MHAW2020: Together CEO Linda Bryant speaks to Trustee Lisa Goodwin about Lived Experience

Next in our features for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, our Chief Executive Linda Bryant spoke to Together trustee Lisa Goodwin about the value of lived experience. Lisa is Deputy Chair of our Workforce Committee and is a member of the Quality and Safety Committee and her interview with Linda is below beginning with her reasons for wanting to become a trustee at Together:

Why did you want to be a trustee at Together?

I had a dramatic change in my support when Together took over a contract in my regional area; that change had a really strong and positive impact on my health and wellbeing. I felt I wanted to give something back to the organisation that had helped me and to ensure that other people could get the same quality and positive input into their lives as I did and to help them to move forward. I wanted other people to have the chance to experience the benefits that I had.

I started by volunteering with Together and was involved in delivering training on service user involvement and leadership and peer support. It was suggested to me by staff and another trustee with lived experience of mental distress that as I was a fairly forthright person and that I would make a good trustee. So when a position came up, I applied and somehow managed to pass the interview. That was a few years ago and now I am the longest serving member of the Board.

How has the knowledge you’ve gained from your lived experience of mental distress helped inform decisions you’ve made as a trustee?  

I have an empathetic understanding of what it’s like to have so much of your life taken away by an illness that is completely invisible to everyone else. I was stuck on a ward and couldn’t go past a certain point as my friend’s family were leaving after having visited me (and I was one of the lucky ones to have visitors). I have an absolute focus on our beneficiaries and the impact of the decisions we make as trustees on the people who use our services.

I also think about our staff as they are our greatest asset – they work with compassion, empathy, integrity and we need to support them to achieve the best for the people who use our services. I really want to know what it’s like for the people who use our services. I know in the past, they will have had experiences of people doing things to them rather than with them. That’s the wrong way and it’s important that at Together we work from the view point of the people who use our services. My role is very much to talk on behalf of the people using our services.

Why do you think it’s important that Together uses lived experience to inform the decisions the charity makes?

It helps us to provide better services. It’s to ensure that we get the benefit of the perspective of what it’s like to like to experience with mental distress. It’s also about not repeating things that have been unhelpful for people in the past. I feel that I am respected by other members of the board for the experience I bring which is not just about my mental distress but also the consequences of it such as the challenges of accessing benefits and supporting other people who need help.

Would you encourage other people with lived experience to become a trustee of a charity – are there any tips you feel you’ve gained from your experience you’d like to pass on to others?

Absolutely! You get to give something back and to make sure that other people are helped and represented. You gain transferable skills and meet people you would never normally meet while also getting to challenge preconceptions about people who experience mental distress and make sure people aren’t written off. We’re pretty smart people and just because I may be unwell doesn’t mean I’m stupid

A top tip for a new trustee with lived experience is not to be intimidated. You might be the only person not dressed in a suit but you are an equal and your experience is just as valid as anyone else’s. You also need to look after yourself, to ask for help when you need it and to get support from other trustees with lived experience.

Together changes people’s lives. Being a trustee is an honour and I would encourage anybody to get involved to do so.

Normal is a setting on a washing machine. I’d much rather be emotionally interesting.