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September 15, 2010

Local pressure leads to new services

Much progress has been made in recent years towards removing some of the stigma attached to mental health but there is always more to be done. Edinburgh Tenants Federation, have just scooped a national award for their work in highlighting gaps in mental health services – particularly for high rise tenants.
ETF’s campaign was sparked by the tragic deaths of two young people and has led to a whole range of new services being established across the city

Edinburgh Tenants Federation (ETF) is the umbrella organisation for tenants and residents groups in Edinburgh and a Registered Tenants Organisation (RTO). In June 2010, Edinburgh Tenants Federation won the nationally acclaimed Frances Nelson Award for its pioneering work with City of Edinburgh Council to improve services for tenants with mental health difficulties in high rise blocks.

This work was also highlighted as a good practice example in customer excellence on the Cabinet Office website (

The judges unanimously decided that Edinburgh Tenants Federation was the well-deserved winner in the umbrella tenants’ organisation category and were impressed by the Federation setting its own agenda, tackling a taboo subject and achieving change within City of Edinburgh Council to deal with such a difficult issue.

Betty Stevenson, Convenor of ETF was delighted with the Award, and commented “It’s a great honour to be rewarded for the hard work we’ve put in in getting the group to where it is. And it was the icing on the cake after getting recognition on the Cabinet Office website. This is a real boost for ETF in our 20th Anniversary year and shows that tenant participation really can deliver change in services.”

The Frances Nelson Award is a national good practice award in tenant participation run by the Tenants Information Service ( in memory of Frances Nelson, a tenant activist from Dundee who passed away last year.
Edinburgh Tenants Federation is proud to share our work on influencing services for tenants with mental health issues.

Betty Stevenson, Convenor of ETF explains why… “A young man hanged himself from his balcony with a washing rope on a Sunday afternoon in full view of children playing below. Tragically, the onsite concierge had no contact details for the man’s next of kin, as the local housing office was closed. It was Monday before staff had any information about the man or his family circumstances.”

“Two passers-by witnessed the death of a tragic young mum as she jumped from a multi storey block window in full view of her child who was left alone in the house. When emergency services were contacted, the operator asked the Concierge Manager to establish whether the young woman was dead. ” 

These are just two examples of the tragic incidents which front line staff all too often have to face, and highlights the need for support for both vulnerable residents and staff in multi storey blocks.

              Following the tragic suicides, the Convenor of ETF, launched a campaign for better mental health services for tenants in high rises, and for improved support for concierges and frontline staff.

It took two years for the Council to agree to establishing a Mental Health Awareness Group (MHAG), but ETF wouldn’t give up. Bringing partner organisations on board was a first step. Tenants made sure the right experts, with the right level of decision making authority from a range of specialist agencies, the NHS and different departments from the Council came on board.

Tenants made sure that the starting point for discussions was the perspective of the people affected by the tragedy of suicide. What is it like to feel so low that you want to end your life? What is it like for neighbours and young children to witness a suicide? How does it feel being the concierge and being asked to establish if a young woman is dead with no preparation or training?

Most importantly, tenants asked what can be done to change the ways services are delivered to:
–  prevent suicide
– recognise the needs of and support tenants with mental health difficulties
– and ensure staff are equipped to deal with the tragedy if it ever happens again.

Now, two years on, the initial questioning by tenants has delivered real results.
Here are just a few:
• Practically, processes have been changed; concierge staff have an emergency next of kin contact number for every tenant in case of future incidents
• The Mental Health Awareness Group is now a successful multi-agency group leading the field of mental health awareness in Scotland
• 200 front line Council staff have been trained in Safe Talk (to help identify mental health issues and point tenants to support services)
• Applied Suicide Intervention Skills (ASIST) training has been delivered to selected ETF members and frontline Council staff (to provide immediate help to tenants displaying suicidal tendencies)
• Direct links have been established to specialist NHS staff
• Mental Health awareness campaign launched
• Mental Health Forums established
• Breathing Space and Samaritans key fobs issued to every City of Edinburgh Council tenant in high rise blocks. 

The approach ETF took has been recognised by the Cabinet Office as a Customer Service Excellence Good Practice Case Study and by City of Edinburgh Council’s Health and Social Care Committee as ‘groundbreaking’. But what is more important is that our work has made real changes to the lives of vulnerable tenants, and was led by tenants.
Contact us
If you would like to contact Edinburgh Tenants Federation about this case study, we would love to hear from you.

Edinburgh Tenants Federation
Norton Park
57 Albion Road

Tel: 0131 475 2509