Important changes to our leadership and service user involvement
Since Together for Mental Wellbeing was first formed in 1879, we have placed individuals experiencing mental distress at the centre of everything we do. Back in the late 19th century, it was considered ground-breaking to choose to work alongside people coming out of asylums, to offer safe havens instead of being sent to an institution, and to involve individuals in their own care.
Over the following 140 years, we have worked hard to build a rich history of service user involvement and leadership. From championing a service-user led ethos throughout the Great Depression and both World Wars – at a time when this would have been considered unusual – to decades later creating our Service User Involvement Directorate in 2004. Involving and valuing the experiences of service users has long been the core of all that we do and aspire to do within Together, and we are immensely proud of this.
So much progress has been made over the years, but we believe that there is more to do. We have been asking ourselves how we can continue to build on Together’s illustrious heritage and to strive to make service user involvement and leadership even more meaningful and to make a difference to people’s lives.
Our soul searching has been inspired by the work we have been doing on our new five-year strategy, which will be launched later this year. Reflecting on our vision and mission, service users, volunteers, staff and trustees told us that:-
- we need to continue to ensure that the people we work alongside lead the way, not just in their own support, but at every level of the organisation
- we want to be active in informing policy and practice, within Together and externally, through the voices of people who use our services.
- we want to deliver high quality, safe services and to reach more people who have unmet needs as a result of experiencing mental distress and complex lives.
Over the past 15 years, our Service User Involvement Directorate has been recognised for delivering outstanding work in developing and championing genuine service user involvement and leadership. Founded by Anne Beales, and more recently led with determination by Angela Newton, the dedicated, passionate and committed team of six, has inspired so many other agencies and professionals in valuing the voice and involvement of people with lived experience of mental distress.
This has included hosting the National Service User Network (NSUN) in its early years and more recently supporting the development of the National Involvement Partnership’s 4Pi national standards for the involvement of service users and carers in mental health and social care services. Within Together, we have trustees with lived experience on our Board and an elected National Steering Group of people who use their experiences of mental distress to provide the support and challenge to influence how we live our values at Together.
With all the fantastic work of the Directorate, however, we have continued to face challenges in embedding service user involvement and leadership across our services and departments at Together. From talking with staff and service users, we struggle to consistently and systematically enable and empower people to lead their own care and support and to have a voice in how we do things at Together. There are a number of reasons for this, but it has become increasingly clear to me that having a specific Service User Involvement Directorate had created an unintended outcome for the organisation – our services and departments were looking to the Directorate, that small team of six, to be responsible for service user involvement and leadership in our organisation.
As a result, and with the clear messages from our strategy work that success for us over the next five years will be people leading their own care and support, actively shaping our organisation and having a voice to inform policy and practice, we had to ask ourselves the question – how could we better integrate, embed and exemplify our fundamental core value of meaningful service user involvement and leadership to the benefit of people using our services?
We felt the answer to that could only be achieved by changes in Together’s structures. To do that, we have taken the bold decision to restructure our senior leadership team to ensure that service user involvement and leadership becomes more explicitly part of our organisational DNA and embedded within all areas of our operations, service delivery and support services – from finance to workforce development to property management.
We will have two new roles of Chief Operating Officer and Director of People & Organisational Development as members of the senior leadership team, working alongside the CEO and Director of Resources. We will retain the expertise of members of our service user involvement team through integrating them across the organisation but we will no longer have a Director of Service User Involvement. Personally, this has been a difficult decision to make – I have worked at Together for 16 years but having been the CEO since May last year, I have particularly valued the expertise, experience and counsel of Angela Newton, as our Director of Service User Involvement.
But I am fully committed to building on our strong legacy to remain at the forefront of service user involvement and to continue to be a charity that promotes a vision and a purpose to reduce stigma, raise awareness and influence change and practice to the benefit of people who experience mental distress.
We have many fantastic staff working for us and from visiting our services, I know that staff engagement is strongest at a local level – with their teams, service users and the community. I believe that these changes will ensure that service user involvement and leadership is truly everyone’s business at Together going forward.
We are really excited to be taking this significant next step in our service user involvement journey, a journey we want to take in partnership with others who share our values and determination.