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Workforce Research: Adaptable, Flexible – great places to work and be yourself. A job that fits with your values. 

Ruth Madder
Ruth Madder

Would a large statutory organisation have been prepared to take that risk?

That is one of the questions discussed with Ruth Madder, the chief executive of Bridewell. Before joining Bridewell Ruth was Director of Business Strategy for a well-established local organisation with an international reputation. Whilst she felt she had the skills to do the job at Bridewell, she hadn’t proven herself in a voluntary sector role.  When the trustees offered her the job, they were taking a risk – a risk worth taking; with Ruth’s values being a good fit for the organisation taking precedence over previous voluntary sector experience. If Ruth had been looking for a similar role in a healthcare organisation, she doesn’t think she would made the shortlist. That’s one thing about the voluntary sector, it can be flexible and adaptable in ways that the statutory sector doesn’t seem to be able to imagine.  

Ruth has an outward facing role, complimented by Bridewell’s Recovery Manager who has an inward facing role. Bridewell also employs a part-time fundraiser, an administrator and four workers focused on directly supporting the people that use Bridewell’s services. Bridewell’s workers come from a range of backgrounds, including occupational therapy, mental health nursing, the RAF, and horticulture. What they have in common is a commitment to Bridewell’s values and enabling people to improve their mental health and find hope in recovery. 

The direct support workers are all social and therapeutic horticultural practitioners. They work alongside people using the service, combining their knowledge and skills in mental health and horticulture. Social and therapeutic horticulture is not yet a registered profession; when Bridewell is recruiting to these paid roles the focus is on values, knowledge, experience and what the individual brings to the organisation more than whether or not they have particular qualifications. 

One of the many things that attract people to come and work for organisations like Bridewell from organisations such as NHS is that when they were working for the NHS, it can feel so pressurised that it is almost impossible for people to do the job that they want to do in the way they want to do it. Yes, moving to the volunteer sector often means that people are going to earn less and have less other benefits, such as the NHS pension. At the same time, one of the recruitment messages that Bridewell and other small VCSE organisations can put out is that – if you come and work for us you will have the opportunity to know that you’re making a real difference to people people’s lives, –you’ll be a decision-maker and every voice is heard. That makes a big difference to how you feel about your work. 

On the volunteer team, there are about 30 people that are part of the Bridewell team – Bridewell has a waiting list of people who would like to volunteer. A primary motivation for volunteers at Bridewell are their own connections to people with mental health needs, via their family or their own career. Volunteers want to make a difference. 

Bridewell is in a very rural setting, which means that many of those who work there in paid roles, or as volunteers have significant round trips to make to come and work there. 

Bridewell also have OT-placements and nurses coming to do shadowing. The OT placements are organised in partnership with Brooks University and Bridewell receives a fee for those placements. The biggest barrier to student placements is the staff needed to support those students, even with long arm supervision in place, providing adequate mentoring takes essential staff time.  

Bridewell is a small voluntary organisation with strong values and very specific remit. Its staff and volunteers want to make a difference to the lives of people affected by serious mental ill-health. It’s also an organisation that’s prepared to take a few risks and recognise the talents skills and knowledge of its workers, its volunteers, and the people it supports – and celebrate them. 

Written by: Jim, Thomas, October 2023 

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