How biscuit sales funded mental health support for 20,000 people across the UK

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"So as you follow your passion, the doors open, the momentum builds. Don’t take no for an answer, and remember when the first door slams in your face - which it will - there will always be another route. It’s about Positive Minds."

In 2017, Jonny Jacobs helped pioneer the Let's Talk initiative and partnership between biscuit brand McVitie's and mental health charity Mind. The campaign was a huge success, reaching 60 million people in the UK and funding 400 new champions in 8 new Mind hubs across the country. Jonny spoke about his journey and vision for the future as a mental health advocate at the 2019 Summit in London.

Jonny's Story

2 years ago, I was sat right where you are today. This moment you are living right now was the catalyst that helped me find my purpose, and ultimately gave me the confidence to share my story.

I went to Bogota as a finance professional humbled to be representing the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, and 2 years on I can now use my position as an advocate for Mental Health. 

Why Mental Health? I’ll share a story which I haven’t shared widely before. From an early age, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was surrounded by people suffering from mental ill health, whether it was anxiety or suicidal thoughts. I certainly felt the effects it can have on a young person growing up. I could feel other people’s loneliness and discontent, but I just couldn’t put it into words.

Have you ever felt really lonely? Well I have. Sat alone in my bedroom in a small terraced house in Glasgow. I was only 13 when I was thrust into the position of bringing myself up.

A dark shadow started to grow.

You could say that my average week wasn’t what was considered average - I was fitting in my homework around the doing household chores and trying to work out how to use the oven. There was no-one around to just say... “let’s talk”.

So fast forward In early 2017, I was leading Strategy at pladis, the global snacking business that owns the likes of McVitie's, the nation’s favourite biscuit brand in the UK, or as many of you say cookies, signed the Time to Change Pledge which commits to changing the way you approach mental health in the workplace. I naturally gravitated towards the efforts of this Pledge. With the energy I took away from OYW, I thought this was the opportunity and I offered to Lead the Mental Health program.

Our efforts internally really started to move, there was clearly a strong need. We grew the internal Mental Health & Wellbeing Ambassador network from the initial 5 to over 120 of the most incredible leaders across our business.

We called the program Positive Minds and colleagues from around the country started sharing their own personal stories.

Our team of volunteers created a fully integrated awareness campaign across the business with the ambition of fostering an environment to have those tough conversations in times of crisis, and to promote positive mental fitness.

Then, as our credibility grew, we received the budget to provide Mental Health awareness for everyone.

It must be said that none of this was easy.

Convincing the leadership team to put Mental Health on the priority list seemed like a stretch for any organisation. We had set backs, struggled to get buy in, but the energy of the Ambassadors and our leaders, meant we kept finding ways to break down any barriers we faced and find another route.

As we pieced it all together, we just kept coming back to the power of talking. And where better to start a conversation than over a good old cup of English tea - And here in the United Kingdom, there is one thing we are fanatical about...and that is...Tea & Biscuits. And that’s when the latest idea was born: Tea, Talk and Biscuit. A McVitie’s biscuit. In fact, this packet right here!

With the nation’s favourite biscuit brand in our hands, we created an initial tie up with the UK Mental Health Charity Mind launching the initiative Let’s Talk

Within months, we reached 60 million people in the UK. “Let’s Talk, by being kind to your mind with McVitie’s and Mind” was the message that was seen across transport networks, on billboards and in people’s homes. The major Grocers loved it and gave it prime space.

And more importantly, the money raised funded 400 new champions in 8 new Mind hubs this year, reaching over 20k people in face to face sessions.

I stand here today, even more privileged to be a Trustee of the UK Mental Health Foundation, the UK’s leading charity for everyone’s mental health, and an Advisory Board member of Mad World, Europe’s largest Summit for Mental Health.

But I also stand here with memories of that 13 year old boy and representing the millions of young people going through similar experiences. Life could have been in a very different direction for me. And I wish someone might now reach out to that 13 year old boy and asked if he was okay.

And you know what I’ve really learned? Every single person in this room has the power to change the world in some way.

At McVitie’s it was all down to those Ambassadors who put their hands up wanted to be part of the change. So as you follow your passion, the doors open, the momentum builds. Don’t take no for an answer, and remember when the first door slams in the face - which it will - there will always be another route. It’s about Positive Minds.

You can connect with Jonny here.