I was at Warwick University yesterday where Rethink, the mental health charity, is holding a staff conference.
I was there for a session on comms, stressing to people who deliver services to the mentally ill why communications matters – to awareness of the services among people who might need them, to fundraising, to morale inside the organisation, and to their ability to influence local and national politicians and policy-makers.
As I tweeted after our session, I was impressed by a speech by Genevieve Edwards, comms director of the Terence Higgins Trust, who set out some compelling evidence of how her charity is able to punch above its weight. Low budget, but high profile and attitude changes aplenty. It is listed at 264th among UK charities in terms of size and turnover, and 72nd in terms of ‘brand awareness’.
It was good of her to take time out to speak to a different cause, but she rightly coupled Rethink and THT as charities operating in difficult areas, from which many people wish to turn their eyes and ears. The stigma and taboo associated with HIV is less than it was, not least thanks to THT, but it is still there. As I listened, I couldn’t help thinking of the impact Princess Diana made on the issue and wondering what other causes she might have gone on to help had she still been with us. God, she’d have been a brilliant Time to Change ambassador.
In my own remarks, I spoke as I often do of mental illness as the last great taboo, the reason why there remains the need for the Time to Change campaign. We got a sneak preview of the latest TV ad which was shown during the break on Coronation Street last night. We will know we have made progress when the need for such ads no longer exists.
Yesterday’s was but the latest gathering of health experts I have attended at which I heard a growing refrain – that it is impossible to have any kind of genuine dialogue with health secretary Andrew Lansley on his planned reforms.
One charity leader – not mine and not Genevieve’s – told me at the weekend of a meeting he had recently with a gathering of charities involved in the NHS. They set out their stall and his response was ‘you’re all wrong’. Nice.
He might do better to nip down to his local Westminster council and get some lessons in basic politics from councillor Daniel Astaire. On Saturday I blogged on the plans of the council to do away with soup runs. I thank him for taking the trouble to write a response, which you will see in the comments section.
I hope between now and legislation, Mr Lansley starts similarly to engage with the many organisations involved with the running of the NHS – pretty much all of them – who have genuine concerns about his plans.