Commscamp North – Looking after our mental health

Looking back towards the Newlands Valley from Knott Rigg and Ard Crags, on a walk from August

I’ve already blogged about Commscamp North which I recently attended. But I also wanted to talk about another of the sessions – on mental health and wellbeing.

Rather than consider the things an organisation could and should be doing to improve mental health, this session focused on the practical things we can all do to help ourselves.

I’ve traditionally considered my mental health to be quite strong, but like lots of people, I get stressed and have times where I feel more under the weather than others – both physically and mentally. This was particularly the case last year.

So, the tips that were shared at this session were incredibly useful. I thought I’d record them here in case they could help anyone else. Some of them are pretty obvious, but I do think it helps to see them written in black and white. Feel free to chip in with your own in the comments section. I’d love to hear them.

As with my previous blog, thanks again go to Leanne Ehren. She led this session and shared her personal experiences – in her typically frank, honest and engaging style.

Get out of the office

Taking some time out for a stroll and some fresh air can do you the world of good. If you’re having a meeting with your boss, why not make that a walking meeting. You might find it less stressful.

Talk to people

Most mental health charities encourage people to talk to someone if they’re not feeling alright, and this really is good advice. The old adage of a problem shared being a problem halved does ring true.

Ask someone (ask twice)

The reverse of the above – if you’re not sure if a friend or colleague is ok, then ask them. If they give a short response, or it doesn’t sound honest, ask them again. But do make sure you have the time to listen to their response.

No meetings at lunch, and take a break

This is something we can all do fairly easily. Block out lunchtimes in your diary and make sure you take a break. It is perfectly reasonable to turn down most meeting requests if they clashes with your lunch break. Don’t forget, if you’re working a full day, a break is a legal entitlement.

The stress bucket

This is a way to think about stress and how to relieve it. Imagine there’s a bucket you carry with you which slowly fills up when you experience different types of stress.

Sometimes you feel strong enough to carry a lot of stress, but it’s important to find activities which help you lighten the load. Think about what they are, and whether increasing these will help empty the bucket.

Where to get support

Lots of organisations provide support and guidance on helping your own mental health. If you feel able, you could proactively look for some of the support networks that are available for when you’re not feeling as good.

Structure

Most of us benefit from structure in our working lives. Making a to-do list and trying to minimise unexpected intrusions to your working day might help. Even working communications, where lots of what we do is reactive, you can still achieve this by being prepared, and controlling what you can.

Owning a project

There is evidence that shows that people perform better when they are given a specific task to own and deliver from start to finish. Is there a piece of work that you could take on and deliver in this way? Could you discuss working like this with your manager?

Reasonable adjustments

Employers should make reasonable adjustments for people who have disabilities or mental health problems. This can cover a wide range of things, and the adjustments don’t need to be big changes.

Red amber green

Someone suggested that their team does a simple check in at the start of their meetings. People give a red, amber or green rating about how they are feeling. They don’t discuss this further in the meeting, but it helps people to understand others’ state of mind. People can then discuss things further outside the room.

Commscamp North – campaigns

The amazing Commscamp North took place in Bradford last week. It was my first commscamp for two years, and it was very much a welcome return.

This year, I pitched a session on campaigns, and was pleased to lead this session.

Although, by lead I mean, toss a ball marked ‘campaigns’ into the air and watch and nod as a group of thirty-odd comms pros grabbed it and offered their thoughts.

Where I work, we’re starting to use campaigns more, and move to a proactive campaigning approach from a more reactive one. With this in mind, I thought it’d be useful to know what others felt made a good campaign.

There was some great discussion and some fantastic tips. I’ve summarised these below.

If it feels like I’m teaching you how to suck eggs, then relax in the knowledge that your campaigns are on the right lines.

Your audience is key

I mean, we all know this. But it doesn’t hurt to have this reminder right at the start. A campaign probably involves a call to action – a change in behaviour you’d like to see. Well that’s great, but make sure you know who you are targeting.

What does success look like?

This is absolutely key. If you are not clear about what you plan to deliver from the outset, then you have no idea whether you have achieved it – nor for that matter, when you have achieved it.

Just as important is ensuring that your deliverables and your benefits are measurable (and of course, we’re looking for outcomes rather than outputs).

CAN – The Council Advertising Network – can offer technological solutions to help understand and measure this

Timing and resource

Campaigns are inevitably more resource intensive and take longer to deliver than other, more routine communications activity. Make sure you’re aware of this, and make realistic plans, from the outset.

Noise

You’re not the only person talking to your audience. You’re not even the only person in your organisation talking to them. Who else is talking to them, and what are they saying? If you are aware of what else is happening in your audience’s world, then you can better shape your communications to reflect this.

Getting it right

The best campaigns are those which are in tune with their audience – ones that people ‘get’. You might not get this right first time. But you can fine tune things.

Do some message testing – there are different approaches, but in simple terms, you want to find out what message people best respond to. This could be AB testing, or different communications for different audiences.

Respond – if something doesn’t appear to be working, find out why, and tweak your campaign. Some people might see this as a negative – that you didn’t get it right first time, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The best campaigns are those that react to feedback and improve things.

Evidence based

Another obvious point, but you have to base your campaign on evidence. Don’t make assumptions about what will work. Find out, and shape your campaign accordingly.

Target your audience

This links to the above, but think about the best ways of reaching your audience, and how you can target them. Think about the data you have on this audience, where you got this data, and whether this can help you reach them.

A simple example: if you’re a council, do you send recycling information to your new council tax registrants? Do you ask them to sign up for your newsletter? And if not, why not?

Getting help

If you’ve seen a campaign that’s worked, why not ‘steal with pride’ some of what worked?

Beyond that, Dan Slee and Comms2point0 have some brilliant resources. The latter will soon offer a dedicated Campaign Bank, packed with the best resources on the interwebs.

And finally

Apologies that there is a lot to take in above. I hope you read it all and think it’s second nature. That really does mean you’re doing it right.

One final piece of advice would be to keep it simple. The easier your key messages (and your calls to action) are to understand, the more likely you are to succeed.

The discussion on the day was insightful and fast paced, and it was clear that those in the room had seen and delivered some amazing campaigns, including the brilliant, Ask for Angela from Marianne Marshall and her colleagues at Lincolnshire Council.

And finally, finally

I had never visited Bradford before. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was blown away. Stunning architecture, friendly people, urban parks, and amazing curry made for a great few days.

Thanks to Bradford’s Josephine Graham and Albert Freeman for hosting, and to everyone else who made the event a success – including Dan Slee, Bridget Aherne, Leanne Ehren and Kate Bentham – who is without doubt the queen of cakes. She led this year’s baking efforts, which raised hundreds of pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support, who are supporting our good friend and ‘camper’ Emma Rodgers.

The best places to eat: Brunch

I promised more food blogs, so here is my first.

Because people know I have a bit of a passion for food, they often ask me where to go for thing x, y, or z. When asked, I usually panic and offer places off the top of my head. 

They’re always good, but they might not be my definitive list. I worry – what if I missed somewhere amazing and whoever asked ends up in only the second best place for tapas and cocktails? The struggle is real.

So in the first in a series of blogs, I thought I’d give my views on the best places to eat. In this blog, I am focusing on brunch in my home county of Cumbria. 

What do you think of my suggestions? Am I missing anywhere? Let me know in the comments or on the socials.

Brunch is a big thing. Even in Cumbria. I think we were slightly later to the party than some, but we’re here now, and we’re making up for our late arrival by going full pelt. This means a decent selection of venues across the county now offer incredibly Instagrammable and utterly unique takes on this least English of meals.

Homeground

Arguably the one that sets the bar. Homeground, in Windermere, only offers brunch. If you’re going to focus on only one course, then you’d best do it well. And boy do they.

When you think of brunch, you think of things like waffles, buttermilk fried chicken, pancakes and eggs; and they’re all available here. All have a twist, and along with a menu that rotates regularly, are surely designed to ensure you return time and time again.

On top of brunch staples, you get the best accompaniments in the form of outstanding coffee and home-baked cakes and pastries. 

I’ve only managed to sample one of their homemade doughnuts once, but I’ve looked out for them on every single visit since. 

Be warned though, getting a table can be a challenge. So be prepared to wait.


Trust me, you won’t regret that decision. 

Mathilde’s 

Brunch isn’t English, but then it probably isn’t particularly Scandinavian either. But that doesn’t stop Mathilde’s in Grasmere from providing their Northern European take on their early day servings.

Your options range from their sizeable Viking’s breakfast, to a more Norwegian choice of dill cured gravelax. 

Homemade sourdough toast and delicious preserves offer a lighter option, but all of these can be washed down with a kick, with both bucks fizz and bloody marys on offer. And if you want something more traditional – a bacon sandwich or Skyr yoghurt can be yours – depending on which direction your taste buds and waistline are headed.

Mathilde’s adjoins the Heaton Cooper Studio and art shop, and the modern, light and spacious decor all make for a relaxing trip which is sure to get your creative juices flowing.

The Lingholm Kitchen

When you arrive at Lingholm and try to find a table, you might find it hard to believe this amazing canteen is only a few years old.

Lingholm has a proud history and inspired Beatrix Potter back in the day. The new kitchen has transformed what was previously a traditional tea room into a lively, vibrant space.


If you manage to find a table, you’re still likely to have to queue to order, but this will give you time to narrow down the menu choices. With the selection on offer, this is no bad thing. Brunch options are available all day and include the now-classic-of-the-genre, smashed avocado toast, lots of egg options, and breakfast sandwiches and well as their homemade smoky beans. A full breakfast is available for those who want it all, and lunchtime options are plentiful too.

When you head to the counter to order, an alluring display of homemade cakes, scones and treats might test your resolve or your meal choices. 

While at Lingholm, you can explore the grounds and walled garden, or simply decide whether to eat in the main room, on the terrace or in the overflow greenhouse. If it’s busy, you won’t get a choice.

Comida

Kendal’s Comida is one of my favourite places to hang out. It’s got a modern Mediterranean vibe and always feels like where the cool people go.

The fact that the food is always exceptional only adds to the incentive to head into the south Lakes.

As the name suggests, Comida does food with a Spanish twist, and their brunch options are no different. This means you are lucky enough to be offered chorizo and paprika along with your eggs. What’s not to love?

They also serve my all time favourite breakfast choice of pan con tomato y jamon. It’s a simple choice, but really does pack a punch.

Food is served all day, and as the day turns into night the canteen vibe sublty changes to the bar scene, much like any good Mediterranean haunt.

The question I fear the most

Today is World Mental Health Day. It’s also the second day of Baby Loss Awareness Week.

This tells me a) that there are a lot of awareness days – and lots of them are important and b) that it might be an appropriate time for a post about both subjects.

Earlier this year, I attended a festival with a group of friends I didn’t know very well. It was a great event, and I got to know lots of new people, who do similar work to me, have similar interests, and were generally a similar age.

This meant that I got asked the question I fear the most, quite a lot.

And what is that question?

“Do you have any children Ian?”

On the face of it, it’s a simple, straightforward question, and it’s obviously not one designed to offend or cause a sinking feeling in my stomach.

When I am asked that question, there are two possible answers – the long one or the short one. Or the truth or not the truth.

The short answer is the easier one:

“No, I don’t.”

But of course, that really isn’t the truth. The honest answer takes longer to explain and is quite a lot to tell people who I don’t know.

The reality is that I struggle to choose which answer to give, and I then struggle to get the words out.

Telling people, I don’t have a child sticks in my throat – it feels like I am denying the existence of Tilly. But choosing to tell people about her means I must find the words. That can be hard enough at the best of times, but it’s especially so with people I don’t know very well or when I or they don’t have much time.

Whenever I make what I consider the right choice, and tell people about Tilly, their reaction is positive. People are supportive and happ that I’ve chosen to talk about her. They all agree that I am a father and that I should never forget or choose not to talk about Tilly.

So that’s what I will do.

After all, how I can I say that baby loss shouldn’t be a taboo subject if I avoid it myself?

I know that my mental health receives a bounce when I do mention her, and people want to listen.

Thank you to everyone I’ve had this conversation with at work and everyone I met at Comms Unplugged. You’ve all been so supportive. It means the world.

On Leeds United

On Leeds United
Last night Leeds United were beaten in the second leg of the play-off semi-finals. This ended the team’s season.
In actual fact, our season was over by Christmas, and since that point we’ve simply been delaying the inevitable.
Twitter’s 140/280 characters aren’t nearly enough to cover the emotional rollercoaster that being a Leeds fan is, so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts here. I’m hoping it’ll be cathartic.
But at the very least it’ll be a reminder of what happened in years to come.
Bielsa brought belief
I really can’t understate this. In recent years, the club has been a laughing stock – for any number of reasons – not least of which was the high turnover of mostly inadequate and uninspiring coaches.
This season we recruited one of the best. He was willing to come to Leeds.
And despite the season’s ultimately sour-end, he transformed a team that finished 15th last season into one that were challenging at the top and who ultimately finished in third place – bronze medal position.
But he’s not a god
He could only do so much. People have talked about Bielsa’s teams fading before, and it happened here. I don’t think that’s a failing on his part, but rather because he managed to get the very best from a rag-tag bunch of odds and sods.
We’re not the third best squad in the league, but by playing with high energy, we overpowered teams and overperformed. At least in the first half of the season.
Sadly, once teams learned how to play against us, and the energy levels fell, the results faltered.
Invest or die

This means that if we want to challenge next year, we must invest. Our defence hasn’t been consistent enough, we haven’t scored nearly enough goals in the latter half of the season, and the goalkeeping towards the end of the season has been calamitous. When injuries have hit – and they do when you play with the energy and drive that Bielsa demands – our squad has been paper thin; embarrassingly so.
All the talk last night and this morning is of whether we’ll keep Bielsa. But we should only do so if we can support him with a squad that can compete.

Bielsa’s personal integrity means that he rarely criticises the players – preferring to shoulder the blame himself. This is an honourable trait. Despite that, he has said that the he doesn’t think he could repeat this season with the current squad.
So invest, or let Bielsa leave with his reputation intact, and we’ll remember this season as something special, something almost, but not quite good enough.
Next steps
It’s hard right now to picture what next season looks like. Off the field, Leeds United are in a better position than ever before. By bringing back belief, the crowds have returned to Elland Road and they’re supporting a club that seem to care about the fans once more.
Will this continue next year? I certainly hope so. But we’re not cash rich like some other clubs, we don’t have parachute payments of some other clubs, and crucially, we’ve taken the decision not to invest at key times on too many previous occasions. So we can’t be certain of anything.
Lots of people have said things like, ‘there’s always next season’ or ‘come back stronger’, but the truth is we just don’t know.
If previous performance is anything to go by (and five play-off defeats in a row suggests it might be), our next chance of success will be in the 2013/32 season. Until then it’s the occasional giant-killing appearance in the FA Cup!
I doubt that things are that bad, but there is definitely a ‘head versus heart’ thing going on here.
A good season?
After so many seasons of mid-table mediocracy, finishing third can only be considered an improvement.
But, to be top at Christmas and not go up is a new level of failure – no one else has done it in recent memory. To blow the final few games and play offs with woeful performances is a new low.
Had the season been played in reverse, we’d be happy. But the reality is that it isn’t. We started strongly and managed to blow it.
And that hurts.
To be honest, it hurts more than a season that’s over by Christmas. Maybe because it’s so unfamiliar.
And while it was unfamiliar, the implosion had a curiously Leeds United feel about it.
Isn’t that the problem?

Looking after your mental health

I created this blog at work, but the content are just as relevant outside of the workplace… 

Mental Health Awareness Week is upon us, and once again we’re asking people to think about their mental health and wellbeing.

If you feel like we do this a lot, then you’d probably be right. Over the last few years there has been a sea change in how we consider issues like mental health, both across the country and, specifically here at Sellafield. I am pleased to see this.
However, the trouble with mental health is less straight forward than physical health. For a start, people are less willing to talk about it.
But even at the simplest level, when we have a cold, we know how we’re feeling and know when we’re feeling better. The same is true of many physical conditions. But it isn’t necessarily the same with your mental health.
Last year was a difficult one for my partner and I, and I know that it impacted my mental health. We’ve both turned a corner now, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t some days where I feel in a dark place. Events and anniversaries can trigger this, but sometimes I just feel sombre. 

I do try to talk about it to friends and colleagues, and they have been a tower of strength. But some people are less keen to do this. This can mean it’s hard to support our friends and colleagues as we’d wish to.
One of my close friends has recently struggled with their mental health. I want to do everything I can to help them, just like they did for me last year. However, sometimes I worry that I stray into platitudes territory.
So, this Mental Health Awareness Week, I am taking the time to read up on the issue a bit more, so that I can better help my friend. I am also thinking about what helped me – knowing that people were thinking of me and were there with a listening ear if I needed it was always appreciated.
This is echoed in the guidance on how to look after your mental health from the Mental Health Foundation. Their top ten pointers are:
  1. Talk about your feelings
  2. Keep active
  3. Eat well
  4. Drink sensibly
  5. Keep in touch
  6. Ask for help
  7. Take a break
  8. Do something you’re good at
  9. Accept who you are
  10. Care for others

If you know someone who is struggling. Why not reach out to them? They won’t expect you to have the answers, but they will probably appreciate your support. 

Baby Loss Awareness Week

Today marks the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week.

Sadly, thousands of people across the UK are affected by by the death of a baby or experience pregnancy loss each year. Yet despite this, it’s something that far too few people feel comfortable talking about.

The week is designed to address this by raising awareness of the key issues affecting those who have experienced pregnancy loss or baby death.

When I started writing this post, I assumed that the week was a relatively new creation. Yet this is actually the 16th year. This merely highlights the point that the topic is still considered taboo.

Those of you who are frequent readers of my blog will know that my partner Charlotte and I lost our daughter in May this year. Tilly was born at just 26 weeks old with a sacrococcygeal teratoma (tumour). This meant she was simply too small and too delicate to survive. We managed to spend a few precious minutes with her, and for this we are both eternally grateful.

Since that point, Charlotte and I have been battling our way through the grieving process, through good days and bad days and through positive and heartbreaking memories. We’re getting there, but we still feel the pain of our loss on a daily basis.

One of the things that has helped us through this has been talking – both to our friends and colleagues, to professionals (such as bereavement midwifes and counsellors) and to other people who have also experienced baby loss. This has been invaluable to us. Not only does it ensure that Tilly lives on, but it also helps us understand the process we’re going through. We’ve also been able to help others on their journey.

So I wanted to blog today, in Tilly’s memory, not just to raise awareness, but also to thank everyone for their support and to urge everyone to talk about this issue. If you know someone who has been through similar circumstances, talk to them about it. I guarantee they’ll appreciate your thoughts.

If you want to know more about the issues surrounding baby loss, or would like to know the one or two things you should avoid saying (‘everything happens for a reason’, being the example for me) then visit www.babyloss-awareness.org/.

Thanks

My last blog was particularly sad. It was written with tears in my eyes.

For both my own benefit, and perhaps yours, I wanted to follow it with something brighter.

We all know that a crisis is the true measure of any friendship, and what is clear from our experience is that we have some strong friendships and some amazing friends. This post is for you. It’s a small thank you, for everything that you all did for us.

People really did step up to the mark, in so many different, varied ways.

Firstly, we have received messages, cards, and tokens of people’s thoughts throughout our whole, traumatic experience. Sometimes this has been a simple text or email, but on other occasions, it has been a handmade card or personalised gift, more thoughtful that I’d ever imagine.

Friends have dropped their plans to be here for us, when we need them. They have given readings, or presided over funeral services, without the blink of an eye. They have travelled to see us from the length and breadth of the country.

Work colleagues have sent words of support and encouragement, they’ve given generous gifts, and they have raised money for charities that are now close to our hearts.

My managers have been supportive, considerate and understanding at all times. They’ve helped me come back to work and have understood why I have not always been on top form. They never rushed me back, nor bothered me about trivia and minutiae.

People – including those we do and don’t know – have taken the time to reach out to us, and to share their experiences, to show us we are not alone. They’ve offered support and guidance, but have never told us how to feel or what to do.

Our families have been rocks – offering all the support we could ever ask for, and much more.

Neighbours have done things like take in parcels, water plants, and general keep things going, when we have been unable to think about this.

Nursing and medical staff have gone the extra mile to give us care beyond which we could have ever imagined.

These are just some of the small examples of the kindness we have experienced over the last few months. We are grateful for every single one of them.

So thank you, everyone, for everything.

All our love.