Blog by Sian Drinkwater, Community Engagement Lead
In partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, working on the Amplifying Maternal Voices (AMV) project has been a hugely insightful experience. Two of the key outputs from the project include hosting a national perinatal mental health conference and developing an engagement toolkit to inspire action and change at a local level.
At the halfway point, we wanted to reflect on the story so far of the development of the AMV engagement toolkit, which the MMHA is leading.
Whilst there has been significant progress within perinatal mental health (PMH) care, we know there are still:
- barriers to accessing care
- seldom-heard voices in this space
- gaps in services, funding and resources.
Evidence also shows that while women of any age, race, relationship status, or socioeconomic background can be affected by maternal mental health, these characteristics can disproportionately impact a woman’s risk of becoming unwell.
With this as our starting point, the project aims to spotlight the maternal mental health experiences of mothers from seldom-heard communities across the UK, including young mums, single mums, and those from culturally diverse backgrounds.
At the beginning of our toolkit journey, research helped us map out our approach and select Birmingham and Croydon as pilot areas. We also looked at how we can use the amazing expertise within our membership, Lived Experience Champion Network and existing community, in addition to working with local groups, to shape the toolkit.
When thinking through the purpose of the toolkit, it became clear that it should be a platform to amplify seldom-heard voices and a resource which can be used by individuals and groups across the UK who want to influence positive change in PMH care in their local area.
Listening, learning and relationship building
Knowing there is no shortcut to building meaningful relationships, we have consciously taken time to make connections and gain trust. This has involved lots of conversations with MMHA Champions, members and local contacts.
On a personal note, this has definitely been the most rewarding and enjoyable side of the project and my role so far, having met some incredibly inspiring people along the way. Hearing what is happening with women and families at a grassroots level continues to be powerful and sobering, offering insights we would otherwise not be aware of. There are so many great examples of inclusive, innovative PMH support being offered in different communities which we can’t wait to showcase in the final toolkit.
“It’s been great being part of shaping the AMV toolkit and having a platform to spotlight different lived experience voices.”
Chelsea, MMHA Champion
We have tried to be as honest and courageous as possible in these conversations and not be afraid to make changes where needed, both within the project and as an organisation. Hearing about areas where we could improve has, in turn, fed into our wider equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work.
Key themes from listening include:
- Importance of trust and relationship building
- Being intentional
- Flexible/person-centred approach
- Complexity and under-resourcing
- Small gestures can make a big difference
- Working in partnership where possible
“Everyone is welcome to ‘Chill n Play’ peer group for parents with their babies and toddlers. The group is led by volunteers that reflect the diversity of the community and who facilitate the building of trust through the understanding of the needs that parents may have. Their smallest gestures of kindness, their warmth, their listening abilities and the providing of information aim to give parents confidence in carrying out their parenting role.”
Jacqui, Parent Champion Volunteer (Home-Start Croydon)
Development and testing
Off the back of these individual conversations, we held group sessions to generate ideas for the toolkit, looking at themes including:
- Breaking barriers
- Demonstrating impact
- Creating safe spaces.
What we heard in these groups has shaped the toolkit in such a meaningful way and got us to a place where we can now draft formal content for ongoing feedback. Input at every stage has kept the project grounded and informed by real-life experiences. We hope this process continues to be helpful for project contributors as well, providing an opportunity to share knowledge.
“Being involved in the Amplifying Maternal Voices project is a great opportunity to share learning and reflect on our work supporting young parents. It was so valuable to hear from other organisations about their experiences at the toolkit workshop and ways in which they are overcoming barriers and telling their stories.”
Donna, Acacia (Birmingham-based MMHA member)
On behalf of everyone at the MMHA, I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported the project over the past year; we are so grateful for your ideas and engagement and excited to move to the next stage of toolkit development.
- The Amplifying Maternal Voices Perinatal Mental Health Conference is taking place on 1 March 2023 and will focus on the key theme of ‘Breaking Barriers’, to spotlight the voices and experiences of those seldom-heard.
- Continue to work with project contributors to develop and sense-check the toolkit through individual conversations and group sessions.
- The final toolkit is to be shared at the end of the project.
- Continuous learning and evaluation.
If you would like to find out more about the engagement toolkit, please email Sian Drinkwater, Community Engagement Lead, at email@example.com.