North West London Suicide Prevention Programme: Collective Power Award

| Mel Parks

We are delighted to be involved again this year with the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance’s (CHWA) annual awards which focus on collective power (partnership and co-production), practitioner support and climate. The awards ceremony is taking place online on Friday 25 November (get your tickets here).

We are partnering with CHWA on their Collective Power Award. This award aims to recognise an inspiring project, consortium, collective or movement of people in which meaningful partnership and co-production has improved the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities through culture and creativity.  CHWA were positively overwhelmed by the quality of applications. Each application told another story of the incredible work happening all over the country and the amazing collaborative and creative spirit of people responding to individual, local and global challenges. We loved the different interpretations of “collective power” and we were blown away by how people and organisations worked together to respond and adapt during the pandemic. 

In order to celebrate this work, we are running a blog series on each of the projects shortlisted for the Collective Power Award. This blog features the North West London Suicide Prevention Programme, which connects organisations across North West London Integrated Care System, including the voluntary sector, local authorities and the NHS. Using the principles of generous leadership, this programme is based on alliance building and a social response to suicide prevention.

With co-production at its heart, a place-based model is being built with people with lived experience at its centre. Suicide is a sensitive issue shrouded in silence, taboo, and stigma. Communities and dynamic leaders have proved pivotal to bringing suicide out of the shadows and making suicide prevention a reality in North West London. A co-produced suicide awareness training has been offered free to the voluntary sector and NHS staff. Insight from listening events was fed back to suicide prevention networks and a steering group.

The North West London Suicide Prevention Programme is proof of concept and a collective power model where communities have genuine influence and control over the decisions, resource and services that support their lives.  Community grants have been allocated quickly to smaller voluntary sector groups and organisations and Experts by Experience have been central to that process. 

From the Head of Suicide Prevention – Lourdes Colclough (Rethink Mental Illness)

What has been your favourite thing about the project?

It’s been both exciting and daunting to lead such an innovative programme, but the best part has been meeting the people that run projects and organisations who are simultaneously strong, driven and vulnerable with masses of creativity in order to survive and produce a more tailored type of support to their communities. 

Organisations such as SoBS, who are working on a film fighting stigma and taboos and supporting those bereaved by suicide. These community-based groups give individuals a sense of belonging and a feeling of connectedness by being part of a community who have a common bond.

It’s been fascinating working to break down hierarchy, creating a flat structure and encouraging creativity and navigating the risk which runs alongside pioneering projects.  A spotlight on engagement with communities rather than a focus on professionalised clinical response has been a breath of fresh air though often more difficult to negotiate. 

Typically, small voluntary sector organisations like Sobriety Films UK or The Traveller Movement  attract demographics who may not use traditional services. The emphasis is on empowering individuals within the context of their own communities, for example, the Traveller Movement are tailoring our suicide awareness training for themselves. Smaller organisations like Dads House provide a social response and support to vulnerable single fathers, often providing a service to under-represented communities falling through the net of care. It’s been brilliant to see the results of some of this work and the decrease in loneliness and isolation. The passion and leadership from some of the organisations was astonishing, Suicide&Co  worked on the Words Unspoken campaign for people who have lost someone to suicide, using Instagram and building a collection of letters that can help their community resonate in shared experience.

Have you made and learnt from any mistakes along the way?

This programme is a start and on the edge of the system, it’s the beginning and small.  This alliance works if the Integrated Care Boards can move towards a model that distributes leadership to wherever expertise, capability and motivation sits in the voluntary sector. Collective, inclusive, and compassionate leadership is essential for delivering high-quality care and cultural change across institutions for co-production to be meaningful.

The community assets in neighbourhoods are not yet mobilised, often seeing each other as rivals for funding, this mindset needs to change, and smaller organisations encouraged to capacity build with larger voluntary sector organisations. It’s been fascinating to see smaller organisations like SPID Theatre  given funding for reaching demographics like young people on estates who may not always access traditional services. Alongside this process for allocating funds ICBs require high quality, generous leaders with relational skills to enable collaboration with communities.

Has anything surprised you during the project?

Traditional services do still play an important role in crisis prevention and are essential for the treatment of SMIs however through this model using collective power, prevention is being achieved with communities.   This programme has invested in local communities so they can create and shape better places and services.  It’s been liberating to see the willingness of people and organisations to be creative and think differently about suicide prevention. One example is the Wilde Foundation, a platform created to promote, educate, empower, and heal women and girl survivors of all kinds of abuse through writing.  Another example is our co-produced comedy course which encourages a more holistic, person-centred approach.

The experts by experience on this project were active participants in their own health outcomes.  The comedy course will be rolled out to men experiencing depression, low mood or suicidal ideation and they will be working on their self-narrative for their stand-up routine.  

It’s been surprising to find it’s difficult for some groups, who are more accustomed to the role of a critical friend, to suddenly co-produce or collaborate on a new idea, it was problematic, and it did not always work. It was daunting because this is difficult work, it’s demanding and challenging to be creative, to come up with new ideas, to work with partners, to co-produce.  It takes time, commitment and can be overwhelming and intense when sharing your story and then trying to turn it into a positive cornerstone for an innovative project.  It’s tough but it’s so worth it as we’ve seen with our results.

From our Expert by Experience – Gordon M.

What has been your favourite thing about the project?

One of the most moving aspects for me – quite amazing in all honesty – was when I was first told [by Lourdes] that I was ‘an expert by experience.’ I had not come across that phrase before, and I felt very emotional. I have been on a journey of recovery since I made an attempt on my life about five years ago, and for a long time I wasn’t able to function properly. I was referred to the North West London Suicide Prevention Programme through the Recovery College of my local mental health trust, as someone with ‘lived experience’ who might contribute to their work.

I immediately felt welcome and valued and sensed real empathy for my past distress and trouble. As one of the experts by experience I meet organisations supported by the project in North West London and explore how our contribution is helping their clients. It is very stimulating, and I am functioning again. But my favourite thing so far has been to participate in the co-production of a pioneering project to create a course to address the risk of suicide among men through stand-up comedy. An intense week’s work with professional comedians and fellow experts by experience as well as the team, it was challenging, funny, always safe, and my experience – something that I have long been ashamed of and traumatised by – was listened to, appreciated, and now something to address from a position of strength.

Have you made and learnt from any mistakes along the way?

I have a tendency to over self-criticise, feel that I have not lived up to expectations or that my work has not been up to par. I always receive support and encouragement from the team in my contributions without any sense of criticism or pressure. So you could say that my ‘best mistake’ was the belief that everything I did for the project had to be perfect! I feel very happy in the opportunity I have to contribute, with perhaps more self-belief than I had five years ago.

Has anything surprised you during the project?

The size of the problem we are up against.

This project was funded by Rethink Mental Illness and North West London Integrated Care System.

To find out more about the project, follow on Twitter or Instagram.

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