Saturday, 18 June 2016

Embracing the ASSiST team

ASSIST is East Berkshire’s antidote to harmful, degrading and dehumainsing hospital admission – see the recent blog with one of our members telling how the process of being admitted to the mental health services made him feel like nothing more than a number.

EMBRACE is a novel ‘micro’ therapeutic community that meets together for only 2½ hours per week but ties together a whole week of individually tailored and co-created therapeutic services – in all the relevant sectors – NHS, social services, voluntary, social enterprises and charities.

Just coming up to our second birthday for the two projects we were delighted to be shortlisted for the BHFT (the NHS hospital and community provider organisation that manages us) ‘best patient initiative’ award …and even more delighted to win it!

So while I was trying to get to sleep after an evening of Italian food, music and fun (see the previous blog), texts and WhatsApps kept pinging me awake.

The team looked fabulous – well done them. A great deal of hard ‘governance’ work behind the scenes is needed to keep a project like this on track – ensuring all the tedious risk documentation and excruciatingly pedantic policies and procedures are followed, for example – to make it look calm and easy!

Maybe this means the ugly duckling (of a disfavoured TC) has become a swan – but it’s still paddling furiously under the water…

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Living and Learning in a haunted monastery

Imagine setting up a therapeutic community for business entrepreneurs, experts by experience, family and friends, and a few mental health staff. The entrepreneurs were from a supportive society in Rome. We had a financier, a travel business executive, a high level head-hunter in telecoms, a previous national queen of salsa who is now a retail d├ęcor retail entrepreneur, and a barrister – as well as a boy scout leader, a couple of pianists and guitarists plus a singer with a beautiful

This was our first attempt to try therapeutic community principles out on people from entirely non-clinical backgrounds, by offering them three days of immersion in a carefully planned and designed ‘Enabling Environment’.

It has worked for many years as a useful training course for practitioners in TCs, then more generally for multidisciplinary staff in mental health services, and more recently as a ‘taster’ of what enabling environments feel like ‘from the inside’. This was the first time we have tried out the format on a mixed collection of people from completely ‘normal’ backgrounds.

The setting was spectacular – a converted Franciscan monastery in the hills about 50km out of Rome, with a sheer drop of 100m to the rapids below. I Also think l it was haunted – not only the site of an ancient Roman aqueduct (which we walked through), but it also had eerie dark corners, unexplained walled-off areas and quite a few bumps in the night. And – oddest of all – although the outside temperature was in the mid 20s, we were all shivering when we went into the staff room, and needed far more layers of clothes than you expect in Italy in the summer.

The Italy v Sweden football match threatened to derail the first small groups, but – with the importance of structure in mind – plans for a vote on the matter were abandoned when the four staff walked out of the first community meeting exactly on time. Everybody turned up for the small groups and the football was never mentioned again (Italy won 1-0).
The course went unexpectedly well – by the end, many of the participant expressed genuine surprise and gratitude for what they had learned, and felt, and experienced together, and everybody joyfully joined in with the more playful fun and games we all had together. At least two or three of them said that they had gained transformational insights over the three days.Perhaps the most interesting observation – which can only be qualitative and impressionistic at the moment – is that the entrepreneurs ‘jumped in’ more willingly than most of the non-TC clinicians, and were considerably helped by the openness and authenticity of the experts by experience. It is as if normal mental health training makes staff more ‘defended’ and unable to be in touch with their own emotions – unless they work in TCs.

That is quite a hypothesis to test – but Aldo and I are on the case. Aldo has devised questionnaires to demonstrate that the workshop closely reflects the Royal College of Psychiatrists ‘Enabling Environments’ quality standards, and we also hope to show that this sort of experiential workshop trains people in a way that no other learning experience does …and is ultimately justifiable in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Please feel free to post any ideas that might help us to do this!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The new Animal Farm and the House of Lords

Ideas for therapy centre at animal farm launched at the Lords
The Cholmondeley Room is a rather graciously decorated, Victorian-feeling, reception area which opens out into the red-striped marquee and terrace on the Thames – where we were entertained by the battle of the Brexit boats, shouting at each other, flying provocative flags, and playing extremely loud rock and hip-hop music.

But inside, it seemed that everybody agreed what a good idea it was for people to be helped by animals as they themselves were helping the animals. And everybody included a lot of people with power, budgets and influence in Windsor, Maidenhead and Slough.  The eastern side of the Royal County of Berkshire, indeed. I imagine at the horses and horticulture for mental health might well be something that would appeal to the family who sometimes live just over the river from us!

The ones I managed to talk to included:
  • ·        Derek Bishop – Mayor of Eton. derek@etonplace.com. Very interested, said to get back to him if we need. Says Wooldridge Trust (?) may be able to help.
  • ·        Bob Jones – Slough Business Community Partnership. bob@sbcp.co.uk . Knows us through our greencare horticultural project at Iver, keen to hear more.
  • ·        Paula Greves – Trustee and treasurer of TASUK.  paula@grevett.co.uk. Very keen on the idea of collaboration, knows the local system.
  • ·        Adam Afriyie – Windsor MP (Con). adam.afriyie.mp@parliament.uk. Fairly interested (more in his speech than in person), and suggested to get onto councillors, CCGs etc.
  • ·        Phil Bicknell - WAM Councillor (Park Ward, Con and deputy council leader) cllr.bicknell@rbwm.gov.uk, interested, but clearly very ‘political’ and suggested we need to involve David Coppinger.
  • ·        David Coppinger -  WAM Councillor (Bray Ward, Con) cllr.coppinger@rbwm.gov.uk who knows the mechanics of the CCG and where we should start 
  • ·        Diana Coad – SBC Councillor (Langley, UKIP) siana.coad@slough.gov.uk – very keen, was on CCG, and is also on TASUK board of trustees, wants to help.
  • ·        Wayne Strutton – SBC Councillor (Haymill and Lynch Hill, Con) wayne.strutton@slough.gov.uk – didn’t seem to be directly interested himself, but supportively suggested we get Gus O’Donnell on board (GP commissioner lead MH)

… and a few others I can’t remember!


And here’s what I wrote:
Dear supporters and friends of Sara and The Animal Sanctuary UK
It was good to meet and talk to some of you at the House of Lords reception today - about the idea of an NHS collaboration with The Animal Sanctuary UK to develop a ground-breaking Ecotherapy centre at Bell Farm (to include animals, horticulture and other nature-based activities).
 I didn’t get to mention to some of you that I come from a very old mental health tradition of ‘therapeutic communities’ – where services are co-created with service users and peer mentors, to tackle stigma and generate real empowerment.
It would even be possible for a well organised therapeutic community to be thoroughly involved in designing and building cutting-edge eco buildings, if we get the funding right.
So we could have a fantastic opportunity here to build on some of the great work that has been happening in East Berks – particularly in Slough CMHT and Hope Recovery College – and really take mental health ‘out of the institution’ and ‘into the real community’. I really believe it could be a model for others to follow, if we do it properly.
I’m writing to remind you of the potential for the idea, and put us all in touch with each other. Please feel free to copy it to anybody else who might be interested.
The key person who unfortunately couldn’t come today was Geoff Dennis (Head of Slough Mental Health for SBC and BHFT), who some of you know – so I will copy him in too.
I hope this will help to get the ball rolling, and I look forward to helping in any way I can.
Rex
So watch this space.

If you know how to get funding for things like this, please reply – or if you know some eco-architects who might be interested, we’d be very interested to meet.