Monday, 15 January 2018

Back to the Floor: Katie Blackburn, Powys Community Health Council at Newtown Community Mental Health Team

Katie Blackburn (top left) with Newtown Community Mental Health team
In August last year I observed Superintendent Jon Cummins go Back to the Floor at the mental health inpatient unit in Powys, Felindre Ward, and wrote about the idea behind the activity and Jon’s experience on this blog. Put simply the concept is that Chief Officers, Service Directors and other high-level staff have the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a member of staff at the operational end of a service. This gives them the opportunity to find out what is really happening on the ground, and what consequences strategic decision-making can have on people who are in receipt of a service.

In late 2018 I was pleased to observe Katie Blackburn, the Chief Officer of Powys Community Health Council, go Back to the Floor at Newtown’s Community Mental Health Team. The county CHC is the “Healthcare Watchdog for Powys - an independent statutory organisation that represents the interests of patients and the public in the National Health Service in Powys”. Katie has been in post since January 2017.

Lauraine Hamer, Senior Practitioner AMHP (Approved Mental Health Professional) at the CMHT, met us at the start of the morning with details of what she had planned for Katie’s visit. This included chance to find out more about her work and that of her colleagues, plus an opportunity to join a Multi-Disciplinary Team meeting and also to accompany a Community Psychiatric Nurse on a visit to a client. In the event we had to stay flexible as circumstances changed throughout the morning… but such is life at a busy mental health service.

Before the visit: Katie’s view

I had no idea about the work of this particular CMHT in Newtown before my visit. From my previous life, I have an understanding of the roles of CPNs and social workers. I was CEO of a drug and alcohol charity and mental health is an issue there. To a lesser extent with The Prince’s Trust, I was working with vulnerable young people in the care system.

I was very keen to shadow and meet the team and listen. I felt that perhaps I could ask questions that other people were perhaps uncomfortable asking.

The key barrier I am aware of – which I know of from my domestic abuse background – is that whilst aspiring to put individual people at the heart in reality individuals are often bounced from pillar to post. For example, they might have to continually provide their national insurance number, or relate details of stressful events to different people. The journey should be (and could be) much smoother and easier. Sometimes we need to make a decision there and then, which might not fit in with governance and procedure. For example, the question of who pays to get people from A to B often comes up. If there is an individual who needs to be transferred from Brecon to Nottingham……who pays? Agencies can become tied up in which budget is paying for this journey and can lose sight of the individual’s needs.

When it comes to strategic issues, I am not aware of any recent changes within the CMHT, but, I am aware of, and have been involved with the development of the Health & Care Strategy and the intention to align health and social care in Powys. It will be nice to see the operational impact of that.

I am conscious that services are very stretched because of pressures on staff and budgets, and that things can sometimes become more complex and complicated than they need to be.

I hope that Powys’ Health & Social Care Strategy will bring change – whilst recognising that not everyone likes change; there is a risk of unsettling an already stretched workforce.

There will undoubtedly be a growing use of digitisation going forward – however, it’s about putting the individual first. With regard to a future workforce we need to identify what skills Powys needs.

Lauraine Hamer and Katie Blackburn
Back to the Floor exercise

Lauraine is an extremely experienced and knowledgeable Senior Practitioner, and was able to give Katie a very thorough grounding in the work of the team at Newtown CMHT. At the MDT meeting we met CPNs, members of the North Powys Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team, Admin staff, a trainee AMHP, Social Workers, and a Support, Time and Recovery (STR) worker. Later we learnt more about the Accredited Accommodation Scheme* from the Co-ordinator Wendy Laws, and Katie spoke to Dr Fran Foster, a Consultant Psychiatrist.

Unfortunately, we were unable to shadow CPN Kelle Hall on a home visit to a client. This was due to a last minute change in the person’s circumstances.

After the visit: Katie’s view

When deciding whether my understanding of what the services does is correct, I think “no” is the simple answer. There were elements of it that I knew, however, other elements were new to me. Staff in the MDT meeting worked co-operatively very well together. Particularly when sharing information - the team focussed on the needs of the individual rather than their specific jobs.

The “seeing is believing” approach is very important. It would have been nice to sit in on a visit with an individual using services, but I understand the issues around confidentiality and the vulnerable lives people lead.

My main observation is that the people in this team are doing the best they can in the circumstances. There is clearly an issue around staff capacity. Other obvious issues include – cross-border, cross-boundary provision and the lack of in-county beds for people. In the MDT meeting, the real focus was on the discussion of high-end/vulnerable situations and not on the preventative side of the service. I wonder if there is an opportunity for reflection and discussion on what might have prevented a specific situation and what changes could be made in the future (if any)?

Staff are very much dealing in the here and now. They are not looking at people’s pasts or where they might be in five years’ time. I wonder - is there an opportunity to look at where resources should be channelled?

This experience will definitely mean I’m able to contribute more effectively at times when strategic decisions about services are made. I am a big believer in real-life examples. There are also pressures on recruitment for the CMHT. There appears to be an element of disjoint between strategic and operational. The staff clearly work well as a team, and there are a number of opportunities to build on (and share) existing good practise across Powys. In addition, their working environment is extremely poor, despite this, it strikes me that they are a dedicated, professional team doing their best in the circumstances.

Going forward, I am keen to do something in my role at the CHC around listening to vulnerable voices. There is definitely an opportunity to start with this service - certain groups do not access our service or receive support including young people and young carers. Listening to Vulnerable Voices will be a priority for Powys CHC in 2018-2019.

* Wendy Laws co-ordinates the Accredited Accommodation scheme in Powys, which is the only one of its kind in Wales. People supported by secondary mental health services are entitled to access day visits or overnight stays with registered accommodation providers who have their own lived experience of mental health distress. People accompany their hosts on shopping trips or days out to the seaside, for example, and enjoy a caring and nurturing environment. This service prevents hospital admission and people have described the incredible benefits of feeling part of an extended family.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Owen's 5 x 5 Ways of Wellbeing: Part 2

Owen & the team learning about Bilberry Bumblebee habitat with
(far right) Barbara Brown, Radnorshire Wildlife Trust

by Owen Griffkin
Mental Health Participation Support Worker

In Part 1 of my blog series I introduced readers to the Five Ways to Wellbeing and wrote in more detail about the first Way - Connect.

This time I am looking at the second Way - Keep Learning.  A great way to start the New Year!

I recently embarked on an Open University course and have found it really improved my self-confidence and wellbeing. Plus there is always the chance that what I learn might actually come in useful one day in my career, and take my life to unexpected places. (I already went to Wrexham for a one-off lecture, so I suppose you could say that was unexpected). Here’s 5 ways you can challenge yourself whilst adding to your knowledge.

1. The Open University

The Open University is known for providing degree level education which you can complete from the comfort of your own home. They now also provide FREE short courses. These short courses are modules from older courses which are no longer available and offer a great stepping stone into further study. The range of subjects on offer is mind-boggling. As I said above I’ve loved my study - jumping from Stalin to Madonna to Cezanne as subjects has really broadened my horizons.

Click here for a full catalogue of the free courses.

2. Learn a language

There are a host of tools, apps and games to help you learn another language. Experiment with them all and see which one suits your learning style. One I enjoyed playing with my 7 year old daughter was ‘Learn Japanese to Survive’ which taught us both how to write and recognise Hiragana characters. 

For a more serious and FREE language course try these links:

  • Say Something in Welsh 
  • Duolingo
  • Busuu - This is a unique way to learn, as you connect with people around the world who want to learn your language, and you can learn their language. 

 3. Traditional ‘classroom’ courses

The internet is a great tool for those wanting to further their education, but sometimes a traditional bricks-and-mortar establishment might be more beneficial for learning. It can be easier to grasp a concept with a real live tutor helping you, plus the social and collaborative benefits of working with other people in a classroom can help with your wellbeing. When I did my Open University Course I went to a lecture in Wrexham, and I learnt more on that day then in my own online sessions, plus I met some very nice fellow students.

One of the options in Powys is NTPC Group of Colleges, who have colleges all over the county that are open to all.

There is also the U3A - University of the 3rd Age - If you are in your ‘3rd age’, eg: retirement or semi-retirement, than maybe the U3A will be suitable for you. It’s a social and fun way to learn and they have a surprising amount of groups in Powys, including Llandrindod, Welshpool, Newtown and Brecon.

4. Learn an instrument

Bob Duke, the director of the Centre For Music Learning in Texas, argues that learning an instrument is one of the best ways to give your brain a workout. He founded the centre to bring psychologists and neuroscientists together with expert musicians to break down the barriers between disciplines and really explore the physiological benefits of learning an instrument. If you want to read more check out this article - Music and the Brain.

I embarked on an online piano course recently called Skoove and it was great fun. Similar to the Japanese learning tool I mentioned, it presented itself like a game, with achievements and goals to reach, and it’s obvious that this sort of ‘challenge’ type learning suits me. Sit me in front of a piano with a book and I don’t want to know. However, call it Mario Piano and have a virtual Italian plumber teach you how to play, and I’m in.

Again there are many different ways to learn an instrument, including one-to-one tutoring, books, and now a wealth of online tools. Check the free Broad Sheep magazine online and distributed around Powys for some music tutor adverts.

Here are a few links to get you started with online training.

5.  Learn a craft

I’m going to say that this one is not for me. I can see the benefits of it. I can see how self-discipline and creativity and perseverance can combine to produce wonderful pieces of work. It must give you a wonderful sense of well-being and satisfaction to spend time crafting a raw material into something new - moulding a piece of lumpy clay into a beautiful ornament, weaving fabrics together to create a quilt, or a knitted item of clothing that you or a loved one can wear over winter.

Whenever I try to do anything crafty however, it ends up looking awful. Like something a five year old would be embarrassed by. I am quite creative generally, but arts and crafts were never my outlet.

People who do craft, however, do get a huge boost to their well-being from their work, and some crafts can be very easy to master, especially with a good teacher. Maybe this year I will set myself a challenge to learn a craft to a reasonable standard. If anyone has any ideas as to what this could be then reply to this post.

For those who are naturally better at arts and crafts than me there are lots of places you can learn crafts here in Powys, and many of these groups/courses are brilliant for socialising as well.
I’ll be back with another set of ideas in my next blog post but if you have any ideas or activities of your own that I haven’t covered please reply to this post with some details.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Favourite walks for Christmas 2017

In the past our festive blog post has featured Our Alternative Christmas, Havin' a Comedy Christmas and Top 10 Tips to Survive Christmas. This year my PAVO finance team colleague Lisa Banfield suggested favourite walks (and a bike ride!)

As I write it's pouring with rain outside after several cold bright days of snow which turned Powys into a winter wonderland. So, stay safe, but if possible take the opportunity over Christmas and New Year to head outdoors, get those leg muscles working, some fresh air in your lungs, and rejoice in some of the amazing scenery right on our doorstep (and a little further afield in one case).

Here are my colleagues' top suggestions:

Owen Griffkin - Mental Health Participation Support Worker

Title: My Dog Walks
Route length: Anywhere between 0.5 - 5 miles
Time: 10 minutes - 2 hours
Start/finish: Llandrindod

The walk
I’ve had my dog Honey Lemon Squash Meringue - Honey for short - a cockapoo - for just over a year now, and although my daughter and partner promised to do the bulk of the walking, it has generally fallen on me to do the early morning and late evening walks. Not that I am complaining, as I get to see some beautiful sunsets, sunrises, and the passing of the seasons and the effect on the landscape. Most of my walks take in Rock Park, so this autumn has been spectacular, with beautiful colours falling from the trees and covering the ground in a different way every day. I also appreciate the different routes you can take from Rock Park - take a walk to Lovers' Leap for great views towards Howey and Newbridge, or venture past the old bakery and up to the Lake. This means no two walks are the same.

The dog loves it too, and frequently jumps into the stream, no matter what I try to do to stop her.

Impact on my wellbeing
Having a dog, and being made to leave the house first thing is a great way to start the day, and definitely helps with at least two of the Five Ways to Wellbeing - Be Active and Take Notice.

Lisa Banfield - Finance Officer

Title: Newtown - Pwll Penarth Nature Reserve by bike (or you could walk)
Route length: 4.6 miles (7.4 kms)
Time: 1 hour approx (longer if walking)
Start/finish: Suspension bridge, Back Lane car park, Newtown

The ride
This is an ideal bike ride to suit a range of ages and abilities (good for confidence building too if you’re new to cycling!) as it is all on a generally flat surface and no roads.

The bike ride starts at the suspension bridge in Newtown by Back Lane car park where you will see a (faded) fingerpost. Follow the path going under the traffic bridge, along the river, up, and over the bridge by the gravel car park. After crossing the bridge turn left down a short bank (Route 81 National Cycle Trail) and follow the path alongside the river. Go through the gate at the end of the path and under the pipe bridge and past the ‘Old Pump House’ on your right.

Continue on the path passing a small parking area near Llanllwchaiarn marked by a finger post.The path follows the line of the old canal and you will soon pass another parking area connected to the Llanllwchaiarn to Aberbechan road and a fingerpost.

Go through a gate passing the sewage works on your right, across the lane and continue along the footpath. Pass the old Dolfor Lock on your left and the Pwll Penarth Nature Reserve is on your right through a gate. The bike ride ends here so turn around and retrace your tracks back to the beginning.

Although you can continue further if you wish, as this is part of the Route 81 National Cycle Trail Aberystwyth – Wolverhampton.

Impact on my wellbeing
I feel this is a nice easy bike ride and gives me time to destress and take in the views and sounds of the lovely surroundings.

Freda Lacey - Senior Officer, Health & Social Care

Title: Crunching the Shells
Route length: About 3 kilometers
Time: 1 hour (depending on how long you spend looking at or for shells, stones, drift wood, slimy seaweed)
Start/finish: Woodstown Beach, Waterford, Ireland, but Ynyslas/near Aberystwyth just as good!

The walk
I grew up the near the sea, it has always been a part of my life. I need to scent seaweed strewn over rocks, crunching the shells walking along the shifting sands, picking up a coloured stone and rubbing it imagining where it has drifted in and landed from, spotting bits of wood re-imaging shapes and faces, the wind battering me from the front and compelling me from the back when I turn around, the sound of crashing waves, or the slurp and swish of gentle tides... The experience of walking along the beach takes me back to childhood and time with family, mostly spent sand digging or tidal pool shopping, but also takes me away now on tides of time, past and present. 

Impact on my wellbeing
The walking activity is for me a side benefit of the experience of beach combing, it’s the draw of the sights, smells, touching, leaning into the stinging wind and relief of the vigorous pushing wind that for me sums up the tingling feeling of wellbeing and renewal once I’m back inside. For me, it’s an activity where I bring the outside in and the inside out…

If you go to Ynyslas, I’d suggest going at ebbing tide, park on the beach, take the “Board Walk” into the sand dunes.

Jane Cooke - Senior Officer, Mental Health

Title: Llanwrthwl to Cwmdeuddwr
Route length: approx 2.5 miles to Cwmdeuddwr
Time: Takes me ages - I’m slow & creaky!
Start/finish: Llanwrthwl (if you catch a bus back)

The walk
From our track you can see the first part of this walk; of the many walks I have done and loved, this is one of the reasons that I like this particular walk, in some ways I keep it in my sights. The walk starts in Llanwrthwl, just off the A470 between Newbridge on Wye and Rhayader, climbs up along a track that on the lower section passes through a bank of Rhododendron. Conservationists of course loath R Ponticum, a thick leaved thug that shades out competition and spreads across hillsides, the leaves shrugging off conventional herbicides. But like many plants that we now demonise, in itself it is beautiful and in the spring when the blowsy purple blooms are at their best, I can see this haze of colour from our track.

Climbing higher the route passes Cefyn, surely one of the highest holdings in the area. Highland cattle and shorthorns are well equipped to tough out the weather here and can often be seen grazing the tough Molinia grass. After the Cefyn the path levels out and before long there is a lichen covered finger post inviting the right hand turn that we always take at this point. This marks the highest part of the walk and I like to linger here. With my creaky knees I no longer do the high and challenging hill walks that I used to love. The experience of being at height, the particular feel of the wind as you approach a high point, standing on a ridge looking in all directions are all joys of upland walking; this walk is manageable for me now and also gives me the chance to experience these moments.

Heading down hill there is a choice of a delightful meander through woods managed by the Woodland Trust, or following the edge of the wood down to a minor road. From there you walk along a short stretch of delightful minor road before crossing the river Wye over the lovely Glyn bridge, a suspension foot-bridge. Passing Glyn Farm you are then on the last leg, along another minor road, dropping down into Cwmdeuddwr and the Triangle Inn. If you have timed things well there is time to stop for lunch and a well earned pint before catching the bus back to Llanwrthwl to pick up the car.

Impact on my wellbeing
It certainly is ‘active’! It enlivens my capacity to take notice as I stop and take in all that is around me and relish the wind and the sounds of the high ground.

Jackie Newey - Information Officer, Mental Health

Title: Llyn Clywedog circular trail
Route length: 2.5 miles
Time: 1 - 2 hours as plenty to stop and look at on the way round.
Start/finish: Take the B4518 from Llanidloes, turn left on the circular road around Llyn Clywedog. Drive up past the dam and 500 metres further to a layby on the right where the walk starts and finishes.

The walk
Llyn Clywedog reservoir was created in 1967 when the River Clywedog was dammed to alleviate flooding in the Upper Severn Valley. This is a short walk around a narrow peninsula of land shooting out into the reservoir. It boasts some incredible views across the reservoir in all directions, to the surrounding mountains soaring high around, and at lower levels the Clywedog Sailing Club on the opposite shore.

The signposted track is up and down dale, but well trodden, though unfortunately not accessible to wheelchairs. We often go with extended family and their children and particularly enjoy resting on the narrow beach half way along where we do a spot of bird watching - identifying buzzards and red kites amongst others. Most times we seem to have the whole peninsula to ourselves - to climb windblown trees and pick up pine cones, to feel the breeze on our faces and watch the clouds scudding for miles into the distance. We always thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

Impact on my wellbeing
This walk is local to me but could be a million miles away! Mother Nature is usually on top form and I feel truly grateful to be alive and experience all she has to offer on the day.

Do you have any favourite walks or bike rides you could recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Owen's 5 x 5 Ways of Wellbeing: Part 1

by Owen Griffkin
Mental Health Participation Support Worker

If you have been reading our blog recently you will have seen a number of articles about The Five Ways to Wellbeing.

Maybe these have inspired you to undertake an activity or take up a new hobby to improve your wellbeing. I’ve been looking at ways I can implement this in my life, and at the same time maybe provide some ideas for readers of our blog. I’ll provide 5 ways to engage in each of the 5 ways to wellbeing. The best thing about many of these activities is the fact that they straddle more than one ‘Way to Wellbeing’, often combining social activities with creative or active hobbies.

Part 1 - Connect

The advice is to connect with those around you as this will support and enrich you every day. Sometimes in rural areas it can feel hard to connect socially with people so maybe give yourself a jump-start by using an activity or interest to create social relationships.

1. Gaming Hubs

Gaming is a rapidly growing industry, with clubs springing up all over the county. Game designers are releasing board games that are reaching a much wider audience then in the heyday of Dungeons and Dragons. The subject matter and scope of these games is huge - I have played these myself sometimes with friends and strangers, and so far I have re-enacted the 1960 US election (I was JFK obviously and destroyed Nixon), started a railroad company in 1850s America, and pushed the boundaries of taste with the worldwide phenomenon of ‘Cards against Humanity’. Gaming is a great social activity as it allows for pressure free conversation and the fun of friendly competition.

An evening at the gaming hub in full swing

Two local hubs/shops that are very welcoming to newcomers are:

I went to a gaming night at KDM Gaming with my daughter, and whilst she was kept interested by an old version of Pac-man, I was able to have a game and chat with other attendees.

2. Sing!

It’s only natural living in the land of song that we would feature a musical activity. A community choir is a wonderful way to connect, and we are blessed with many friendly and welcoming choirs in Powys.

Your first port of call should be Sing Your Heart Out. This is a purely social choir, and they do not do public performances so there is no pressure to perform. There are weekly sessions in Llandrindod and Meifod. If these aren’t close enough check local noticeboards for info on choirs closer to you. I attended a free taster session and was warmly welcomed and had a lot of fun - even if my vocal gymnastics were more Alan Ball then Michael Ball.

3. Men's Sheds

The Men’s Shed is a movement to create community spaces for men to come together to socialise and to reduce loneliness and isolation. Imagine lots of cups of tea, usage of power tools, and a supportive and welcoming atmosphere. Sounds brilliant! Especially the power tools bit. The local Llandrindod group, aka The Golden Boys, works together on projects commissioned by groups such as Mid Powys Mind.

4. Book Club 

I love reading, but sometimes it’s hard to have the self-discipline to sit down to plough through a lengthy tome - and once you’ve finished the book all you want to do is discuss it with someone. This is where book clubs come in. They have been popular for a few years now and are still one of the most fun and rewarding social activities you can enjoy at your own pace. Like the gaming hubs, book clubs take a lot of pressure out of socialising, as conversation is created by the discussion around the book and you can engage with other club members. Not surprisingly Powys has a plethora of book clubs, lots of which are based at local libraries. Your library is the best starting point, but also check out independent book shops like The Hours in Brecon and the Great Oak Bookshop in Llanidloes.

5. Clubs and Societies 

An early meeting of the United Nations in Builth Wells*

Ok, number 5 is quite vague. That’s because there is probably a club (or society) for whatever activity you would like to engage in. A club is a good way to learn more from other people about one of your interests, share ideas or work, and maybe organise day-trips or social events.

In a quick five minute search I have found active groups in Powys for astronomy, beekeeping and cameras. I then gave up on the ABC approach and also found model railway, community arts, historical societies and not forgetting the excellent Women’s Institute, who have groups all over the county.

Think about what activity you may like to do in a social setting - and if there isn’t a club already - why not set one up. One thing Powys doesn’t lack is space to hold meetings/events. From local church/village halls to rooms in pubs. Some of the largest societies in the world started out as small groups so who knows where it could lead. For example, the United Nations started as a monthly meeting in Builth Wells Village Hall of like-minded people from Powys who wanted to stop all wars and bring about world peace. *

*disclaimer - citation needed. Might not be factually accurate...

Read Part 2 of Owen's blog series here.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Farming and mental health: the challenge

This Autumn our team arranged an engagement opportunity at Gilfach Nature Reserve near Rhayader aimed at the farming community. It was called “Ramble with a Big Cheese.”

The invitation went out on social media and we put up as many posters as we could in places where we hoped to attract the attention of farmers. These included Rhayader market, feed merchants and numerous shops and businesses in the neighbouring area. We rang round our own contacts. We made new contacts. We spoke to people very closely connected to the farming community through their families and work. We encouraged all of them to spread the word about the session (many of them did – thank you!) and wondered if they would like to come along themselves. 

In the event, despite our efforts, we really struggled to encourage individual farmers or members of the farming community to join us. And again and again we were told – farmers are too busy, they only leave their farms to go to market, some of them really are struggling with their emotional wellbeing but they don’t want to talk to anyone else about their problems. People of the farming community are extremely hard to reach.

A couple of months previously the Farmers’ Union of Wales had hosted an event called “It’s OK to say” at this year’s Royal Welsh Show – “putting the spotlight on mental health in the farming community”. My colleague Anne attended and told us she was impressed by the level of interest. She was interested to find out more about the Pembrokeshire based charity the DPJ Foundation which was “set up in July 2016 following the death of Daniel Picton-Jones. The foundation aims to support people in rural communities with poor mental health, especially men in the agricultural sector. Agriculture carries one of the highest rates of suicide and with mental health being such a big problem across society the foundation aims to break down the stigma that surrounds mental health and provide support services for those in rural communities.”

On our Mid Powys Ramble we were really pleased to welcome Aled Jones from the Farmers’ Union of Wales (Brecknock and Radnorshire Officer) and David Williams from the Farming Community Network. We posed a number of questions to stimulate discussion with the “Big Cheeses” - Joy Garfitt (Deputy Director for Mental Health, Powys Teaching Health Board) and Margaret Meredith, (Head of Primary Care South Powys, PTHB). It turned out to be an extremely fruitful exercise. The start of a much-needed ongoing discussion.

There will be no one way to provide support to individuals in the farming community around mental wellbeing. Statutory mental health services might meet one person’s needs but be entirely inappropriate for another. Community activities and voluntary sector support, such as that provided in Pembrokeshire by the DPJ Foundation, will probably play an important role. But whatever services are delivered, we want farmers to have their say in how they are shaped.

If you have a few minutes, watch the video and find out why.

If you need support now, contact the Farming Community Network or the Samaritans.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

White Ribbon Day 2017 in Llanidloes

Suzanne Iuppa (left) PAVO Community Connector, & Fleur Frantz-Morgans of
Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre
White Ribbon Campaign UK is part of a global movement to put a stop to male violence against women and girls.

On the 25th November, the world marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day. From then until the 10th December, we encourage everybody to take part in the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. 

Suzanne is the PAVO Community Connector covering Llanidloes and District, working with adults to access the services, information and support that they need to maintain an independent life. She wanted to bring the White Ribbon message to her patch: “We will be addressing men and making them feel good about themselves, more confident about stating their opinions and talking through problems, as well as supporting women.”

So, keen to find out more myself, I joined Suzanne and Fleur Frantz-Morgans of Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre in Llanidloes last Saturday, on the coldest weekend of the year so far. Sustained by hot mulled apple juice, mince pies, and extra layers, we spent half a day chatting to local people – most of whom had never heard of the campaign – though with a couple of key exceptions – more below. Our market stall, sandwiched between local political activists and a fruit and veg trader with a healthy sideline in log snowmen and santas, was well placed for the three of us to engage with shoppers stocking up on fresh bread or catching up with friends.

Our aim was to promote:

Members of Llanidloes Rotary Club show their support for White Ribbon Day

White Ribbon Campaign

"To wear a White Ribbon is to pledge never to commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence. Our message to men is to practice tolerance, respect and kindness, and to stand up against male violence, bullying and sexism in all forms".

White Ribbon was founded in 2007, and around 500 men in the UK are now White Ribbon Ambassadors. The organisation provides training and outreach to local authorities, groups and clubs. There is even a White Ribbon All Party Parliamentary Group of MPs, plus sports and trade union campaigns to help spread the word.

"To end violence against women we need a culture change. We need people to speak out and condemn it. So, one of the most important things you can do is to talk about it, especially to the uninitiated, unaware and unconvinced".

Finding out about White Ribbon Day

Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre

“MFCC aims to reduce the risk of domestic abuse and to positively change the lives of our clients by providing specialist support and guidance; encouraging clients not only to survive, but to thrive from their experiences, enabling them to move on to develop healthy, respectful relationships in the future”.

Fleur is a Community Liaison Officer at MFCC and one of her key roles is to raise awareness that help is at hand in North Powys for anyone experiencing domestic abuse – both men and women. From 2014 – 2015 a total of 829 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the police in Powys, and over half were from Montgomeryshire. The charity has access to safe emergency accommodation where people can take temporary refuge, access support and advice and take time to decide on next steps. The Haven is a refuge for women and Davis House is for men. Both take adults with accompanying children. Referrals could come from the police, voluntary agencies or from people experiencing crisis themselves.

One of the support workers from the male refuge joined us briefly in Great Oak Street to tell us more about her role. “Some men come in with literally nothing. We provide a welcome pack with toiletries, food and clothing. We take people to the food bank if they have to wait before receiving benefits. They might need a solicitor or counselling – we give them help with whatever they need.” The residents then live independently in the refuge – “we support but don’t care for people.”

The support worker explained that the residents are also extremely supportive of each other. They could be in the refuge anything from a few weeks to a year depending on individual circumstances. “All have mental health problems because of the effect of the abuse. At the very least they have stress and anxiety, and many are depressed.” People can be referred for counselling and other sources of support such as specialist counselling relating to sexual abuse or misuse of drugs and alcohol.

The 24 hour crisis line for MFCC is: 01686 629114. Once the office is closed for the day the staff become on call workers, calls are diverted to the Live Fear Free helpline  – a Wales-wide service for victims of domestic or sexual abuse, they support any out of area callers, signposting them to the services in their area and forwarding any local emergencies to the MFCC on call worker, workers regularly bring local emergencies into the safe houses, day and night, MFCC are on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the residents of North Powys.

Maggie Fitzpatrick-Reeves (left) ask me ambassador, with Fleur

ask me scheme 

As if by magic the next person to show up alongside the Town Hall in Llanidloes was Maggie Fitzpatrick-Reeves, who is an ask me ambassador in North Powys. Maggie told me that her role is to raise awareness of domestic abuse in the community. “Most people think the abuse is mainly about physical violence, but less than 1 in 6 incidents are violence-related, the rest are cases of psychological and emotional abuse”. After attending a two day course recently in the town Maggie is able to challenge myths likes this and also said that people now confide in her. She knows how to signpost victims to expert advice and support – how to keep both them and herself safe.

The ask me scheme breaks the silence about domestic abuse within a community, and removes the barriers that make it hard for survivors to tell others about their experiences.

Fleur explained that "people experiencing domestic abuse can feel a sense of loss and even guilt at the thought of leaving family and friends behind, or for taking children away from loved ones, their friends and school, even pets, it can be an exceptionally hard decision. This can be made even harder when abusers, someone they have feeling for, apologise for their behaviour and make promises that the abuse will never happen again. One minute victims may suffer terrible emotional and physical abuse, the next minute they can be showered with love, regret and promises to change, giving them glimpses of the person they fell for, giving them hope for the future, but still fearing the present". 

We also spoke to people about issues relating to older people and abusive relationships. A husband and wife could be married for many decades, and then one of them may develop dementia in later life. Dementia can sometimes lead people to behave in aggressive and even violent ways towards their partners. Some carers may find that they have become the victim of domestic violence and have to leave their husband or wife and start a new life well into their eighties or nineties.

If you know someone who lives with domestic abuse – actual or threatened physical, emotional, psychological, sexual or financial abuse by a partner, family member or someone with whom there is or has been a close relationship – then Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre can help, whether you live in Llanfyllin or Llanidloes or anywhere in between. Call: 01686 629114.

For help in other areas of Powys call Welsh Women’s Aid: 0808 80 10 100.

Are you supporting the White Ribbon Campaign this year? If so, tell us more about your involvement in the comment box below.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Connecting at Brecon’s Bipolar UK support group

This week's post is from a regular attendee at the monthly Bipolar UK support group in Brecon.

My name is Liz and I have bipolar disorder. I first experienced mental health difficulties at aged 16, and was diagnosed with depression at 22. I continued to experience depressive episodes, which became more severe and frequent during my working life, leading to early retirement when I was 48. 

I was treated with a number of antidepressants, but these had limited efficacy and activating side effects. I was told I had Treatment Resistant Depression and things seemed pretty bleak. 

Six years ago, in my early fifties, I was sectioned and admitted to a psychiatric ward with psychosis. Following this I continued to experience mental health symptoms, despite medication and therapy. 

In April 2016 I was seen at the National Centre for Mental Health in Cardiff and given the diagnosis of Bipolar 1 Disorder. Since starting a mood stabilizer, I have been much better. 

I also attended the Bipolar Education Programme Cymru, an award winning education programme for people with bipolar developed by Cardiff University.

Following my diagnosis, I picked up a Bipolar UK flyer at the hospital. I later contacted Bipolar UK to find out what support was available in my area, and they put me in touch with the Bipolar Support group in Brecon. I have been attending the group for almost a year, travelling the 20 miles from Merthyr, and really value the sessions.

The group meets on the 4th Monday of the month between 7 and 9pm in Brecon and District Mind. The sessions are open to people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, family and carers, and it costs just £1 to attend. Refreshments are provided.

The meetings allow time to find out more about bipolar disorder, and to share how we are all feeling and doing. Sometimes we have outside speakers. These have included Jodine Fec, the Lead Pharmacist Mental Health for Powys Teaching Local Health Board and Support Workers from Gwalia Care and Support. We might also watch films with a bipolar theme – one was Infinitely Polar Bear – a comedy drama about a man from Boston with bipolar. Or sometimes we enjoy a bring and share meal together. 

Personally, I really value the mutual sharing and support, in a friendly and non-judgmental environment. I have my own social networks, but it’s not the same as talking to someone with bipolar disorder who has the understanding and experience.

You don’t have to speak at the meetings if you don’t want to, although everyone has the opportunity to do so. You can stay as long as you want – so leave whenever you wish. And you can come along to as many or as few meetings as you like.

The groups are aimed at people aged 18 and over, but young people aged between 16 – 18 can attend if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. 

The next meeting is on Monday 27 November 2017. If you would like to join us at this or any future meetings you would be very welcome. You can:
Stop press: We plan to screen a film about Graham Obree, the cyclist nicknamed “The Flying Scotsman” who lives with bipolar disorder, at a future meeting.

Many thanks to Liz for telling us about the Bipolar Support group at Brecon. This is currently the only such group operating in Powys, but if you would like to see a group in your area then contact Bipolar UK to express an interest. The more people who want a group in a specific area then the more viable it becomes.

All artwork by Liz.