Jamie Burt (chair of PAVO trustees), Clair Swales (PAVO Chief Executive Officer),
Sarah Dale (Mental Health rep) & Tom Jones OBE (High Sheriff of Powys)
The Powys Volunteer of The Year Awards is a wonderful way to celebrate all the volunteers in Powys who help to improve their communities and I was, therefore, really pleased to hear that the mental health service user and carer representatives had been nominated for this year’s awards.
I attended the awards ceremony with Sarah Dale and our newest rep, Sally Houghton-Wilson, at the Elephant and Castle in Newtown.
My role is to support the reps to make sure they have everything they need for meetings, for example – agendas, travel etc. Because of this I see first-hand the work they do, and am constantly amazed by the dedication, bravery and hard work displayed by the reps. This was highlighted by the fact that one of the reps, John Lilley, couldn’t attend the awards ceremony as he was in Carmarthen at a national meeting!
It was a pleasure to see other groups and individuals who contribute so much to improving wellbeing in Powys receive awards. For example, Mums Matter Peer Support service, Cherilee from Ponthafren and Richard from Brecon & District Mind. There were also some really inspiring young people like the Junior Startwell Board who received well-deserved awards.
Then, after a delicious meal and a superb performance from two local performers who had entertained audiences in starring roles in West End productions, it was time for the Outstanding Contribution award. Sarah was really nervous in anticipation of the announcement but there was no need to be as the name on the envelope was read out – The Mental Health Service User and Carer Reps.
Sarah went up to collect the award, posed for some photos and then sat back down, grinning from ear-to-ear. Seeing how important the recognition was to Sarah made my night and I hurriedly sent texts to the other reps with photos and congratulations.
So once again to all the people who have been there to give service users and carers a voice – we all salute you and thank you!
You can read below what winning the award meant to Sarah and more about their roles.
Winning the Outstanding Contribution award means so much. As mental health service user and carer reps we are only required to attend the planning and development partnership board four times a year. But all of us do much more than this basic requirement. Myself and the other reps – John, Sally, Rhydian (and others like Hayley and Jane who have been involved recently) also attend the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Forum, Engage to Change, Talk to me 2 Group, and Powys Crisis Care Forum. We also meet patients at the Felindre ward at Bronllys Hospital every month to collect feedback, and report to the health board, to improve patience experience.
As reps we are asked to join working groups to help develop services to make sure they are fit for purpose, looking at specific areas such as the NHS111 Press 2 (due to launch in Powys soon) and complex trauma services.
We also go out to organisations and community groups to talk to people at ‘Meet the Rep’ events to gather experiences on services and directly discuss these issues with the service managers for mental health.
Recently myself and John Lilley have been voted in as the chair and vice chair of the Engage to Change sub-group which is a really productive meeting held with staff from all organisations who play a part in services. It is more responsibility and work but we also get to shape the discussion and give people a voice.
I have also led self-injury awareness sessions which have been attended by people from all over Powys and I have to reflect on and share some very triggering memories for me, but I do this because I want to help others who may be going through the same experiences. If I can tell people what could have made my experience better then they can make sure that others are treated with more empathy and compassion in the future. This is what drives us all as reps.
We do our utmost to champion the voices of those we represent, to ensure services are fit for purpose and the service user voice is heard loud and clear (I do have a loud voice!). People often forget that what we do is voluntary and that some of us are still receiving treatment for our mental health or caring for someone with a mental health condition. Because change takes time this can be exhausting and frustrating. So being recognised for everything we do with this award means so much that I can’t put it into words.