Good Business: Michael Harris, The Integrate Movement

The Integrate Movement is helping facilities such as schools and housing associations take a mental health-led approach, so that excluded people get the help they need. Nicola Slawson talks to former city accountant Michael Harris about creating this service

The Good Business column catches up with people who are leading social change. It is created in collaboration with Impact Hub Islington, a co-working and business incubation space in London for socially-minded entrepreneurs.

Positive News: Hi Michael, tell us about the Integrate Movement

Michael: The Integrate Movement is changing the way services work so excluded young people get the help they need whenever and wherever they need it.

Together with young people – who we describe as being ‘experts by experience’ – we are designing and delivering workshops for frontline workers who regularly come into contact with vulnerable young adults.

These workshops, which we call Labs, will help services that are traditionally non-mental health focused, such as prisons, the probation service, hostels, schools, housing associations and job centres, take a mental health approach in the way they do their work. We want to build the capacity of these frontline workers to enable them to have therapeutic conversations with young people.

Where did the idea come from?

We are the sister social enterprise of Mac UK. Mac UK are trying to transform the way mental health services work for excluded young people who get caught up in serious youth violence and gangs. They came up with this groundbreaking innovation over the last six or seven years where they’ve brought mental health services to the streets.

They brought together partners from across a particular local area, so for instance in Camden in London they’ve got together with the local council and the local NHS trusts and have built grassroots projects with local young people.

They decided they wanted to share what they had learnt but without growing Mac UK, so the idea was to create a separate social enterprise in order to do this.

How did you get involved?

I’m actually a chartered accountant on sabbatical from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). I’m also the co-founder and chair of a social enterprise called Beyond Me, which inspires young professionals in their current roles to be more generous with their time, money and skills.

My bosses at PwC are really supportive of me having a sabbatical and what I’m doing with it. I’m learning a huge amount so it’s like career development for me.

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What’s been the biggest challenge for you?

The biggest shock has been transitioning from the private to the social sector. I’m learning about how difficult the sector can be, for example how tight the funding is.

At the same time I’ve learnt a great deal. There are some fantastic organisations and people out there who are being really innovative and radical in their approach, which is exactly what’s really needed.

Who are your competitors?

Good question. There are some organisations out there that are helping frontline workers identify mental health needs but what we are explicit on, and what we know needs to change, is that frontline workers don’t just need to know how to identify and refer but need to be able to deal with low-level mental health needs themselves. This is crucial because most mental health services for young people are at capacity and waiting lists are huge, so people are just falling through the gaps.

Do you have advice for any other entrepreneurs who have big ambitions?

Get your idea out there as soon as possible and start getting feedback. Don’t hold it all in your head; talk to as many people as possible. At the same time, while it’s important to share, don’t try to get as much consensus as you can – just start testing it and be comfortable making mistakes. Be open and honest with people about problems so they can help you find a solution. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to help you.