Islington apprentice shortlisted for two awards opens up about mental health and working through the pandemic

Molly Edlin. Photograph: Islington Council

“We are stronger when we communicate and work together, only then will we be able to truly reach our shared goals,” says Islington apprentice Molly Edlin.

She’s just been shortlisted in the London Councils apprenticeship awards for her role in opening up conversations about mental health and is also a finalist in the Public Services People Managers Association (PPMA) apprentice of the year.

Over the last twelve months she’s helped Islington’s test-and-trace work and promoted mental wellbeing at the council. She organised and hosted online events for mental health week and the Time to Change Islington programme, which attracted audiences of between 70 to 200 staff and volunteers and set up a workplace champions group to support colleagues.

Her work saw her nominated for the best contribution by an apprentice category in the London Councils awards.

Edlin joined Islington Council as an apprentice just as the pandemic struck so has had to navigate the challenges of working remotely.

“It’s a bit tricky moving from face to face to online,” she said.

She joined the chief executive’s office and helped support the council in reaching out to people who tested positive for Covid.

Edlin arranged team meetings, took minutes and set up workshops to help keep the show on the road.

Before joining the council she had worked at the busy Marks and Spencer Marble Arch branch and was keen to put her skills to good use by supporting colleagues facing the tough work and personal challenges Covid posed.

She invited radio presenter Roman Kemp and Islington North  MP Jeremy Corbyn to join online conversations about mental wellbeing at work – something she’d never imagined doing before.

It’s something close to her heart as she’s suffered from anxiety and in the past attitudes have not been very supportive.

She fretted about “things that will never happen, the worst case scenario”, before finding help in tackling it.

“Over the years I have built up a really good tool kit to manage anxiety – meditation, being focused on the moment, calling a friend,” she explained.

“I love spending time in nature, hearing the wind blowing through the trees, it’s my happy place.

“The more conversations we have the easier it will be to talk about it.”

The Time to Change campaign gave staff the chance to talk about mental health issues and support each other through the challenges of Covid.

Edlin hopes things are beginning change at workplaces throughout the country so people don’t feel they have to take time off sick with physical ailments or a cold rather than admit they need to tackle a mental health issue such as stress.

She said: “A lot of people do not feel comfortable calling in sick with a mental health problem. We will see that change when people don’t call in sick with a cold and feel that their organisation is listening.”

Islington Council staff shared their tips for mental wellbeing too. They include calling a colleague to catch up, scheduling time for yourself, perhaps for a relaxing bath or going for a walk or making a gratitude list or taking a break.

The group is embarking on writing stories to reflect on what they’ve learnt and the tools that have helped them.

“I would never have written one before,” said Edlin.

Staff have enjoyed having a positive safe space to listen, be compassionate and be kind, she explained.

They aim to talk about mental health at work during the pandemic – and plan to carry on afterwards.

She said: “My Business Administration Apprenticeship gives me a platform to do what I truly love, which is connecting with people and bringing sunshine into every conversation I have,  by being kind and compassionate, breaking down barriers of communication and joining up work.”

Before she joined the council, Edlin,  who has a five-year-old son, got involved as a parent champion, helping to share information to other parents of children aged two to five.

She said word of mouth was really powerful to spread the message about parenting courses and opportunities like the free 15 hours of childcare.

She was also the parent chair of the early childhood partnership, building links with the council.

When she joined the council, managers built on the skills she already had as a volunteer.

Edlin stressed that apprenticeships are for people of any age, from school leavers to older people looking for a new direction.

“It’s really good for learning on the job and getting paid while you are learning a skill,” said the 37-year-old.

Since completing her apprenticeship she’s been promoted and is soon starting a new job as an equality and events manager.

Apprentices also spend one day a week at college working towards qualifications as well as doing on-the-job training.

She said: “Be really positive about it, as apprenticeships are an excellent way to learn skills and you get a qualification at the end of it.

“Apprentices work really hard and they add so much value to an organisation. [Islington] is so supportive of apprentices and they are very well supported as an organisation.

“For me it means the world to be acknowledged. I want my personal legacy to empower people to achieve their potential in life.”

Visit the council’s website to discover more about one-year apprenticeships here.