Nigel has been a great leader and leaves a legacy we hope we can build on

Stephen Finlayson is Head of Innovation and Improvement for Penumbra

Stephen: Nigel’s unrelenting commitment to the de-stigmatisation and de-medicalisation of mental health support has impacted the way mental health is discussed and addressed.

During his 30 year tenure, Penumbra has grown from a small number of staff running supported accommodation services in Edinburgh to around 500 staff providing services to 23 of Scotland’s Integrated Joint Boards and Health and Social Care Partnerships.  It should be noted that this has not been growth for growth’s sake but rather an evolution led by Nigel’s belief that people can and do recover from mental ill health. He has established an organisational methodology that sees his team continually striving to ‘do the right thing, not just to do things right’.

There are many examples of things we have achieved over the last 30 years with Nigel as Chief Executive: developing services to support people experiencing self-harm, developing Nova services that created a model of day support services without buildings, providing the first formal mental health peer support training course in Scotland in 2006 and then employing the first team of peer support workers in 2007, creating the first 24/7 Crisis Centre in Scotland and being a key partner in the Distress Brief Intervention programme.

Innovation and influence have been Nigel’s defining behaviours throughout his career.  His commitment to recovery has been particularly influential internationally.  Nigel was on the Board of Mental Health Europe 2012-2014 and was President from 2014-2018. Towards the end of 2014 MHE lost its core funding and was close to collapse. Nigel and the then Director of Mental Health Europe worked closely together to re-energise the network and to sustain it whilst securing new core funding. This was achieved and the organisation was restored as the major European mental health network.

As a believer that people can, and do, recover from mental ill health, Nigel wanted to find a way to tangibly demonstrate this.  Finding existing tools too medicalised and unwieldy in 2011 Nigel set about leading Penumbra’s development of a recovery measure which was to become I.ROC®, the Individual Recovery Outcomes Counter, and the HOPE™ framework. Rather than retain I.ROC® as Penumbra’s unique selling point for competitive tendering, Nigel opted to pursue an influence agenda, promoting the HOPE™  framework internationally and facilitating its implementation. This has resulted in I.ROC® being used by over 80 organisations around the world and translated into different languages. I.ROC is recommended for use in the Scottish Government’s current mental health strategy. I.ROC was joined by Y.ROC this year, our Recovery Outcomes Counter designed particularly for young people.

Nigel has long recognised the valuable insight those with lived experience of mental ill health can offer to Mental Health service delivery.   The inclusion of paid Peer Workers and Practitioners within staff teams who constructively challenge barriers and role model recovery demonstrates Nigel’s respect for their insight and authenticity; and offers career progression to promoted posts. Penumbra is now the leading and largest employer of mental health peer workers in Scotland, with more than 20% of the workforce in peer roles.  Nigel’s vision has led to Penumbra being leaders of the concept of peer working in Scotland, putting lived and living experience of mental ill health at the heart of mental health practice.  He took the promotion of peer work to a new level in 2004 with the launch of the Scottish Recovery Network, an independent network which Penumbra continues to support and host.  In 2019 the success of Penumbra and the Angus Health and Social Care Partnership Peer service was acknowledged with the Alliance Self-Management Award.

Working collaboratively has ensured Nigel’s influence has had maximum impact.  His desire for a more equitable society contributed to the collective formation of See Me, Scotland’s Programme to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination.  His willingness to engage creatively and collaboratively has resulted in Penumbra delivering the 1st Alliance to operate in Scotland, Future Pathways, supporting survivors of in-care abuse.  Just last month, Penumbra and Support in Mind Scotland launched Scotland’s first Bereaved by Suicide Support Service.

Sarah Campbell is Head of Business Development for Penumbra

Sarah: What has been really frustrating in gathering this history is that we couldn’t consult Nigel and his extraordinary memory! If you’d like to know who was on the board 25 years ago and where they are now Nigel’s your man! In part this is because he takes time to get to know and remember people. He builds relationships, he is a good listener and a great support, and is approachable to all staff across the organisation.

Throughout his time with Penumbra, Nigel has hosted a key session in our all-staff induction. These focus is on Recovery and values, and this ensures that all staff, no matter what role they are in, have a good understanding of the key aims of the organisation and that Penumbra’s vision and values are shared by all. In fact, some staff go regularly to induction days just to hear Nigel speak again! Our staff tell us that they are inspired by Nigel and are proud to do the work they do. As CEO, Nigel has never just sat at the top! He is authentic in both his work and his commitment to bring out the best in everyone and often complements his approach with an inspirational quote, my personal favourite being Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s learning to dance in the rain. Another useful trait of Nigel’s is his love of an acronym! Although it is notable that his pleasing abbreviation may be chosen prior to committing to the words it actually represents!

Although Stephen and I are representing the staff team we think it is valuable to also give a nod to Nigel’s influence beyond our organisation, as it seems we are not alone in thinking Nigel is rather special.

The final comments I am going to share come from Niall Kearney.  Niall in his position as Scottish Government’s Lead from 2012 to 2021 on a number of mental health policy initiatives, had the privilege of working closely with Nigel on many important developments. Niall took the opportunity of Nigel’s retirement to highlight just how influential Nigel has been Nationally.

Nigel brings to Government much-valued knowledge and experience of the mental health field, practical understanding of how systems work, a keen eye for innovation and improvement, and an enduring ability to advocate the user perspective. Without being able to avail of Nigel’s strengths, the Government would be severely disadvantaged.  He is highly valued by Scottish Government officials as someone who can give impartial advice and does so generously.

Without Nigel’s input and commitment, the language we use in Scotland to talk about mental health would be so much poorer.  Our use of the concept of recovery is so widespread now that the word “recovery” features prominently in the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy as a concept that individuals and services should look beyond purely clinical outcomes to see the whole person and their social and personal outcomes as equally valid.  This is in no small measure to Nigel’s tireless work with the Scottish Recovery Network and Penumbra over many years to change national thinking.

Nigel has been a great leader and he leaves a legacy that we hope we can build on, continuing the good work of Penumbra in the future. We hope that going forward, Nigel, we can make you proud.