David Latham is project leader for the Swindon Mindful Employer Network project, a role he has held since 2008.
David is a true ambassador for charity support and fundraising by the business community and is highly passionate about the positive impact it can have on society.
In this interview we find out about his career journey and how he is helping businesses appreciate the benefits of a mentally healthy workforce.
What was your first job?
I joined what was then the Post Office Telecoms team in Swindon. When the Post Office was privatised and became British Telecom (BT), I was running the commercial sales unit in the procurement division. I later progressed to community affairs manager in Swindon situated at North Star House, working in partnership with the local voluntary sector and media.
How did your career progress?
I have always been passionate about the third sector and the value it provides to the local community. My next move was to work for Schools Outreach, a project that provided pastoral care workers in schools throughout the country. I was a regional staff carer, ensuring that care workers were supported in their very difficult roles of providing help and advice to school children, many of whom were from impoverished or challenging backgrounds. I see a greater need for this type of service today.
My experience in these various roles afforded me the opportunity to work for BBC Children in Need as Wiltshire co-ordinator for five years.
Where did your passion for charities come from?
It all started from my role as a volunteer for Swindon Hospital Radio. I found hospital radio to be ‘character building’ and it gave me the confidence to talk to people and helped to develop my communications skills when meeting folk for the first time. Ward visiting and getting patient’s music requests was a challenge for me, but I could see the positive benefits for patients.
Laughter is important to people who are recovering from poor health and we tried to bring some light-hearted fun and a smile to people’s bedsides. I met many of my lifelong friends at hospital radio and it was this experience that provided me the opportunity to join the BBC as a broadcaster. It also fostered an interest in PR, marketing, media relations and later commercial radio.
Why would you encourage businesses to support charities?
Corporate social responsibility should be of interest to firms of all sizes. If the local community thrives, business thrives. The wellbeing of our local communities should be important to employers.
Encouraging staff to fundraise has a benefit in terms of an individual’s personal development and is better than some training courses. It can aid team building, increase the loyalty of staff and develop an appreciation from the local community that see you as a positive contributor to society. CSR was once described as ‘enlightened self- interest’ !
Tell us more about your current role.
I’m currently working at Swindon Mind on the Swindon Mindful Employer Network, which commenced its life at the Richmond Fellowship in 2008. I had the pleasure of starting this project and seeing the initiative bear fruit for local businesses.
I think mental health and wellbeing is absolutely critical in this day and age. A mentally healthy workforce can make the difference between success and mediocrity. An open and honest approach to mental health at work will improve employee engagement and increase loyalty and commitment, whilst reducing unwanted costs such as absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’.
Having a thoughtful attitude towards staff goes hand in hand with a progressive business culture. Employees feeling excited about their work is important – and reducing that ‘Monday morning’ feeling that does so much damage to our economy. This builds the reputation of a business and helps you retain a resilient and valuable staff base, while attracting motivated, professional recruits. Customers can tell the difference between stressed and motivated employees ! This is why the network highlights three key themes – leadership, resilience, wellbeing.
What are your plans for Mindful Employer this year?
We consult network users and tackle some very difficult themes in our meetings which have included domestic violence, bereavement and addiction. However at the core of our work are still issues around stress, anxiety and depression. Also this year we are looking at managing mental health in an improving economic climate and the impact on employers of a more mature workforce. As people live and work longer we explore issues such as dementia and carers.
How can businesses support the Swindon Mindful Employer project?
The network has spectacularly grown since its inception and we now have full houses for our free conferences, awareness sessions and training courses. We’re always looking for venues and increasing awareness through the media of our work, so that we can reduce the stigma and discrimination that plagues the subject of mental health.
I would encourage all local businesses – regardless of size or sector – to get involved with Mindful Employer in Swindon. By doing so, I believe we are not only supporting the local community and businesses, but the image of the town as a great place to live and work.