Department for Transport – Spotlight on Mental Health Safe Space Initiative

The Department for Transport (DoT) plan and invest in transport infrastructure to keep the UK on the move.

They work with agencies and partners to both develop and support UK transport infrastructure, with the aim of maintaining an efficient network that supports the UK’s businesses, people, goods, and services operating in and around the country.

In 2021, they employed around 18,245 staff and 354 non-payroll staff, who worked in locations across the country. 


Within the organisation, Black men did not feel like there was a safe space to discuss their wellbeing and mental health issues. This led to many Black men suffering and feeling isolated. In some cases, this reduced their productivity and self-esteem.

There was a distinct lack of Black males trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and as fair treatment ambassadors. When Black men did seek out support, they were unlikely to meet a fellow Black person.

Black men remained underrepresented in leadership positions. Specifically, they did not have any Black male senior leaders.

Innovative actions

A group of Black male employees came together and created a wellbeing support group called the Barbershop. This forum provides a safe space to check in with others, guiding members through any challenges they may face in the workplace as well in their personal lives.

Through targeted mentoring, members of the Barbershop can receive guidance from experienced colleagues in senior management positions. Representatives from the Barbershop influence the organisation’s strategy and decision making (for example, through their involvement in the people’s committee).

Evidence of impact

The Barbershop was designed to give members an intimate space to discuss wellbeing with the aim of improving mental health and providing emotional and developmental support for all members.

The Barbershop was created as a proactive response to the tragic death of George Floyd. Its purpose was to allow those who felt silenced to have a voice. It also helped members cope with the reality of racism and examine how it intersected in the workplace.

The forum established a place within the Barbershop for members to become Mental Health First Aiders. They could develop their expertise in wellbeing and mental health to be available to provide immediate support to members when necessary. The Barbershop also plans to partner with external Black wellbeing and mental health programmes to provide support to members.

In addition to improved wellbeing, seven members of the forum were promoted, following developmental support facilitated by the Barbershop. The wellbeing sessions have been critical to ensuring that members feel represented and are able to bring their authentic selves to work. They have also helped members address other aspects of the workplace, from promotional opportunities to dispute resolution to networking.

The creation of a wellbeing support space for this group, particularly through a challenging period during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been highly innovative and successful in driving equality of opportunity.

The information contained within this resource was accurate at the time of its publication and subsequent revision. This article was created in 2021 and revised in April 2022.

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