‘Creating happy workplaces is key to performance’

Guernsey Mind recently appointed former airport firefighter Chris Chamberlain as their training manager and community coach. He is now at the forefront of a new Blue Light awareness campaign and is also helping to launch a suicide prevention project. He talks to Jill Chadwick, community groups coordinator at Guernsey Mind, about his previous life and work experiences and how they have led him to a challenging role in mental health

Chris Chamberlain is known to many as a sportsman playing football for Vale Rec, Sylvans and the island squad before a serious injury put paid to that period of his life. After a career in public service with the Airport Fire Service, he has joined Guernsey Mind where he is using his skills in coaching and management training to be a key figure in the charity’s community projects.

‘I worked at the Airport Fire and Rescue and during an 18-year period I progressed from firefighter to watch manager. In later years I became passionate about performance management and getting the best out of people. As time went on, I realised that creating happy workplaces was key to performance with mental health and wellbeing being top of the list, I knew I wanted to utilise these skills in the community.’

Chris explains that he has enjoyed being part of a team and working in a public service that helped the community. ‘I enjoyed the diversity of the job, having to train in so many aspects of firefighting and aviation specific practices as well as first aid.

‘You are a specialist for a specific emergency which is time dependent. You must guarantee to be on the scene within a certain time frame. Early intervention and creating a survival atmosphere are key.

‘Within my time in the service and the watch, I started looking at how we could get the best out of people – and not just in the fire service but within any environment.’

This led Chris to study with the Chartered Management Institute where he achieved a level five qualification and chartered manager status.

‘You can become a technical expert but it’s too easy to forget about the people side of things,’ says Chris.

He started researching emotional intelligence in the workplace and looking at ways to create an emotionally intelligent team that took ownership of their decision making instead of an authoritarian approach.

‘As a watch manager I started to introduce coaching into my management and leadership style and wanted to create an environment of ownership and empowerment which gave us performance gains as more people took ownership of their work area to reach the goals that were set by the team.’

Chris measured the impact with his colleagues and identified new ways of improving performance and skills by listening to the team’s ideas and needs.

‘The outcome was high quality performance, and we were very much breaking the mould of how we would approach an incident and was very proud to be part of those teams who shifted the needle.

Chris Chamberlain. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29364372)

‘As a team we built failure into our training and development. It’s OK to make mistakes as it allows you to grow and move forward as a team. I’ve always preferred to fall forwards than back on something as you can see what it is your falling on.’

Chris says that he realised that health and wellbeing was going to be a large part of creating a meaningful and happy work environment and part of the strategy was to invite Guernsey Mind to send a representative to talk to all three watches about mental health.

‘We started to implement better wellbeing practices that put the emphasis on the welfare of our teams and one of them was to encourage firefighters to look after themselves after a major incident. This included the provision of a welfare trailer, a multi-purpose vehicle which gives firefighters some respite while out on a site. It can be a cold tough place on a dark night in the middle of winter and obviously at times you do see things that can be daunting.’

The trailer is a respite space, but it also doubles as a decontamination unit allowing firefighters to de-robe after a major incident and training exercises which can have long term impact on health.

‘There is always some form of contamination, be it blood, smoke particles, fuel or carbon fibre and this can lead to physical lung and skin conditions which can also impact on our mental health.’

It is clear that Chris was becoming more and more interested in mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and was keen to look at practices and how they can help people move forward and become happier individuals.

‘I did some coaching with the MOE Foundation and delivered Action For Happiness with Jon Buckland.

Chris and Jon went on to develop a course called Redefining Happiness which is currently run in the private sector and is based on positive psychology.

The course is now being run at the Grammar School Sixth Form Centre and has also been introduced at the College of Further Education.

Guernsey Mind

Chris says he got more and more interested in the power of positive psychology and self-compassion and how that can support and provide people of all ages with the tools to support good mental health.

‘We all have our ups and downs, that is just part of life, but the important thing is to create a space to share and learn from each other, support each other, and know where to find support as early intervention is better than reacting to a situation.’

At this point Chris was doing a lot of training outside of his role in the Airport Fire Service and he admits he was looking for an opportunity to help more people in the community reach their own personal goals.

‘It’s all about getting the best out of teams and individuals and making them feel good about what they are doing.’

When Chris heard about a new training role at Guernsey Mind, he decided he would investigate a career change. ‘I knew I had grown and felt I was ready to explore different avenues.’

Chris met with the team at Mind and realised that there were two roles that could be combined to fit his skills and expertise.

The Blue Light programme aims to work closely with the emergency services to provide support, particularly to those who may have experienced trauma in the past whether currently serving or retired.

‘It’s an ideal role for me, a mix of training and working within the community. One of my main responsibilities is to develop a suicide prevention and intervention strategy, and to get behind and develop the charity’s existing Blue Light campaign as well as coaching within the community.

‘We aim to offer support to Blue Light teams and deal with any mental health issues by offering early intervention and training. We believe this will create better mental health within the service and aim to work very closely with them to provide support within the services, particularly those who may have experienced trauma in the past whether currently serving or retired.’

Chris is also training to become a suicide first aid associate tutor with Mental Health First Aid England with the provision of delivering suicide awareness courses in the workplace, sports groups and teams and the wider community, with a view to increase awareness.

Chris will be providing coaching and triage to Guernsey Mind therapy service where members of the community can access a team of three psychotherapists based in Guernsey and Alderney and a whole range of other services such as equine therapy, decider skills and acceptance commitment therapy.

Chris is also joining the charity’s training arm, which delivers mental health awareness, listening services and manager training which focuses on creating awareness and preparing managers to recognise symptoms and proactively support employees in a non-discriminative and supportive environment. Chris will also join the team in delivering mental health first aid.

‘I want to make these areas of support more visible to the bailiwick and put a spotlight on the prevention, awareness and good practice for employees to feel comfortable with managing mental health in the workplace, of which prevention of suicide is one of my main priorities.

‘My role has always involved shift work and one thing I am happy about is the chance to have a much better work/life balance. In my previous life I was only able to have one free weekend every six weeks. My family life can take more of a priority and I am looking to bring some of my other life skills to what is already a driven and vibrant team.

‘Above all my aim is to give support to islanders and maybe improve upon the amazing work the charity does in the community.

‘Prevention is key, People should feel comfortable and safe in the knowledge that when they call Guernsey Mind, they will be met with a friendly face, a safe space to find support, and talk in the knowledge that you will be listened to and taken care of.’

  • Chris can be contacted by email: chris.chamberlain@guernseymind.gov.gg, or telephone: 722959

Guernsey Mind is developing a suicide prevention and intervention project for the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Suicide affects and touches many people and can have a knock-on effect on family, friends, and colleagues. The goal is to raise awareness, reduce the stigma and provide learning for islanders to spot signs and offer support and information to those who need it.

There is no room for complacency when it comes to promoting good mental health and preventing suicides. A significant proportion of people who take their own lives have asked for support for their mental health within the last 12 months, and Guernsey Mind does not want to miss the opportunity for people to spot the signs, have the confidence to talk and access support as and when they need it throughout the Bailiwick.

Guernsey Mind also recognises the impact of a suicide on the community and aims to provide suicide support networks for the families and friends who have been affected. This is a key part the charity’s holistic approach to prevent suicide, raise awareness, and support our communities through difficult times.

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