Guest blog by Natalie Nuttall, Lead Coordinator, The Hearts & Minds Partnership
As three perinatal mental health charities with a collective track record of more than 30 years, Acacia Family Support, Bluebell Care and Smile Group came together in 2020 with a vision to connect, support and celebrate the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS). And so, The Hearts and Minds Partnership was born, with a three-year funding commitment from The National Lottery Community Fund.
Mapping VCS services
There is no shortage of goodwill, passion, or skill in our sector, and we’ve been keen from the outset to recognise this. Working with our digital partner, Rocketmakers, we carried out user experience research and listened to the wider community to inform the development of a website featuring resources and an interactive map of VCS services in England to signpost parents and healthcare professionals (HCPs) to.
After many months of engagement, development, and refinement, we’re thrilled to announce that the website and map are live!
Getting on the map
As organisations working with vulnerable families, we understood it was vital to build rigour into the process, given the importance of keeping people safe, so we have developed a simple self-assessment checklist for services to complete before featuring on the map. This is a reassurance to parents and HCPs and enables emerging organisations to be supported as they grow, as we work together in our commitment to best practice. This is by no means an attempt at policing the sector – we are all learning along the way and can benefit greatly from each other’s experiences.
What’s next for the map and the Partnership?
The map evolution will be organic and ongoing. It will become more populated as our engagement gathers momentum, encouraging VCS services to be featured, while also making HCPs aware of this resource to identify local support on the ground.
It is our intention that the VCS will become more seamlessly integrated within the PMH pathway and that the tech underpinning the map will also enable us to identify gaps in support and present opportunities for new services to be set up. It also demonstrates an intention to influence policymakers and recognise the importance of ensuring grassroots services are sustainable across the country.
Historically, parents and HCPs have become aware of VCS services via word-of-mouth, visibility of services and use of social media, as well as local clinical network links. On her own steam, Eve Canavan of the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership, also did an incredible job of setting up and updating a directory of grassroots services. A testament to the spirit of our sector to go above and beyond. We hope that, as the map develops, there are opportunities for greater collaboration between sectors and services, and our ongoing conversations will support this.
We’re excited about sharing the website and encourage VCS organisations in perinatal mental health to get in touch via email@example.com and consider featuring on the map.
Bringing the perinatal VCS community together
The map development is just one of Hearts and Minds’ three key work-streams, which also include the creation of trusted spaces to enable networking and sharing best practice.
Our three partner charities have first-hand experience of the (often steep) learning curves that come with developing and sustaining a VCS organisation focusing on PMH. We were also regularly approached by people wanting to start up a service who were looking for support and guidance. While running a grassroots PMH organisation can be incredibly rewarding, it’s also lonely at times and we felt there was an opportunity to become a more cohesive community. As such, this year we also launched ‘The Conversation Space’, an online meet-up for VCS services, which has been consistently well-attended.
Finally, we have begun the process of developing a programme of training to meet the specific needs of both emerging and established VCS services and to complement the excellent training that already exists across our sector.