Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust (SCFT), were awarded the Freedom to Speak Up Organisation of the Year Award at the 2022 HSJ Awards with their demonstration of how they developed an initiative to support their Freedom to Speak Up Ambassadors in order to increase the reach of their Freedom to Speak Up programme.

Freedom to Speak Up Ambassadors were first recruited at SCFT in 2019 as a gateway to reach hard to reach groups, raise the profile of the speak up culture in the trust and provide a pathway for those who wished to speak up. Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, Mary Bell, was keen to continue the development of the ambassador role when she took up her role in 2021.

Following an internal audit of the organisations speak up culture, the results of the audit showed that the Trust needed to increase diversity within the ambassador network. Numbers in the network had dwindled due to the natural turnover of staff, and the Trust were looking to increase the numbers in the network. Freedom to Speak Up Ambassadors are volunteers on top of their full-time work so they have no ring-fenced time to do fulfil their duties. They heard that ambassadors were beginning to feel burdened by the role and that they needed extra support both in skills development and in their own wellbeing.

Supported by the Non-Executive Director for Freedom to Speak Up, Mary began exploring how ambassadors could be better supported. The ambassadors came from a variety of clinical and non-clinical backgrounds, and she heard how their wellbeing was being affected by the stories which workers were telling them.  She began by setting up a series of ‘Listening In’ sessions in addition to the regular ambassadors’ meetings, with a senior mental health professional.

The success of these initial sessions led Mary to find a permanent support solution for ambassadors. Restorative supervision contains elements of psychological support including listening, supporting and challenging the supervisee to improve their capacity to cope, especially in managing difficult and stressful situations.

A Professional Nurse Advocate, trained in restorative supervision now holds regular sessions,  creating a safe space in a closed group where ambassadors can share how they feel, providing emotional wellbeing support and opportunities to learn from one another.

This support for Freedom to Speak Up Ambassadors means that SCFT have been able to recruit an increased number of ambassadors, increasing the reach and diversity of the Freedom to Speak Up network to support over 100  sites and the  5,500 people who work at the Trust.

The HSJ Award judges commented that they would feel safe in an organisation that had with this level of focus, professionalism, and care. The also commented upon how the Guardian spoke about detriment and the work she has been involved in with the CEO to find out more about how they could improve on the number of cases which have an element of detriment, whether that is fear of detrimental consequences or actual experiences of victimisation as a result of speaking up. “We are at the beginning of this journey,” says Mary Bell, who together with leaders at the Trust is working to understand more about how to minimise the impact of detriment with a bespoke approach to every case which is brought to her.

One worker commented: “You made me see through to the heart of the matter and see how I could make change. I felt empowered to do that after our conversation whereas prior I was feeling very deflated and powerless.”

The judges commended SCFT’s work to understand detriment. They said:  ‘The Guardian spoke about detriment and the work she has been involved in with the CEO which was refreshing. There was a sense of passion and wanting to embed good practices.’

Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, Mary Bell said “The focus at SCFT in 2023, is to continue to enable a safe space for change to happen. This means remaining focussed,especially, being careful how we listen, and how we follow up with compassion”