When I started working at Touchstone in August 2008 I was basically a failed support worker.  I had tried really hard to have the patience and resilience needed to support people, but had never managed to pull it off.   Having the role of Business Development Director enabled me to carry out my ambitions to combat injustice, always have hope and counter the brutal structures that pervade society, but do it vicariously through others.   I have been inspired by the hard work and drive for justice and equality by Touchstone’s amazing staff teams, a brilliant bunch of service users and many incredible partners, including commissioners.  I wanted to take the time to write a thank you to you all.     Yes, there have been challenges; we’re pushing boundaries, coproducing services and developing new partnerships, sometimes on a shoestring and always at speed.  Whatever happens,  I always come back to our organisational values, and my values, to guide Touchstone through.

There are many brilliant partnerships that I am privileged to work on, way too many to detail here.  I fear it’s a bit self-indulgent, so forgive me, but I did want to highlight a few.

Thanks to what was then North Leeds CCG and NHS Leeds Community Healthcare for listening to us when we said there was value in Touchstone becoming a partner in what was a brand spanking new IAPT talking therapy service back in 2009.  The inclusion of Touchstone and Community Links alongside the NHS and Northpoint resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of people of colour and others facing health inequalities benefitting from talking therapies.   With the huge additional investment from NHS England and Leeds CCG last year, and a widening approach to proactively targeting communities at risk of experiencing the poorest mental health outcomes, Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service will improve mental health and wellbeing for an even broader range of people in Leeds.

I remember hours of debate about pursuing the Healthwatch Leeds contract following the publication of ‘Liberating the NHS’.  In the end, working with Leeds Involving People, Inclusion North and Leeds Beckett was the right thing to do.  We had a vision to create a new organisation, led by the people of Leeds who were facing the greatest inequalities and sometimes missed out on health and social care.  We wanted a really radical and inclusive organisation and the amazing Healthwatch Leeds staff and board, as well as Touchstone trustees, have brought this to fruition.

The need to include BAME people drove the decision to begin to deliver community advocacy in Kirklees, and eventually this widened to all statutory advocacy in partnership with the brilliant Advonet.   We were able to support peer advocacy and widen coproduction through Meeting of Minds, which in turn enabled us to deliver a really transformative Better In Kirklees service in partnership with a great organisation, Yorkshire Sport Foundation.   I know that the current Kirklees Working Together Better Partnership members, commissioners and other systems leaders in Kirklees want to take the coproduction and mental health work forward, and I hope Touchstone can play a part.

The findings of Lord Bradley sparked our ambition to support people in contact with the criminal justice system, which eventually led to us partnering with Wakefield Council Youth Offending Service to develop the West Yorkshire Liaison and Diversion offer.  We also worked with SWYFT to deliver peer support in the South Yorkshire L&D service.  They were big tenders, and big partnerships to develop, but I think our lead partners and others would agree that a third sector/statutory sector mix of providers has brought many benefits in those teams.

Live Well Leeds community based mental health support gave Touchstone the opportunity to consolidate existing partnerships with Community Links and Leeds Mind, and bring our experience of delivering the Support Centre since about 1994 and BME Community Mental Health Development since 2006 to the fray.   It has been brilliant to develop new partnerships with a broad range of additional large and small organisations who each offered a unique specialism. A big thank you to each of our unique Live Well Leeds partners.

Touchstone merged with East Leeds Health for All and the Positive Care Programme in the early days of my role here.  Marmot’s findings on health inequalities and the wider determinants of health led us to take a public health approach to working with the Orion partnership to deliver Better Together in East Leeds.  We have developed Mentally Healthy Leeds and Your Space services, again with a range of great partners, including progressive commissioners, and excellent multi-agency teams.  Asset based community development is key to working with people and communities to nurture protective factors that unlock great mental wellbeing.   The Wellbean Crisis Cafes in Leeds, Kirklees and latterly Wakefield all support people to identify and build on their strengths and assets to prevent crisis and stay well.

I want to say to all colleagues and partners, present and past, that I have been inspired and motivated by your commitment to fight, make a change, never give up and do transformational things alongside people and each other.  I have learned so much about equality and diversity, about my own unconscious bias and privilege and the impact this has whilst working at Touchstone.  I can’t wait to take this learning with me to the West Yorkshire ICS.