Home / Alex Hills, Wellbeing Service Manager, my career and journey at Oxfordshire Mind

Alex Hills, Wellbeing Service Manager, my career and journey at Oxfordshire Mind

“The best part of Oxfordshire Mind is the people and the culture. It’s somewhere I’ve been supported, somewhere I can be honest, we have a good way of just being human with each other. Seeing each other as people, not simply titles and roles, and that’s important.”

I studied Geography at the University of Exeter. Still, I was interested in mental health due to my personal experience, especially living with symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), for which I accessed support from the university wellbeing service.

In my final year, I did my dissertation on the prevalence of different mental health conditions across the UK – which was my way of trying to blend mental health and geography together!

Why did you decide to work in the mental health sector?

Well, after university, I didn’t have a particular sense of exactly what I wanted to do, but I attended a recruitment day at Mind in Exeter and East Devon, where they were looking for support workers. I applied, got the job and stayed there for 18 months, providing 1-1 support for people in the community.

Why did you choose Oxfordshire Mind?

I had met my girlfriend (now wife!) at university, and she had moved to Reading. We made the decision to live closer together, so I began looking for jobs in Oxford. I came across the Wellbeing Worker role in Abingdon, South and Vale, and decided to apply. I turned up to the interview dressed in a suit and tie and quickly realised that this wasn’t necessary, but the interview with the two managers and a service user went well, and I was happy to get the role.

Tell us about your role as a Wellbeing Worker at Oxfordshire Mind

Coming into that role, I had already experienced providing 1-1 support, so I was comfortable doing the Options sessions which offer people the opportunity to speak about their circumstances and receive support and signposting. Peer support and facilitating group space were something I had to learn. I remember one evening I was in the Late Shift peer support group for working people when it felt a little challenging and like I was struggling to hold the space well. But I had great, more experienced peers that helped to support me, which was helpful as someone new to the team.

One of my happiest memories of that role was facilitating the Friday football group in Wallingford. I love playing football and I loved that part of my job was getting to play football with people! At a recent celebration of life event for one of our colleagues, Saul, I met 3 members of the football group I hadn’t seen for around 4 years. This is a testament to Oxfordshire Mind that they’re still engaged and a testament to Saul himself, who was part of facilitating that group.

What is also interesting about the Wellbeing Worker role is that the team at the time had started to link in with local GP practices, offering 1-1 Options sessions within the practices, which was a good grounding for understanding what the Primary Care project would later become – a project that I would end up managing.

Tell us about your progression to Wellbeing Service Manager for Primary Care

When the Primary Care project first came up, they were recruiting for one Project Manager and seven Wellbeing Workers. I remember thinking ‘I wonder whether I will go for the Wellbeing Worker job…’, but later I bumped into Crystal from HR, who came into the hub. I was asking her about the applications, and she mentioned there hadn’t been many for the Manager role. I thought, ‘why not give it a go!’. My manager at the time, Beth, was very supportive of my application and the interview went well, and I got the role.

The other big thing this year for me has been the Post-Grad Certificate in Applied Healthcare Leadership which has given me some excellent insight into how to manage and lead people. I know a few people from Oxfordshire Mind have been through the course now. It’s been good for me personally and hopefully, Oxfordshire Mind reaps the rewards of it as well, with people being trained to manage and lead well.

What was the progression to Serice Manager like?

Throughout my time at Oxfordshire Mind, I have had a lot of support. The support of my line managers has been crucial. In my first role, this was Beth who has been very supportive but also interested and caring about who I am as a person, and I still maintain a friendship with her now. Beth and her husband came to my wedding in 2019! Andrew who was my Line Manager after Beth has similarly been very supportive, personable, and approachable. He has been a really important part of my development as a manager – just a shame he supports Tottenham Hotspur!

What from your role as Primary Care Project Manager will you look back on with the most amount of pride and joy?

There would be four things. Firstly, it was good to be in the role from the start of the project and to see it building from the ground up. This meant visiting lots of practices and working with them to get the service up and running. A lot happened quite quickly in the first 12 months as we supported more than 1,600 people across 32 GP practices in the Oxford City and South West Oxfordshire localities.

Looking back there were some challenges to overcome in getting things started with so many different GP Practices but they were open and could see the need for the project. It also gave me the opportunity to practise presenting to different groups of people within primary care services to let them know what we could offer. So that first stage was busy but successful. It set an active and energetic scene to start with.

The second thing is the general expansion of the service across Oxfordshire and Wokingham. I think we did a really good job at getting used to the changing landscape in 2019 when the Primary Care Networks (PCNs) were forming, which was a really big shift in how Primary Care operated. So, we had to think about how we made the best use of this change. Andrew (my manager) and I had meetings with PCNs about what service would they like us to provide. Now across Oxfordshire, we are directly commissioned by 11 different PCNs.

The third thing is that it was also nice to see external recognition for the project in 2020 when we were shortlisted for the General Practice Awards 2020, category Clinical Improvement: Mental Health. This is a testament to the hard work that had been done by the team!

Finally, the fourth thing I’ll look back on with happiness is seeing people who started in certain roles in the Primary Care service who have developed and progressed into new roles.

One member of staff has moved from being a Wellbeing Worker to a Deputy Manager, and two members of staff have moved from being a Wellbeing Worker to a Deputy Manager and then a Team Manager. And finally, another member of staff has worked her way from being a Wellbeing Worker, through each of the management roles, to becoming the new Service Manager after me! It’s nice to be part of an organization where it’s normal for people to have professional development, and where internal progression and opportunities are expected.

What are your happiest memories of Oxfordshire Mind?

The best part of Oxfordshire Mind is the people and the culture. It’s somewhere I’ve been supported, somewhere I can be honest, we have a good way of just being human with each other. Seeing each other as people, not simply titles and roles, and that’s important.

I’ll never forget the Primary Care project, how it has grown and expanded and how I developed alongside it as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better start in my career. It’s such a good foundation where I’ve been given a lot of opportunities.

Alex is moving on to a new role as Papyrus Area Manager in the South of England and we are really excited for him and wish him the best of luck!

If this inspires you to get involved with supporting people with their mental health, get in touch!