In the first of our ‘Meet the team’ series we hear from Hana Villar, Clinical Director at City and Hackney Mind. Finding out about her background, how she came to work at City and Hackney Mind, what she sees as the biggest achievements and challenges and her top tip to others within the not for profit sector.


1.    Tell us a bit about your background/how you came to work at City and Hackney Mind 

After marrying my British husband we moved to the UK from San Francisco in late 2008. 

Prior to moving to the UK, I worked as a Director for 10 years with a progressive organisation in San Francisco that campaigned to de-institutionalise mental health services and intensively helped people with lived experience of mental distress in peaceful community residential settings. Being a part of this organisation allowed me to specialise in evidence-based talking therapies for people with complex trauma and severe mental health issues.  This organisation developed a Social Rehabilitation model of treatment which emphasised social justice, empowerment and building self-reliance to sustain mental wellbeing.  The approach was highly effective in helping people to recover a sense of self worth and build meaningful engagement within the community. 

When I moved to the UK I was unsure whether I would find a similar forward thinking organisation whose ethos supported the social model of mental health rather than a medicalised model where people are labeled with unhelpful diagnoses by ‘experts’ and treated primarily with medication. 

I was very fortunate to come across City and Hackney Mind. I met with Krishna Maharaj, CEO at City and Hackney Mind who is a visionary and supports innovation and excellence. Rather than seeing my lack of work experience within the UK, he saw the decade of experience I obtained in San Francisco and the fresh perspective that it could provide. 

I started working for City and Hackney Mind shortly after arriving in the UK and I am still as motivated and passionate about working here as I felt on my first day!


2.    What does your role within City and Hackney Mind entail? 

My role has evolved several times over the past 6 years in order to respond to evolving needs.  My first role at City and Hackney Mind was leading the psychological therapies department. (Back in 2009 City and Hackney Mind was divided into separate departments). 

The result of this ‘department’ approach meant that teams weren’t working in a coordinated way and there was a lack of a holistic approach to supporting our clients. Shortly after starting with City and Hackney Mind, my role expanded to support collaboration across departments to address this issue. To capitalize on my MSc in psychological research, our CEO suggested I expand my role again to take responsibility for the quality and continuous evaluation of service provision. 

City and Hackney Mind soon began moving toward an evidence-based approach rather than us working on instinct alone or out of habit. I worked closely with staff to learn and adopt modern psychotherapeutic techniques and to engage in academic research to evaluate recovery outcomes, client satisfaction of our services and client goal attainment.

Next, I was asked to use my background from the US to bring a more focused ‘business mentality’ to win new business and expand our work to include young people, older people, families and people with learning disabilities. Through improving our credibility and reputation, and developing partnerships, we were able to strategically target and win new grants and contracts across a wide range of disciplines such as employment, advocacy, mindfulness and talking therapies.

The emphasis on business development was driven by necessity due to the economic downturn, with rolling grants moving to difficult and competitive tendering processes.  In order to survive and to ensure that we retained high-quality services for vulnerable and disadvantaged people, we had to develop robust business and delivery models to illustrate our expertise, social impact, value for money, and leadership skills  This preparatory work put us in a strong position to not only survive, but thrive, in times of economic austerity.  


3.   What are you most proud of the City and Hackney Mind team achieving? 

There are many things that I’m proud of the City and Hackney Mind team for achieving during these challenging times: 

  • We have been able to improve service quality despite the financial stressors we have faced.
  • Despite a new ‘target driven’ culture where we have to show high output, we have maintained high quality, reached more people, and been able to evidence positive client outcomes.
  • The results of independent reports and audits illustrating our positive Social Return on Investment (SROI). An example of this is a report that Bristol University published showing that for every £1 invested in City and Hackney Mind we produce £6.07 in positive impact to clients and the wider society.
  • The amazing results we have achieved in terms of ‘mindfulness’ therapies. Our academic research with City University demonstrated that our programmes have improved stress levels, sleep, distress, anxiety and depression.  We also carried out neuroscience research into mindfulness, showing that our clients’ attentional control and self-awareness improved as well as their overall mental wellbeing.
  • Working with a team that is highly motivated, talented and who put clients at the heart of everything they do. 


4.    What do you see as the biggest challenges for City and Hackney Mind in the coming year? 

There will be several challenges we will face over the coming year including: 

  • Continuing the successful delivery of very complicated contracts where we are the prime contractor.
  • Ensuring we provide meaningful and helpful services despite very serious contractions in resources for mental health services over the next 3-5 years

Alongside all of this it is vital that we retain the Mind ethos and approach and that we retain our independence and integrity. 


5.   What are you most looking forward to in the coming year? 

As you’ve probably realised, there is a great deal of exciting activity going on here at City and Hackney Mind. I think two things that I’m most looking forward to in the coming year are: 

  • The possibility of helping to set up a much-needed Mind in Waltham Forest. We’ve developed some innovative services for young people in that area and we’re steadily working on developing partnerships and adapting what we have delivered and learned in Hackney to suit Waltham Forest
  • Developing our mindfulness therapies for people who would not even consider using mental health services. This is more focused on prevention and early intervention and working more closely with local GP surgeries to improve both the physical and mental wellbeing of families and local communities.


6.   What drives you? 

I absolutely love working with clients – it’s one of the most fulfilling things someone can do in life (in terms of profession) and I view my job as a real privilege. 

What drives me is helping people in crisis or who are suffering to improve the quality of their lives. I’m also fortunate to be able to work creatively with clients. Having worked within the NHS, I appreciate the dynamism, flexibility and creativity afforded by the voluntary sector. 


7.    What would be your top tip to others working within the not for profit sector?

The most useful tip I can offer is ‘Don’t resist change’. It has to be accepted and embraced, even when things can seem unfair in terms of reductions in funding and services. Here at City and Hackney Mind we’ve radically reviewed our business model to ensure it is sustainable and maintains high-quality provision for the largest number of people.   

Establish your unit cost to ensure that it is competitive but does not compromise on quality. Be creative. Develop evidenced ways of working so that you can show quality and impact to potential funders and commissioners.  It is advantageous to partner with larger organisations that share your ethos and that will offer you advice, technological support and capacity-building. This may help you retain resourcing in an era which is very competitive and, where available funding is less than ever before.  This approach helped City and Hackney Mind grow from a typically small Mind association to the 6th largest about 5 years ago, and finally to the 3rd largest in England and Wales today.