QAMH Member of the Month – May 2019

Brook RED is our May Member of the Month!

Each month we will be highlighting the value and diversity of our members and the fantastic work they do in the community mental health sector.

Read on below to learn more about Brook RED, including their history, values and mission. 

Please tell us a little bit about your organisation?

Brook RED is a lived-experience operated, managed, and governed organisation providing support to people who experience mental health or suicidal distress.  We use the unique insights and connections that our lived-experience provides us with as the foundation of all our work.  We were born in Brisbane and it remains our home today.  We are funded primarily by Queensland Health and Brisbane South PHN and we also deliver services under the NDIS. 

What are three words to describe your organisation?

These types of questions are always so difficult to answer!  I suppose that as a lived-experience workforce, the words I would use to describe us are the same ones that I would use to describe the amazing community of humans who we are lucky enough to provide support to as they live their recovery: resilient, creative, and empathetic.

How/why/when did your organisation get started?

Brook RED was born at 25 Brook Street in Highgate Hill and we are incorporated as the Brook Recovery, Employment and Development Centre, which explains our unusual name.  We formally came into being in 2002 but had been auspiced for a few years prior to that.  Twenty years ago, Brook Street was a rehabilitation service run by the PA Hospital and it was there that people began to notice how incredibly powerful and transformative the relationships and mutual supports between peers accessing the service were.  From there a really wonderful and forward-thinking group of community members and clinicians created the thing that was to become Brook RED and Australia’s largest lived-experience organisation.

What inspires your work and what sets your organisation apart from everyone else?

What inspires us?  People.  I mean, really, how awesome are people and their stories?  The incredible diversity and grit that our community and team bring to the party every day at Brook RED is one of the things that inspires us the most.  Because, we invite people to come through our door as their whole selves and to bring all of their unique worldviews, understandings, and humanity along with them, we are quite the hive of skills, abilities, thoughts, ideas, and different ways of looking at and approaching issues.  This approach supports us to have a real “how do we make it work?” approach and, almost always, when we can’t figure out a how to move forward someone will come along and give us just the wisdom or different perspective that we need to find a solution.  We are one of only three entirely lived-experience service-delivery organisations in Queensland that we are aware of.  The other two are Bayside Initiatives Group (BIG) and Peachtree Perinatal Wellness who are both major sources of inspiration to us; their practice is outstanding, and their values are evident in all that they do.

We support lived-experience work in all its forms, but I do think that there is something really special about being all peer all the time – it means absolutely everything from our policies to the way we say hello, our choice of furniture to the way we create forms, and the way we process accounts payable to the way we hold meeting is informed by lived-experience.  Basically, we’ve got skin in the game and every level and that fundamentally changes how we think about things.

From a culture perspective, we actively celebrate our lived-experiences as strengths rather than something to be overcome.  We see part of our role as being the people who wave the flag for being different and for that difference being worth celebration.  It is really tiring to try and hide the parts of oneself that are a bit divergent and people tell us that coming to Brook RED is like being able to breathe after holding your breath for a long time.

Where does your organisation provide services? What type of services are offered?

We primarily offer services in Metro South Brisbane though we deliver NDIS services in the Gold Coast as well.  There is a lot changing right now with funding at the State and National levels, so I can’t say whether or not we’ll be offering the same services in the same locations in a few months’ time, but right now, we have centres based in Highgate Hill, Beenleiegh, and Upper Mount Gravatt.  We also have some services that are more mobile in nature and support people across the larger Metro South area.  All service is peer-based and include a combination of one-on-one supports, group supports, and supported community spaces where people can come be part of more informal groups and mutual supports.

Over the last few years, we’ve begun to formally deliver suicide prevention service – this is something we have always done as a part of our work, but it has been tremendously exciting to focus into this work more and work in partnership with some great organisations and really committed organisations.  Right now, we are delivering:

PAUSE in partnership with Logan Hospital Emergency Department and funded by Brisbane South PHN – PAUSE supports people in the community following a presentation to Logan ED;

Living EDge in partnership with Redland Hospital Emergency Department and EnLighteded Consultants and funded by Queensland Health, Mental Health Alcohol and Other Drugs Branch – Living EDge had developed a pioneering model of support that offers an alternative waiting room for people presenting in suicidal distress at Redland Hospital ED and we are now testing the model in situ.

The Belong, a LGBTQA&I suicide prevention project, in partnership with Bayside Initiatives Group (BIG) and Ash Polzin and funded by Brisbane South PHN – Belong offers a fortnightly group and one-one-one peer support for LGBTQA&I people and training to support he capacity and competence of community organisations and workers in the Brisbane South Region to respond to the unique nature of suicidality in LGBTQ&I communities.

Our NDIS services are mainly Supported Independent Living, one-one-one supports and Support Coordination.

We offer a number of training packages and also external supervision for lived-experience workers.  And we run an annual conference call Dialogue which is a lived-experience workforce conference attended by about 160 people.

How many employees do you have? How many offices, and where are they located?

We have about 70 employees, but we think that will probably be up nearer to 85 in another few months with NDIS growth.  Our main office in Upper Mount Gravatt and our centres are in Highgate Hill, Beenleigh, and Upper Mount Gravatt.  We have a very integrated relationship with Bayside Initiative Group (BIG) and their centre is in the Redlands.

How has your organisation changed over the last few years – and what has driven this change?

Brook RED has changed dramatically over the last few years – we offer more diverse services and we’ve grown considerably – and this can be attributed to policy and funding changes, but also to that fact that we’ve been really active in pushing the envelope of what a lived-experience workforce can do.  We’ve diversified our funding somewhat but also our practice.

Looking forward, what do you see as the main challenges/opportunities for your organisation, and why?

This is a really challenging time for lived-experience work.  On one hand we see the lived-experience workforce being spruiked in just about every metal health document but on the other hand, it doesn’t feel like this is translating into jobs on the ground.  Where we are seeing an increased investment in lived-experience work it is very prescriptive and narrow in scope, which worries me because as an emerging workforce I don’t think any of us yet know what the full potential of lived-experience practice is.  And then, for Brook RED specifically, we are a sort of oddly-sized organisation: too large to have one person who knows everything anymore, but too small to have specialised positions like HR, Finance, Communications, or Compliance… it is a really tricky time where we are stretched as far as we can, but haven’t quite popped over the hump yet.  Funding uncertainly and change has also made it very difficult to anticipate and plan, so we’ve been in state of limbo for quite some time now. 

As for opportunities, changes in the funding and policy environment are destabilising but also bring new doors and the potential for new relationships. 

Tell us something about your organisation that most people wouldn’t know?

Probably everyone’s favourite Brook RED employee is Fonzy, the floppiest and sweetest Golden Retriever of all time.  He often hangs out at our Upper Mount Gravatt Centre and is paid in whatever he manages to nick from the table under our watchful eyes.

Contact Details:
Website – https://www.brookred.org.au/
Twitter – @brookredcentre
Phone – (07) 3343 9282