Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, has visited a Black Country manufacturer to see some of the measures it has put in place to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
The visit was part of national Mental Health Awareness Week and highlighted some of the programmes being delivered by the West Midlands Combined Authority to support mental health.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, Debbie Willetts, Howells company secretary and Tracey Jackson business development manager on a nearby nature trail
He visited family-run Howells Patent Glazing of Cradley Heath which takes part in the Thrive at Work initiative - a workplace wellbeing programme established by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to help businesses, across the West and East Midlands to support their employees. By promoting health and wellbeing, the scheme benefits employees and the business by boosting productivity and demonstrating that the company is a considerate employer.
Howells, which manufactures rooflights and canopies for domestic and commercial clients, signed up to the programme in 2018 and put in place action plans to support their employees mental health and wellbeing. Despite being based on an industrial estate behind Cradley Heath station, the firm has provided access to their staff to two nature trails, where workers can go and switch off from the stresses of everyday life.
One of the trails runs along Mousesweet Brook, close to Saltwell Nature Reserve, home to a wide variety of wildlife, including green and greater spotted woodpeckers.
The visit was also appropriate given this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10th – 16th May) focus on how nature can boost mental and physical health, and reduce feelings of isolation.
Thrive at Work is just one of a number of programmes being delivered by the WMCA to support mental health. Another programme, Thrive into Work, helps unemployed people with mental and physical health conditions get into work, and then supports them once they’ve found employment. Trialled initially in Birmingham and the Black Country, Thrive into Work will soon be expanding into other areas of the West Midlands through £3m of funding from central government.
With 25% of people accessing the service coming from the 18-24 year old age group, which represents only 10% of the regional population, young people are disproportionately accessing the Thrive Into Work service. Also, 70% of the programme’s participants are suffering from anxiety or depression – conditions that have doubled across the region during the Covid pandemic, according to the WMCA’s Health of the Region Report (November 2020). The new findings emphasise that the focus on mental health is more important now than ever before and continues to be a key priority for the Mayor and the new Mental Health Commission which will look further into young people’s mental health.
Following his visit, the Mayor said: “It is vital we recognise the importance and benefits of good mental health not only for the individual that may be affected, but also for our wider economic recovery.
“I made mental health a clear priority in my election manifesto and I intend to continue to deliver on those promises. Positive mental health is good for the individual and good for the economy – no one should be left behind.
“Howells has clearly demonstrated how it puts the interests of its employees front and centre, in turn creating a workforce that I’m sure is more committed, happy and healthy. And what an inspired idea to reach out to nature to provide its team with that space to break away from their everyday pressures.
“But it’s equally important we focus on those who may be experiencing barriers in actually getting into work. Our Thrive into Work programme provides that crucial support to help them over the threshold into the workplace, and then supports them once they are employed.
“To hear that the largest group to access this support is among 18-24 year olds is of concern because our young people are our future, so it’s important that the Thrive Into Work team is there to support them.”
Welcoming the Mayor’s visits and comments, Tracey Jackson of Howells commented: “We would like to thank the Mayor for taking the time to visit us and for taking an interest in our work and wellbeing programme.
“We were one of the first to engage with the Mayor’s Mentor initiative which has certainly been a catalyst for change and progress. Two of our management team, myself included, have since become professionally trained coaches and mentors. This has given us the confidence to change perception, job craft and improve the mental health of our staff; invaluable resources for any SME.”
Thrive Into Work operates by creating support teams which include primary and community health teams, jobs support and health services. Employment specialists based in GP surgeries and other health and community settings across the region provide intensive guidance to help individuals find and apply for jobs and prepare for interviews.
Paul Maubach, chief executive officer for the Black Country and West Birmingham NHS CCGs said: “Lack of employment is one of the main predictors of a person’s healthy life expectancy and so it is key that we work together across all sectors to secure employment opportunities for local people. We know that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be far reaching and programmes like Thrive are essential for us to support people with their employment to improve their overall wellbeing.”
Cllr Izzi Seccombe WMCA portfolio lead for health and wellbeing and leader of Warwickshire County Council, said: “Looking after our mental health is so important and being out of work can be detrimental to an individual’s wellbeing as well as affecting them financially. The success of Thrive Into Work comes from bringing people together from primary and community health teams, jobs support and health services, and specialists who provide intensive help to the individuals who need it most.
“There’s a lot we can do as a Combined Authority, but even more we can achieve with our partners, including local businesses who I would urge to look into our mental health programmes: Thrive At Work, for the wellbeing of all their existing employees, and Thrive Into Work, so they can uncover exceptional new talent for their future workforce.”
To find out more about Thrive at Work visit https://www.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/thrive/thrive-at-work/
To find out more about Thrive into Work visit https://www.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/thrive/thrive-at-work/thrive-into-work/