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Turning Round a Place-Based Organisation: The Trials and Tribulations of Operations in a Pandemic

Peer support group online meeting

It is amazing what you can do when you have to. If we had been asked to plan to move all of our services to phone and video delivery, I would have drafted a project plan and looked at phasing them one by one over the quarter. I would have insisted I was given time to do it right. There would have been a focus on working with people who use our services, consulting staff and volunteers. In February/March 2020 we went from chatting in the office saying “it probably won’t happen” to “it is happening” in the blink of an eye.

We were, in March 2020, a firmly place-based organisation. Manchester Mind’s approach has been based on one thing and one thing only, the importance of building kind, trusting relationships, which encourage a sense of belonging. Through experience, we know that for people with poor mental health, the process of building this relationship over time is eased if we work with people face-to-face. We get to see the whole person, build trust, pick up on those cues, which can transform how we work with someone and make our service accessible and effective for them. It can also remove anxiety that comes with using the phone or limited internet access. Within a short timeframe, we were forced to step away from this preferred method of delivery, which we have followed for over 30 years.

By May 2020, we were cooking with gas. Every area had adapted all services to be delivered remotely. We had introduced a new telephone service responding to need and we pivoted our food delivery service to support the city’s emergency response initiatives. We also had to think fast about finances and the smaller Covid-19 response funds that were rapidly becoming available.

How did we do it? We’ve always valued collaboration but the way staff jumped into remote working is still something I look back on with pride, fondness and minor palpitations. We broke it down into steps and got on with it. We shared out the work. We made sure we told people who use our services and volunteers what was going on. Staff were going out and delivering IT equipment to colleagues. We helped each other. We laughed rather than cried when staff would contact us to say their laptop screen was smaller than they expected. We did not overact when someone asked us what was happening with the post for the hundredth time. Quite an achievement given the amount of uncertainty in our world in spring 2020. But it felt good to belong to a team response, all of us working to the same end.

The silver cloud to 2020-21 is that it forced us to test our assumptions – and we have learnt a lot as a result. One of our beliefs is that ‘there is no right way’ to deliver mental health support and I genuinely believe our service model is stronger now as people have a choice about how they work with us. Some people do not want to travel across Manchester, face the ring road, and navigate buses. For them, video and phone services have reduced their anxiety. For others, nothing can come close
to face-to-face delivery. We will hold on to these new channels of service delivery and hope they allow us to reach more people as 2021 progresses.

Finally, a key lesson from this last year, it helps to stay focused on your purpose – there’s only one thing we are interested in and that is providing a space where mental health comes first for Manchester residents. With all the other noise, fear and distraction of 2020, it was really important to focus on doing that and doing it as well as we could, whilst being open to learning along the way.

“All I had to do was make that one call rather than suffer the pain. I am shocked at the amount of support I have been linked to.”
Stewart was supported by the Listening Ear Service

 Clare Abbott, Operations Director


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