Portrait of Natalie Rhodes, RSPH member

Can you tell us about your current role and where you work?

I am the Chief Officer of a charity and Volunteer Centre called The Bureau, based in Glossop in Derbyshire. We offer a range of volunteer driven services including peer support and befriending, social prescribing, ‘move more’ physical activity, a volunteer car scheme, digital inclusion in primary care and a bespoke multi-faceted pre-employment support offer for local people. We also act as an infrastructure body in our local community, growing community action through asset-based approaches. The role of Chief Officer largely involves partnership work and strategic planning for the town on anything health and wellbeing related. However, in reality, the role is much more personal than that. All our work at The Bureau is value driven and vocational. As the Chief Officer I have the privilege of creating strands of work with and for our community, that can truly make a difference to people’s lives.

What is your favourite part of your role?

I think seeing people achieve their personal goals, or making progress in their lives that they never thought was possible, is hugely rewarding.  I also get a real buzz from watching community activities grow, when they started as just the thoughts of a few people who had the motivation and drive to bring them to fruition.  We have seen many projects and activities grow out of our peer support groups, with one group now a fully-fledged charity in its own right in the local area!    

Can you give us an overview of your career path?

My career path is a mixed one! I left University, with a degree in Sociology and was fascinated with human behaviour.  I started working for a bank but, without any real motivation, suffice to say that didn’t last long! 

I then joined the probation service and spent 19 years working in accredited offending behaviour programmes. I became well-versed in the use of motivational interviewing techniques, strength-based approaches and cognitive behavioural strategies. These have been great assets for my move into the voluntary sector. 

An opportunity to work at The Bureau became available in May 2020. I had previously worked with the charity, having designed a bespoke ‘Life Skills’ programme for them (which is still successfully running today!)  I felt it was the right time for a new challenge. The opportunity to have some autonomy, choice and the freedom to act on things more quickly, really appealed to me. We don’t have an agenda, other than to help people, which removes a lot of barriers in building trust. I think this is why embedding mental health work in the voluntary sector, such as the MECC approach and other interventions, is a really positive move forward. 

In your role, how do you support/improve the public’s health and wellbeing?

The Bureau is here to understand and speak to the things that are most important and relevant to our people and community. We are keen to minimise social isolation and loneliness through our services. We believe social connectedness, a sense of belonging and social capital vastly increases individual wellbeing and in turn people’s physical, emotional and mental health can improve. We provide services that help break down barriers and support people to have meaningful activity in their lives and learn new skills. We also work to bridge the gap between statutory organisations and our community. Although each organisation has different drivers, we have proven that finding common ground can lead to intuitive models for bringing workstreams together for better health services and better outcomes for people.

Our community wellbeing programme that brings together community development work with social prescribing is one such model that has led to an improvement in how people navigate the healthcare system and shown how the health service can work with patients in a more person-centred manner.

What area(s) of public health are you the most passionate about?

I’m very passionate about mental health and wellbeing and also have a special interest in the potential of proactive early intervention work. Our work with families has highlighted many gaps in provision for young people, especially regarding their mental and emotional health, exacerbated by their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From my background in groupwork delivery, I really believe that with the right philosophy, well designed interventions can reach people on a higher level.  In delivering such work we have the opportunity to equip people from an early age with life skills that will help them find resilience when they face the various challenges life throws our way.  I have been genuinely amazed since joining The Bureau about how many hard-to-reach people have engaged in significant personal growth and development when a programme with genuine empathic delivery has been combined with practical structured inputs that people can follow and learn from.

How did you find out about RSPH and what do you enjoy most about your membership?

I found out about RSPH when I became a MECC for Mental Health Trainer via connection with the GM Social Care partnership and Social Prescribing.  I am a new member of RSPH, but the ability to connect and to learn from a wide group of people who are passionate about population health and hold a wide range of skills, knowledge and ability is incredibly useful for my learning.  I also hope that I can share some of the amazing learning I have taken from the third sector and that I can raise the profile of the important role it can play in all things public health related.

What do you do to take care of your own health and wellbeing?

My favourite way to look after my wellbeing is to take some time by myself to play my guitar.  I first played many years ago at school but my partner bought me a guitar a few years ago and I have learned to love it again.  I’m no Jimmy Hendrix but I can follow a YouTube tutorial and have learned a few classics that I thoroughly enjoy singing to myself in the spare room!  I am actually a fan of Spanish guitar music so my ambition is to learn at least one flamenco masterpiece and surprise someone with it out of the blue so they think I’m a guitar genius.  I do think I’m a few years off to be honest but I’m enjoying practising!!

Find out more about the RSPH and Health Education England MECC for Mental Health programme