Suffolk Fire and Rescue
Station Commander | Performance and Improvement Manager
Sally started taking part in the Great East Swim in 2015 with just a small group of colleagues from Suffolk Fire and Rescue and she thoroughly enjoyed the first year.
Then in 2106, Sally suffered a family tragedy when her brother Carl, committed suicide following two years of mental health problems and depression.
Carl had been a police officer with South Yorkshire Police, and although Carl’s illness wasn’t solely related to his job, Sally and her family are well aware that the stress of the job played a part.
So she decided that she wanted to do something to highlight the mental health issues for blue light workers, and the Great East Swim was a perfect platform to help her do this.
In 2017, she took part in the Great East Swim, again with about 7 colleagues, with the aim of raising funds and raising awareness of MIND’s Blue Light Programme.
MIND is a national mental health charity, with a branch in Suffolk, and when they launched their Blue Light Programme in 2015, 87.5% of blue light personnel had experienced stress and poor mental health while working for blue light services. Emergency services personnel were also twice as likely to identify problems at work as the main cause of their mental health problems, compared with the general work-force population.
The Blue Light Programme set out to change this by delivering a range of interventions that aimed to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination, boost workplace wellbeing, build resilience increase access to mental health information and improve pathways to mental health support.
Mental health problems cost UK employers around £34.9 billion each year* with 11.7 million working days lost due to stress, depression or anxiety.
Sally’s team raised around £4000 for MIND in 2017 and so again in 2018, she brought another group of 14 colleagues together to take part in the Great East Swim, again with the aim of raising funds, but more so this year to raise awareness of MIND and importantly to start conversations in the workplace about mental health.
Although Sally feels that it does take one person in an organisation, a champion or an organiser, to galvanise the enthusiasm and glue it all together, she doesn’t feel that role is at all onerous.
She says “ I just used to send out fairly regular emails to the team members so they all felt part of it and I would report on various things, mostly in a humorous way, and I also publicised it on the Fire Service FaceBook page. It probably used to take 30 minutes a week, if that.”
Sally thinks that the success of an organisation taking part in an event like this is down to relationships.
“Most of the people who have jumped on board this year, know me as an individual, I have a good relationship with them and they know what I’ve been through with my brother taking his own life.”
“But it’s also about letting people do it their own way. I think you have to adopt a relaxed approach and accept that not everyone will
want to train at the same time and in the same way, so we weren’t prescriptive with this.
She would send out information about when she or other team members were going for a swim and people in the group would often join them. Some of her team were fit and healthy and were training awards triathlons or just fairly used to exercise and some made a point of training for the swim when they probably wouldn’t have done, so it’s true to say that there were health benefits for most of them.
“I think as an organisation, you also have to recognise that people’s motivation for taking part will also be different, and that’s OK, so embrace it.”
“I did used to remind people of the cause and the fact that we were trying to raise the profile of mental health in the workforce and promote those all important conversations.”
“Most people in our team had a reason for being part of it, sometimes it was their own personal experience or that of a colleague of family member, so many of us did share a common goal of wanting to use this opportunity to raise the profile of mental health within blue light workers.”
And have you achieved your aim?
“Absolutely! The organisation has started the journey with procedures being put into place as part of the Blue Light pledge, and conversations are happening.”
“Sometimes just having a reason to thank someone for sponsoring you or thanking them for showing support is enough for a conversation to start and people will open up and share their experience with you.”
Sally also witnessed some real signs of support and camaraderie within the team, people
coming together that normally wouldn’t and as a result friendships started.
And she’s already thinking ahead to 2019 and she’s planning on the same approach… keeping it simple, having some fun and raising the profile of a very worthy cause.
Sally’s 2018 team members:
Ken, Dave, Nigel, Sally, Emma G, Mark, Alex, Wayne, Carolyn, Dale, Ed, Emma P, Craig, Jaime