2023 wellbeing journey: Manchester City of Sanctuary

Written by Liz Hibberd, Strategic and Partnership Lead at Manchester City of Sanctuary

December 1, 2023
5 min read
Photo of a hand writing on a notebook

Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

Looking back over 2023...

What did you do to understand team wellbeing?

We undertook a staff survey and collated the responses. 

We had several discussions with the workforce to understand the key concerns and issues.

We identified the current work beliefs that existed and how they impacted the work culture.

Current work beliefs that link to the key challenges:

We need to respond immediately to emails and messages and say yes to a lot of things because we think:

  • People need us
  • We need to demonstrate that we are necessary and we have a place in the sector
  • That our services are important and warrant continued funding
  • We can’t say no because we don’t know what we should be saying yes to and we don’t know where to focus our time and energy
  • It’s validating

We’ve heard volunteers and facilitators comment on how manic and chaotic some of our sessions are - it’s always that the event was positive BUT very hectic.

At some sessions, people come and talk to us saying, ‘I know you’re busy, I’m sorry to disturb you’ - this doesn’t feel positive.

The impact of this:

  • Lack of clarity on work being done and why
  • No structure 
  • Nothing actually gets done
  • We react immediately but get no time to think and plan ahead
  • Increased feeling of overwhelm 
  • Hard to implement and stick to boundaries
  • Nothing changes and we keep doing what we’ve always done as we don’t stop and reflect
  • Wellbeing is impacted negatively
  • Hard to grow or deliver meaningful activities, programmes or connections in this state
  • Burnout is likely

What was put in place to improve wellbeing?

We came up with the following goals:

  • Create a calmer culture where our objectives and organisational aims and values drive our work.
  • Create a work culture where boundaries are encouraged and respected, where considered responses and actions are preferred.
  • Clarity around organisational aims and objectives with focus on certain outcomes and markers so that we can work in a directed and purposeful manner.
  • Recognise the inherent exhaustion and overwhelm of working in this toxic environment and put in place strategies that encourage collective and self care.

Why these goals?

Working more slowly and intentionally creates a calmer and more considered work environment. It allows for single tasking on pieces of work, it reduces the reactionary nature of this work, allowing time to think forward and to also reflect. It can also create opportunities for the people we work with to become self reliant and empowered. 

Clearly focusing on objectives gives clarity of purpose which will allow us to know what to say yes to and what to say no to. This will invariably allow us to give more focus and attention to that work, ensuring that it is done to a higher standard. More structure and focus removes the chaos and stress creating an environment where positive wellbeing is able to flourish.

Collective and self care is needed to allow staff to know what works for them best in order for them to feel safe and well in this work.

What this looks like:

  • A meaningful long-term strategy with clear goals and objectives.
  • Annual objectives that form the basis of a work plan. Specific areas allocated to staff who plan the work to achieve objectives.
  • Quarterly reporting on objectives to give focus and highlight areas where support is needed.
  • 1-2-1s and supervision.
  • Trust from trustees and management that staff can manage their time and workload effectively along with regular contact to offer support and structure.
  • Flexible working so that staff can work in a way that makes them feel and do their best.


  • Work with trustees to write and sign off 3 year strategy
  • Plan next year’s aims and objectives
  • Create work plans for staff members
  • Schedule 6 weekly 1-2-1s and catch ups
  • Implement 2 wellbeing days for staff per year and birthday off
  • Create flexible working policy
  • Work on creating and modelling boundaries and stick to them (take lunch breaks, switch off phone)
  • Communicate these changes at a wider level (within sector and with CoS UK
  • Put the systems in place that allow this to happen

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Behaviours and actions we advise going forward:

  • Email signature explaining your work pattern and when people can expect to hear back from you (for example, “Mornings are my focused working time. I will check and respond to emails and calls in the afternoon”).
  • When sending information via whatsapp there will likely be a surge of responses that can be stressful. We advise turning the sound off and explaining how you will respond (for example, “I am sending this message now for information - I will answer questions about this between 3-5pm”).
  • Plan working hours for the following week before the end of the current week, taking into account any meeting, events or activities that might mean you work a longer day and adjust following day’s hours - TOIL is given but ideally approved before accrued.
  • Turning the work phone off and not checking when not at work.
  • Encourage one full day with no meetings in order for deep thinking work to take place.
  • Staff can take holidays in two week blocks in order to allow them to fully switch off - please look to ensure that service provision can carry on whilst you are away (5 days holiday can be carried over to the next calendar year).

Has this had any impact? If so, what was it?

This hasn’t really had time to embed yet across the organisation, but the impact of the actions I implemented over the summer period in which this project took place have been very positive.

I have worked hard to focus on 2 main things:

  • Having one meeting free day
  • Doing focused work in the morning and not checking emails and messages until the afternoon

By experimenting with these two actions, I’ve been able to see the impact of having time to focus on a single task and explore how that allowed me to work. The clear feedback is that it made a massive difference. I am much more likely to complete tasks in a thorough way and the overwhelmed and panicked feeling has definitely reduced. I feel like I am more able to manage my workload and actually achieve something each day. That said it’s taken a while to get this embedded and it doesn’t always work but now I know the impact, I’m more likely to try and prioritise this way of working. Another key takeaway from this is that nothing terrible happened while I wasn’t checking my emails or phone! Which is another reason to keep working in this way.

What would you like to do in 2024? 

I want to ensure that our other staff member and our new recruit feel able to put boundaries in place that allow them to work in a way that is most beneficial to them. I want to formalise and prioritise the check ins and 1-2-1s so that they both feel supported and that any issues are raised quickly before they become too problematic.

What practical advice would you give to others looking to improve team wellbeing?

1. Start small

It’s surprising the impact that small changes can have on yourself and those around you. It can feel overwhelming thinking about changing work culture often by yourself, but small, meaningful changes will have a positive impact. Try ensuring that lunch breaks are taken and see what improvements that brings.

2. Model what you want to see

It took me a while to recognise that I was being a problem! I couldn’t expect other work colleagues to take their lunch break if I didn’t.

3. Understand the why

Knowing why you want to make these changes and what the barriers are really help you focus your thinking.