Poppy is the CEO and one of the co-founders of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.
MHFA is a Community Interest Company (CIC). This World Mental Health Day it is leading on the goal of increasing the number of Mental Health First Aiders, by providing participants with the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support. Across the world, in 24 countries, 1 million people have been trained in Mental Health First Aid skills. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England has trained over 140,000 of these people and its mission is to train 1 in 10 of the population. Today businesses across a range of sectors including EY and Skanska are training their staff in Mental Health First Aid.
Poppy has been with MHFA England for eight years, in this time she has turned it from a small government project into a fast-growing, commercially successful CIC, recognised as ninth on the Fortuna 50 list of fastest-growing women-led companies. She also sits on the board of Public Health England (PHE) as a non-executive director and advises the board on mental health issues. In 2012 Poppy helped found the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA), a network of thought leaders from the City including EY, Deloitte and the Bank of England, who began meeting to discuss mental health in their workplaces.
What inspired you work for a Community Interest Company?
I was one of the founding directors of the CIC. I was impressed by the model as it gives you the flexibility to operate as a business without the restrictions charities can sometimes face. What’s more we have a social purpose, and operate as a highly ethical business.
I strongly believe all businesses should be measured by their social and environmental purpose and output, not just by profit. I think if it was general practice that every company measured a triple bottom line – people, planet, profit- we would live in a healthier and happier world.
What challenges have you had to overcome to get to where you are today?
As newly married to my partner of seven years, and with a blended family of four children, I believe one of the challenges common to most of us is creating balance in our lives. I don’t believe in the term ‘work life balance’ as it implies they are separate things.
My career, my family and the different facets of my life are all interdependent. Work is a very positive part of my identity and has often been the thing that has enhanced my wellbeing and has a positive impact on me as a parent. I ensure I have good work, good people and a positive mental attitude to my whole life, which has been an interesting challenge.
What are the advantages of being a woman working for a Community Interest Company?
MHFA England is a majority women organisation and our Executives are all women, although not by design – I enjoy working with men and women alike. I’m not sure there are any advantages of being a woman working for a CIC but working with passionate, highly skilled people is such a buzz. We bounce ideas around and then we take action. We are a nimble, responsive and proactive team and that is a massive advantage and makes it a lot of fun. I would say engendering trust is the most important criteria for running any company.
What skills do you have to develop to work with your stakeholders across the sectors?
I have to be able to connect and communicate with people. Our stakeholders are from diverse backgrounds, from Lawyers in the City to Community Workers in Bangladesh and Soldiers in Uganda. Some have extensive experience of mental distress, whilst others have never experienced any kind of mental health issue. My ability to listen and really hear people is crucial to what I do.
Does working for a Community Interest Company diminish earning potential?
You have a Board for great governance and you are only as restricted as the success of your business. I don’t think it should diminish earning potential.
How do you normally start your day and how does it usually end?
I usually start my day with a 15 to 20 minute walk to the station, I get a cup of tea and I meet friends on the platform for our commute in. It’s a great way to think through the things I need to do that day and is a nice, sociable start to the day.
I end my day writing down thoughts from the things I’ve done that day. I always go on a half hour to an hour evening walk with my husband, just before bed to download our day.
How important is it to take responsibility for your own development?
Critical. I take up therapy when I know my mental health needs nurturing. I attend conferences to learn and I spend time with people that inspire me.
Have you benefited from a coach or mentor in your career?
Yes I have. I engage in coaching periodically to clarify my professional perspectives – it’s a great way to reflect on the things you want to progress. My current coach is an ex-CEO who has been very open about her mental health issues. I heard her speak at an event I attended, and afterwards we were chatting and she mentioned that she coaches people. She’s now been my coach for over three years.
Who are your female role models and why?
I have many female role models, most of whom I have met on my life journey. They inspire me for different reasons; some for creativity, others for business acumen, parenting, ability to love, resilience etc. I spend time with my role models as they are my friends! But aside from my friends, Michelle Obama is a great role model for me. She’s passionate, powerful, authentic and has an incredible presence.
What are your plans for future?
As my 40th birthday approaches it feels like a good time to reflect on my achievements! Because of MHFA England, 140,000 people in England are wiser about mental health. I like to think that MHFA England has helped to normalise conversations about mental health in people’s households and beyond across the country, and I am incredibly proud of that.
Additionally at MHFA England we are really excited about the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day ‘psychological and mental health first aid for all’, with the aim to make Mental Health First Aid a global priority, on a par with physical first aid. As part of the day we are calling on everyone to ‘Take 10 Together’ and take 10 minutes to check in on someone – whether that’s a friend, a family member or a colleague and have a meaningful 10-minute conversation with them about their mental health and wellbeing. In addition we want to encourage employers to find out more about how they can support their staff’s mental health with Mental Health First Aid.
Outside of work I have a lot of things I want to get involved in but one that is pressing is finishing renovating my Georgian house!
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