Farewell from Laura… again!

Today we say goodbye to a staff member who will be very much missed, both professionally and personally. Her farewell article follows.

By Laura Frances

In December 2016, I started working for Stockport and District Mind. I was employed as a Link Worker, working with people who had been discharged from secondary care mental health services, and who needed additional support and help with their mental health.

As a qualified Social Worker, I wanted to make a difference and help people onto a recovery pathway, and this role seemed to fit in with my value base and ethics. When I started, I was met by a fellow Link Worker, who would be my mentor and show me the ropes. She made the transition into this new role easy and supported me to find my feet in the first few weeks.

I soon settled into my new role and found my place within the team. One of the things I have always said is that I am in a privileged position and that I feel very lucky to be doing this kind of work. People I have worked with have shared their traumatic experiences, their fears, concerns and worries. They have trusted me in order to share their thoughts (sometimes very dark) and their feelings. They have had faith in my practice and we have worked together to plan and find a path to recovery, even when at times lack of resources and a reduction in provision was evident.

I would recommend anyone working in a similar role to get out there and see what and where other services are. We are now heavily reliant on the third sector to provide services for people, and I was keen to find out as much as I could about what options are out there to support people. Having a toolbox of services to hand was so valuable in being able to support people, and building networks with anyone you can makes the job so much easier in order to get the right support for people.

I have seen quite a few staff changes during my time at Stockport Mind. Mostly, this is due to short contracts and loss of contracts. My counterpart and fellow Link Worker left for pastures new, and at the time I found this change difficult. We were a good team and shared work, ideas and responsibilities.

However another worker came along. She was hard working, keen, bright, empathic, and had knowledge and experience. Straight away we had a rapport and worked brilliantly together. She quickly became a popular member of the team and worked well with clients.  Shortly after, it was my turn to go on to pastures new and I was offered a job working for a Community Mental Health Team in the North West. It was so difficult leaving my caseload and my team, but I felt that it was the right time to jump the Mind ship.

I quickly realised (after a couple of days!) that working in this new role would not suit me as a professional, and the impact of this new job on my life and my family would be detrimental. I quickly phoned my manager from Stockport Mind, who luckily for me had not yet recruited into my role and, after discussion with the Board of Trustees, welcomed me back. I instantly knew I had made the right decision and I was given the nickname “the boomerang”; a name I passed on to the same colleague who gave it to me, when later that year, he left his job at Stockport Mind only to return a few weeks later!

Not too long after my reappearance, we unfortunately lost the contact for delivering the Link Work Service.  This was a difficult time for Stockport Mind, as it was a big contact and it meant that staff would be subject to TUPE (stands for Transfer Of Undertakings [Protection of Employment]). Therefore, three of our other full time staff plus me were due to move over to work for the organisation who won the contract, to deliver a new version of the service with them.

I almost went with them, but another job came up with Stockport Mind; I was offered this post and started working for the Carers Support Service. This meant that again, we lost another brilliant member of our team, but I was lucky enough to step into her shoes and work alongside my colleague Dennis, who is an experienced Social Worker.  

It helped that we worked well and got on together, apart from the occasional argument about his appalling taste in music! In this service I have been able to work with the Carers, who support their loved ones with their mental health conditions. As someone who cares for a family member with a mental health diagnosis, I had some understanding of the demands that this unpaid role can have at times.

We offer a Carers assessment as part of our contractual duties from the local Council. This assessment may result in a small annual monetary payment, which is tiny in proportion to the support our Carers offer. Like most of our Carers, I feel that the money is not as important as the recognition of the work we do to support the people that we love and care about. Being able to offer support and a listening ear is by far the most important part of my job. I have been blown away by the support, care and empathy the Carers offer each other as peer-to-peers, and have had the pleasure to be part of the monthly Carers group, and latterly been involved in setting up Stockport’s first ever Carers Choir!

Without the support of our team of Volunteers, we couldn’t carry out all the vital work that we do at Stockport Mind. This means that our small team of paid staff extends out to a bigger team of passionate and committed people, many of whom I have had the pleasure to work alongside. Volunteers help cover our office reception, support our Carers service, help organise and deliver fundraising activities, work with groups, on the wards at the hospital, and are part of the Board of Trustees.

All Volunteers give up their time and energy to ensure our organisation runs smoothly, and help us to get much needed funding to keep Stockport Mind on the map and supporting people. In turn I have had feedback from some Volunteers who feel very much a part of the Stockport Mind family, which is lovely to hear.

Essentially I have found this role to be varied and it has given me multiple opportunities to develop my skills as a Social Worker. I have had the freedom to take my ideas and run with them. This, in part, is due to a supportive manager who allows his team to develop their skills and experience, which in turn ultimately benefits the organisation and the people that we serve. I feel that being able to explore, learn and improve my skills has given me a newfound confidence, which I can take into my new employment.

The other thing that I will take away with me is the importance of looking after your own wellbeing and mental health. At times, it’s easy to forget about how to manage our own emotions, especially when supporting others. I have been lucky in my personal and work life to have the support of people around me and that has been so valuable in keeping me okay.

Stockport Mind responded quickly to Coronavirus, by adapting services to carry on as best that they can virtually – without us physically seeing people. It’s been a very strange time for me to make this transition and I am sad that I have not been able to see the people I work with daily, to say a proper goodbye. I wanted to talk to the Carers group personally, about leaving and my new role, but I know that we are all staying home to keep safe against this dreadful virus. But I will not be a stranger, and I intend to gate-crash Carers Choir and Carers group when things are back in place!

Finally, I want to thank each and every one of the team at Stockport Mind. I consider you very special people to carry out the work that you do, to help support our local community.

This organisation and the team within it will always hold a very special place in my heart and I intend to stay in touch, carrying on raising the profile of Stockport Mind and promoting the amazing work that Staff and Volunteers carry out. As a Social Work practitioner, I have such valuable and important experience which I will take with me in to my new role.