Breaking down barriers to mental health support

May 2023

Meet our new CEO, Kerrin Page. In this Q&A interview, he outlines his priorities for the next year, reflects on what drives him and shares what he loves about working for West Sussex Mind

What is your career background?

I trained as a probation officer in West Sussex and worked across the county for 13 years – in Worthing, Littlehampton, Chichester, Crawley – as well as across Brighton and East Sussex. I progressed through management and senior management in the probation service and gained a lot of experience of multi-agency working in these roles.

There are many parallels between my work at the Probation Service and our work at West Sussex Mind. My probation work also involved supporting people to make positive changes and to develop strategies to help them lead a more fulfilling life.

Working for West Sussex Mind fits really well with my values and, because I live in Worthing, it means I can see the impact of our work locally, which I really like.

What have been the high points in your time as deputy CEO of West Sussex Mind?

There have been many high points since I joined our charity in 2015. I’ve really enjoyed my time as deputy CEO and it’s been great working with Katie, our former CEO. I think we made a great team. We shared the same values, but we had different and complementary strengths.

It’s been a real high point to see how our services have expanded to reach larger numbers of people and developing new services to meet previously unmet needs. A good example of this is our work in GP practices to help meet the growing demand for mental health support. We were commissioned by the NHS with our partners, United Response, to run a pilot to put our mental health workers into a number of GP surgeries in West Sussex.

We piloted a model for the service and demonstrated the value of it – and now, as part of the Sussex-wide community transformation of mental health services project, this is being rolled throughout Sussex, so that every primary care network will soon have mental health workers available to provide one-to-one sessions to people over 18 seeking help through their GP. It's called the Emotional Wellbeing Service and we have played a key role in influencing how this has developed.

I’m also very proud of how we have kept our values and our local ethos, even though we are a much larger organisation that’s now three times the size it was when I joined. When I meet new people who have joined West Sussex Mind, they still say that staff really know each other here and are passionate about helping our local community – and I love that. And all credit to Katie for leading and developing this culture.

What are your priorities over the next year?

Our business plan for 2023-24 has three main priorities: to recruit and train more peer volunteers to become involved in our community mental health support; to co-produce our services and support offer in collaboration with people with lived experience of mental health; and to further develop our community outreach to connect with people who may need us most, for example, children and young people, people from marginalised groups and those living in deprived areas of West Sussex.

Our peer volunteer priority is about integrating lived experience into our support, so we can make it more meaningful and impactful. If you’re experiencing difficulties with your mental health, it’s a very powerful thing to get support from someone who has walked in your shoes – and that’s why we’re looking to train and recruit more peer volunteers into all areas of our work.

It’s also an opportunity for the volunteers themselves on their recovery journey, because training to support others builds confidence and skills and can be an important stepping stone into volunteering elsewhere and employment. So it’s a priority for us to make peer volunteers more central to our offer and to develop pathways for people out of West Sussex Mind and into volunteering and employment in the community.

Similarly by co-producing what we offer with people with lived experience, we can make sure that what we offer is relevant, impactful and inclusive to reach the diverse communities of West Sussex. As an organisation, equality, diversity and inclusion is crucial to our development and we will take the work of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group forward this year to embed it into all our work and to reach communities that traditionally haven’t come to us for support.

What are you most passionate about in mental health?

I’m really passionate about breaking down barriers to people getting support and reaching those who may be excluded from society for a whole host of reasons. Linking back to my work in probation, I recognise that people’s backgrounds and circumstances can limit their life opportunities and they are also a factor in poor mental health.

We see now, in the cost of living crisis, that people are cutting back on the things that are good for their mental health, for example, hobbies and socialising with friends. And that impacts even more deeply if you were already struggling financially. The link between poor mental health and poverty is well known. So if we can reach more people in deprived communities who are struggling with their mental health – through our cost of living peer welfare worker and through our community outreach in Adur – then we can really help to improve outcomes for the people who need us most.

How well positioned is West Sussex Mind to meet the growing demand for mental health support locally? What will be the challenges?

I believe that we’re in a strong place to meet the growing need for mental health support. Thanks to Katie’s legacy, we have a resilient financial base, which allows us to take some risks to develop new services and address new needs as they arise. Each year, the Board backs new projects addressing unmet needs, for example, our support for Ukrainian refugees in West Sussex and our work with the Polish community – and this can continue.

We have shown that we can be creative and flex our support offer to meet the rising need for mental health support (for example, when we created our three-pronged support model, which consists of Help Point, one-to-one support and social activities). And we have strong relationships with the NHS, with mental health service commissioners, with GP practices and with our voluntary sector partners to make things happen.

Of course, the legacy of the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis means that people’s mental health needs have become increasingly complex and there are multiple levels of need. That’s a challenge going forward. But I believe that we are well placed to influence future service provision through the community transformation programme and to address previously unmet need through our partnerships.

What are you looking forward to most in your new role as CEO?

I’m excited about what we can achieve together to support more people and through partnership. The voluntary sector is coming together to influence mental health services and how they are provided, integrating the voice of people with lived experience of mental health into those conversations. We’re a lead partner in this community transformation of mental health across Sussex.

What’s the best thing about working for West Sussex Mind?

In terms of the culture, people and values, West Sussex Mind is the best place I’ve ever worked. People are pulling in the same direction. They’re motivated and focused. That’s one of the reasons I applied to be CEO: to continue to lead and develop our team and the services we offer.

We have a great staff team and committed trustees, who give up their time to make a difference to people’s lives in West Sussex. And although we’ve grown larger in terms of number of staff and the number of people we’re helping, we’ve stayed connected to our community and we see the real impact of our work.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I have two boys, who are 12 and 9 years old, and they keep me very busy. I love living in Worthing – between the Downs and the sea – because I love getting outside and walking with my family and friends. I’m also into miniature wargaming, which involves painting models and using them in games. I do this regularly with friends and really enjoy it as it’s both a social and mindful activity. And I love reading science fiction and fantasy – when I have the time!

Kerrin was in conversation with our communications officer, Julie. All the staff and trustees at West Sussex Mind welcome Kerrin as our new CEO and wish him luck and happiness in his new role.