Farewell message to the Visyon Team
As I began my last week at Visyon I was reflecting on the journey we have made together over the past 2 years and 9 months. Even thinking about the timescale is surprising, it really feels a lot longer than that. Then, when I begin to recall the challenges that we have faced and the achievements over the period, I am lost for words.
As I joined in October we were just saying farewell to the MST team who were being transferred to another organisation and the Emotionally Healthy Schools Pilot was just getting underway. We faced some big financial challenges and yet there was an urgent need to refresh both the premises and more importantly the services we offered to the children, young people and their families. At that time, you will recall that we had a significant waiting list, especially for under-11s.
Knowing where to start is always a tricky question, but getting it right is absolutely crucial for a new Chief Executive. If I wanted to carry the team with me, I needed to understand the organisation, the team and the challenges, as well as the opportunities. I recalled that Simon, the CEO at my last organisation had spent a lot of time meeting every one of the 1800 staff and nearly as many service users in the first 3 months of his tenure.
The result was that in a very short time he had built an in-depth understanding of what made the organisation tick, what was working and what needed fixing. He was able to move rapidly to make informed decisions about what changes were needed and what needed celebrating. He also won the support and respect of the team.
Always one for an easy win, I chose to follow his example, not least because I only had about 35 staff to meet and no travelling to do. I think my experience was equally rewarding and informative. There were surprises of course. Not the least of these were the warmth of the Visyon welcome, the huge commitment of the team to Visyon and the determination to improve the services and to do more of it.
We looked at everything we did, starting with the values of the organisation: all the staff nominated and voted on the values that best epitomise Visyon. You decided that these 6 simple words would fit the bill:
I agreed, they seemed to perfectly embody the team I met in October 2015. They still do. Some magic happens when new members join the team and like the ‘collective’ they are assimilated!
I know that I made changes that challenged some people and perhaps pushed them to the edge of their comfort zone. We introduced new approaches such as CBT, motivational interviewing and solution focused brief therapy. We challenged some perceptions of the relative merits of different aspects of the service by putting the needs of the young person first, rather than sticking with the ‘Visyon does it like this’ model.
From time to time we have made waves, saying publicly what needed to be said and challenging complacency. The thing is that Visyon is not just a government contractor looking for the next opportunity to make money. As a charity we have a duty to do everything we can to change for the better, the experience of children, young people and families who experience poor mental health. We can do that directly through our service delivery, by raising awareness and offering training and sometimes by shouting about it from the rooftops.
There have been difficult decisions to make along the way. When I came to Visyon we shared the space with a pensioner’s lunch club who met on a Wednesday and a Friday, and on a Friday afternoon the hall was used for a tea dance. It was something that had been happening for some time and undoubtedly served a need in the community. The problem was that it was costing Visyon money and preventing us making badly needed alterations to the building that would make it a fit place for children and young people to come to for help. So the pensioners left us for a different venue and we set about delivering improvements.
Step forward Andy Maxwell, builder extraordinaire and Matt Bradley (with Lucas), electrical genius. These two are real ‘Friends of Visyon’, they have done so much for so little that I am often surprised to find that they are still in business! No matter how low their quote for the job, I always managed to get a little bit more knocked off with such good grace that I occasionally felt guilty.
We started on the reception area, the first thing visitors see. We got rid of the little glass screen and changed the toilets around so that we could have a pleasant waiting area. We made a space for the practice team to sit down and do their admin. It is strange to think that before this there was no office space for any practice staff to work.
The next job was moving on to the hall and stage, making spaces that could be used for music, art, group work and of course, the Headspace Café. In the process we managed to create more office space so that everyone had somewhere to sit, and with the help of the ingenious Rob Lilley (and Dominic), we made sure that everyone had access to a PC or laptop.
Oh and in the middle of all this, we re-branded, giving both the building and our website a fresh, up to date image, thanks to the huge artistic talents of our very own Lee Fullerton and Jamie Neville.
If that wasn’t enough there was a need to improve the tiny space we had in Crewe, and an opportunity presented itself in the form of a great space that we could afford. There were nice counselling rooms upstairs and we had our own entrance. The trouble was that the downstairs looked a little bit like a cave. There was no money to do the work necessary so without much discussion everyone got stuck in, built walls, shifted rubbish, painted coat after coat of paint in an effort to cover the purple ceilings and red walls. It was a hopeless task and our spirits were sinking fast.
Out of the blue, Sharon Melrose told a friend about our efforts, and walked away with a donation of £5k! You may imagine how watery my eyes were! So, just when they thought it was safe, Andy and Matt were pressed into service again to help us finish off. All of us were by this time exhausted by the whole project, until we discovered that Amanda had sneaked over there at the weekend with Rick and others to put the finishing touches… out came the tissues again!
Crewe is still not everything we would like it to be and maybe at some point there will be an opportunity to find better premises, but they will never have as much love in their walls as the ones the Visyon team made happen through grit and determination.
All of this, of course pales into insignificance when I think of the children and young people whose lives have been improved immensely through their attendance at Visyon. I can think of so many that came to us like scared mice and having found their inner strengths, left us like lions. Visyon has helped so many to build their confidence, discover their self-worth and find the strength to overcome their anxiety and to thrive. For some of course there is a longer journey to good mental health, but with our help they have been able to start the journey and see that they can achieve so much more than their experience had previously suggested.
It’s an enormous privilege to help a child, who has been told all that they can’t do, discover all the things they can do. I believe it is one of the key beliefs at Visyon that whatever the challenges, whatever the diagnosis, we should do our utmost to create the conditions where a young person can thrive and reach their potential.
Look around at the art work, listen to the singing and playing in the music room and hear the laughter from children who a few weeks ago could barely make eye contact. That is Visyon at work.
Listen to parents, teachers, grandparents and siblings when they tell you how much better things are. That is Visyon at work.
Most of all watch our clients change, listen to the things they tell you about the effect of their counselling, their mentoring or their groups. Notice how their behaviour has changed. That is Visyon at work.
Of course, we don’t always see the changes happen as fast as we would like. It can be desperately worrying to have a young person hurting themselves or wishing they were dead and even making plans. Sometimes all we can do is make sure that we get them to the right place. We do a lot of that and sometimes the interventions and intercessions we make save lives. That too is Visyon at work.
We have introduced family and parent support work. It is a vital part of our work to inform and support those caring for our clients. We see their child for an hour or two a week, parents are with them all the time and they can make a huge difference if only we can help them know how best to help. We hear so much from parents about how what they have learned has helped them and their child. Soon we will be building on the Moorlands Family Pilot work to work with 114 families a year. That is Visyon at work.
In the same vein we are now training teachers to make schools a healthier place for children and young people to be. Trying to prevent the negative impact of the high pressure environment schools have become. We have delivered hundreds of sessions to thousands of teachers across Cheshire. That is Visyon at work.
We produce information on our brilliant website, in our great leaflets like the Self Care Kit and Shine, which we offer free to parents and children to help them cope. That is Visyon at work.
If you telephone Visyon or call in, the first person you speak to will be one of our wonderful business support team who will greet you with respect and warmth, who will listen to your concerns and explain how you can get help, and tell you what happens next. They make sure there is a room booked for your appointment and they might give you a cup of tea when you arrive. They make sure the bills are paid and the building is safe. That is Visyon at work.
Every penny that comes through Visyon’s doors has to be raised either through bids to trusts or through tenders to local authorities or else it is collected from the community. The effort is herculean, whether through the Santa Run, meetings with businesses, working breakfasts with local business people, sponsored walks, abseils, parachuting, triathlons or a brave young client who has benefitted from Visyon’s service telling her neighbours about us. All of our funders and donors support us because they have been influenced to do so by the inspirational things we do. That is Visyon at work.
Soon we will be developing our Community Ambassador and Young Ambassador programmes to help to create a wider understanding of the mental health challenges faced by children and the things that the community can do to help children and young people, the wealth of our community, to thrive and to have good mental health. That will be Visyon at work.
We have a new partnership with St Joseph’s in Warrington, to employ an advocacy worker who will help to ensure that children and young people in Cheshire East get access to the resources and services they need to thrive. That will be Visyon at work.
The staff and volunteers and most especially the children, young people and families have meant so much to me. I am so proud to have been part of this brilliant team, and I know that Elizabeth, our amazing founder has expressed how pleased she is at the progress the organisation has made in recent years. That is because of all of this wonderful team. That is Visyon at work.
Finally I just wanted to tell you about my last public engagement, which happened to be at Reaseheath Students Ball on Tuesday. You will have heard that we are their RAG charity of the year. So it was my happy task to pop along and collect the cheque. It was a poignant moment because 43 years ago this week I was attending a Reaseheath Summer ball as a graduating student. Memories of my time there have always been a source of great pleasure. It was my first positive experience of education and at the start of my working life I was inspired and encouraged to believe in my own self-worth. On Tuesday this week, I was inspired again by the phenomenal efforts of a group of students who raised the truly magnificent sum of £20,000! They told us that they had been inspired in their efforts by the stories that some amongst them were able to share about the help they had received from Visyon. What a way to top and tail a career!
So thank you all for the support you have given me, for the faith you placed in me and for your hard work during my time here. I am sinfully proud of what we have achieved together.
Love, Light and Peace