Interview with charity founder Johnny Latham

Interview with charity founder Johnny Latham

Johnny Latham (2015, Continuing Education) is the co-founder of One-Eighty, a psychology behaviour support charity for children, young people and families. He has recently completed his research Masters at St Catz in applying cognitive behavioural therapies to families with complex needs. He shares the story of his childhood, why he founded One-Eighty and how he came to win the Vice Chancellor’s Social Impact Award.


What is One-Eighty all about?

One-Eighty is a psychology behaviour support service. Any young person aged four to 18, and their family, can receive support from us if they are identified as struggling in their school, family or community. This might manifest as struggling behaviourally, emotionally or socially, or as an emerging learning difficulty. We do an assessment to identify what the struggles are and then put in a plan of what they need. We’re quite intensive – over a period of six to 12 weeks we usually see our clients twice a week, individually and also as a family. Three caseworkers are assigned to each family to make sure we are able to apply all the necessary skill sets to them. It’s very different to what they get through the normal avenue of children’s mental health services in the NHS. As we’re a charity it allows us to really spend time exploring the issues and making it a sustainable change. Plus, it’s not just therapy, they can get tutoring and other skills through our service – anything we think the family needs to help them turn things around.


What are some of the challenges that young people you work with face?

Things have changed so much in the last few decades. Young people these days are exposed to all sorts of stimuli and face social pressures that didn’t exist for those in the previous generation. There are lots of unforeseen side effects of these which require a different, innovative approach. We interact with social services, who are appreciative for the work we do – their caseload is so high. For some families we look a lot like social workers, but in reality we are much more. Social workers tend to only be able to support through monitoring and intervening if something happens. We are there to resolve things before they develop.


What makes One-Eighty unique?

As far as we know, through the statistics released each year, the work we do we has the highest success rate in the south east. In 2015 we won an award for our cutting-edge approach into integrating cognitive behavioural therapy into family work. That means 70 per cent of those who come through our service see change, and for most it is sustainable change which we see over two years. We believe that we may be the most effective family provision service in the country – but it’s hard to make a statement like that when not every service produces statistics measuring their success.


We’re limited to working in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and West London because of funding. The grants and donations we receive usually only give funding for short-term projects, and so this means we can’t do much planning with regards to future growth. Ideally we would like more support towards our longer-term cases and development.


Why did you set One-Eighty up?

When I was younger you could have described me as one of the young people who we aim to support now. I remember being quite a moody child, who didn’t have lots of positive social interactions, as well as uncontrollable hyperactivity. These behaviours pretty much masked everything else going on underneath. I didn’t have a bad childhood, and my parents did want to do the right things, but I don’t think they knew what to do to help.


I wasn’t a criminal, but I did have behavioural management problems that could have led toward criminality. I was fortunate that I had some help, but if that had not have happened then I doubt anyone would have seen the resilient and academic potential in me that would have enabled me to eventually study at Oxford. I had an NHS psychiatrist, and she gave me a lot more time than she should have. I’ve since spoken with her to thank her for all her support, and she has acknowledged that there aren’t enough resources any more to do this kind of intense work, and that’s why charities like ours are so important. But my own  experiences have enabled me to see that, no matter how complicated the behaviours are or what the challenges might be, there is always a seed of greatness in everyone, even if it hasn’t bloomed yet. That’s what has driven me on.


I did some volunteering with the youth offending service and I realised that there were a lot of well-meaning people, many of whom had training. But when I asked what their ‘formula’ was for changing the lives of those they worked with they quite often replied that they ‘play it by ear’. They were skilfully pulling their experience together to try and help the young people, but they didn’t have any plan of where to get to or how to get there once they thought about it


Six years ago I started One-Eighty to work out if there is a formula for changing behaviour. There’s lots of research out there, but it hasn’t had chance to be applied. What it says is that everyone comes to a point in their lives where they face a situation and, either consciously or unconsciously, they do some mental maths and ask ‘is this going to benefit me?’.

So often those young people who are choosing which path to take haven’t seen the bigger picture, or have no awareness of there even being a bigger picture! And lots of people just look at their behaviour, and don’t take into account the rationale behind it. That’s what we are about – that’s the key for us.


Do you want to increase the scope of what you’re doing?

It costs us about £250,000 to run a service, and we’ve got three at the moment in Buckinghamshire, West London and Oxfordshire. Each year we need to find the funds to keep those going. We sometimes get so preoccupied with that that we don’t have the capacity to think about whether other parts of the country need services like this. It needs people who have passion in this area, and those who want to support it in order for it to grow. We’ve got 16 people working for us, most of them part-time. We’ve got about 20 volunteers on top of our staff who are trained up to deliver our services, but they have to buy in to what we are about, our methods and ethos. Our team includes therapists, teachers and social workers – it’s a broad mix which means we can work out what our young people need and give it to them. If we can grow that then that would be great.


Your work has earned you the Vice Chancellor’s Social Impact Award. What’s that like?

I was nominated by someone in the service and then I was invited for an interview, which was quite tough because obviously they wanted to be absolutely sure we were doing what we said we were! It was a bit of a surprise! I won the award and it was presented by the Vice Chancellor during a ceremony at the Blavatnik School of Government. So that was nice! It happened very quickly – you’re whisked to the front, they talk to you for a bit and then you’re whisked back down again. It’s only afterwards that I’ve had chance to savour the moment and let it sink in.


One final question, why One-Eighty?

Simple. We’re about helping turn people’s lives around – 180°. We nearly called it Three-Sixty, but then you’re just facing in the same direction. Thankfully we spotted that!