After 13 amazing years as founder & CEO of @bluebellcare, I stepped down from my role at the end of December to hand over to the brilliant leadership and wider team, who I know will take it forward with creativity, passion and vision. It has been a privilege to be part of this incredible team and charity, and to lead it as it grew from a tiny seed of an idea to the organisation it is today with a team of over 30, supporting 2,000 parents a year. It feels like a family, so even though I am waving farewell as CEO, it will never be goodbye.
Like most founders of grass roots organisations, so much of my learning has been on the job.
In the early days this included everything from initial registration and developing charitable articles, recruiting the first Trustee board, constant networking and sharing my own story, learning how to keep accounting records, payroll, HR, juggling spreadsheets, training in safeguarding and a lot of fundraising, to finding the first brilliant team members – many who are still with the charity today.
As Bluebell grew, I found myself learning how to develop more professional systems and processes, working with a wider range of funders, securing and managing NHS contracts, sitting on strategic boards and working across the whole perinatal system. I also learnt the importance of strengthening the core functions, such as a whizzy new database, professional IT support, a new website, developing more robust referral processes. The team started to grow rapidly from 4 to over 30 people and it was fabulous to be able to recruit parents who’d been supported by Bluebell into the team - an ethos that continues throughout Bluebell today.
At this time I also learnt pretty quickly that most of the team were so much better at multiple aspects of managing the services, projects and operations than me, and so I learnt to delegate more and leave them to run their projects, teams and develop new ideas, without me needing to get involved, or rather interfere!
A high point for me was securing funding from the Lottery Community Fund and Comic Relief to open Bluebell Place in 2016, our much-loved Perinatal Mental Health Wellbeing hub in the middle of Bristol city centre and the first of its kind in the UK. Many years earlier, I vividly remember walking around south west London with my own tiny baby feeling so low, frightened and overwhelmed and wishing there was a safe place I could just drop into where others who felt the same could tell me it would be ok, that I wasn’t a terrible mum and I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. And now it is a reality that has become a beacon of hope for so many – we all love Bluebell Place and often hear the words “it feels so calm, warm and welcoming in here” from parents who walk through the door for the first time.
I find it so hard to find the right words to describe how I feel at this moment as I step down from my role, aside from truly humbled by the love and support I have received from so many people along the way, for which all I can say is thank you.
Thank you to the amazing Bluebell team, staff and volunteers, as they are the ones who do the most important work. They walk side by side with parents letting them know they will get through this and giving them hope - the best gift anyone can receive. You are all so inspiring to me.
Thank you to Bluebell’s brilliant Trustees, past & present, who give their time freely and have supported and guided me over many years with their expertise and wisdom, for which I will always be so grateful.
Thank you to all Bluebell’s supporters, partners, funders, colleagues across the perinatal mental health sector and friends, without who it simply wouldn’t be possible - you make all the difference.
Thank you to my lovely family, my husband who has been my biggest support right from the beginning when I was so unwell myself and throughout my time with Bluebell and to my two now grown-up beautiful daughters who make me so happy to be their mum.
Most of all, thank you to the inspiring parents I’ve had the privilege to know over the past 13 years, who allow Bluebell into their lives, sharing with honesty & bravery in such difficult moments – what a wonderful community you have created.
Over the last decade the perinatal mental health landscape has changed so much, with more investment into the sector and many more support services now available. However there is still more to do, with new and expectant parents still not always able to access the support they need quickly and nearby. We know that many voluntary sector and NHS services are overloaded and underfunded and that the pandemic and economic crisis have compounded this. This is why organisations such as Bluebell and many other local voluntary sector organisations are vital, still need your ongoing support and are so thankful for it, as without them, many more parents would be unable to receive the support they so desperately need.
*to see a digital map of over 80 voluntary sector perinatal mental health support services across the UK go to www.heartsandmindspartnership.org