The Multiplier Effect

How thinking big can make funding go further and do more

By Jake Morrison, CEO of Citizens Advice Wokingham

Since 1977, Citizens Advice Wokingham has provided free, confidential and impartial advice, information and support to people living and/or working in Wokingham Borough. Every year we help thousands of people to find a way forward with their issues.

Many of our clients experience poor mental health and wellbeing. This can be due to other issues they are grappling with such as debt, insecure housing, employment problems and relationship breakdowns, just to name a few. Some also have pre-existing mental health conditions which can create a knock-on impact on some of those issues above, and more.

Berkshire Community Foundation had previously been kind enough to fund our charity to employ a caseworker who provided a couple of hours per week to specifically support people with mental health diagnosis. We wanted to take this further.

Jake Morrison, CEO of Citizens Advice Wokingham

In late 2019, Berkshire Community Foundation awarded £8,750 to Citizens Advice Wokingham to increase the provision of mental health training for Citizens Advice workers across Berkshire.

With this grant, I was able to train up as a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructor via MHFA England and delivered the MHFA course to my team. Together, we pledged to bring the training to frontline staff and volunteers in Citizens Advice charities across Berkshire.

Taking things one step further

MHFA training gives people the skills, knowledge and confidence to support others in crisis or experiencing mental health challenges. It helps people to recognise signs and symptoms (but not to diagnose), start conversations about mental health, tackle stigma and discrimination, aid recovery by identifying sources of support and other influences on recovery, and to be mindful of their own mental health and wellbeing – thus increasing mental health literacy.

Feedback was so positive across the board that we decided to take this even further. We secured additional funds from The National Lottery Community Fund to train an additional 72 charity staff and volunteers across Wokingham Borough to become mental health first aiders, for free.

We have also been able to offer significantly discounted courses to other organisations and partners, including Wokingham Borough Council, Citizens Advice services and charities across England, as well as local businesses.

Growing our impact

We are always really grateful for the support of Berkshire Community Foundation and other funders who help us continue our work which supports the lives of many people in need across our communities. But what I wanted to highlight here was how far a sum such as £8750 can go when we are enabled to be innovative.

In total, from December 2020 to February 2022 we have trained 539 people in mental health first aid – this includes 60 Citizens Advice staff and volunteers in Berkshire, 72 members of other charities in Wokingham Borough such as The Link Visiting Service, Age UK Berkshire and CLASP, along with 57 Wokingham Borough Council staff and Councillors – to name a few!

On average, participants scored themselves an 8.1 out of 10 in ‘personal confidence’ and 8.4 out of 10 in ‘knowledge’ of how best to support those with a mental health issue, up from 4.5 out of 10 before undertaking the course.

Screenshot of online Mental Health FIrst Aid training

Feedback from some participants

Already, many mental health first aiders have reached out to me sharing testimonials of how they have been able to better deal with clients and beneficiaries with difficult and complex needs, by using the skills taught in the MHFA course. This has included responding to calls from people thinking about ending their life, concern around self-harm and supporting a colleague with a bereavement.

Learning from the experience

My tip to charities would be to reach out to funders, ask them what they’re prioritising at the moment – what is it that they would like to make an impact on through their funding support. Ask about appetite to do things differently – we explained how we could take a similar amount of money from a previous funded project, and instead of one person obtaining the skills to help, we could train 60 others to respond more effectively with the same cost!

I, personally, like us to give things a go before committing to large-scale projects if we’re not sure how it’s going to go. So testing the model of MHFA training through Citizens Advice was done on the smaller scale of supporting our nearest neighbours along with our own colleagues. As this began to take off and we had interest from local charities with limited funds, we were able to make a case to The National Lottery Community Fund on the impact this could have if we could also train other charities for free.

Berkshire Community Foundation and Wokingham United Charities (where I’m now a trustee) are both really responsive local funders, who deeply care about enabling charities to deliver in our region. The key to that relationship for me, in what I’d love to see from other funds too, is the interest in our work – the open-door policy of being willing to listen to what we have to say, what our concerns are, and what impact their support could truly have on our work going forward.

In order though, to support a wider range of services, I’m keen to see funders look at other ways of approaching for funds rather than just an application form. I meet many charity leader colleagues, from small to medium-sized charities, who have a deep passion for their cause and a fantastic track record, but struggle a bit with articulating responses to the questions in an application form. Wouldn’t it be great if you could pitch your idea on video, on a call, or in person and fill in all of the governance and risk-based questions later?!

So finally, I’d like to once again thank Berkshire Community Foundation for really kick-starting this work, which we’d have really struggled to get off the ground without their support. With their help we started a ripple effect, from £8750, to over 500 people trained as Mental Health First Aiders, all having supportive conversations and equipped with more skills, confidence and knowledge to help people through their situation to get the right support – and validating their feelings.

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