About me and the work I do
People I work with say that I have an interesting mix of skills. It’s true. I started my professional life as a case worker, researcher and trainer; moved into policy and then media and public affairs.
In my 20s I was busy completing my research degree (Phd) and working in what was then called “race relations” at the local level. Successful local campaigns taught me the power of building local support and reaching out and creating alliances.
In my 30s and 40s I worked in national organisations lobbying for social change. At the National Union of Students, social policy wins included 1.5 million higher education students gaining access to a new, independent, fair complaints system (Office of the Independent Adjudicator); and amplifying the student voice via the brand new National Student Survey. As RVS’ (Royal Voluntary Services’) media and public affairs manager (England) I successfully secured page spreads in the Guardian and a 6-minute slot on BBC News. People said my ease with politicians and networking helped make that happen.
For the last 7 years I’ve been running Creative Public Affairs. My vision was to influence positive change by creating innovative insight-led interventions, products and networks that promote mental health and social well-being. My basic building blocks were to:
- Understand the people I was trying to influence (stand in their shoes).
- Inspire change in the audiences I wanted to influence (show them the destination).
- Empower the target audience via professional and peer support (one to one).
- Engage people who are seldom heard on sensitive issues (and co-produce).
- Evaluate whether real change has happened (have real people really benefitted?)
So what does all this mean in practice?
Here’s two recent influencing change projects that I’ve helped co-produce (develop and deliver) with Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (BHFT).
Self-Harm and Suicide Awareness Training Workshop aimed at BHFT mental health carers. The aim was to empower carers with the skills and confidence to help someone who self-harms or is at risk of suicide. Participant Feedback: “I didn’t expect to enjoy it. Had complained to my partner got two and a half hours talking about suicide now.” “Loved talking to everyone about their stories. Really helped. It’s what’s happened to me.” “Changed my life.” “It was an extremely professional training workshop.” “Everything was useful!” “Really good.”
Carer Awareness Training Workshop aimed at BHFT Mental Health Professionals. The aim was to increase confidence, ensuring BHFT professionals comply with the new legal framework and practice guidance within their work setting; and to understand and demonstrate the need for empowering carers to lead the assessment, planning and review process. Participant feedback: “It was really helpful having a carer who talked freely about their experience.” “Made me realise that those people we call family are also carers.” “Realized that I needed to listen more to carers and what they were saying.” “Excellent, with trainers who seemed to really care about carers.”
Some more testimonials
“Sofija and I worked together establishing a mental health consultation group. I was impressed by her passion and enthusiasm. She is a tireless campaigner and is very effective at giving a positive message and supporting those around her. Her desire to succeed is contagious and she is a great person to have on your team.” Senior Leader with extensive interim NHS and Local Authority experience.
“Sofija is a really good person to work with. She challenges you to think about your clients from their point of view. Has a wealth of social media knowledge and knows how to empower staff to confidently engage with businesses and other client groups.” Central Berkshire Education Business Partnership.
“Creative Public Affairs helped us at a crucial stage of our development . Sofija helped us identify the key messages that we were trying to get across to the community – using language that people could grasp easily.” Culture and Sport Development Service, Reading Borough Council.
Campaign with Impact Workshop.
Participants include: Central Berkshire Education Business Partnership, Reading Refugee Support Group, Berkshire Greenpeace, South Reading Patient Voice, Transitions Town Reading, NHS Berkshire West, Reading Neighbourhood Network, Reading Peace Group, Baker Street Residents’ Association, No 5 Youth Counselling and Information Service, Disabled People Against Cuts, Cristian Community Action, Berkshire Greenpeace, Pond Meadow Permaculture, Results UK, Reading Voluntary Action, Environmental & Community Projects and planning advice, HepC screeing 4 the Asian Community. Participant feedback: “Excellent workshop which was interactive and made the learning experience valuable and enjoyable.” “Initially I thought five hours of training would be a drag; but time flew as we started interactions and sharing ideas. It was a learning experience and would love to do this again.” “Style and Pace was excellent. I loved it because it was well-organised and driven towards a good finish and end.” “The style was open and friendly but also professional.” “ Lots to take away.”
Media Workshop: How to use the power of local media to raise your profile
Participants include : Reading Mencap, Berkshire Scouts, Reading Borough Council, Reading Voluntary Action, Citizens Advice Reading, Berkshire Community Foundation, CCA, No 5 Youth Counselling, The Ways and Means Trust, Fusion Youth and Community UK, Berkshire Credit Union, True Food Community Co-op, Action for Children, Reading Advice Network, Reading Dusseldorf Association. Participant feedback: “Thank you for such a great, interesting training session.” “Really well organised with lots of participation. Really enjoyed it.” “Enjoyed small group size. Felt more open to chat.” “Very knowledgeable trainers.” “Good to have industry case studies and stories and appreciated honest feedback on how to improve.”