Thank you to everyone who attended our Embracing Diversity webinar in support of World Mental Health Day. 

At the heart of our discussion lies a profound belief mental health is a basic human right in the workplace.

We shed light on why this essential right is non-negotiable. Mental health isn't a luxury; it's a fundamental aspect of our well-being, just as critical as our physical health.

As thought leaders, it's our responsibility to cultivate workplaces where mental health is not just acknowledged but safeguarded. In this transformative webinar, we were joined by leaders from St John Ambulance who delved into the multifaceted challenges faced by our diverse workforce and discussed some of the protocols and support that can be implemented.

This year's theme

World Mental Health Day (10th October 2023) theme is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’.

Together, we explored how diversity challenges have a profound impact on mental health. Our aim was to empower employers with the knowledge and tools needed to support their employees across a diverse spectrum, embracing and celebrating diversity in all its forms, including neurodiversity, sexual orientation, culture, and ethnicity. Watch our webinar to be part of a vital conversation that can reshape workplaces for the better and help us champion Mental Health as a Basic Human Right in the Workplace. By participating you are showing a commitment to a brighter, more inclusive future.

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Deborah Ayris

Deborah Ayris  (She/her)

Head of Mental Health Training, St John Ambulance

Deborah's career spans working within the NHS, the care sector, and education. She has worked for SJA for nearly 9 years, heading up the mental health and wellbeing training and delivery for the past 4 ½ years. Her role encompasses responsibility for product development and delivery, contributing to our organisational Mental Health Strategy, and acting as a subject specialist advisor to customers.

She has many reasons for being interested in Mental Health and well-being, not least having an almost lifelong lived experience of poor mental episodes but she has seen how good education around mental health and well-being, and good management of individuals who do experience poor mental health can help someone thrive and achieve success with the proper support in place.



Kal Parkash

Kal Parkash (She/her)

Head of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, St John Ambulance

Kalpna’s role is to cultivate a culture of inclusion and compassion, one which values and respects diversity and all St John People and the communities we serve have a shared sense of belonging and fair and equal access to our services and support.

She is CIPD qualified and has worked in this field for many years. Her most recent role was with the NHS and previous roles have been within Policing, Local Authority and the Ministry of Defence.

Kalpna is also a Trustee Director with Energise Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, a local charity that works collaboratively with local and national partners to create the conditions for an active nation using the power of sport and physical activity to transform lives.

Her firm belief is that every one of us has a critical role in embedding equity, diversity and inclusion and to stand shoulder to shoulder with our most marginalised and vulnerable communities, being compassionate and kind at all times. It is important that we all feel safe and able to be our authentic selves at all times.



George Woods

Dr George Woods (He/him)


Chief Business Officer, St John Ambulance

George joined St John as Chief Business Officer in December 2020. His role involves leading the Education and Enterprise Network, while focussing on all our commercial activity as a charity. He lead the Training Operations, Education & Products, Sales Marketing & Business Development, Supplies, Events and Customer Services teams.

Before joining St John, George was the Chief Executive Officer of St John Ambulance in South Africa. He has a well-developed track record in humanitarian aid development whilst also having served as a Digital Transformation Executive for several blue-chip companies in both South Africa and the United Kingdom. He has also taught and tutored for several years at two universities in South Africa and, more recently, as a guest lecturer at the India School of Business in Hyderabad.

George is here because his twin life passions of adding exceptional value and leaving a lasting, positive legacy by continuously applying my commercial, entrepreneurial, networking and strategic management skills in professional practice across the globe. He has been a volunteer with St John for a number of years and continues to do so within St John Ambulance in England. He is currently finalising his Doctorate in Post-Pandemic Business Recovery models.



Paul Vernon

Paul Vernon (He/him)

National Training Manager for Mental Health & Wellbeing, St John Ambulance

A career spanning two decades in education with almost a decade in construction including running a multi-award-winning social enterprise construction company, in the areas of corporate social responsibility and economic regeneration and lecturing on standards and employee wellbeing internationally.

Paul's role as national training manager for Mental Health and Wellbeing allows him to be part of something that makes a difference to people and sectors and helps highlight the importance, of creating a positive workplace environment for mental health.




Lisa Sharman

Lisa Sharman (She/her)

Head of Education, St John Ambulance

Lisa possesses a depth of experience in education, a former head teacher, special educational needs coordinator and regional safeguarding lead. Based in the Southwest, her significant contributions to Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Education have left a positive imprint on both mainstream and special education settings. Amidst a global pandemic, her leadership was instrumental in achieving marked improvements within a national multi-academy trust.

A steadfast belief anchors Lisa: every individual deserves unimpeded access to education. This principle has guided her professional journey, and through collaborations with diverse organisations, Lisa has championed inclusive educational practices. Her dedication is particularly evident in her efforts to bridge the gap for those who face challenges accessing educational opportunities.

In her role as the Head of Education at St John Ambulance, Lisa's vision resonates with the charity's esteemed legacy of community service and education. She is committed to fostering an environment where all learners, irrespective of their background, are empowered to achieve.




Paul Evans

Paul Evans (He/him)

Director of Youth & Education, St John Ambulance

Paul is the Director of Youth & Education at St John Ambulance. He has a professional background in Young Peoples' services, Sport for Development, Mental Health, Homelessness, Education, and Employability Provision, combined with a successful career in the Private Sector.

Previous roles include CEO of youth employment charity LTSB, CEO of UFA an education and youth charity and Managing Director at sport for employability charity Street League.

He believes in a world where all young people can flourish, regardless of their background. The golden thread of his career has been working with people who are often vulnerable, face exclusion and sometimes just help to get back on track with their lives. He holds a First Class Honours Degree in Business and Management, a Diploma in Psychotherapy and qualified to Level 4 as a Teacher of Further Education.

He is currently studying for a postgraduate qualification in Strategic Leadership and Management. In 2009 he was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and is proud to hold full membership of the Chartered Management Institute (MCMI).

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