• Tod James CF FRSA

Suggestions for Lowestoft

Updated: 2 days ago

These are the suggestions and final note from my report My Lived Experience of Mental Health in Lowestoft as ‘Lowestoft Mental Health Ambassador’ 2018-2020, I welcome contact from any individual or organisation who would like to have a summary for themselves or their organisation. The full report can be found here, and the Summary Report can be found here.


It is not my style to tell people what they should do, my suggestions here are just that it is for others to decide whether they are helpful or not, at worst they can perhaps be used to debate what not to do. They are informed by my experiences described earlier in the report, it is for the reader to decide if that adds weight. I have met with and worked within some of the best organisations in the world in recent years, I believe these suggestions are consistent with what I saw as best practice, but adapted to my knowledge of Lowestoft as unique. I never recommend that one person or place simply adopts the practice or activities of elsewhere as it often falls short.

In all suggestions I am able to provide further details and information on how a piece of work could be done or where there may be a similar piece of work to connect with and learn from. Please contact me if you would like me to provide you with any connections.

If you see an idea or suggestion that you have interest in, or if you would like a summary for you or an organisation I would welcome the opportunity to prepare one.

Lowestoft Town Council

These are the specific actions I would recommend to Lowestoft Town Council:

Aim to connect more closely with Lowestoft Rising and work toward becoming the ‘democratic arm’ of the work being done. Any progress in Lowestoft which has been made recently is indivisible from the impact of Lowestoft Rising. This would mean that there was a sustainable long term way it ensuring that what Lowestoft Rising has done can go on being done, and that key organisations in the town are connected to the town council.

I think appointing lay members to the town council based on areas of experience and diversity which are lacking at present would assist greatly in engagement. They should be people with lived expedience of an issue, given full speaking rights at meetings, and be people who will inform others. I would recommend the first lay member be a member for mental health and that the Lowestoft based creator of the livingwithmentalhealth website would be the kind of person who I would appoint quickly, he is a modern day town crier for mental health in the town. There are many other people but I recommend seeking lived experience over councillor experience.

Consider a directly elected mayor for the town, I would not use a referendum as if 50% turnout is achieved at the election they could be elected and if not then the existing councillors could then choose an appropriate and representative mayor or chair using cooption if necessary and making use of the views of lay members. The aim of 50% turnout also places emphasis on candidates to engage as many people as possible in the core reason for the role, which otherwise may be unclear.

Offer all councillors mental health and community resilience awareness training involving lived experience, and councillors to work to deliver community based sessions within their communities alongside people of lived experience.

Conduct an emotional resilience review of the town to explore these recommendations and to establish the best ways in which to achieve 50% turnout at elections. This would make use of the lay member for mental health and draw together people and organisations in a common aim.

Have all customer facing conversations begin with ‘what do you need today’.

Support the ongoing hosting of the annual Lowestoft Conference as a way to go on sharing the best work being done in the town and the lived experiences of people, with the aim of establishing it as a world leading event.

Look to create an emotional wellbeing charter for the town based upon creating an accreditation for organisations and individuals to sign up to if they are to live and work in the town and contribute to community wellbeing. This can cover anything including support groups, by establishing a standard people in the town know who they can trust, as long as they trust the charter. It also means that the world leading individuals and organisations across the town have recognition for their work, and that Lowestoft can support them to learn and engage more widely for the benefit of the town.

If anyone from Lowestoft Town Council wishes me to contribute to explaining these ideas I would be pleased to support in any way I can or to explain further.

Lowestoft Rising

If there were a formal connection between the work of Lowestoft Rising and the town council it could open a plethora of opportunities for better community engagement and for the town to not only receive learning but also to be a place of best practice. We always had the ambition of making Lowestoft the best place in the world for good emotional health.

Now that Lowestoft Rising has established a huge network, has connected organisations together, has direct contact with all key organisations, and has engaged the public in mass activity it makes little sense for anyone to reinvent a network or create a new one. Lowestoft Rising is the answer to a question people need to stop asking ‘who will connect Lowestoft’, it’s being done.

I believe that there are some actions that could be supported or encouraged by Lowestoft Rising:.

I think it would be innovative to establish a best practice accreditation across the town which identifies organisations as meeting a set of standards around lived experience and being responsible. If the town council endorses this it cannot be a legal standard but would mean that locally we can ask for better, with a strong enough mandate it would be possible to ask councils that any tender in the town has to have a commitment to this best practice..

Work to create an offer of a standard of lived experience training and basic support to be available to people across the town working and volunteering with vulnerable people. It is possible to create a sustainable way of developing people who will support others and to support those giving support. But this needs to be bespoke to the town and the people.

Conduct a further year long series of conversations across the town, in various online and offline settings to discuss the mental health and emotional health of the town and encourage the people of the town to understand and contribute to the issue. With the express aim of finding and sharing more lived experience and engaging more people in mental health.

Encourage more sectors to appoint champions and ambassadors and appoint a Lowestoft Mental Ambassador to either replace me or establish the role. A new mental health ambassador should be free to establish their own personality and objectives and will hopefully be able to understand and challenge the kind of issues which I either did not have expertise in or did not have the time to explore fully.

Continue to work with the education institutions in the town to ensure that the ongoing commitment to young people and the development of more healthy and happy children can continue. The work in Hillsboro and Walla Walla would be extremely useful to make a formal connection with in my view.

Support the ongoing hosting of the annual Lowestoft Conference as a way to go on sharing the best work being done in the town and the lived experiences of people, with the aim of establishing it as a world leading event.

Support even more groups and organisations to engage with understanding mental health and emotional needs so that fewer specialised services are needed.

Have all customer facing conversations begin with ‘what do you need today’.

I would be happy to support Lowestoft Rising in understanding any of these ideas better.

District and County Councils

I think that Flattening out the support structure for homelessness could help more people in need. I have not seen residual value in having specialist separate mental health provision when they do not usually deal with issues significantly different to those in general homelessness. Staff would benefit from a broader understanding of mental health across the system, you could have a larger pool of people who consider themselves as part of the same goal, you can share the experience of specialist NHS staff, and you have more choice for the client. Finally, in doing this you would not reduce any support to people, indeed many people in specialist supported accommodation miss out on the basic offers made to other homeless people..

Balancing your councillors with lay members or similar contributors who have diversity of thought and background I believe helps to represent people far better.

Have all customer facing conversations begin with ‘what do you need today’.

Support front line staff to have localised lived experience training in emotional and mental health, continue to encourage staff to develop specialisms and interest that support their work, and support local aims and expectations on community engagement within tenders and contracts.

Encourage all of your tendered services to agree to report formally to all levels of democracy on their impact against that bodies aims and support those local institutions to provide challenge. The most senior person in an organisation should be reachable to them at times (reasonably) if you are to be sure they share common objectives.

Offer all councillors mental health and community resilience awareness training involving lived experience, and councillors to work to deliver community based sessions within their communities.

Support the ongoing hosting of the annual Lowestoft Conference as a way to go on sharing the best work being done in the town and the lived experiences of people, with the aim of establishing it as a world leading event.

Offer to support town and parish councils to radically review their approach to democracy if they would like to do so. The experience of forming the largest district council in England is one that all local councils can learn from.

I would welcome an opportunity to speak with anyone from Suffolk County and East Suffolk District Councils.


Introducing lived experienced awareness training for staff who operate within a mental health setting, including basic handover for cooks, cleaners and other ancillary staff; would help to provide more consistent responses to people in need.

Provide front line staff local lived experience training to better understand mental health, including GP’s and people in all settings. In general health I had many conversations with compassionate staff who had all the skills but not enough confidence around mental health issues.

Have all customer facing conversations begin with ‘what do you need today’.

Nationally I believe that more effort should be made to ensure that any doctor prescribing medication linked to mental health has to schedule regular reviews, especially within the first weeks. More effort to be made to explain the full impact of a medication on a person.

I still believe that the first thing asked on a 999 call ought to be ‘what do you need?’, this could transform and expedite emergency calls and support more people to get what they need.

Support the flattening of supported services so that choice , value, and relevance to the client are prioritised over oversight of a specific project or projects. Successful recovery and healing are usually person focussed rather than project focussed.

Support the ongoing hosting of the annual Lowestoft Conference as a way to go on sharing the best work being done in the town and the lived experiences of people, with the aim of establishing it as a world leading event.

Use the Coronavirus crisis to support radically changing approaches to mental health in our communities by engaging with lived experience at all levels.

I am happy to speak with anyone within the NHS who would like to understand more about this.

The Media

There is an important role played in any community, for people to feel safe and supported they also need to have information that they trust. It is the responsibility of publishers (whether you become one yourself online or whether you are a large newspaper or radio or television organisation) to ensure that the information they have is balanced, balanced in hearing both sides, balanced in understanding a whole issue, balanced in the expression of views.

In mental health the most damaging issue has been the reporting of feelings as being illnesses, within a local newspaper I saw a headline which read ‘1 in 4 people in the area suffer from loneliness’ this is of course untrue, 100% of people feel loneliness, it is a normal and life protecting emotion as is anxiety. Hunger is unpleasant but we need to feel it in order to eat and stay alive, when we teach people that being healthy is the avoidance of any anxiety we teach them to be unhealthy.

§ I genuinely believe a more effective and interesting headline would have been ‘WE ARE ALL LONELY’ with information on how all of us have found ways throughout our lives to manage it and of course specialist advise.

Understanding our emotions and feelings is almost always more useful in healing and recovery than suppression or avoidance. But if you feel in crisis you should ask for urgent help.

Support the ongoing hosting of the annual Lowestoft Conference as a way to go on sharing the best work being done in the town and the lived experiences of people, with the aim of establishing it as a world leading event.

I encourage local media to understand a great deal more about the impact of mental health, and a great deal less about the appeal of mental health. This is in the context of local media in Lowestoft who have been exceptionally supportive and who I believe can play an ever greater role.

I welcome a conversation with anyone from local media who thinks they would like to understand this more.

The Public

The biggest responsibility of all for community mental health of course falls upon the community,

There are many people who have made enormous contributions and who are active in the town and committed to seeing Lowestoft thrive, there are many ways to make better use of all of the talents but the first is to give responsibility back to them. By making local democracy relevant to their lives, and by bringing people together (safely) to learn about resilience and emotional wellbeing it could give more autonomy to people over their lives. Here are my suggestions for how people in the town can feel more responsible for the way that they support themselves and others, it is a simple fact that it is impossible for any person or agency to ‘fix’ problems, the key issue in Lowestoft is that far too few people understand the role we all play in the emotional wellbeing of others.

Make sure that the emotional wellbeing of yourself, your family, and your community the biggest priority in your life. For the long term happiness, success, and wellbeing of your family it is the biggest change that you could make. When losing weight people who use diets on average are the most likely to gain weight over the long term, those who take one step further today than they did yesterday often manage to sustain a healthier lifestyle for longer. I’m afraid that this is the best analogy I have.

Please stop thinking of people as either having or not having mental health problems, it is very rare that people are completely out of control of their minds to the point where they would need to be sectioned. Up to that point the response to your mental health is entirely your own even if your judgement is flawed. If you are able to understand more about how mental health works you can feel less afraid of it and more prepared to ask for support and to offer it. But if you feel in crisis please ask for urgent help.

Remember that mental health problems don’t just mean people who have a diagnosis from a doctor, the majority of people with mental health problems may never need to access a service to deal with it, often people with major mental health issues have managed it successfully for a long time without ever having a diagnosis or input from services. Also remember that all recovery and healing is completed in your community, nobody ever leaves a doctor with everything as they would like it – it is the things around you in the community which dictate the success (this includes practitioners and medication of course). A diagnosis is a vital part in the healing and recovery of many people, as is an understanding of the whole person. If you are in any way concerned about your mental health you should ask for help and make contact with your doctor.

If you own a business or run any kind of organisation prioritise the emotional wellbeing of your customers and staff above anything else. This is the biggest change that any organisation can make to ensure the long term success of their organisation. If you are struggling with the pressure of running an organisation please ask for help, I wish that I had.

Support the ongoing hosting of the annual Lowestoft Conference as a way to go on sharing the best work being done in the town and the lived experiences of people, with the aim of establishing it as a world leading event.

Make use of social prescribing, for the vast majority of people this can be a more effective appointment than one with a GP. Also I think we need stop believing that GP’s always being very close to specific families is a good thing, they are as prone to labelling as anyone else, and the input you need from a doctor needs to be fact based, we have right to a second opinion for a reason. The role of GP’s is ever changing and incredibly challenging, but we have some outstanding Social Prescribing work in Lowestoft and Waveney.

Get to know your neighbours, if you want dramatic improvements in your mental health then make sure you know your community and the people who live around you. This simple step increases the chances your children will be safe and successful, makes you safer and healthier, and is free. Nothing you demand from the government will make as much long term impact as this. It isn’t as simple as this of course, but we need to begin to understand how to encourage more people to build on the connections made locally through coronavirus.

Take advantage of Lowestoft, the town has many cycle paths, a wide pedestrianised high street, beaches, the sea, the broads, fields, local shops, it is blessed with good community assets like theatres and leisure centres, if you do not make good use of these then you and your family will be less healthy and happy. Nothing you can demand from the government will make as much long term impact on your long term mental and physical health as this. Some days it is hard for us to make use of the things around us, but if we encourage ourselves and each other then it is possible. But if you feel in crisis please ask for urgent help.

Understand your local democracy and encourage fewer campaigners and more advocates, Lowestoft will not benefit from energy being spent angry at services about ways to fix them when the reality is that the NHS needs support to completely rethink its approach to mental healthcare especially in the light of coronavirus. By advocating for people you know, understanding how to influence the right people and by demanding a local democracy that a represents you it will make more difference to both services and communities than any amount of campaigning. We are blessed with some exceptional campaigners already, allow them the room to work and support those they aim to reach, anyone with an urgent concern over services or safety should raise it quickly and appropriately..

Realise the power of your voice, it is the sharing of lived experience that has allowed this report to come so far, the voices of people in the town have opened the doors of every level of government to hear more. If you realise that the best way to ensure the good mental health of those around you is for you to take responsibility personally and recognise what you have the time and energy to contribute to the wider community then you will not need anywhere near as many services to campaign for or about. In the meantime it’s vital that we have people who are protecting those things that we value, but more community engagement in future systems is essential.

Try not to get drawn into overly prescriptive or specific campaigns or solutions, remember the bias that we all hold, if you decide that a specific project is needed in the town the first thing you must do is try and prove yourself wrong. If you cannot then next you need to influence people, but to do that you need to understand them. Also this can cause you to assume that if a new service or more staff were employed that the problem is fixed, and you know it won’t be possible to fix any issue for everyone, it is helpful for any new systems, groups, or services to fully connect with and integrate with what is already available so that fewer people are left behind.

If you are a position to act now, please act, if you have resources that can help then there has been no time since World War Two when they are more needed.

Finally please understand each other better, do not bracket people as ‘ok’ (those in positions of power or perceived authority) and speaking to them in a way that you would find unacceptable if it were reversed. When you remember that everyone experiences anxiety and loneliness at various times then you know that the way we treat each other is the primary reason for any mental ill health. Services surely need to be better at the way they speak to people, but so do the people who speak to services. We all need to try and hear more of the voices of people most affected by the most challenging issues, this isn’t easy to do but can be achieved.

Final note

I have been a mental health ambassador in the way that I have known how to do it, it’s now for others to decide whether I have in fact been a mental health ambassador. If I have then I am pleased, if I have not then I hope that my work has still been useful, if I have done neither then I hope it will inform others what to avoid in future.

I hope that someone will fulfil this role in future, whether they will be considered the first or the second depends on whether I established the role or not.

It has been the greatest of privileges to have occupied several roles in Lowestoft from which I have learned a great deal and met a large number of people. I hope the connections and learning I have shared have helped some people, I will always make time to do this for any of the people or organisations in Lowestoft who I can support.

I would also like to find a home for my learning, and a place where best practice can be exhibited and understood, I welcome opportunities to do this. I welcome contact from organisations inside and outside Lowestoft with whom we can work to imagine better mental health in our communities.

Thank you.


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