02 June 2021

Sam Ogunkoya shares a ‘day in the life’ in his role as a BAME People Participation Worker and his involvement in the Trust’s community mental health transformation programme in North East London.

What is your involvement in the community mental health transformation programme in East London? Tell us a little about your role.
As a participation worker, one aspect of my role is to build up a network of BAME service users by recruiting participants from Tower Hamlets, City and Hackney and Newham respectively and linking them in to various participation projects within their respective borough. Another aspect of my role has been to improve services, and access to services for BAME people by running a series of focus groups in each borough. These groups aim to understand the issues BAME people face when accessing mental health services, which may stem from cultural misunderstanding and unconscious bias within systems, and they provide a space to generate ideas for change.

I have been pleased that I have been able to support participation in focus groups and workshops by paying participants for their time through the Trust’s Reward and Recognition Scheme. All sessions/focus groups have been co-produced with service users or members of staff to ensure authenticity and integrity of our work. The transformation project aims to empower service users to transform services and reduce inequities seen in diverse populations.

As a Participation worker I help in promoting awareness of BAME issues and the findings of our focus groups – liaising with community connectors, PCNs, GPs, PPLs and psychologists amongst other professional bodies. By networking we are able to share ideas, prompting staff members to think about new ways of working and offering holistic interventions for the diverse communities we serve.

Give us an overview of your typical day at work?
Now that our focus groups have come to an end, my role is to focus on disseminating the findings and actions points from our groups. A third of my day usually consists of meetings – liaising with third party organisations or other professionals (including senior managers) to discuss ideas for change. A third on administrative tasks (report writing, email communications) and a further third is spent liaising with service users (and previously running focus groups), organising payments and updating the participation database.

As organised as I try to be, my work tends to be spontaneous, whether that be taking phones calls on MS, general phone call or emails. This can make my day hectic as new tasks emerge, so I tend to list all of the tasks I need to do for the day, which helps me handle the workload.

As I am working from home I have learnt to appreciate the positives of not having to travel as I work across 3 boroughs, which means I can attend more meetings and forums. However, taking short breaks is key when working from home as I am rarely moving which is not what I have been used to when working as a social therapist and occupational technical instructor in the NHS.

Often at the end of the work day, any uncompleted tasks, are prioritised for the next day!

What challenges if any are you and/or the service facing?
There are a lot more service users under the People Participation scheme, and so there has been a bit of a back-log with Reward and Recognition payments. One challenge at the moment is chasing up delayed payments when contacted by participants. Relaying this to participants can be tricky and they can understandably get a bit frustrated, so it is important to maintain regular communication with them.

The unpredictable nature of my work can be challenging as new tasks often come up whilst I am working. I have noticed that some participants have been saying that they feel lonely, which is completely understandable given the current pandemic, however it has been difficult to have to tell them that I am not clinical staff and would need to redirect them to other sources of support. I feel that loneliness is a real issue for many of the people under the participation scheme and there is potentially an opportunity to try to address this under the Transformation Project.

Previously, I assumed actioning changes arising from our focus groups was going to be easy, however having had conversations with management, I understand that proposed changes need to be specific, measureable and time based which has required more thought. I have also found that staff teams and organisations are often unaware of our work so chasing up emails and queries has been a repetitive part of the experience working as a participation worker.

In your opinion what changes were necessary to make the experience better for clinical staff and SUs?
It is important to value the time given by participants and the Reward and Recognition Scheme is therefore crucial. However, there have been processing delays which has been frustrating. I now make sure that payment forms are submitted as soon as possible following sessions to avoid any delays.

During our focus groups participants requested senior members to attend during the latter stages, to feel that their voices were being heard and that their feedback and contribution was acknowledged. Staff attending focus groups also valued being able to be part of the groups and hearing the voices of service users and carers in a different way whilst being able to contribute their own reflections from a personal and professional perspective.

What impact is the transformation programme having?
Being involved in the transformation project has allowed me to see how important the work I have been doing is in addressing inequalities. My involvement has made me hopeful and positive for the future of mental health services. Positive pressure from service users to action changes and solutions to their issues has motivated me to be assertive in meetings with other professionals and teams. Residents are unhappy with the way services have been run and I have been driven by their passion to see change. Service users have been involved in a lot of the transformation project work including PCN and secondary care transformation initiatives. Participants have said they are feeling empowered and positive which makes this job so satisfying and motivating. Witnessing this new way of working shows that ELFT is moving in the right direction - almost revolutionary and this what I relay on to residents and participants.

What difference is the programme likely to make in the long term?
Several new projects are under way in each borough, which shows the Trust is being proactive and wanting to make a real difference. Examples of this are the new blended teams, where various workers from NHS and third sector organisations come to provide holistic care for service users.

In relation to my work, senior managers have approached me to action changes generated in the BAME focus groups. I have liaised with grass roots organisations and management have been supportive in coming to these meetings and providing support in establishing working relationships with these organisations. I am hopeful that if we continue to connect with other organisations and services in the community the work we are doing will be sustainable and continue to have an impact in the future.

Connect with Sam via Linkedin