people have followed suit and are now telling their story publically; from general public to celebrities. We always had sad stories of mental health, but Kate’s message is one of hope and optimism.
Her knowledge and expertise and gift of positive storytelling with positive outcomes have been sought by many. She has now spoken in over 25 countries to many groups of people; from big businesses such as high street banks to smaller self-help groups and the message is always the same; DO NOT SUFFER IN SILENCE. If you feel that your mental health is struggling, talk to someone. She has, over the years given a voice to people who often find it difficult to speak for themselves.
Kate is also one of the directors of a theatre company for people with mental health challenges. The entire members have now found a voice and a platform on which to use that voice.
Kate has never hidden the fact that her mental health is a constant challenge. Kate had never hidden the fact that some day she really struggles; But Kate has also never stopped voicing hope and encouragement to others. She is and has been a great advocate and is no longer that lone voice. We have come a long way in the last 35 years when it comes to ‘telling your story’ and I truly believe and yes of course I am bias as her husband, but I genuinely believe Kate was one of the early pioneers when it comes to telling your story about mental health. We now have new directives such a social prescribing where creative and storytelling activities are greatly encouraged and many people are sent to Kate and I’s theatre group to do just that.
I saw, the play Cracked Up and it certainly woke me up and opened my eyes about a subject I used to fear and shy away from and now, almost 30 years later I am still married to the woman who changed my entire mindset when it comes to talking about your mental health. I have many photographs of Kate delivering speeches to many thousands of people, knowing that at least one in four of her audience will have been touched by Kate’s words and the other will have taken it all in.
Over the last 35 years, I know Kate has changed the hearts, minds and attitudes of many people when it comes to mental health; from health care professional, decision makers and service users. I also know that she is very humble when it comes to praise and thanks. She is very kind with her time and very grateful for all she has in her life.
For me as her Husband, friend, soul mate and sometimes, as and when needed, carer; I would really like to see her recognised for the work she has been doing since the day she discharged herself from hospital over 35 years ago. She found her voice then and now, has given a voice to many thousands of people since then. Without her, many people would still be silent. Without her, many would still carry around with them some kind of stigma towards mental illness. Without her many people would have no voice to encourage others on the recovery road. Without her I feel we would not have come as far as we have when it comes to finding your voice.
Thank you so much for reading this.(A very proud and better informed husband)
Kate – Just to say what a wonderful job you did entertaining and enlightening us the other evening! I found your humour both provocative and stimulating. The bravery you showed talking so openly about your mental health, was fearless and very funny, and I think it was valuable for my colleagues to see that modelled, and to be reminded of the “humour” in us all. Many thanks.
Jay Williams, Culture Development Manager, Improvement and Performance Services
You truly are an inspiration at the end of a hard long day. It’s so easy to feel down, low, think how hard the day has been… this exercise you shared turns that on its head. I’m usually half full but struggled recently … then you arrive! Thankyou Kate. Kate Chilton NHS Practice Manager.
Bill and Kate are two of the most genuine, compassionate and caring people who I always feel I can turn to for support, and have done so, over the years.
I learn best by a mixture of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning aka doing. Therefore the use of Theatre and drama as a therapeutic tool is both extremely important in terms of both my journey of recovery AND by general development as a person on this planet. This is also the case for so many other others. Whatever learning style or level of wellness a person has, Stepping Stone Theatre has developed to cater for everyone. Rosie, a service user.
Kate’s writing group has been a breath of fresh air through the pandemic. It has enabled me to express myself and make new friends, all the while confronting my issues in a safe and supportive space. I have nothing but thanks and admiration for what Kate has achieved in these few months! Gryph.
For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. Every Friday, since last April, I have attended the Stepping Stone Scribblers writing workshop with a lovely bunch of people who have become friends. We have great fun, get all creative, and under the gentle but firm tutelage of the wonderful Kate the Great, I have rediscovered my muse. This year I have written a poem a day, and have posted them on Instagram. Also I won a prize for one of my poems in an online poetry competition. This would not have happened without the encouragement of Kate. Thank you Kate. Dave (a scribbler)
Stepping stone was a great opportunity for me and I hope that I can re-join in the future when things are a little more normalised whatever that means, I applied and auditioned for the course and was accepted onto it which I start in September, and if it wasn’t for you guys telling me that I can achieve what I want to achieve I don’t think I would’ve ever done it. The first day at stepping stone was so hard for me because I didn’t know anybody but everybody made me feel so welcome and coming to you and joining was the best decision I ever made in my life. Kate and Bill you are amazing at what you do for us. Ben (former member, but I’ll be back)
Stepping stone has helped me and my son. I first found out about stepping stone when my son joined the theatre group and invited me to go see a show. I was shocked at what I found out about my son and his mental health struggles. Some things he had never told me. But bill and Kate was a great help to my son after attending many shows I started to understand my son’s behaviour. Then the lovely Kate invited me to join the scribblers writing group and through this I have made some wonderful friends and have learnt to be open and honest about myself and to know I’m not alone with my struggles and fears. I would like to thank bill and Kate for their hard work and support they give to others. love from Dee (a scribbler)
“Kate’s work is insightful and very inspiring.” Jenny Shipley, former Prime Minister of New Zealand
Public nomination for an outstanding professional
Sue Bell founded Kids Inspire in 2007, a not-for-profit organisation providing mental health and trauma recovery support for children, young people and their families. It is a unique organisation with over 100 paid or voluntary staff working across Essex, and beyond. Through a range of therapeutic and community activities the charity promotes resilience, self-awareness, and relationship building to empower more positive life choices with those that it works with.
Sue’s vision for the charity inspires all those who work for her. She is committed to helping as many young people and their families who have suffered trauma as possible. Over the last five years she has qualified as the only Somatic Trauma Therapist in Essex. Sue continues to progress on her professional journey and is planning to embark on her doctorate later on this year which she plans to base on the model of what is practised at Kids inspire.
Likewise, Sue encourages her team to share best practices and continue their training meaning that the charity has an extremely qualified and experienced team. Through her leadership Kids Inspire has become the service of choice for referrals from local schools, GP’s, and social care.
Sue is extremely well known in her community for her support of children’s mental health. She has the backing of her local MP, local authority and numerous community groups including the Rotary, Lions and Round Table.
It is unimaginable to think what might have happened to all the thousands of children, young people and their families that are supported by Kids Inspire every year. Sue continues to support the most complex cases herself and always has a large caseload as well as her duties as CEO. Her ability to diversify meant that she swiftly mobilised her qualified, accredited team to deliver therapeutic provision remotely via videocall and telephone; enabling the charity to continue supporting children, young people and families throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.
From a young age Sue had an interest in human behaviour: having been a studious, yet rebellious teen herself, she often related to the young people she worked with throughout her teaching career. Despite the authority that more senior educational positions brought with them, Sue still felt powerless to put a child at the ‘centre’ of a case regardless of her role.
In 2007 it became clear to Sue that there was nowhere for children who were victims of distress, abuse or neglect to turn to for support. As a result, children who she worked with were engaging in self-harm and risky behaviours, such as alcohol/drug abuse, abusive relationships, educational exclusion, and social isolation, instead of receiving positive intervention.
Distressing situations of intergenerational family child abuse and flippant remarks from those in a position of power about “children being sorted out once they were in the criminal justice system” were the final justification Sue needed to set about change.
Already a qualified counsellor – working with behaviour support – and training to be a child and adolescent psychotherapist, Sue opened Kids Inspire, and for two years worked unpaid to prove how these children could be helped. In collaboration with a consortium of local schools, in the first year alone the newly founded children’s charity received over 250 referrals. The work did not stop there, with Sue working tirelessly fundraising and securing grants all alongside seeing her clients.
Early in the foundation of Kids Inspire, Sue identified the importance of family inclusive treatment, an approach which meant families often received therapy alongside their child to support long-term sustainable outcomes for all. The aim for Kids Inspire has never changed – the charity’s goal is to meet the needs of the child at the centre of each case in order for the child to thrive once completing a bespoke treatment plan.
Most recently, during challenging, unprecedented times delivery of mental health services – that are needed now more than ever – Kids Inspire remained open, adapting and shifting services online to continue offering seamless support. More recently, as demand for services increased and as schools reopened, the approach for service delivery has adapted again to a hybrid model – offering online or face to face bespoke treatment, responding to each child’s presenting issues on a case by case basis.
The aim of Kids Inspire is to support disadvantaged children, young people and their families to build resilience, heal from trauma and reclaim their lives. The team treat each referral individually to understand the root of the problem. The clinical thinking results in targeting the intensive support to the family members that need it the most, while keeping the whole family in the treatment plan through regular consultations.
Numbers below are from April 2019 to March 2020:
• Total number of Individuals supported therapeutically: 2797 (797 more than the year previous)
• Intensive support: 1162 individuals (462 more than the year previous)
• Family members benefited by the treatment plan: 1635 individuals (335 more than the year previous)
Analysis: Last year, Kids Inspire, led by Sue Bell increased its beneficiaries by 40%.
The role of Kids Inspire throughout the pandemic has been on the frontline – helping individuals to adapt and cope. Sadly, the heart-breaking truth is that cases of childhood trauma in the past year have more than doubled with children and young people being triggered by the impact of the pandemic.
Kids Inspire, led by Sue Bell, played a huge role in protecting children, young people and families, making sure they were safe and that they had access to the best support for their long-term wellbeing. In the year following 30 March 2020, the team at Kids Inspire offered therapy to 2,539 children/young people and parents/carers.
Childhood trauma is an important topic and Covid-19 has reminded us of what vital services organisations like Kids Inspire provide. Whether that support comes via; Therapy, Mentoring, Coaching, Community projects, the Christmas Appeal or Lunch Club, they all go a long way to empowering children, young people and their families, and to easing the impact of childhood trauma and anxiety.
Funding and national recognition
Led by Sue the Charity has been extremely successful in applying for contracts with the local authority, National Lottery and other large grant funders. The charity has recently been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service thanks to the committed volunteers that choose to support the charity.
Sue was delighted to be a finalist of The Most Enterprising Women Award at the 2019 Essex Business Awards. The charity also won the 2019 Not for Profit Organisation of the Year at the Brentwood Business Awards. Sue has also been a runner up in the Clarin’s Woman of the Year Award and received a Mental Health Hero Award from the previous government.
“Sue was the one there for me when I truly had no one else. All others around me were either falling apart, pushing me away or simply not listening. Sue gave me space and time in which I finally felt heard, supported and safe to express myself however I could without fear of judgement. She gave me permission to fall apart with her and was there to help me pick up the pieces of myself when I was ready. Sue did nothing less than save my life, and I will never forget that.” – Young service user
“Your wonderful project and the incredible work that you do has been the pivotal catalyst for her growing self-esteem and capacity to enjoy life once again.” – Parent/ carer
“Sue’s vision for the charity inspires all those who work for her. She is committed to help as many young people and their families who have suffered trauma as possible.” – Paula Ashfield, Head of Fundraising and Communications, Kids Inspire
“The value, expertise, support and the social impact you have on children and their families has been there to see for many but getting this level of recognition (QAVs award) tops it all off for you all in an unbelievable way. Well done to you all at Kids Inspire and well deserved. It has been great to be able to play a small part in fund raising to allow you all to do what you do.” – Lee Elliston, Corporate Supporter
“Amazing, the lifeline we needed to make sense of things. Wonderful, kind support can’t thank you enough for helping to guide us together as a family.” – Parent/ Carer supported during Covid-19
Please note: One final thought has been included as an attachment and is a poem that one of Sue’s close friends has recently written about her in response to her achievements.
Outstanding contribution to the mental health and wellbeing sector
Ali is the heart and soul behind the creation of a new Recovery College for North Tyneside. Ali works for VODA, a registered charity that passionately believes in the power of volunteers and community groups to change people’s lives for the better. For nearly 30 years VODA has been the ‘beating heart’ of the voluntary and community sector in North Tyneside, providing essential support to hundreds of volunteers and community groups each year.
Two years ago VODA was approached by North Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and asked to support the creation of a new Recovery College for local adults. Since then, Ali have worked alongside adults with lived experience of mental ill-health to build a successful and thriving programme called NT Life – https://voda.org.uk/ntlife/
In something of a departure for VODA the job specification included lived experience as a desirable asset. This was a key factor in Ali being the standout candidate for the role and it has been a great appointment.
Above and beyond
Ali has established the NT Life service on the belief that people with lived experience of mental ill-health have a unique contribution to make towards supporting others to manage their own conditions. The key to the service development has been Ali’s ‘listen-first’ approach. During her first few weeks and months she carried out a range of outreach and listening events directly engaging with potential users of the service to find out what they would want. The services offered have been directly shaped by engagement with those who have support needs. We are very proud of the way Ali created the project from scratch, she laid a really good foundation for success.
Ali’s approach to delivery adopts an asset-based Social Action approach to her work, focussing on people’s strengths, identity and potential, rather than their medical diagnosis. Ali is able to draw on people’s own lived experience to support others and recognise the valuable role people with lived experience can play in ensuring services are designed around people’s needs.
During Lockdown Ali created an innovative approach to reaching out to and supporting NT Life volunteers and participants. 250 Little Boxes of Hope, containing a variety of items to be used for self-care, were delivered to people’s homes in response to the impact Lockdown was having on the mental health and wellbeing of NT Life participants. Ali was keen to take action upon becoming aware that many people were experiencing loneliness, anxiety, fear and for those already dealing with life and mental health challenges, it made those hardships heavier to bear. The boxes were a reminder that we were in this together and we’ll get through it. By receiving an unexpected gift Ali hoped it would remind people that they matter and that they were valued and that someone was thinking of them.
Ali contributes generously, outside of her immediate role, to supporting her colleagues as well as external organisations. Ali has delivered several free workshops on team building and personal development for the benefit of voluntary and community groups and young volunteers in North Tyneside. She has also delivered mindfulness sessions for her VODA colleagues to help deal with the pressures of home working and living through a pandemic.
“I was referred to North Tyneside Recovery College end of Cctober 2019 by my GP and counsellor after having two breakdowns and suffering from depression and serious mental problems for many years. I am a completely different person in February 2021 compared to the person I was in October 2019 when i first presented to North Tyneside Recovery College and it is 100% down to the empowering and inspirational impact and postive influence that Ali has had me. Ali’s warmth, energy and altruism had an immediate impact on me and the most important thing was that Ali believed in me when many others over the years had given up on me as a lost cause which had a very positive and transformational effect on me and I cant thank Ali enough for all the amazing hard work Ali has done. Ali helped to boost the morale of vulnerable people and people with mental health problems with messages, phone calls, helping people with errands and home visits during the lockdown in 2020 which helped prevent a decline in peoples health and and mental and many people are alive now because of Ali’s hard work and intervention.” Philip
“Ali is one of the most genuine, congruent people I have met in a world where authenticity is so often lacking. Her lived experience brings with it a deep empathy for and understanding of the challenges which most of us at NT Life face. She is without a doubt the superglue which has stuck our NT Life ‘family’ together, through thick and thin. Ali is always very inclusive and crucially makes sure that everyone is listened to, heard and understood. She has a great knack of being able to help others see different, more positive perspectives and has a gift for being able to spot others hidden talents/skills and bring them to the fore. I am in awe of how much she has helped us all to develop as individuals and collectively as a recovery college too. I feel pride in witnessing so many changed people, eureka moments and new learning that she has helped to inspire with her enthusiastic, engaging and fun nature.
Personally, I’m grateful for the support which Ali has given to me, including the ‘Talk Tech & Tinker’ sessions which I have run and now the ‘Snap Out Of It!’ mindful photography group. She is there whenever I have a question and works tirelessly behind the scenes to keep things going, including dealing with offering a safe provision during COVID-19. In fact, my perception is that a lot of the support she provides slips under the radar and would never be visible or apparent on an appraisal form- this puts me in mind of a quote from Albert Einstein: ‘Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts’. I ask myself, how could you begin to quantify the happiness, development, hope and purpose that she routinely brings to us at NT Life?” Paul
“She cares deeply for the college and for all of us and always does her best to help people. I know she has inspired lots of the students to be able to facilitate themselves. Ali’s had a rough few months in her personal life but always manages to paint on a smile even though she’s hurting inside. I know just how exhausting that can be, but when you’re working with people with mental health conditions, you have to be upbeat. It is very hard to do and Ali has done amazingly well in that respect. Running the college is not just a job to Ali, she’s in it 100% and you can tell she loves it. 😊” Julie
One of the unexpected outcomes of Ali’s work has been the ripple effect that her passion and innovative approach has had on colleagues and external organisations. The Little Boxes of Hope project gained significant awareness via word of mouth and publicity, and as a result Ali received a number of requests to replicate this work with a number of charitable and private sector organisations. She was also asked to get involved with the Young Mayor of North Tyneside’s project for teenagers returning to school after lockdown.
Ali’s commitment to partnership working and collaboration has helped to sustain and grow the level of mental health provision across the borough of North Tyneside. Working alongside other charities such as Newcastle United Foundation and Meadow Well Connected Ali has been able to develop new approaches to supporting local residents using hooks such as sports and creative writing.
Ali has managed to build real capacity within the NT Life service by supporting individuals to gradually progress from learners to teachers. She not only offers her own support and guidance but enables individuals to gain recognised qualifications and develop as trainers in areas such as Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP).
“She is always encouraging and positive in her support for students and facilitators alike. So many have become much more confident and I would go as far as to say that their lives have improved greatly since joining the college.” Julie
Recently, Ali’s person-led approach has provided a blueprint for the development of a Young Person’s Recovery College. Ali has spoken to local service providers about her positive experience of involving people in the initial and on-going design of the NT Life service. This co-production approach is still a bit of a mystery and challenge for many of us, as it involves bravely sharing power with others, but Ali’s enthusiasm and success story has proved inspirational.
The NT Life programme continues to grow at pace thanks to Ali’s innovative and inclusive approach to providing mental health and wellbeing support. In recognition of this progress, we have been able to attract additional funding and Ali is now mentoring a new co-worker.
We believe that, thanks to Ali’s incredible talent, passion and commitment, the NT Life project will continue to go from strength to strength.
Annalise is Oakleaf’s Client Services Manager, responsible for the day-to-day management of the charity’s client-facing staff (of which there are currently 7, plus an additional 8 part-time), and ensuring high-quality service provision for our hundreds of clients managing their mental ill-health. A huge task before the pandemic, since Covid-19 Annalise has worked tirelessly to not only ensure continued service provision from day one of lockdown in March 2020, but also has facilitated new, innovative ways of increasing the support available and managed a huge increase in need from clients.
Oakleaf has provided vocational training and wider support to adults with mental health needs in Surrey for 24 years. In addition to mental ill-health many clients also suffer from low confidence, poverty and extreme social isolation, often alienated from family and friends.
Oakleaf aims to help clients secure the skills, confidence and training needed to achieve their goals, with a focus on returning to the workplace. To do this, we deliver work-related training and employment support, wellbeing activities, 1:1 emotional support and counselling. In the financial year 2019/20 we supported 582 people across Surrey, and support 350-400 individuals in any one week. Oakleaf clients suffer from a wide variety of mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bi-polar and depression, although we do not require a formal diagnosis to access support. Oakleaf also hosts the Guildford Safe Haven, an evening service available 365 days a year for those close to or experiencing a mental health crisis, in partnership with another local charity and SABP/NHS.
Above and beyond
Annalise has worked at Oakleaf since September 2015 and has been Client Services Manager for two years this May. Pre-pandemic this role carried immense pressure, responsible for the department supporting up to 400 clients at any one time in their management and recovery from mental ill-health. Since Covid-19 Annalise has been on the front line of successfully adapting Oakleaf’s services to be delivered remotely, managed the huge increase in need and poor mental wellbeing within our client base, created innovative ways of supporting clients, and has looked after the wellbeing of her 7-person front-line team—including recruitment and training of new staff.
As venues started cancelling activities and the first lockdown loomed, Annalise worked with her team to move our first wellbeing activity online—an hour of mindfulness via Zoom on the 24th March —and invited all current Oakleaf clients via email. The session was popular, and during that first week of lockdown we held at least one activity every day including a general support group and fitness classes, despite having never delivered support remotely. While we closed Oakleaf in-person, virtual support has been available every single day of the pandemic thanks to Annalise and her team.
As demand for our services rose, this virtual support element grew to five or six activities every day of the working week. To date we have held 42 distinct virtual wellbeing activities via Zoom, ranging from creative (art, choir, poetry, book club), to physical (fitness, Tai Chi, yoga), to therapeutic (mindfulness, anxiety management, positivity hour, NLP) and to support groups (women’s, men’s, LGBT+). We delivered 293 separate virtual wellbeing activity sessions in the first four months of Covid-19, and between April 2020 and March 2021 we had 5,988 attendances to these activities, which is 900 more than the previous 12 months. All our virtual wellbeing activities are free of charge for clients. Even as we re-open in person activities, we will continue to offer a virtual programme.
Perhaps most importantly, in the first week of lockdown Annalise took charge of contacting every single active Oakleaf client, of which there were 327 in March 2020. She created a spreadsheet where all clients were divided up between the team, to contact—call, text, email, and finally letter—in the first few weeks of lockdown. This is in addition to fielding the many calls and emails from worried, distressed and unwell clients. Annalise and her team worked incredibly long hours at the start of the pandemic to reassure and support clients on an individual basis. When many other services cancelled their activities and did not go online for some time, clients expressed a lack of hope and many presented in crisis.
To add difficulty, Annalise developed symptoms of Covid-19 a week before the first lockdown, so quarantined and worked from home for the first time during this difficult period. A new mobile phone and number were procured and communicated out to clients, and a rota was set up to ensure the main phone line was covered.
What began as an emergency response, calling clients to determine how to best support them remotely, developed into a new standalone service of ‘Check in and Chat’ calls which Annalise and her team have continued throughout the pandemic regardless of the level of restrictions. Between April 2020 and March 2021, 2,357 total check in calls were made to individual clients. In addition to providing emotional support and reducing loneliness and isolation—often the call was the only the client received all week—these calls helped clients navigate new pandemic-related systems such as learning how to use Zoom and accessing benefits while most services were shut. Both at the start of the pandemic and now, any client in need of immediate support can receive a call or meeting to reassure, ensure safety, provide support and plan next steps. Despite increased workload this ‘drop everything and help’ approach ensures clients feel safe, valued and supported and represents Annalise’s ethos.
As 2020 progressed, Annalise ensured Oakleaf was flexible in its service delivery, creating schedules only two weeks in advance and moving activities in-person where possible (re-opening Oakleaf for the first time on 17th August). As we moved into winter and the January lockdown, the mental health of Oakleaf clients declined overall. The third lockdown, dark and cold days, prolonged isolation and no end in sight produced the highest levels of low mood, suicidal ideation and anxiety ever seen by Annalise and her team. Check in calls became longer, crisis became more frequent and members of the Client Services team required additional support themselves, which Annalise provided.
In addition, throughout the pandemic Annalise managed the Guildford Safe Haven service in conjunction with our two other community partners, local charity Catalyst and Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. This included coordinating a new system of operating, which Annalise suggested—restricting access to crisis only and a limit of 6 people to ensure social distancing. Annalise manages 8 additional part-time Safe Haven Support Workers, and in the past year this has included training staff on the Virtual Safe Haven, a secondary option to attending in-person. The Guildford Safe Haven has not closed any night since the pandemic begun.
The recruitment Annalise was responsible for over the past year also is important to mention. In the summer Oakleaf secured funding for a new role, Virtual Wellbeing Coordinator to support the new virtual activities, and in spring 2021 we secured three years of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund to provide a new programme of personalised employment support for clients entitled ‘Pathways to Work, which included recruitment of two new Employment Advisors. This is in addition to recruiting for an admin maternity cover and three bank Safe Haven Support Workers to ensure cover for illness and quarantining.
Now, 14 months on, Annalise overseas a larger service provision than ever before including both in-person and virtual support. We feel she deserves recognition for her incredible dedication, hard work, courage and compassion to Oakleaf and its clients during such a difficult time period.
From our bi-annual client survey in January 2021, we were thrilled to hear that 95% of clients agreed Oakleaf helped them feel less isolated during the pandemic, and 92% agreed Oakleaf helped them improve their mental wellbeing.
Quotes from our Summer 2020 and Winter 2021 client surveys, representing the support Annalise oversees:
“I’ve received excellent support from Annalise, especially when I have struggled, she is invaluable.”
“Oakleaf helped me cope with when I couldn’t see any light.”
“Oakleaf has made me feel less abandoned and isolated during this time. The weekly calls have hugely helped get me through. Counselling was incredibly helpful with mental health and personal relationships.”
“I had only just started with Oakleaf when the lockdown commenced, so as you can imagine it left me stranded and very isolated. I am doing a range of different courses through Oakleaf and I am thankful for all their time, kindness, help and support. Every class and member of staff has shown so much commitment to help and understand every one of us, including myself. These classes have also given me a reason to get out of bed and provided me with a real drive and daily structure.” – John, current Oakleaf client
“When I had a wobble after improving month on month Oakleaf jumped in & put a weekly plan in place talking on a 121 basis until my anxiety & worry was back under control.”
Quote from Heather, Oakleaf Virtual Wellbeing Coordinator:
“I started working with Oakleaf in July 2020 – right in the midst of the pandemic. It has been great to be part of such an enthusiastic and hard working team. Annalise is the fantastic leader of our team, who leads with kindness, compassion and empathy. She always makes sure that there is time to discuss any concerns that you have, this goes for anyone in the team and of course our clients. She keeps the Client Services team moving forward throughout lockdown, for example creating my role as Virtual Wellbeing Coordinator, and then keeping up to date with restrictions easing to make sure clients can get back to in person activities as soon as possible.”
Quote from Kelvin, member of the Oakleaf Client Services team:
“Annalise continues to be an amazing and supportive manager to the client services team. Her passion, care and love for Oakleaf’s clients is second to none.”
Quote from Russell Lewis, Oakleaf client:
“The team were all really understanding and supportive when I was going through a very difficult time. Even since I left, the team have continued to contact me throughout these lockdowns to check that I am okay; their kindness and dedication to helping people has really changed my life. I continue to use the skills I learned at Oakleaf to manage my mental health on a daily basis and as a result of my experience at Oakleaf, I decided to apply to college. I am now in my second year and training to be a therapeutic counsellor so that I can help people the same way that Oakleaf helped me. I cannot thank Oakleaf enough for the services that they provided for me and continue to provide for people who desperately need connection and support.”
The most significant measure of our success is the impact we have on the lives of our clients. Between April 2019 and March 2020, when Annalise was Client Services Manager, we welcomed 582 clients to our services and support activities, and 68 clients moved on from us into meaningful employment (including full or part-time roles, paid or voluntary). When Oakleaf first became a charity in 1997, we supported just 40 clients.
We are delighted when clients return to work with improved wellbeing, as this is our ultimate goal. Clients join us in difficult personal circumstances, but many can move back to the workplace or towards more constructive lives. Between April 2019 and March 2020, 96% of our clients either maintained or improved the management of their mental health, as reported through our Recovery Star evaluation system.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our clients, reflecting what has been seen nationally. In June 2020, Mind reported on a survey of 16,000 people during the first lockdown, revealing that 65% of adults over 25 & 75% of young people aged 13-24 with existing mental health problems reported worse mental health. Mind and others predict a prolonged worsening of wellbeing and increased numbers of people experiencing longer-term mental health problems.
Nonetheless, by staying in touch with and providing support for our clients through the lockdowns and various restrictions over the past 14 months, Annalise, her team and Oakleaf’s training departments have had a hugely positive impact. They used the following mediums to communicate and provide support: virtual (phone, email, text, letter, Zoom, MS Teams); creative in-person solutions (activities such as karate and mindfulness outdoors in the empty car park; large Perspex screens in counselling rooms to facilitate safe sessions; free counselling room hire for a private space for clients to hold their virtual sessions; loaning laptops to clients who needed them).
As mentioned above, 95% of clients in our January 2021 survey agreed Oakleaf helped them feel less isolated during the pandemic, and 92% agreed Oakleaf helped improve their mental wellbeing. Additionally, 87% agreed Oakleaf activities had helped them feel more confident. For those who took part in Zoom wellbeing activities, 96% found them helpful and 85% found them very helpful. For those who received ‘Check in and Chat’ phone calls, 100% found them helpful and 68% found them very helpful. We will continue to provide these virtual services post-pandemic, in addition to face-to-face support.