Cllr Simon Wales – A few months as Sutton’s mental health champion

A few short months after being moved to volunteer as the London Borough of Sutton’s mental health champion, and what has been happening? Quite a lot as you will see, and I would urge all councils to appoint a mental health champion – it is a stimulating, rewarding and worthwhile role!

Sutton has unanimously passed two motions at full council – the first to raise awareness and to launch the Central Sutton Mental Health Partnership of which I am the member sponsor, and the second to become a dementia–friendly borough and to encourage all members to sign up for dementia awareness training.

We have become one of the government’s Our Place! Programme projects, a government scheme which supports communities to transform public services through partnership working and a bigger role for the community.

Mental health was identified as an area of significant spend from all partners, but more importantly it was recognised that there was real scope to join up services and improve outcomes for people with mental ill health, and particularly employment outcomes. It was also felt that there needs to be a bigger role for the community (neighbourhood networks and organisations) in supporting people with mental ill health and having a broader, preventative impact – whereby people support each other and fewer people reach moments of crisis.

The Our Place! Programme has supplied a small amount of funding and consultancy time, the Department of Work and Pensions South London are providing two days a week of project support and LB Sutton has provided the project manager.

The Board includes representatives of the Council (including Public Health), the Clinical Commissioning Group, Sutton Police, DWP and Sutton Housing Partnership (our main provider of social housing). In parallel to this there is a Steering Group, comprising members of the voluntary sector with an interest in mental health, Talk Easy Trust (a youth mental health self-help group) Sutton Healthwatch, St Nicholas Church, and two of the biggest residents associations in the area. This is where the community input is made and we are already planning our activities for World Mental Health Day on 10 October!

There are three workstreams – analysis, prevention and employment, and work is proceeding apace on all three. The analysis work is designed to provide mapping for commissioners of mental health services across the various partner organisations. The prevention workstream is about promoting wellbeing on the estates in central Sutton through community engagement and involvement, and there is a specification for work in schools being agreed. The final workstream is on employment, and an employers’ pledge will be launched at various events in the autumn. In return for the project pledging to get people work-ready, the employers (including the Council) will pledge to provide better support for employees with mental health issues. We also have an external bid in to fund an employment officer.

At a time of continuing savage cuts to local government budgets, there is a greater need for more imaginative ways of delivering services, based on prevention and collaboration. This pilot project attempts to deliver this in the mental health area.

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