Hi everyone. I’m Marcus and I have been the Information and Communications Worker at Stockport Mind for the last three years. Today is my last day, as I am moving into a role over at Mind in Salford next week, so our General Manager Collin asked if I would like to write an article to summarise my time working for the organisation. Here goes…
I can still quite distinctly remember back to August 2016, when I was expecting a phone call from Stockport Mind to hear whether or not I had ‘got the job’.
I was in the supermarket and my phone began to ring. It was an 0161 number. My heart started to race with anticipation as I answered the call. “Hi Marcus, it’s Collin from Stockport Mind”, said the cheery voice at the other end of the phone.
I darted down the nearest aisle, so I could hear the verdict without too much background noise. I stood by the cat food with bated breath. “We would like to offer you the job”, he said.
“Bloody hell!” was my snap reply, before I realised what I had just said to my new boss, and hoped he didn’t immediately retract his offer. Thankfully, he didn’t.
The position I had been successful for was Information and Communications Worker, a new role within the organisation.
Before this role existed, staff would each spend a half-day per week on a rota system, working alongside and supporting our Reception Volunteers in the front office. Charlotte was overseeing our social media and communications one day per week at the time.
The Board and Management had decided to invest in this new position, meaning one worker would consistently work full time alongside the Reception Volunteer team, providing a comprehensive front-of-house service. This would mean that other staff would then be relieved of covering Reception, and be able to fully focus on their roles in delivering services or in management.
The Information and Communications Worker was also to be the central point of contact for enquiries from other organisations, and the idea was to undertake lots of promotional work to raise the profile of the organisation too, alongside the front-line support.
Because of my Journalism background, I was able to bring with me skills and experience which were attractive to the organisation as regards communications work, such as writing, social media and keeping the website updated. This was bolstered by my mental health experience for the support side of things, through lived experience (primarily a family member) and a Volunteering role at Manchester Mind.
So when I got started, as was hoped, the communications work in raising the profile of the charity soon meant that more people started to raise funds for us through marathons, bake sales, charity balls, Tough Mudder events and more. I then started to work alongside these people and organisations, to support their fundraising efforts as well.
It didn’t take long before the role became really varied and I was often very busy. One minute I might be writing a blog post about a fundraising event, and the next, someone in distress or suicidal could phone and I would support them. Later the same day I could be covering our art group, writing up minutes from a meeting or a funding bid, or even delivering a speech on behalf of the organisation. I was constantly having to ‘change hats’ dependent on what was going on, which certainly kept me on my toes, but ultimately the priority was always the support side of things; our reason for existing as an organisation is to serve the public after all.
One thing that really helped with taking on and delivering this challenging and varied role was the team I had around me. Some of the most wonderful, dedicated and lovely people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting are those I have been able to call colleagues at Stockport Mind. This not only includes the staff team, but Volunteers, Trustees and Students as well.
And as much as there are often challenges and difficult times when working for a mental health charity, there have been many laughs and great times too.
One amusing moment that stands out for me was the time Collin and I had arranged to come into work early on the morning of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) to finish off last-minute preparations for our media and displays. I went up the office stairs at 7.30am, to find a scene that made me do a double-take. For a second I thought it was far too early in the morning and I was just delirious and seeing things, but sure enough, Col was there in his best suit, but was using a craft knife to cut out foam board pieces for our displays.
It took me a minute to get my head around this, as I think this might be the only time in the history of the world that someone has been seen using a craft knife whilst wearing a suit at 7.30am. But I guess that is symbolic of the kind of organisation Stockport Mind is.
Another example of this all-hands-on-deck mentality was when it had already been One Of Those Days, with lots of challenging things going on, before Kate appeared in the management office with a snapped-off front door handle in her hand, accompanied by a wry smile and a shrug. Collin laughed and reached straight for his toolbox.
My third anecdote to mention – although be rest assured I have many more than I would have time to list here – is when Jo had successfully filled the Stockport College sports hall with lots of great organisations and students for the Hate Crime Awareness Event, and had asked me to compere and do the opening speech.
What I hadn’t banked on was the College providing one of those headset mics, which – due to my inexperience using them – I ended up speaking into with the mic part far too close to my mouth. I was like a muffled version of Alan Partridge when he is trying to flog copies of his book in a train station. Some of the College students couldn’t help but laugh at me.
I could go on!
There are many things that make Stockport Mind a very special place.
We regularly receive feedback like “I owe my life to this service”, “Stockport Mind has been my lifeline”, and “the only place we have ever found ‘an umbrella’ of help and support is at Stockport Mind”. Words like this very much make it an organisation you can massively believe in working for.
It is such a tight-knit, community-focussed organisation too. At our AGM events, I would be able to look around and think ‘I know every single person in this room’ – Staff, Volunteers, Trustees, Students, Members, Fundraisers, people from other organisations.
That was always a really nice feeling and ultimately this makes it like a family. It has especially felt like this in light of all the changes that came into effect for us earlier this year, which made us an even smaller team – we lost a core contract, consequently meaning half of our income went and sadly half our staff had to move on to new roles in other organisations. Being left with just seven brought us even closer together.
The size of the organisation is another key thing to talk more about. Back in the late 2000’s, Stockport Mind had upwards of 20 staff, split across two buildings and had a range of services to offer. Government cuts then hit the organisation and many others hard, and the staff team went down to just eight, which heavily reduced the organisation’s services. I joined as the tenth team member in 2016, and we got up to 13 staff by 2018, but the recent re-tendering process then scythed us back down to the seven.
So for the charity to be able to do what it does with such a small team, as much as it isn’t as broad a range of services as what it once was, really does amaze people. We have received comments like “It’s mind blowing that you run such an amazing charity with such a small team… we all had the preconception that you were a huge charity with loads of funding, and this certainly isn’t the case” (comment from Pets at Home staff, pictured with us below).
Losing half our staff in early 2019 meant that the remaining team had to do more work between us than ever before. It is safe to say it has been a challenging time keeping all the balls in the air, and my remit didn’t escape from becoming even broader. One of our Volunteers recently described my role as becoming “like having to be an octopus”, with tentacles all over the place, carrying out lots of different things at once.
This year’s setbacks followed on from what was a turbulent and often heartbreaking 2018 for us as well, with a very intensive speight of bereavements for people within the team – one of which was my own (I went on to raise funds for Stockport Mind and other charities in memory of my Dad) – so we have been through an awful lot together, personally as well as professionally.
When I came back to work after losing my Dad very unexpectedly, Leah and Laura popped into my office at around 3pm every day, to check in with me. Jo was always really adept at picking up on when I was having a difficult day and talking through things with me. These are more perfect examples of the kind of warmth you can expect around the place.
So in light of all this, when I announced recently that I had accepted a job over at Mind in Salford, I knew it was going to be a bit of a shock for my team, but I only fully realised the extent of our ‘family’ when one of them described this news as “like losing a child”.
I wasn’t actively looking for jobs at the time. I was just updating our Twitter account one day when I saw the Mind in Salford account advertising a role for Fundraising Officer.
Given my dedication in trying to help Stockport Mind not only to continue its wonderful work, but also to try to rebuild after recent setbacks, it was always going to be tough to know whether or not to apply.
But ultimately, I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t give it a go. Even then it wasn’t a decision I took lightly, and I know it’s going to be a sad feeling to walk out of Dove House for the last time as a staff member today. But this seemed like the ideal next step for me, and an opportunity I am really excited to start work on, within another wonderful organisation and still within the ‘Mind family’.
It is difficult to fully do justice in words to my time at Stockport Mind, and to truly sum up the three years. Memories race through my head like the heroic SpeakUpCycle team raising £12,000 to support our services by cycling from London to Stockport in 24 hours; so many people with such a range of individual circumstances approaching the organisation for support, with our aim being to always provide a listening ear, compassion, and direction to the most appropriate services; huddling under a leaking gazebo in torrential rain for Cheadle Mosque Open Day; Dennis telling anyone who would listen that I would always laugh at him when we were gym partners; the Chorus of Others male mental health choir belting out songs at Stockport Foodie Fridays; over 20 bicycles arriving at the office donated by a sponsor organisation, chaotically carried into the office by Volunteers and staff; Pat bringing in her wonderful allotment-grown veg for all to enjoy; and creating chairs out of balloons on our in-house team building day, which we have since said felt like a cross between a scene from Peep Show and The Office.
But I think my closing message has got to be thank you so much to everyone I have met and worked alongside in such a special organisation. I will be forever grateful for so many opportunities and to have been part of such a brilliant team. I have been inspired by, and learnt so much from, my colleagues here. It has a privilege to have been a part of it all and I will no doubt keep in touch. Thank you for everything.