First off, Ramadan Mubarak to those who are observing Ramadan this month. I recognise there is a great deal of self-sacrifice and reflection involved in observing this month, and I hope, as an employer, we are supportive and make reasonable adjustments. I want to ask staff to be aware and mindful of colleagues observing and make sure you continue to look after yourselves and others.

This month we’ve seen the opening of our new women’s service. It’s been a while in the planning and shows the importance of the Oxford Mental Health Partnership. The ethos behind it comes from looking at demand and a need to develop the services we provide to ensure they cater to underserved minorities. We’ve recognised that groups of women, because of childhood and other trauma, are presenting with complex issues and need very focussed support.

The whole basis of the service is an enabling environment built on 10 fundamental principles and values, including respect, encouraging participation, creating boundaries and peer support. So far, the feedback from the women has been almost entirely positive, and our staff feel that creating this environment is playing a dramatic role in making that change. We look forward to sharing some data soon.

We’ve also seen our Avon, Wiltshire, and BaNES expansion. Firstly, it’s important to thank the commissioners and the Avon Wiltshire Partnership for commissioning the pilot in the first place. They had heard of the success of the services in other areas. There are three facets to the expansion, embedded support workers in hospital wards, the Mental Wealth Academy, and a consultancy report on existing mental health pathways.

Looking at the data we have about the success of the support workers, we can see that the number of people with access to settled accommodation on discharge has increased, as has the number of people accessing benefits they are entitled to. The support workers also make sure people are discharged with an adequate supply of the medication they need, especially during busy times like Christmas and Easter. It’s been a great success, and we are hoping to replicate this service in other areas.

The expansion of the Mental Wealth Academy has solidified what we already knew, which is that this is a vital service that can bridge the gap between CAHMS and adult services. I’m proud that it has been recognised by the Local Government Association for its value to young people. I’m also pleased to say that the funding for the Oxfordshire service has been picked up for next year thanks to the Oxfordshire County Council and Oxfordshire Commissioning Group.

The report has now been published and is freely available on our website if you would like to read it. It has some interesting findings, and people tended to be positive about the available services, with the main frustration being access to services in the first place, particularly on weekends. Friends and Family communicated that they were looking most for services that made them feel respected and listened to.

In the past few weeks, we’ve also had the first meeting of our EDI committee. For me, this is the most important step we could have taken. EDI strategy talks with the board had already begun, where we discussed making sure Response is a welcoming place both to work and as a service user. But real change comes when it starts at a workforce level and is supported by day-to-day involvement. The committee discussed what processes we currently have and what changes we need to make. I’m hoping that this discussion between people from all different services will empower Response staff to feel that they are the people to make a change. The conversations have been frank, and I know they will make a tremendous difference in our organisation.

April also marks Stress Awareness Month. Awareness months like this allow specific topics to be highlighted and start conversations. Everyone needs to acknowledge they will have days where they experience stress. When this is prolonged, though, this can be unhealthy. Stress can be work-related or personal. I want people to feel able to talk to a manager about any concerns, whether work-related or not. Or, if your stress is manifesting as physical symptoms, go and speak to your GP. It’s important to recognise signs of stress and know that we have support systems at Response, such as You Matter and Thrive, which can be accessed through the Wellbeing Hub.

We know that stress can, of course, come from financial worries. We have tried to mitigate the current economic pressures by introducing an inflationary salary increase to combat the National Insurance rise. I’d like to recognise the people, particularly within HR and finance, pushing for this increase. Often their work is behind the scenes and goes unrecognised, but they deserve praise.

Lastly, I know this past month has been difficult with staff absences due to COVID, but everyone has pulled out the stops to cover shifts. Thank you to all our staff, particularly those who have been badly affected by COVID.