Matt Brayshaw was introduced to C2 through The Health Creation Alliance. With his work with the Criminal Justice Liaison and Diversion Service in Birmingham (and Solihull), he is part of the Justice Network, a group of people with lived experience of the criminal justice system.

He has joined in with the C2 Natters – even calling in from the terraces of a football game, a reflection of his love of sport – he’s spoken at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games about sport and mental health.

He is also involved with the mental health charity Ask For Jake. As he’s moving onto a new position at Newbigin Community Trust, we thought we’d catch up with him on WhatsApp for a conversation…

C2: What got you into and how long have you been at Liaison and Diversion?

Matt: Complete accident! I’m an accidental tourist! I worked in mental health from about 2003 to 2008 after using mental health services. I’d gone back to tutoring in the lifelong learning sector (as it’s now called).

In 2013 that had started not to go quite so well and I was walking through mud / fog for a couple of years. I was casting about and remembered I quite liked working in mental health. So I went back to the local mental health trust to do advocacy/ lived experience work at one of the local secure hospitals.

Thought would last a week but it was this incredible community, once accepted (I was mistaken for C of E chaplain in a very M&S jumper!) it was terrific!

There were links with Liaison and Diversion, they were just getting off the ground in 2015 and part of my job brief was also to do a bit of work with then, getting early clients to talk about their experience, including some research.  We did a little film that included a couple of people who’d been supported by the service. I loved their approach: can do, looking for solutions and helping with anything. There was an opportunity to join full time, and 5 and a bit years later, I’m here!

C2: One thing I’ve noticed is it seems there’s a really good atmosphere when I’ve seen the Liaison and Diversion team together – and it’s something that’s part of the Justice Network too, which feels so welcoming and informative.

Matt: It’s been fantastic. I’ll still keep in touch and hopefully see people but it’s been a very settled group of people in our office for some years now, and I’ll miss that. Closest I’ve come at work to feeling like playing in a really good sports team. Commitment, effort and laughs!

C2: How excited are you about your new role, can you briefly explain what you’ll be doing?

Matt: Increasingly to fever pitch! Cleave, my fellow Wolves-supporting colleague first came with me, we knew someone who was doing some work there (Newbigin Community Trust). We went to this community centre in a big church hall; there seemed to be a lot of activities, support amidst a very calm and pleasant environment. We learnt more and more about what they were doing, Anji and Ash Barker’s story (from Melbourne to Winson Green via living and working in Klong Toey, a slum in Bangkok) and their approach. There feels so much to learn from Ash, Anji and everyone at Newbigin.

We’ve just done a mental health first aid course there. I hope to be doing more of that as an instructor, it’s very close to my heart. Anji set the time for the sessions to start at 8.30, so cafe staff could attend and still do the lunch. I did wonder. 14/15 people came to all sessions first thing in the morning. It was humbling and now I can’t wait.

So some advocacy for people, both regulars to the centre and local residents, it’s a completely open-door. And looking to develop groups and projects around mental health and for people from the LGBTQ communities. They’re helping me set up a Community Interest Company, Together Better, to do some mental health first aid, ESOL and functional skills stuff, all being well. I feel really fortunate.

C2: You did a Justice Network outside broadcast meeting from there, and there was such energy, determination and community coming from there, it felt really good.

Matt: Yes totally. And I’ve got to see them address difficult situations, which is really the mark of a place, and get involved in projects and activities with all parts of the community.

C2: We’re so happy you’ve joined our C2 family Matt and you’re a regular contributor – you’ve brought us so much new learning too – but what is it about C2 that attracted you in first place?

Matt: It was through Merron (The Health Creation Alliance) we met. And Merron came and did a really great piece at the Justice Network on health inequalities, the potential of collectivism and health creation. And we thought, we’re kind of doing some of these things as a staff / client group, and it was great to learn about these approaches.

A few of us, Cleave, Jay and myself have either lived or spent loads of time in the south west, so every other office conversation seems to be about Devon or Cornwall. Then we started to have a look at some talks by Hazel, read about some of the projects and approaches, and come to the Tuesday Natters. It’s been great to hear about the projects, the groups, the tenacity, the sticking together and sticking to principles!

C2: That’s really interesting! And leads very neatly into… Can you explain how C2 helped you to decide to take on this role?

Matt: We started thinking about our clients and ex-clients about to their longer term well being, coming through and developing (trying to avoid using the word recovery which is a while different topic!) and it seemed a lot to be linked with communities of all different types: family and friends; the great Revolving Doors organisation, projects at boxing gyms, finding a sense of belonging in their local communities, the local food pantries are wonderful, for instance.

And I think through C2, seeing the approaches you take and the diverse projects that people are involved in, I thought I’d really like to be doing that kind of thing. I’d already started talking to some really great people in Birmingham who I knew through L and D and other work, when I started talking to Ash and Anji Barker at Newbigin it really seemed very close to the C2 approach. Like C2, they are very strong on people being supported to find solutions for their communities, and that these activities are long term and sustain. So C2 have been hugely influential in helping me. And you’re such a wonderfully supportive and funny group to be part of!

C2: These are difficult times for a lot of people, but what gives you a buzz about health, wellbeing and community?

Matt: I really have these times, really bloody awful. It’s responses of people and groups of people and the wider communities. That was amazing during Covid, in a completely different way during the Commonwealth Games.

And there’s more innovation that can still be on place in better times. And there’s something about that happening in communities that’s absolutely magical. I was a (very middle class, sheltered) two tone music fan, I might put a bit of Selector on now! But the received wisdom is, not sure how true, that there can be some really great music, film, theatre, art that emerges from and influenced by difficult times.

But we need this to get better yesterday!

C2: Thank you Matt! Good luck in your new role!