Alex Richardson, a Mental Health Nursing graduate at Canterbury Christ Church University, is now the Chief Executive of his own charity Keep Talking Services.
Alex started Keep Talking Services, a check in and chat service to support elderly and vulnerable people after he noticed the isolation of customers when working at his mum’s Gardening Centre during the first lockdown.
He now successfully recruits students to volunteer at the charity and is working with partner agencies across Kent to help local service users.
His business has received investor funding from Leigh’s Foundation as well as the Lottery Fund and Keep Talking Services has also submitted an application to receive official charity status. Alex is paid to work part-time alongside his Mental Health nursing career in the NHS.
“When COVID-19 came into play with the first national lockdown, students were unable to undertake placements; and that valuable real-life experience of learning was stopped," Alex, said.
“We were left at home with nothing to do but read articles and books and all yearning for the chance to be on the front-line helping people. So, I decided to do something about it. My mother's gardening business was experiencing a high volume of calls from the elderly, alone, afraid and with no social interaction. I decided to pair these clients with a few of my peers and arranged weekly telephone calls.
“As I was a Mental Health Nursing student, the students were all from a mental health background. What was amazing is that we began getting attention from other fields of study including midwifery, occupational therapy, paramedics, and psychology. There were people that I would never have met in my studies, and we all began collaborating to support as many people as possible.”
With the project’s success, Alex’s friends and volunteers wondered what the future would hold for the therapies service post-covid.
“We decided to keep going,” Alex added.
“Loneliness has long crippled our nation but covid just brought it to the surface. We proved that our service worked and recognised that there was a massive demand for what we do. This is when we decided to begin to officially register our service and make our mark as a charitable incorporate organisation.
Alex explained how his degree helped him become a better practitioner as well as developing his leadership skills through being a ‘cohort representative’.
My Mental Health Nursing journey was met with a lot of challenges being a student when the pandemic was at its worst. It was very challenging in terms of attendance of lectures and the fear itself of this unknown disease that brought the country to its knees. I am, however, eternally grateful for everything I gained from this. Getting out to face-to-face placements was amazing, meeting a variety of different people from different walks of life helped me to discover myself, and develop myself and I can honestly say that attending university has made me a better practitionerr.
Alex RichardsonMental Health Nursing alumnus and founder of Keep Talking Services
“I was also the cohort representative for 3 years and I honestly feel this really helped me with my leadership skills. It taught me how to lead and how to advocate for people while also giving me first-hand experience in communicating with other professionals," he said.
“I’ve also found my writing is now less informal and more professional which helps when speaking with providers and writing funding applications.”
The service has gone from strength to strength, following Alex and his team’s hard work and dedication over the last three years.
“When I started this service I rang countless organisations for help, support or a chance to work with them. Many ignored, several laughed, and a few told me it wouldn't work.
“Seeing our service scale to what it is, is one of the proudest moments in my life. It has shown me that with hard work and determination you can achieve but you just have to go for it!”
Alex had worked in the mental health sector for ten years and is something he has always been passionate about.
“People always talk about what needs to change – I don't just want to talk, I want to act and people with mental illness are often excluded from services for a variety of reasons such as lack of understanding, risk and stigma. I want to change this. Keeping Talking Services is important because through what we do we will create a better-connected society where the most vulnerable people can get the help they need.”
“Seeing so many people benefit from our service is very emotional for me. I started this with 1 hour a day of my time and my phone. Now I'm being paid to pursue this with an abundance of volunteers and clients all befriending one another with overwhelmingly positive feedback from both parties. I really am #livingmybestlife.”
The Keep Talking Services team plan to expand the business on a national level and want to be at the forefront of helping to ‘reduce loneliness in the UK’. Alex hopes the service will be recognised throughout universities in the UK and hopes to support and educate many more students around mental illness.