AF&RS create wellbeing spaces to support staff mental health

Southmead Wellbeing areaAvon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) has opened five wellbeing spaces to support and improve staff mental health, providing spaces to unwind, reflect and relax.

Following the unprecedented period of COVID-19, and the various traumatic incidents that firefighters attend throughout their careers, the Service believes that these wellbeing spaces are key for mental health.

To date, staff at Yate, Patchway, Southmead, Kingswood and Blagdon fire stations have designed their own wellbeing spaces, often in conjunction with local communities, and seven more spaces are planned.

These other sites include Avonmouth fire station as part of the new build and at Lansdown's South West Command Development Centre, as part of other improvements to the site.

The majority of work has also been carried out by station staff and they have managed to source some materials and supplies at a discount or from generous donations from local suppliers and traders.

These spaces make the stations nicer places to work and demonstrate the positive links between green space, fresh air & mental wellbeing.

The creative herb gardens, hanging baskets, planters, trees and fish ponds also give a boost to local biodiversity.

Building on this success, AF&RS will be exploring further opportunities to plant trees and improve the air quality and ecology in and around our sites.

Leanne Wharton, Health & Wellbeing Advisor for AF&RS, said: “Having a wellbeing space not only helps with emotional wellbeing but our physical wellbeing too.

“Spending time outside in a relaxing space can reduce stress hormones, muscle tension and blood pressure as well as improving our mood.

“In the current climate, it is more important than ever to provide an opportunity for staff to unwind and connect outside of their usual workplace.

“It is fantastic to see the development of these spaces and I highly encourage other stations to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance wellbeing for staff.”

AF&RS launched Trauma Risk Incident Management (TRiM) in 2018. This provides firefighters with information about the reactions they might experience after a traumatic incident. It can also involve discussing the incident itself, how it has impacted them and identifies any risk factors.

Specially trained members of staff are on hand to discuss these incidents confidentially, providing help and signposting further support when needed.

This proactive approach can help prevent the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and help reduce the stigma around mental health.

The Service has also employed a Health and Wellbeing Advisor to bring together all aspects of mental health and wellbeing. This is alongside the Lead Fitness Advisor who promotes physical wellbeing support, providing a holistic approach to staff.

Simon Shilton, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for AF&RS, added: “I’m hugely proud of the strides our organisation has made in terms of raising awareness of mental health issues and supporting our colleagues.

“It’s something that has been highlighted over the years and after listening to our staff about what is important for their wellbeing we have now started to combat these issues from the ground up.

“The outstanding work that has gone into designing, building and maintaining these wellbeing spaces shows the resilience and mental health of our staff is at the heart of everything we do.

“The spaces represent an essential area on a station which allows our people to take time away from the challenges they face each day.

“Having served on the frontline, I know what staff see regularly, so this is about protecting them both mentally and physically.”