The Child Maintenance Service is an organisation within DWP that’s dedicated to helping improve children’s lives while supporting and engaging our colleagues, delivering a brilliant service to customers and transforming our vision for the future.

Our wellbeing advocate team is based in Tyneview Park- our aim is to encourage colleagues, (around 600 people based across two blocks) to make their wellbeing a priority.

As part of our 3-year strategy plan under NE Wellbeing Lead Danielle Molloy, (who accepted the role in 2018), the team proposed to make mindfulness an integral part of our wellbeing programme and a business case was put to our Service Centre Leadership team. SCLT approved the proposal following a presentation we delivered, demonstrating the benefits that mindfulness has on stress/ anxiety levels.

With this approval, advised colleagues that they would be entitled to free time away from their desks, should they wish to participate in mindfulness sessions each week with a facilitator.

Colleagues are actively encouraged to take up mindfulness by managers, if it is identified in a wellbeing 121 conversation that they might need support coping with stress, worry or anxiety (either within work or personal life.)

For each attendee we begin with a taster session to discuss what mindfulness is, whether it’s the right course of action following a confidential conversation around circumstances and we play a 3-minute exercise from our mindfulness CD: ‘A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, by professor Mark Williams.’ Colleagues are given the opportunity to continue with sessions or decline, depending on how the found the taster.

We make a point of covering the scientific elements behind mindfulness, which can help participants understand the proven effects on the brain. According to NHS and BUPA websites, mindfulness is all about paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you, which can improve your mental wellbeing.

Scientists use MRI scans to see how the brain changes when people practise mindfulness. Evidence suggests particular areas of the brain either shrink or grow in response to regular mindfulness practice:

  •  Mindfulness and stress.Research shows that after practising mindfulness, the grey matter in your brain’s amygdala – a region known for its role in stress – can become smaller.
  • Mindfulness and creativity. The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for planning, problem solving, and controlling emotions. The grey matter here can become thicker after practising mindfulness, showing increased activity in these areas of thought.

The Covid pandemic presented a number of challenges regarding how we deliver wellbeing. Our wellbeing team has worked together to rethink and redesign our processes and has implemented new and creative ways to support colleagues in the office and working at home. Mindfulness has played a big part in helping people in person and virtually.

Mindfulness facilitators created a system to allow colleagues to attend 121 mindfulness sessions, rather than normal group scenarios. We now allow only 2 people in our wellbeing room at a time, and for health and safety we clean the surfaces and chairs before and after each session. For home-working colleagues, we have 2 new processes in place- virtual mindfulness over skype where we can play the track and have a wellbeing conversation.

We also set up “coffee and chat” rotas with both advocates and mental health first aiders supporting via skype. Colleagues can request to speak to either, depending on if they’d like a general, fun catch up or want to discuss more serious issues.

We’ve produced a mindfulness diary so colleagues can track their progress in between sessions and closely monitor how they feel mentally and physically as they undertake mindfulness over the weeks. The diary also has various calming exercises to practice.

We’ve seen how mindfulness has helped many colleagues with specific worries brought on by the pandemic, like isolation, fear of travelling on public transport, wearing masks etc. One colleague gave an interview to our newsletter regarding the positive impact mindfulness has had on her concerns with taking the metro:

“Thank you for the mindfulness session. I suffer with anxiety and worry a lot. Taking time out to gather my thoughts and put things back into perspective really helps.”

We continue to share best practices with Maureen from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, who supports us through the Better Health at Work programme. For information on joining the programme, contact Maureen Turner, Health Improvement Practitioner Specialist, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust on 0191 270 4514 or visit www.betterhealthatworkne.org

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