Being there for our community

March 2023

As her time as CEO of West Sussex Mind draws to a close, Katie reflects on her ten years at the helm and considers what’s she most proud of and what she hopes her legacy will be

What has been your greatest challenge in your ten years as CEO?

One of my biggest challenges has been retaining our identity as a community charity as we have grown larger. It’s really important to me that we are a local charity – that we are all about the people in our communities and our connections with them. When we were a small charity, it was easier to maintain this ethos, but as we have grown larger, the challenge has been to ensure that we stay rooted in the community and maintain these connections.

One of the ways in which we do this is through our community outreach projects to connect with communities we feel need us the most (for example, reaching deprived communities in Adur or Ukrainian refugees who have resettled in West Sussex). We also ensure that our services have a local focus, and we have a strong partnership approach, harnessing the knowledge and expertise of other organisations in the community.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement?

I get immense satisfaction from knowing that, during my years as CEO – and during a period when more and more people have needed mental health support in West Sussex – we’ve been able to reach more people year on year and provide that support. So when I started, we were supporting just over 1,000 people a year; last year we supported 5,000 people, which is a huge increase. There are immense challenges around people getting timely mental health support in the NHS, and to know that we’ve been there to offer that support – and have been able to grow to meet the increasing need – is very rewarding.

And yes, opportunities have come our way, but we have fought for funding too. When I started at West Sussex Mind, there was no mental health support for the towns around Chanctonbury. We fought really hard for three years to secure mental health funding from the NHS for the Chanctonbury towns and we established a new service. Similarly, with our children and young people services and our families service, we have been very proactive to make that support happen. We started services with our own money, demonstrated the need to make a business case and then fundraised, for example, securing funding from the Big Lottery for our Families in Mind service. Our ethos has been, if we see there is a need, we will do our utmost to meet it.

What has been the high point?

There have been lots of high points – all around making new services happen. When you have worked hard to get a new service up and running and then it happens, for example with our support for children and young people in GP practices, it is very rewarding. This latter service grew out of existing relationships with staff in GP practices, with conversations about the problems GPs face around mental health and us saying, maybe we can help you with that. We then lobbied hard and negotiated with the primary care trust to demonstrate the need for this service and propose how it might be funded. So the high points come when you have invested time and dogged hard work and something happens that really makes a difference – and you hear about the difference it has made to people’s lives. That really moves me.

The whole experience of being CEO of West Sussex Mind has been a high point. It has been an amazing opportunity to lead and see these changes happen – and to build the team to deliver them. So I'm leaving West Sussex Mind with the feeling that we have a great team who will be able to take the organisation forward and enable our charity to continue to grow and thrive.

What will you miss most about West Sussex Mind?

I will miss the people who work at – and are involved with – our charity. This has been the best job I’ve ever had. I know that this will be the best thing I will have done in my whole working life. It has been a wonderful thing to be able to come to work with people who share the same values and who you can be yourself with. We are all working towards a common endeavour.

And I have loved the variety. For example, yesterday I was at a partnership strategy meeting at 8.30am. Afterwards, I did a radio interview about the cost of living, along with our peer volunteer and trustee Kirk, which was so rewarding; and then in the afternoon, I was in a meeting with national Mind with our soon-to-be CEO Kerrin. And because of the size of organisation we are, I still get to talk to the people who use our services. I can say hi and have a chat with people who get support with us and I can chat to our peer volunteers and hear what they have to say. I’m not removed from people.

What do you hope will be your legacy?

I hope that my legacy will be the culture of the organisation we have built and the senior leadership and trustee teams that we have put in place – these things mean that the values and aspirations of West Sussex Mind are well set. I’m confident that Kerrin, our new CEO, shares all of this, because he has been an integral part of developing this culture with me. And financially, we’re in a stable position. We have a good and stable resource base on which to build for the future.

Katie was in conversation with our comms officer, Julie. We would like to thank Katie for everything she has done to improve the mental health of communities in West Sussex during her time at West Sussex Mind.