Awareness week helps build momentum with Mental Health Action Plan

Our first ever Mental Health Awareness Week took place earlier this month and I must thank everyone who worked so hard to make it happen and all who took part in what was a packed programme of events.

Hundreds attended the sessions that were held at various locations and the support shown by staff is really encouraging.

The events were another important step in the implementation of our Mental Health Action Plan, with many positive steps already taken and lots more in the pipeline.

Since the introduction of the plan earlier this year we have recruited our first cohort of mental health first aiders, who are currently undergoing training, and have introduced mentally healthy workplace training through OIL.

The introduction of monthly events has begun and is being developed further, with partnership working also expanded to harness the support of the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and the Samaritans. Our contract with Time for Talking is also important, providing a free and confidential service to staff and family members who live in the same household by calling 0800 970 3980.

Further information about the initiatives can be found at People Anytime, with the awareness week part of the ongoing focus on mental health.

Developed in partnership with the NHS, Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and the third sector, the purpose of the week was to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and to begin breaking down some of the taboos and stigma associated with poor mental health.

A programme of 28 events was developed, ranging from traditional talks and training opportunities to mindfulness and wellbeing sessions.

Members of the organising committee also took information on the road to some of our schools and depots to ensure all our colleagues had the opportunity to take part.

I know we are all busy and I’d like to thank everyone who attended for taking time out of their day to find out more and to access the support and resources that are available.

 My appreciation also goes to the team who pulled the programme together and our excellent guest speakers for their valuable input.

From the Council this included Jenny Styles, Anna Bennett, Fiona Lindsay, Andrew MacDonald, Louise Ironside, Martin Wyllie, David Keith, Baldeep McGarry, Jayne Boyle, Darren Smith, Tracey Buchan, Andrew Moat, Caroline Duguid and Chris Smillie.

The NHS team of Russell Arthur, Fiona Musk and Liz Howarth was instrumental as were Matthew Brooks (See Me Scotland), Liam Yule (SamH), Dr Robert Plant (University of Aberdeen) and Graeme Skene (Police Scotland).

This is such an important issue and we want your help to build on the success of Mental Health Awareness Week and make it an annual event.

The organising team is keen to hear your thoughts, with a survey now live and would also welcome volunteers with an interest in getting involved in the planning for 2020.

While thoughts are already turning to the next Mental health Awareness Week, there’s an ask in the meantime for everyone to keep mental health and wellbeing at the top of the agenda in every corner of the Council.

It feels right to borrow from a previous post I wrote on a similar theme – it’s fine to ask ‘are you okay?’ and it’s fine to tell those around you and reach out for help if things aren’t right.

Mental and physical wellbeing aren’t always visible, but both can have a profound impact on our lives and those around us – deserving of compassion and understanding. There’s no shame and should be no secrecy, as a society we have to get better at breaking down the barriers and opening up the conversations that might make a difference.

Learning from the past as we embrace the future of public health

We are all proud of the Council’s role in Community Planning Aberdeen and committed to the ambitions we share with our partners to improve every aspect of life in the city.

Underpinning those aims is a focus on health – a fundamental factor when it comes to giving every individual the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

I was pleased to share my reflections on the past and hopes for the future in a guest blog post as part of the build-up to the launch of Public Health Scotland, which can be found here.

You can read more in that post about the inspiration we can take from what has gone before, as well as the important lessons we must learn.

I’m confident the introduction of Public Health Scotland will help support the work we are doing through our community planning partnership to focus on our key communities and all those who live within them.

In the months and years ahead there will be an opportunity to lean on the capacity and capability within PHS to really drive forward with a joined-up response to the challenges of public health today and in the future.

Customer feedback to brighten an October morning

As public servants we’re all accustomed to dealing with customer feedback, including complaints. I know colleagues take that part of the role incredibly seriously and work hard to resolve issues.

The launch of the We CARE charter and commitments underlined our drive to provide gold level service to customers and there’s a real energy around that.

When you take pride in your job and in the organisation, it’s difficult not to take criticism to heart and I appreciate the efforts of colleagues all across the Council in handling feedback in a professional and diligent way.

I did get a note recently that underlined an area of customer feedback that we should all strive to improve in – receiving compliments!

As a Dundonian I’m taking an impartial view when I say I don’t think it’s in the Aberdeen nature to look for praise, but we have so many colleagues who deserve it.

A customer feedback email that popped into the inbox of Andy Kinghorn recently was a real boost to the environmental teams. It read:

I feel I must write this email to compliment Aberdeen City Council on how wonderful the city looks, I have never seen such a clean and tidy city like yours and in this time of no funding and high expenses you deserve a pat on the back. You can see the hard work and the high standards you keep. Please pass on my congratulations and thanks for making my visit enjoyable – I will be back. Good work!

In between dealing with complaints and customer concerns, we shouldn’t forget that the work we’re doing in so many different areas is being noticed and appreciated. Just as we take complaints seriously, we should make the effort to treat the compliments in the same way.

The guiding principle of Value is about recognising a job well done and my thanks to Andy for doing just that by highlighting a lovely message to the relevant teams and also sharing with me – it certainly brightens up the day when there’s positive feedback, and we do get our share of recognition.

On that theme, congratulations to City Growth for a string of recent awards nominations. The events team is through to the final of the National Outdoor Events Association  Awards in the best practice category. We have also been shortlisted from three prizes at the Scottish Green Energy Awards – with TECA vying for the carbon reduction and outstanding project titles and the hydrogen strategy making the final in the sustainable development section.

Well done to all involved in those projects and good luck for the next stage.

Holiday season brings winter into focus

The October school break always feels like the start of the countdown to winter – and mother nature seems to have read the script, with the stormy weather in recent days.

My thanks go to the response squads who were called into action over the weekend as the fringes of Storm Lorenzo brought localised flooding to the city. As ever, our teams were out in the worst of the conditions to prevent any harm to people or place.

On a related note, we launched the winter maintenance programme this week with the help of the team at Bucksburn – who welcomed quite a gathering of media, who always turn out in force to hear the plans for the months ahead.

Winter maintenance is a hot topic for residents and businesses too – the addition of online gritter tracking this year will be well received I’m sure, not to mention reducing some of the contact we receive from customers when snow and ice bites.

The one-tonne community salt bags are also being organised, part of the drive to help communities help themselves.

I’d like to put on record my appreciation to the 180 or so staff who are primed to start winter duties – they always go above and beyond to keep the city moving and this year will be no different, battling the elements on our behalf.

The Aberdeen Health and Social Care Partnership is also progressing with its winter preparations, with the annual plan approved by the IJB, and I must thank all of the frontline staff in advance for the work they will put in during the peak period that’s looming.

The build-up to the festive period has begun in all walks of life, not least retail as the Christmas rush starts earlier and earlier.

It’s important to acknowledge, particularly in Mental Health Awareness Week, that this time of year does put strain on many people. As the season of goodwill draws nearer, please be mindful of the financial and emotional pressures that always surface at this time of year and look out for colleagues and service users. The care and compassion we show as individuals and teams always leaves an impression on me.

Autumn and winter also brings lots to look forward to, with the plans for our Winter Festival in place and all that entails – from the fireworks display through to the Christmas Village and Hogmanay celebrations. Schools and community groups will be gearing up for carol concerts and pantos, with HMT also ready to welcome thousands to its festive shows.

Before then we have a brief period to catch a breath and prepare for the hectic spell ahead. If you have time booked off I wish you a relaxing break and I pass on my thanks and appreciation to the many who will be keeping council services running right through the October holidays.

An appreciative nod to inquisitive colleagues

We have our first Appreciative Inquiry (AI) working group up and running as we embrace a concept that’s new to the Council.

You may have read my previous posts on the approach and I’m pleased to see it gathering pace.

The premise is that we grow as individuals and teams by asking questions and working towards finding the answers. The aim is to shift thinking towards identifying successes and strengths which provide a positive platform to build from, with a structured approach to seeking improvements and solutions.

Nine colleagues have signed-up to take part in the first group, all with something different to bring to the table and with a real enthusiasm for the project. There’s a good mix from different clusters, including from the school community, and that should generate lots of different views and ideas.

The theme for the first foray into the world of Appreciative Inquiry is on recognition and how we can better value each other, with the first meetings already held.

I’m keen for the group to share their experiences and thoughts on a regular basis, so look out for those updates in the weeks and months ahead – as well as the invitation  to all of us to get involved and help shape the work of the group through the Transformation Zone.

By way of introduction, the group comprises:

Pauline Wilkinson, Support Manager, Place, Strategic Place Planning

Gordon McDade, Portfolio Officer, Governance, PMO;

Akeem Babatunde, Residential Practitioner, Operations;

Aneta Mroczynska, Customer Applications Administrator, Customer, Customer Experience;

Greg Davidson, School Technician, Operations, Integrated Children’s and Family Services Services;

Lynn Mutch, Project Officer, Place, City Growth;

Michael Robinson, Quantity Surveying Officer, Resources, Capital;

Bruce Reid, Business Services Manager, Customer, Customer Experience;

Manuela Costa, Clinical Practitioner, Operations, Integrated Children’s and Family Services.

Training is being provided to give everyone an introduction to the principles and practice of Appreciative Inquiry, with the first recommendations expected to come back from the group around the turn of the year.

My thanks go to all those who have volunteered and I’m sure you join me in wishing them well as they set off on an exciting journey.


An open invitation to join our Mental Health Awareness Week events

Monday marks the launch of our first Mental Health Awareness Week programme and there are many opportunities to take part in the days ahead.

Running from 7-11 October, there’s a busy schedule of events and activities that I really hope will open conversations and shine a light on the support available.

The time we spend at work is a large part of all of our lives – taking care of our own mental health and that of the friends and colleagues around us is important, but perhaps it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.

Mental health has to be a focus every day, not just a date on the calendar once a year, but this week is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and set the tone. I’d encourage everyone to get involved.

In partnership with the NHS, Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership and third sector partners, we have developed Connect 2 – a series of events which aim to help raise awareness of mental health issues in the workplace and breakdown some of the taboos and stigma that are associated with mental health.

Talks, awareness sessions and training opportunities both face to face and online are planned. For colleagues not based in the city centre, a mobile information bus will be touring offering insights and advice on mental health. You can find out more and book tickets here.

It’s important mental health is kept at the top of the agenda throughout the Council, with a recent webinar hosted by Derek McGowan and the activity around Suicide Prevention Week worth recapping on if you didn’t catch them first time around.

Value is such an important guiding principle – recognising a job well done, but also acknowledging  the challenges individuals face both on a personal and professional level. This week is about flying the flag for mental health awareness and underlining the value we place on wellbeing in the workplace.

Thank you in advance for your support and to the teams both from within the Council and our partner organisations who have worked so hard to create such a comprehensive and engaging programme.


Committee approval opens the door to new opportunities for our valued staff

Local government is built on foundations of good governance, process and policy – but that would count for little if it wasn’t for the dedication, knowledge and skill of our colleagues in all corners of the Council.

As an organisation we can all take pride in the sum of the parts and the way we serve the city day in and day out. It’s so important to recognise the capability of our staff as well as to nurture and develop the talented individuals we have under our wing.

At Staff Governance Committee today we took a very significant step towards realising those goals, where a new approach to internal recruitment and the internal movement of staff was approved.

The full report can be found here and I’d encourage you to take time out to read it.

A great deal of work has gone into shaping the approach and my thanks go to Lesley Strachan, supported by Isla Newcombe, for a really valuable and detailed piece of work.

To give a very high-level overview of what is a comprehensive report, the overarching goal is to create an organisation where every member of staff has the opportunity to develop, progress and fulfil their potential by broadening the opportunities that exist for employees.

As the report outlines, our current selection process is the same whether we recruit internally or externally – we concentrate on technical skills, qualifications, and experience and assess a candidate’s ability to meet these from day one.

The new approach will focus on an internal candidate’s potential ability to undertake a new role based on transferable skills, knowledge and behaviours developed through their existing role with the Council. Where someone demonstrates a good fit to a new role, the transition will be successfully achieved through time, training and personal commitment.

The benefits to individuals are clear but there are also great advantages for the Council, both in terms of retaining talented people but also in our move to building a flexible and adaptable workforce equipped to meet the changing needs of our city and people. The needs of our employees are changing too, particularly our young workforce who we know value a varied career in a dynamic environment.

We want to support individuals to explore opportunities and also be inspired by the colleagues who have already made big decisions about their career path. The recent cohort of 29 Council staff, with a wide range of backgrounds, who have qualified as Early Years Practitioners is a fantastic example of a group who have embraced the chance to get involved in a growth area of our business as part of something new and exciting.

The focus on reskilling and retraining employees in every part of our operations is designed to allow us to recruit on a predominantly internal basis, helping to meet demand in key areas.

The approach approved by the Staff Governance Committee this afternoon will break down barriers for our valued employees and is a significant shift from a traditional recruitment model to a modern, dynamic way of working.

If you have any questions about the new approach to internal movement of staff,  a live Leadership Forum webinar with Isla on Monday, 7 October, at 1pm will  bring the plans to life.

Every one of the guiding principles is at the heart of the approach and I look forward to seeing the principle becoming practice, helping individuals from every function and cluster to thrive as part of one team, one council, one city.