It’s hard to write a blog about something that you can’t quite believe is true! In writing this, I realise this statement could apply to many things happening in my life at the moment, but this one is particularly note-worthy, and incredibly exciting!
I’m proud and thrilled – over the moon in fact! – to have been awarded a Travelling Fellowship through the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. This Fellowship will fund me to carry out research, with my particular project focussing on early intervention initiatives promoting positive mental wellbeing in young people, a subject many will know has a deep and personal significance to me. Following a competitive selection process, my project will see me travelling to Finland and Australia, two countries leading the way with their preventative approach to the ever-growing challenge of young people’s mental health issues.
So who are WCMT and what are their Fellowships all about? Well, WCMT was established in 1965 when Sir Winston Churchill died, with his full knowledge and support. He believed that people meeting face-to-face to share ideas would increase global understanding, and the Trust continues his legacy by funding UK citizens from all backgrounds to travel overseas in pursuit of new and better ways of tackling a wide range of the current challenges facing the UK, to bring back ideas and learning for the benefit of others. Each year more than 100 Fellowships are awarded, and anyone can apply – no special qualifications are necessary, just a strong project idea and a passion to make a difference to others.
“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” – Winston Churchill
Why am I doing this? As many will be aware, 5 years ago I set up The Project, an early intervention peer support network for young people with mental health issues, based locally in East Devon/South Somerset. This was a project born out of my experience of caring for my daughter, Jess, who developed debilitating mental illness during her teens, severely impacting her life and the lives of those around her. Having struggled to find her the right help and support, and realising how many other young people and their families were facing similar challenges, I decided to create a much needed community-based resource for young people. Since then The Project has been nominated for and won awards, been recognised as an example of best practice at national level, and directly supported over 250 young people, and many more families.
Yet despite its success and recognition of the vital role it plays, backed up by an increasing body of evidence, this cost-effective resource relies on charitable grants, fundraising and donations to continue. Whilst receiving referrals from mental health services, GPs and schools, it receives no statutory funding.
In response to increased interest in The Project’s innovative approach, the model has been manualised to enable further groups to be set up in other areas, which I am now promoting through my new social enterprise, The Project Training & Consultancy. But again, it comes down to money, and a commitment to invest in early intervention services. Despite increasing acknowledgment at Government level of the value of such support for young people affected by mental illness, as yet this has not translated into any meaningful shift in service delivery, and it is left to small groups like The Project to fill the gap between what is needed and what statutory services can provide.
Through my research, which will involve 3 weeks in Finland and a month in Australia, I aim to bring back evidence that will strengthen the case for this shift, and to feed back international best practice and learning to inform CAMHS reforms that are taking place at both at national and local levels. I will also use the learning to improve The Project’s model, to ensure that young people continue to receive the best possible support.
We are currently failing our young people by not providing the help and support they need when they need it, sometimes with devastating consequences. We cannot afford to ignore the need for change – the costs, both emotionally and financially, are too high!
So today I travelled to London to a Churchill Fellows 2018 seminar to meet with other Fellows in the ‘Mental Health’ category, which is sponsored and supported by the Mental Health Foundation. This amazing opportunity is still sinking in, but I think it’s just become a bit more real ….
Bring it on. Let the adventure commence!
I’ll be writing regular blog posts about my Fellowship, before, during and after my travels. I hope in sharing my thoughts, feelings, challenges, goals and achievements, I can inspire others to go for their dreams. I also really hope I can make a difference, and improve the lives of young people affected by mental health issues. Thank you for reading.