Thursday, 8 October 2015

Caring Community Slough

Geoff Dennis, Natasha Berthollier and Rex Haigh at IAGP Rovinj
For some years, our 'Growing Better Lives' greencare project has been combining the ethics and principles of permaculture with the passion and power of therapeutic communities. Both fit into a wider agenda - of disaffection with rampant mangerialism and an increasing realisation of a public human need for kindness, warmth and love - not just in our intimate relations and families, but in the way we treat each other everywhere. Maybe, just maybe, Jeremy Corbyn's election is a harbinger of things to come - though I fear it's a fifty year project, not five.
    But we're doing something about it in Slough, and we're starting to tell people about it. We have been to present some of our work and ideas at two international conferences, and together with the local launch of 'Hope College', have started to paint a vision of something inspirational (for the spirit), as well as transformational (for the health economists). Here's a few threads...
    A friendly strawberry and banana at the launch of Hope College

    • Our recent 'yurt events' have included a two day permaculture course, seminars on 'therapeutic towns', visitors from Italy, Taiwan, Colombia, India and New Zealand, a Nottingham University Social Futures research Centre Meeting with added yoga and compost, NHS managers discussing plans for an adolescent transitions group and Sicilian TC members cooking, singing and dancing
    • 'Hope College' was launched on 25 August, and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust chairman, John Hedger, was accosted by a large banana and strawberry - Fiona and Sharon from the Thursday Greencare Group, where the plot was hatched.
    • Geoff, Natasha and Rex presented the Slough work - particularly the ASSIST project - at the International Association of Group Psychotherapy Congress in Slovenia: Geoff explained how the financial 'dark clouds of Mordor' has led to opportunities for developing differently joined-up mental health services; Natasha how our first two years figures from the project show that psychotherapeutic approaches can keep people out of hospital and reduce costs; Rex described how Slough is starting to be a new sort of 'whole town TC' - based on ethical values and relational principles. www.tinyurl.com/bhftatrovinj 
    • The International Permaculture Conference in London was truly inspiring. We presented our greencare group, and got a great reception for it - www.tinyurl.com/IPPCgreencare - but more than that, we heard how our work and underlying therapeutic values are utterly in tune with permaculture (which we knew already) but also with the Transition Movement - which is about joining up small locally-grown ideas into something that people feel is really worth belonging to: www.transitionnetwork.org. Although most of them focus on sustainable energy, economy or food production, therapeutic thinking runs through a lot of the ideas and 'sustainable mental health' would be an ideal starting point for Slough. And we do have a track record - with our 2014 Royal College of Psychiatrists sustainability award...
    • The 'micro TC' Tuesday EMBRACE group celebrated its first birthday with more than four hours as a floating group in Groundwork's electric barge up and down the Grand Union Canal. Everybody learned the basics of good nutrition for mental health, then (in four teams) had a healthy cooking and healthy eating experience - Great British Bake-off watch out!
    • The second harvest from our organic allotment was cooked and eaten by members of the Thursday Greenccare Group, which is now seriously looking into being funded through individual budgets and social prescribing. We've just started collecting and planting seeds, peas and beans for next year.
    • We're hoping to write up the work as a service-user led action research study: the steering group is the three of us from Rovinj together with Trevor Lowe (a researcher who is experienced in using creative and spiritual methods in mental health) and Vanessa Jones (of GBL). It may also be  linked to the Nottingham University 'Social Futures' group as part of a major 'Utopias' research project that is being planned by TC academic and expert, Dr Gary Winship, and three eminent social sciences professors: Nick Manning from Kings College London (who started his working life in Henderson Hospital TC in the 1970s), Lynne Frogatt from UCLAN (see post from last December), and Lucy Sargisson (who enjoys the great title of Professor of Feminist Utopias.
    • With 'The Animal Sanctuary UK', which is about to move into new premises near Windsor, we're working up plans for an ecotherapy centre made of low-impact sustainable buildings.Their motto is "Together Therapy for people and animals with special needs - People Helping Animals, Animals Helping People"-  www.theanimalsanctuaryuk.org.uk
    Some of the exciting things we've got planned for next year are still under wraps - but watch this space...!