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A change really is as good as a rest

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is loneliness. Loneliness can affect many of us at one time or another and we know it can be both the reason for, and a product of, poor mental health.

Mel has direct experience of issues of mental health, which led to her making a career change and joining the bank two years ago.

Making the change

“I was a police officer for 13 years but had a moment of realisation that I couldn’t go on like that forever,” Mel recalls. “The culture can be pretty tough in the police, and I knew that for my future wellbeing and that of my immediate family I just couldn't go on. My mental health was suffering, I had some serious relationship issues and I suddenly realised that I was the only person that could change my life.”

My sister’s an engineer, so we spoke about what it was like working in the private sector. Knowing how I was feeling and the impact it was having on my family, she encouraged me to go for it, and I did. I left the police in 2017, initially joining Virgin Money, before joining NatWest Group in January 2020, just before the first lockdown.”

I’m super happy here and I really love working for the bank. For someone who'd never worked at home, it was a bit strange at first but then I got used to it really quickly. I do like coming back into the office for a couple of days a week now that that’s an option again. It's a really good balance having the split of time between the office and home.”

Purposeful work

The bank’s purpose-led approach has also struck a chord with Mel.

“When I was a police officer, I never thought about our purpose, but I guess it was ‘keeping people safe’ which resonates with me,” she says. “With regard to the bank's purpose - one of the things I love is helping someone to be, not better, but to fulfil whatever their potential is.”

It was that keenness to help people as well as her inquisitive nature that led Mel to volunteering for Chatty tables to support people who may be suffering from loneliness and isolation in her local community of Linlithgow, near Edinburgh.

"I just like being able to help people."

“Ask anyone who knows me the two things that come to mind and you’ll probably hear that I can talk for Britain, and I can make a friend in an empty room. As well as being a total blether, I’m genuinely interested in people and, as a former police officer, I’m used to speaking to a diverse range of people. So, when Chatty tables was starting up, I knew it was the right thing for me to do to play my part in the community.”

Breaking down barriers and building connections

Chatty tables in Linlithgow sees one volunteer each on a Monday and Thursday make themselves available in a public place for anyone to drop in and talk to about anything they like.

“There are eight of us in the group who run Chatty tables and my commitment is to run the weekly one at Costa Coffee between 10:30 and 12noon every third Monday,” says Mel. “We have a dedicated table with a triangle to signpost the chatty table and we’re there to talk to anyone who wants to talk to us about anything at all, with a specific focus on those who may be feeling lonely or isolated.”

We now have regulars who come in almost every week. These are people that we’re aware of that are isolated through whatever circumstance, but there's no proselytising at all, it's just a chat about whatever they want. We just shoot the breeze and give people an opportunity to get out the house and talk.”

There are two individuals who come to see me on a Monday. One is a gentleman who has a chronic stutter and his conversations take a long time to get through. Then there's a woman who speaks very quietly. She’s obviously quite a deep person and they often visit at the same time even though they're almost the antithesis of one another.”

They’re primarily there to talk to me, but if they're both there at the same time, I try to have a three-way conversation and try to build a connection between the two of them - with two people who are completely different.”

Helping someone every day

Reflecting on her experience, Mel is keen to emphasise just how important something like Chatty tables can be for someone who is lonely or isolated and would recommend volunteering to colleagues.

"People die from loneliness."

“I just like being able to help people,” she says. “I think every day, if I can help somebody in some way, it doesn't matter if it's a customer, another member of staff, even just giving them a smile and saying ‘thank you’, that can have a big impact on their day.”

Whilst I’ve been able to do something to help my wider community and those I talk to; I too have been blessed by the people I’ve met and been able to talk too. I'm not saying that by volunteering at Chatty tables, you're going to have a life changing experience but, people die from loneliness, often at their own hand. And if you can offer an hour and a half, every three weeks, you might be that one thing that keeps that person going, so why wouldn’t you?”

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