Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Mental health charities in Powys - innovating for lockdown

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic I have been amazed by the speed and efficiency with which mental health charities across Powys have been able to adapt the delivery of their usual services to meet the demands of the “new normal”. Most have also developed new and innovative services. Like all of us the people running these charities have faced the sometimes conflicting challenges of trying to meet the needs of their members and clients whilst at the same time the requirement to safeguard their hard-working and committed staff and volunteers. 

The headline news is that - whether online, on the phone, or even - at a social distance - providing a face to face service, your mental health charities are still there for you.

Here are some of the changes they have made over the last four months. These changes are to help support people’s general wellbeing during this difficult time but also to continue addressing more serious underlying emotional distress whether related to Covid-19 or not.

Mid & North Powys Mind

MNP Mind staff pre-pandemic
Mid & North Powys Mind staff pre-pandemic

Due to the pandemic we had to close all of our in-person groups and our building to the public, but we have been supporting people on a one to one, remote basis instead (phone, WhatsApp video call, text, etc). We have also continued to support new people during this time. 

We moved our training courses online straight away and have been delivering these via Zoom video conferencing. Courses have included: Hypnotherapy for Relaxation, Recharging & Healing, Stress & Anxiety Management, Keeping Mentality Fit and we have Managing your Emotions running in July. The Mums Matter courses are delivered online now as well, along with a number of regular Mums Peer Support groups across mid & north Powys.

Mid & North Powys Mind continued doing in-person crisis work from the start of the pandemic, for the people that needed that additional support. And now we are moving to a more mixed approach of part in-person work, outside at a social distance, and part remote work, with people. This will much better enable us to support new people, as it is so much easier to build an open and trusting relationship in-person and keeping the part remote element will enable us to have a space to share very sensitive or confidential information, which is not always possible outside.

Our Blended Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy service, normally based at GP surgeries, has also moved remotely and is now open to referrals directly from the public, without the need to see your GP, which is a great step forward. We are also planning new Facebook Live broadcasts to showcase CBT and Silvercloud.

Facebook Live broadcasts have been incredibly popular. We've got three live shows running weekly at the moment: Tai Chi, Hypnotherapy for Relaxation, and Mindfulness. They have been getting over 1000 views per broadcast, 18,000 unique viewers this month alone and some really positive feedback. So we're expanding these broadcasts to include an introduction to CBT & Silvercloud, creative writing and general wellbeing tips from our THRIVE course. We have also started a Facebook chat & support group for our service users.

Our counselling service has moved to remote methods as well – mainly phone and WhatsApp video call. We have been lucky enough to secure a small amount of additional funding to expand this service.

We are working with Adrian Jones at Supporting People, who has a small pot of funding to enable Information Technology (IT) access for service users. That's been really good to help some of our service users get online, plus donated laptops from the Media Resource Centre, for our members.

Within our Outreach Groups, there are lots of people who are very vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19, and some people who are shielding. I think it's particularly hard on them because they're really missing the groups and social contact. We've been doing phone and virtual support, but many don't have internet access or have the tech skills to use online methods of communication. Recently, as lockdown restrictions have been eased, we have been supporting them to meet their peers in their gardens, to help them to feel more connected.

You can get in touch with us by messaging our Facebook page, calling the main number: 01597 824411 or texting: 07539 870 010.

Ponthafren Association

Claire Cartwright, Ponthafren Association Director, makes a dragon mosaic

At Ponthafren we were able to adjust very quickly to a virtual way of working.

All of our core services have continued, albeit in different ways, as well as maintaining contacts with those who need our services.

Our counselling services are continuing and what's been interesting is that there is 97% attendance at the moment, which is remarkable. This is something we are monitoring as we consider how and when we re-open the Ponthafren sites. I’m sure that some services will continue to be virtual whilst having a coordinated approach. The feedback of the virtual services has been extremely positive.

We have upped our social media presence since we've been in lockdown. So for Mental Health Awareness Week we talked about the Five Ways to Wellbeing each day. We encouraged staff to share their experiences during lockdown whether it was learning new skills, keeping in contact with others, being kind and being active. James did a marvellous job in scheduling the posts on numerous social media platforms.

In partnership with Adult Learning Wales we are continuing our life skills courses. The courses cover topics such as Coping with Change, Stress & Anxiety and Resilience & Emotional Wellbeing training online via Zoom.

We are also facilitating volunteer training. So far, it’s working really well in small groups – it can be tiring for the tutor but we always have a staff member in the sessions to help in case anyone needs particular assistance.

A really positive outcome of the forced lockdown has been the informal partnership formed in a direct response to the Covid situation in Newtown. The team involves working with the PAVO Community Connectors, the Town Council, the Salvation Army and one of the local churches. We were meeting daily but now twice a week. We've got 17 Angels working under the network, and approximately 150 Cherubs, who have all responded to the call out for help to help others in the locality. Ponthafren looks after the telephone line and helps to coordinate any call for help. For example: shopping, advice, picking up prescriptions, access to FREE food and specific support. Newtown is providing over 5000 free meals per week via local businesses and community groups.

We're also working with businesses as well, finding out how they can support the community and how we can support them. It's just having a really good community feel which is going to be really beneficial going forward. We've never had this many volunteers come forward in recent times. We really want to capture that and move forward with it.

But now my attention is to how and when we can reopen the Ponthafren sites whilst providing a safe environment for all; it’s going to be a challenge but one that the Ponthafren trustees and staff are keen to do as quickly as we can. Services and the setting may look different but the object of Ponthafren is to provide a caring community offering support to those in need and to promote positive mental health and well-being for all.

Oh, and I nearly forgot we are in the process of purchasing the Armoury in Welshpool. This will enable us to provide an exciting schedule of activities and will provide us with the space to respond to need in the locality.

We’ve been busy!

You can get in touch with us by messaging our Facebook page, calling the main number: 01686 621586 or emailing:

Brecon & District Mind

Green Minds project, Brecon & District Mind

All our support is provided remotely by phone or online video call. We had some good news recently as the National Lottery is to fund our counselling service to expand it further for a year. The Green Minds project is very busy. They have set up their own website so that they can have interactive sessions on gardening and growing. They are going to be one of the first groups to do some 1:1 work outside using Brecon Cathedral’s walled garden. 

The Mums Matter Programme is now online. The mums’ support group is still happening on Zoom and that has been quite popular. There were some Mindfulness videos which went out in the beginning. Our Blended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and our Social Prescribing projects are continuing remotely. Referrals to Mums Matter can be emailed to:

Active Monitoring is returning as Mind Cymru were successful in sourcing funding from Wales Council for Voluntary Action. The model has been adapted so that it can be used by phone, Zoom and WhatsApp starting 15 June across Powys (including Mid & North Powys Mind and Ystradgynlais Mind). We have three practitioners in place in our area and we're taking referrals and they can come from anywhere including GPs and self-referrals. Please email referrals to:

We have a YouTube channel where we have Mindfulness videos. We have a Covid-19 closed group on Facebook where people can share their concerns. We are posting a regular photo challenge on our Facebook page as well as keeping Twitter and Instagram up to date.

Val Walker, CEO said “For the first 10 weeks it was worryingly quiet. I anticipated the quiet but not for that long. But now, all of a sudden, requests for support are coming in. A police officer requested that we actually go out and see one of our clients. We did a face-to-face session outside which made me think that it was absolutely necessary for us to start thinking about going back to this way of working because that one person was so different after that face-to-face meeting. As some people don't like talking on the phone, our 1:1s will start on a gradual basis outside.”

You can get in touch with us by messaging our Facebook page, calling the main number: 01874 611529 or emailing:

Ystradgynlais Mind receive a donation from Cwmtwrch Rugby Football Club

We're really pleased with how we managed to roll out our services to people during lockdown. Our biggest concern really is the people who are the most vulnerable in our community who would not normally attend our services. They tend to be older and don’t have access to IT. We managed to get some funding for some extra staff hours so that they can have more telephone support and we’re also trying to link them up so that people can stay connected.

At the beginning we worked really closely with the local Community Connector to do shopping and pick up prescriptions for people. We had an initial avalanche of referrals but that has slowed down. Our staff were all set up with laptops and filing cabinets to work from home.

We've been working quite closely with the local rugby clubs. And we had some extra funding for our Mums Matter course. This continues every Tuesday afternoon, and those in the peer group are still supporting each other. One of our members is writing a blog post every week.

We provided some Suicide Prevention training with the rugby clubs. Then they got together and did a 4,000 mile virtual journey from Cardiff to Scotland and they raised £2,000! So this brought in a lot of attention including from some celebrities in the rugby world. It’s raised our profile massively in the community.

Plus we had a grant from Mind Cymru for laptops for those without access to IT. One of our trustees was able to distribute those to try and reduce the impact of digital exclusion.

One of our Social Prescribing clients talking about the support we have given him during the coronavirus outbreak:

"I want to tell you how much you both have helped me over this difficult time. It would be so much harder to deal with all of this if I couldn’t speak to you both on your work phones. I can’t imagine how my emotions would have been without you both helping me.

I want to tell you both how helpful and understanding you have been to me, it’s hard for me to put into words how much you’ve helped me. Without the both of you my stress levels would have gone up and up. The support you have given me has been brilliant."

You can get in touch with us by messaging our Facebook page, or using the contact methods on our Contact us page.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

PTSD in the Armed Forces: The Bomb Disposal Officer’s Tale

Chris Hunter Operating in Iraq in 2020
by guest author Major Chris Hunter QGM

Lord Moran, the much-celebrated physician of Winston Churchill’s, talked of soldiers having a stock of courage. Essentially, his theory was that people can be subjected to stress and trauma for a certain amount of time, but that each of us has a set ‘level’ of tolerance; and, crucially, once that level runs down to a dangerous level, if we are withdrawn from the stressful environment immediately we can replenish it, but if we fail to do so in time, it reaches a critical level after which permanent damage sets in.

Throughout my career I’ve witnessed countless traumatic incidents but, in 1995, as a young officer serving in Bosnia, I reached that critical level. Ten thousand Muslims were massacred during our tour and my troop and I experienced genocide at first hand.

Within months of returning home I found myself suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. I’d begun to fall off the rails and was really starting to lose my way and question whether I was really making a difference and if I was worthy of leading soldiers at all.

Chris neutralising a mock-up of a Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device

Brummie, my Troop Sergeant, gave me some amazing advice; he was a tough man who was no stranger to hardship. He’d spent time in both a young offenders’ institute and the elite French Foreign Legion before joining the British Army’s Pioneers but, despite his tough exterior, I soon realised that he was an extremely sensitive man who showed compassion and humility in abundance.

He sat and calmly listened to me as I struggled to articulate my anxieties and then, having listened and taken in every word, he gave me some advice that has sustained me through every challenge I’ve ever faced since. He told me that I’d never be able to solve all the world’s problems in one go, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to solve them one at a time. ‘A lot of good men fail because they try too hard to be perfect,’ he said, ‘and you know what? It’s all right just to be good. You can be a good enough husband, father, soldier, and still be a success.’

I’ll never forget those inspirational moments with him as he tried to shape me into a leader. Moreover, he taught all of us that worked with him that even in the macho culture of the Army that it’s OK to be scared. Through him we learned the true meaning of courage; namely that courage isn’t about never being scared, it’s about having the ability to muster up the inner strength to overcome your fears when you are. He was a very wise man, and pretty soon I learned, amongst other things, to rationalise the traumatic experiences I’d witnessed and, in doing so, I learned to overcome fear and stress.

Chris is also a motivational speaker

Six months after my Bosnia tour ended, I was driving into the British Army’s headquarters in Northern Ireland and witnessed two deadly IRA car bombs explode in a packed car park inside the barracks. It was rush hour, so as you can imagine, the first bomb caused numerous injuries; the second exploded a few minutes later, this time outside the medical centre. It had been placed there deliberately to target the wounded. I was truly sickened by the callousness of the attacks, but hugely inspired by the bravery of the bomb disposal operators who searched the remaining hundreds of parked cars by hand while those at risk were busy being evacuated. That was the moment I decided I was going to be a bomb technician. That moment was my calling.

Walking up to a terrorist bomb and neutralising it is one of the most terrifying yet gratifying experiences imaginable. When you and your team witness the truly terrible effects of a terrorist bomb and the devastating effect it has on people’s lives it really is heart-breaking. But when one is found and you are able to make it safe, and prevent that scene of carnage from re-occurring, there’s no feeling like it. It’s also one of the most exciting and adrenalin fuelled ‘rushes’ I’ve ever experienced, and those two aspects combined make it a potent and very addictive vocation.

Chris operating as an Army Bomb Disposal Operator in Iraq in 2004

On May 8th, 2004 we’d neutralised three bombs in Southern Iraq over the course of the day and had been out on the ground for over 16 hours without a break. Just as we were entering the City, looking forward to climbing into our beds, my team and I were ambushed in one of the most terrifying incidents I’d ever experienced. But as the bullets and grenades exploded into life around us, and in spite of our natural instinct to want to curl up in the foot-wells of our vehicles, we realised that the only way we’d stand any chance of survival was to overcome the paralysing fear and take the fight back to the enemy. I was convinced that my team and I would probably all be killed, but when you’re staring death in the face, it’s amazing how natural the body’s desire to survive really is. We took a deep breath, summed up a deep dark fury from the pits of our stomachs and violently fought fire with fire. 

Miraculously, we all managed to come out of it alive. But the next morning we had to go straight back out to deal with more bombs - and had to drive through the ambush site again. There wasn’t time to get over the shock; it was truly unsettling. On reflection, not only did I realize that life is finite, I also realised the true importance of staying focused and keeping your sense of humour when things go pear-shaped.

Obviously, being ambushed and shot at was extremely traumatic but every bomb I walked up to was also highly stressful. As you take that long walk up to the Improvised Explosive Device (IED), often carrying in excess of 150 lbs of equipment, your pulse is racing and every sense is on full alert. You clear your mind of all the day to day nonsense like what you’re going to have for dinner that night; what bills have to be paid; and how your team is doing in the league, and instead you focus solely on the bomb. Where it is, how it might be constructed, and what the bomb-maker who designed that attack is trying to achieve. Is he trying to kill innocent civilians; is he trying to kill the police or members of the security forces; or is he trying to kill me?! The device might just be an obvious come-on that’s been placed to lure me into the area so that I can be killed by something more sinister. In essence, you’re playing a game of extreme chess with the bomber every time you take that long walk. But while you never fixate on death or failure – ever 
 in the back of your mind you have to maintain a healthy measure of paranoia... because at any moment you know that your time or luck could run out.

Total failure or complete success... 

Chris cuts the detonator out of an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq in February 2020

People often ask why we do it; I know some do it for the ­ adrenalin rush, others to seek atonement for darker episodes in their lives. But I think most do it out of a good old-fashioned sense of duty – just because they want to make a difference. For me, I guess it was a bit of all three.

I suppose the real question is what makes us stay? There’s something immensely gratifying about neutralising a weapon designed to kill and maim large numbers of people. Everybody I know who does it is absolutely hooked. It has to be one of the most interesting jobs on the planet. It didn’t just challenge and motivate me mentally; the fact that we got to save the lives of thousands of people we didn’t know and would more than likely never meet, was massively inspiring on a ­ spiritual level too. Not a single day goes by now when somebody isn’t killed by an IED. Every device I could neutralise took me one step closer to tracing and bringing down the groups responsible.

But I guess that, if I put my hand on my heart, the biggest, most powerful incentive is the buzz. Rendering safe a terrorist bomb is probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever done without getting arrested. The rush I get from dealing with a device is fearsome. Like all aspects of soldiering, it’s truly elemental; a world where everything is often black and white; a world of straightforward choices. Life and death... both yours and the people you’re trying to save.

It comes at a cost, of course. One minute you’re standing at the cliff’s edge, just you and the bomb, pushing it to the max; the next you’re at home with your wife and kids, trying to come down and be normal again. And if you’re living on the edge, eventually you’re going to go all the way over. If you’re lucky, you see the signs and decide it’s time to pull back and step away. But maybe by then it’s already too late.

Major Chris Hunter the author

It’s worth noting that the number of soldiers who died through suicide, or who received open verdicts after returning home from the Falklands, is more than a third of the 237 who were lost there in action. An investigation by the BBC's ‘Panorama’ also revealed that 21 serving soldiers and 29 veterans were thought to have committed suicide in 2012, a number that exceeds the 40 soldiers who died fighting over in Afghanistan during the same period. And in the final year of the Afghan conflict there were more ex-military in prison, on parole or serving community sentences than were deployed in the country. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real phenomenon.

But on the plus side our servicemen also become more resilient in time. The more we are exposed to stress and trauma, the more resilience we build up, and the higher our tolerance – or stock of courage – to it, becomes. That is what happened with me, I believe. I definitely witnessed far more traumatic experiences after Bosnia, in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and during the 7/7 bombings. But, by recognising my critical levels of tolerance to stress, and by learning to rationalise what I witnessed and experienced, I seem to have learned to cope with virtually any traumatic experience that has come my way so far.

When I watch the news, return from a war-zone or indeed speak with other friends who’ve recently returned from conflict, I realize that little changes. The world continues to be dangerous and un­predictable and, for the members of our armed forces still operating, the switch continues to flick rapidly and repeatedly from full-off to full-on. And yet despite the risks and the trauma, they love what they do. It’s a vocation, a way of life. And if you asked a veteran if he or she would do it all over again, you’d get the same answer every time:

“…in a heartbeat!”

Chris Hunter is a broadcaster, motivational speaker and former British Army bomb disposal operator. He is the best-selling author of the non-fiction titles: Eight Lives Down and Extreme Risk and is a regular contributor to television & radio news and current affairs programmes. For his actions during his Iraq tour Chris was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

This Saturday 27 June is Armed Forces Day, a chance to show support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community.

There are many organisations providing support to the Armed Forces community. 
The PAVO mental health team has pulled together a list:

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Impacts on the Covid Kids

by guest blogger Evan Griffiths

Evan Griffiths is a Powys based singer songwriter. He is 16, is afraid of crabs, and finds talking about himself in the third person very weird. The lovely folks at PAVO asked him to do a blog post on the impacts of COVID-19 on him and the people he knows.

So what have the kids of the Powys area been up to since lockdown?

Well, obviously I can't speak for everyone but from what I've seen, it's a lot of video games. I spoke to some of my mates and we all agreed that without online games you can play together with other humans we'd all have gone mad months back. Personally I also find that on top of this finding a solid creative outlet is also vital for the whole “not going bananas” thing.

As you might expect I’ve made a lot of music since the world went on standby and I must say I've not had the worst time doing it! Since day 1 I tried my best to encourage my friends and strangers on the internet to take up something creative now that none of us can go outside. I even did a short YouTube sketch reviewing people's projects. It wasn't very good.

Also (shameless plug) I’ve been working towards opening the Radnor Fringe Festival on Friday the 19th of June at 7pm GMT so like go watch that, I put a lot of work into it.

Other fun projects I’ve encountered where: learning a new language, making art from loads of old rubbish (this one wasn't from a teenager but is still very cool), learning bass guitar, making animations, it's been really cool to see what people can do now that they have virtually unlimited time to do it. If ever there was a time to finally learn that skill you've been putting off learning, it's now!

What effects have these activities had?

I have become dependent on coffee and have not left the house in three days.

And everyone else?

Oh right yeah, it's been really interesting to see at what rates people start to lose their marbles from social isolation but certainly those of us who are used to not talking to people for a while did a fair bit better in the short term. By this point everyone has more or less acclimatised to our new and weird reality and are back to feeling how we normally do.

Since this blog is about mental health I’d like to do a short piece on that. A lot of kids get bullied in school. Personally, I had a really terrible time of it towards the end of high school with gossiping teenagers and all that awful stuff and so for some of us the release from our nine to three coke light prison in favour of staying inside most of the time actually resulted in a marked improvement in our self worth and ability to cope with problems and situations. It’s almost as if it's easier to do your thing without people constantly telling you how awful you are.

However, this wasn't the case for everyone. For a lot of people the school environment provides a set structure and support group and to lose that means it becomes a lot harder for that person to cope with everything that goes on in their lives. And as a person who values structure myself I can seriously empathise with this. So the impacts of specifically the lockdown can change massively from person to person to person.

This got really heavy really fast.

It did, didn't it? Still I think it's important for people to talk openly about mental health, even now when it feels like the world's caving in. When did this become a lecture? 

Anyway to go back to a previous point I genuinely believe the escapism offered by video games has saved me and many others at least a portion of our sanity. For a long time when i couldn't go out and see my friends we'd boot up a Minecraft world and play virtual Lego for 5 straight hours and that all might seem silly or trivial to a lot of you reading this after the serious topics discussed and frankly I don't blame you but even from a mental health point of view spending time with your friends has always been shown to be good. Whether that be sharing a bag of crisps or blowing them up in Team Fortress 2. 

You talked before about the more creative activities you and your friends have been up to since lockdown, care to elaborate on how COVID affects the creative process?

The big C hasn't so much changed the creative process as it has simply forced it to adapt. For example I used to go and sit in my mate's house writing songs for hours on end, now I play a lot of Minecraft.

Please stop talking about Minecraft.

Okay fine, one of the few things I’ve found that's actually pretty cool about this whole lockdown thing is that it's given me loads of time to pour my everything into what I enjoy doing, making music. However, I am so criminally bored. I cannot articulate to you just how bored I am. 

Last week I cleaned my room, by choice, out of boredom. THAT’S HOW POWERFUL THIS ISOLATION IS! I’m up to date on school work for the first time in 5 years. So whilst me and many others have enjoyed the extra time to work on projects, if I go much longer I might make a TikTok and then it's really over. And if you don't know what TikTok is, thank your lucky stars and know that I envy you greatly.

Any closing thoughts about the impacts of COVID on the youth?

Firstly, I hate the term “the youth” makes me sound like an old man. Secondly, is it me or does February feel like it occurred sometime around 1996? And finally, I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I bid you all an at least interesting rest of your day.

>>> l i n k s <<<

Monday, 18 May 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – Kindness & Celf-Able

by Julia Wilson, Celf-Able art group

When my colleague Jen Hawkins (PAVO Health & Care Information Officer) and I started planning how we would commemorate this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week - 18 – 24 May - a few months ago, the theme was Sleep.

Never in our worst nightmares 
did we imagine the unfolding scenario which is the Covid-19 pandemic.

So much has changed in such a short time over the past few weeks. One of the most inspiring outcomes, however, is the willingness people across Powys have shown to help others, to show love and compassion through the smallest acts of kindness in their local communities. This has shone through particularly through the work of the local Covid-19 support groups which have sprung up across Powys.

Fittingly, the charity which has hosted the annual Mental Health Awareness Week since 2000, the Mental Health Foundation, decided to change its theme this year to Kindness. The reason for the change is explained in more detail:

“We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.

We also want to shine a light on the ways that kindness is already flowering at this time. We have seen it in the dancing eyes of 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore as he walked his garden to raise money for the NHS and in the mutual aid groups responding to local needs. We want that kindness to spread further in every community in the UK.

Finally, we want to use the week to explore the sort of society we would like to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.” 

by Ann Jeeves, Celf-Able art group
Ann: "For family, friends and neighbours - asking if anything is needed, 
doing shopping, and giving CAKES. I am grateful."

We asked the North Powys arts and disability charity Celf-Able if its members, who are meeting through Zoom video conferences to continue activities, would like to celebrate the Kindness theme by creating artwork for the blog based on their own recent experiences of kindness.

Amanda Wells, one of the group’s volunteer co-ordinators, told us more about Celf-Able’s work and recent activity:

“Celf-Able is an art group in Montgomeryshire. We are run by disabled volunteers but the group is open to all ages and abilities. We normally hold meetings in Newtown, Welshpool, Machynlleth, Llanfair Caereinion and Caersws, one meeting per month in each. We hire meeting rooms and turn up with a car full of art materials and people can create whatever they like! We are not an art class, but we share skills with each other and learn and have fun creating together.

During lockdown we have been having weekly meetings on Zoom. Going online has been a steep learning curve but we are starting to get used to it now. One member volunteers to run an activity, based on things that people might have at home. 

by Amanda Wells, Celf-Able art group

Amanda: "My dog Alfie is very kind and affectionate and has always been there with a doggy cuddle when he has sensed that I'm distressed. I wouldn't be coping with lockdown without him." 

So far we have done zentangles, drawing faces, pencil drawing and creative writing, amongst others. It’s a chance to see other people while chatting and being creative. The Zoom meetings are open to anyone, just email us first at to introduce yourself and get the joining instructions. Not all our members can attend on Zoom, so we are looking forward to life out of lockdown when we can get together and meet face-to-face again.” 

Celf-Able’s members are also considering a new initiative called Ffrindiau Celf / Art Friends – which by its very nature is intrinsically kind! They are currently circulating a survey to find out if people would be interested in having a befriender through art. The survey considers some of the benefits such as reducing isolation and loneliness, increasing confidence and improving mental and physical wellbeing, as well as learning new art skills.

You can read more about what members of Celf-Able have been doing in lockdown on the group’s own blog

Ann Conway, Celf-Able art group
Ann: "A phone call: 'Come to the door.' 
My god-daughter, with beautiful tulips for me. Such an act of kindness."

The Mental Health Foundation again 

“We think it could be the most important week we’ve hosted, not least because our own research shows that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic - with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus.

We know that one act of kindness can lead to many more. This is the type of community action that we need to inspire others as we discover our connection to each other and extend kindness to ourselves”. 

Sue Patch, Celf-Able art group

Sue: "During this lockdown I have been astounded at the kindness of people.
My lovely Mum died on 29 April and I have been overwhelmed by the messages
 I have received from people offering me support in words and virtual hugs.
People are kind all over the world."

We would love to hear about your own experiences of kindness, and how being the recipient of kindness has helped improved your mental wellbeing during Covid-19. Let us know in the comments box below, or on our Facebook or Twitter pages. Or you can email us at


Thursday, 30 April 2020

Staying well during lockdown - what are we doing?

by Owen Griffkin, Participation Officer

Artwork by Sarah Dale, Mental Health Individual Representative, for the Isolation Art Challenge

As we near the end of April the COVID-19 lockdown has been extended until mid-May at the earliest. We have all had to adapt and change our routines to keep ourselves safe, and this has meant new ways of coping with the stresses of isolation. One of the enduring themes to emerge from this crisis is the ability of people to make the best of what they have in their homes and surrounding areas to stay mentally and physically fit. It’s not easy though and sometimes it is good to look elsewhere for inspiration, so that our daily routine doesn’t start feeling like ‘Groundhog Day’. 

We thought we would catch-up with friends and colleagues of the Powys Association of Voluntary Organisation’s (PAVO) mental health team and find out what they have been doing to cope with the lockdown, and maybe give you some more ideas to change up your routine.

Clair Swales - Health and Wellbeing Team Manager, PAVO

Since COVID-19 I have re-started with my weightlifting efforts. I was getting into a rut. Returning home from work I needed to switch off and get into home mode and weightlifting has really helped! As soon as I get in, I say a quick hello to the family and then get changed. If I hang around for too long I end up sitting on the sofa and then I find it difficult to get going again.

Weight lifting helps me to channel my stress levels and reduce any anxiety. I put the music on loud (I find rock music helps and that's not my normal ‘turn-to’ in music taste!); focusing on form and challenging myself to improve each week gives me closure on the day's work. I find that even after a short training session I can shut off my work brain until the next day.

You won't see me competing in weight lifting that's for sure but for me personally I see the benefits of reduced stress, improved sleep and increased energy levels. Don't be afraid to try it even with light weights, or improvise with cans of beans!

Here's an article on weight lifting and wellbeing.

Joy Garfitt - Assistant Director Mental Health Services, Powys Teaching Health Board

Rhodri & Nerys - two of Joy's lockdown companions

I am one of the residents of Powys who has received a letter from Welsh Government encouraging me to ‘self-isolate’ so that I may be ‘shielded’ from catching COVID-19 (hopefully) – however this doesn’t mean that I needed to become a hermit and enter the world of daytime TV!

Fortunately, my job in the NHS lends itself to being able to work from home during this time, although I miss my normal contact and conversations with patients and colleagues. Thankfully, enter the world of Skype, Zoom, Facetime etc. which has enabled me to keep in contact with colleagues, friends and family – we have even set up a weekly Mental Health ‘virtual coffee morning’ where we can have an informal catch up, and compare our collective need for access to a hairdresser and get a break from self-isolating, homeworking and the endless amount of video conferences.

I have been making the most of my daily exercise allowance and have been regularly heading out on my bike and taking in the beautiful sights of rural Radnorshire. Thankfully, our rural lanes are perfect for not seeing anyone and the excellent weather has provided the motivation I needed, along with my two companions, Rhodri and Nerys.

Lucy Harbour - Mental Health Participation Manager, PTHB

Two weeks into homeworking I found myself getting a bad back and feeling generally uncomfortable. After a spontaneous visit to a famous online retailer I bought myself a hula hoop to try and get me moving a bit more and inject a bit of fun back into my days – and I’m so glad I did!

Now, after a long day sitting at the desk I can get out in the garden and hula hoop to my heart’s content (and neighbour’s horror!)

Millie Griffiths - Occupational Therapist on Felindre Ward, Bronllys Hospital, PTHB

During the lockdown I have been trying to continue to engage in hobbies to fill my time and to provide me with a focus. Usually I would play football but can’t so have taken up gardening. I had little knowledge of gardening before but I seem to be doing something right as the plants are growing!

Russell Pearce - Kaleidoscope Peer Support

My name is Russell, I am an addict and sufferer of mental health problems. I am also an ex-professional boxer. I have built a gym in my garage to help me relieve stress. Exercise takes me out of my head and I feel at peace. Stay active, stay safe.

Sarah Dale - Individual Representative on the Powys Mental Health Partnership

During this lockdown it is not surprising that my mental health, like many others, has got worse. Routine has gone out of the window, and my ability to do my go-to distraction technique, knitting, has gone with it too. So I started off by spending my time playing Resident Evil games on my laptop, scrolling Facebook, sleeping and binge-watching Netflix. 

On one of my many Facebook scrolling sessions I found a Facebook group called the Isolation Art Challenge. There was a list of 30 days with 30 different teams (the list has now been expanded to 60 days). You can take as long as you want completing each piece and you CAN do them in any order if you fancy, and post your finished pieces in the group. I thought I would use this as an opportunity to practice using my Promarkers (alcohol-based graphic makers). It has given me a goal to complete, distraction, a community to share with and something to pass the time. People seem to love my work, and have messaged me to let me know they look forward to my art popping up on their Facebook timeline. I have also had requests from people to draw portraits. I decided to start an Instagram account just for my art. Who needs exercise when you have most of the day to perfect a masterpiece! (joking! do get some fresh air).

Freda Lacey - Mental Health Partnership Manager, PTHB

My usual practice, meditation, mindful wood walking, gardening/planting veg, feeding the birds/listening to the amazing bird song, quilting/getting on with projects left in my cupboard unfinished, writing letters and cards to family and friends, learning to paint (with Bob Ross!).

Jess Tanner - Green Minds Facilitator, Brecon Mind

As the weeks in lockdown go by and as the days start to blend into one another I have been seeking ways in which to bring more attention into my daily life. Spring is such a dynamic and exciting time in nature and I have been leaning more and more into my practice as a gardener and a walker, trying to find some stillness within to notice and learn more about this changing world around us. 

At the beginning of April I started a “Phenology Wheel” as a way to document the events taking place in the natural world, within my garden and along the walks I have been taking. Creating the wheel has helped me to stay connected to the realities within myself and my local area, as well as making me feel hugely grateful for the landscape that surrounds me, filling each day with something new.

A Phenology wheel is a circular, daily calendar that encourages a regular routine of nature observation. It requires very few resources, just a paper and pen.

Have a look at the Green Minds project.

Em Charles - Green Minds, Brecon Mind

I find journaling useful when overwhelmed by unhelpful thoughts. Writing things down can help shift our worries from inside our heads to the outside, giving them space to be reflected upon. It can also be used creatively to express your feelings, through art, poetry, photography and collaging, so can become a nice record of our experiences day to day.

Here’s is a great how-to video on getting started with journaling. 

There are some great suggestions and links above, but we really want to hear what you have been up to. Please reply on our social media (Facebook or Twitter) or below this blog and let us know the activities you have been doing to keep physically and mentally well during the lockdown. If you have photos even better!

Or you can email us at or call 01686 628300.


Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Green Minds Ecotherapy Project - South Powys

by guest author Jess Tanner

Green Minds is Brecon & District Mind's new Ecotherapy project which launched this winter. As a fledgling project we are in the process of developing a range of nature-based initiatives that are rich in social and therapeutic value, and aim to reduce social isolation and increase the quality of life for our group members and the local community.

Our project's aim is to help our members to build a stronger connection and sense of belonging to the local environment by exploring the local landscape through mindfulness and nature-connection walks. The project will also help people to create new links within the local area through volunteering roles, and provide opportunities for our members to build self-confidence, self-reliance and new skills.

Our activities are currently taking place at Brecon Cathedral where our project is working towards the design and development of more wildlife friendly planting within the garden areas of the cathedral grounds. We have also started work within a walled garden in Brecon this month, preparing the polytunnel for the seed sowing ahead.

We also have lots of woodland mindfulness walks and craft activities coming up over the next few months. These include willow weaving workshops led by a professional basket maker as well as a bird box making session as part of February's national bird box making month.

We are now open to receive new referrals from within the community for those that feel being part of the Green Minds project will be of benefit to them. Please get in touch for more details.

When asked what mattered most to our members after the Green Minds' sessions their responses were:

“Working with other people and being able to see the end result. I feel less worried, being outside helps clear your mind.” - Sarah

“I felt uplifted when we took a step back and looked at the results of our graft. It's good to interact with others and be outside doing something good.” - Rich

Jess Tanner - Project lead biography

As well as working for Brecon & District Mind as a Community Wellbeing Support Worker, Jess leads the new Green Minds Ecotherapy Project, delivering horticultural therapy and community gardening activities for adults. 

Her background includes working within the creative arts therapies, outdoor education and life long learning. Jess undertook her horticultural training over a one year WRAGS placement (Women retraining as a gardener scheme) in the Black Mountains and also holds an Award in Social & Therapeutic Horticulture with Thrive. 

Jess is passionate about facilitating opportunities that help people to access gardens and green spaces and build stronger relationships with the local area and surrounding landscapes.

Emma Charles - Co-project lead biography

Emma is a Nature Based Facilitator offering ecotherapy and social and therapeutic horticulture in and around the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains. 

Her background is in social care provision, having worked in the third sector for over 10 years. Emma has recently joined the Green Minds Ecotherapy Project and her hope is to raise awareness of the importance of the natural world on our mental and physical wellbeing, and to bring people into a closer relationship with their natural selves whilst cultivating a deeper sense of appreciation for the beautiful environment they live in here in the Brecon Beacons.

You can find out more about the Green Minds Ecotherapy Project by contacting Jess Tanner at Brecon & District Mind, email: or ring 01874 611529. Jess works Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Introducing our new Head of Health & Wellbeing - Clair Swales

Clair Swales recently took on a new role at Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations as Head of Health & Wellbeing after previously working as Senior Officer Community Connectors & Info Engine Wales. She originally started work at PAVO in 2016 as a Third Sector Broker & Info Engine Officer and has since overseen the development of the hugely successful Community Connectors’ team within the organisation as well as further developing the online services directory infoengine. We met up with Clair recently to find out more about her new role.

Tell us more about your new role as Head of Health & Wellbeing at PAVO

My role is to facilitate positive relationships between Powys’ Third Sector and the Public Sector in the field of health and wellbeing, enabling third sector involvement in the development of policy and partnerships, championing a joined-up approach to commissioning of services and developing and maintaining effective service user and citizen engagement.

The role incorporates supporting the Health and Wellbeing team, overseeing the work of the Community Connectors and Powys Befriending Service and contributing to the management of PAVO. I also share responsibility with the CEO for the development and delivery of infoengine.

How is the new job going so far?

I began my new post in December 2019 and the first couple of months have been very busy indeed. In January I was delighted to welcome Sharon Healey as the new Senior Officer for the Community Connectors and Powys Befriending Services. It's been fantastic to get to work more closely with a larger team of PAVO colleagues and to continue working with the sector, health and social care colleagues albeit in a new remit.

Clair (2nd from R) & PAVO colleagues saying #HelloYellow on World Mental Health Day 2019

Can you - briefly - sum up the work of the three different PAVO teams you head up - Health & Wellbeing, Community Connectors & Powys Befrienders

Health & Wellbeing - the team supports Third Sector organisations working in the health and social care fields to work closely with the Health Board, County Council and others to develop better services for Powys’ people. It provides an important mental health information service, supports the delivery of health and well-being information via various mediums, and recruits and supports citizen reps for a variety of boards, as well as facilitating networks such as the Powys Advocacy Network.

Community Connectors - The service helps people in Powys (aged 18+) and their families or carers, to access community-level services and activities that will help them maintain independent lives and which help prevent their circumstances deteriorating to a point where they might need higher level health or social care services.

Powys Befrienders Service - Powys Befriending Service helps improve the independence of people over 50 by helping maintain social networks and remain in their own homes for as long as they are able.

Clair with some of the Community Connectors

Why do you think the Community Connectors have, in such a short time, become such key players in supporting some of our most vulnerable Powys residents?

For anyone who may be vulnerable or facing a challenging time, access to the right information at the right time is essential. Often it can be a challenge to keep on top of the latest information about the support that is available. The Community Connectors have become a key link between statutory services, the client and the sector. This has been driven by the Social Services and Wellbeing Act and A Healthier Wales; and the work with the Regional Partnership Board in delivering the Health and Care Strategy for Powys.

What are the main challenges of your new role?

Juggling time and commitments! With a large team and an even larger number of meetings to attend where I represent the sector, it is always a matter of judging the best way I can support the team and the sector in the best way possible. I like the challenge though and always try to ensure that I make time for my own health and wellbeing and ensuring a good work/home life balance.

Why do you think it is crucial that there is a healthy and robust Health & Wellbeing Third Sector in Powys?

There is a huge focus on health and wellbeing at the moment and in particular early help and intervention. Statutory services have changed immensely over the years and the model for delivery, and financial capability of delivering front line services has also changed. The third sector has a crucial part to play in our communities in supporting health and wellbeing but the sector itself needs to be healthy and robust, able to adapt to change and given the freedom to deliver what truly matters to people. Funding is always a challenge but I like to challenge funding bodies such as the local authority and Welsh Government to focus on early help and prevention and how this can be funded in the third sector. Volunteers play a huge role in supporting health and wellbeing in Powys so we must do what we can to look after Powys’ volunteers.

Clair with Andrew Davies, PAVO Health & Wellbeing Participation Officer

If you could change one thing in the Third Sector Health and Wellbeing world here, what would it be?

Ooh wave my magic wand……Other than overcoming funding difficulties within the sector, I would like to see more third sector involvement in the engagement and support of children and young people. Powys’ third sector has lost a lot of capacity in the remit of delivering support for children and young people and I think it is vital we play an active part in this area of health and wellbeing, to help support children and families and play a key role in reducing and preventing issues in the future.

Charities and voluntary groups (including PAVO) increasingly work more closely with statutory providers of health services - how do you think this will affect the sector from the tiniest local groups to the national big charity players?

I think the biggest challenge here is meeting demand. The SSWB Act has a focus on support close to home but we need to ensure that support for these organisations and groups filters right down to the smallest provider. The close work with statutory partners is certainly a positive step forward but I think there needs to be greater understanding of the role of the sector, in particular the smaller groups, that the sector cannot survive on thin air and it shouldn’t be the place to cut funding.

The Social Value Forum is really starting to see small groups and charities benefit from a small amount of funding that can make a big difference in the community. Sustainability of third sector services is always an issue. Powys is heavily reliant on the outstanding work of volunteers but there is only so much volunteers can do and only so much time to give for volunteering as we all work longer. 

Sharon Healey (L)  new Senior Officer for the Community Connectors &
Powys Befriending Services with Clair

How do you see co-production* working successfully in Powys to provide quality health services for all and what is PAVO’s role in this?

We have had some really positive discussions with third sector agencies such as Credu about co-production in Powys. I feel it's really important to include the service user or community’s views to shape services and this needs to be in a constructive and positive manner. To truly enable co-production we have to break down bureaucratic barriers and this can be a big challenge when working with statutory partners as they have their statutory duties to fulfill. Remove the barriers and let the sector work together with communities to shape future services.

PAVO can play an active role in bringing people together, ensuring the citizen and sector’s voices are heard at statutory level, and influence decision making on behalf of the community and third sector. PAVO’s mission is to be a CATALYST of voluntary Action, a legitimate VOICE for the voluntary sector and a HUB of essential information. We are looking at new ways of using the Community Connectors’ community workers’ meetings to co-produce services at community based level as we know in Powys one size does not fit all. It has to come from the community.

Lots of big issues are crowding out the H & W agenda, the Big 4 of Powys’s Health & Care strategy (Cancer, Mental Health, Heart and Respiratory disease), the Loneliness and isolation strategy of the Together for Mental Health new delivery plan. What skills can your PAVO teams bring to the table?

The team has excellent communication skills and the ability to decipher vast amounts of important health and wellbeing information. Using their creative communication skills they make information regarding health policies and wellbeing initiatives easily accessible to the public, and indeed statutory and third sector colleagues. The teams do this through a variety of platforms such as the ebulletins, social media, health lift films, and by working with people directly; thus meaning there is something for everyone. The team uses a variety of skills to ensure the voice of the citizen and the sector is heard at all levels of the decision making processes. We also benefit from working closely with our colleagues in the development team to support the sector to meet the challenges of an ever demanding, ever changing wellbeing environment.

Clair (2nd from L) at a patient discharge home meeting with colleagues from Third Sector,
Powys Teaching Health Board and Powys County Council

If people identify gaps in mainstream and Third Sector health and wellbeing services - where should they take that information so that the gaps can be addressed?

The Community Connectors’ case management system allows the team to record gaps and unmet need when working with clients. This has proved very useful with our work with the Social Value Forum to identify needs in communities. However this is just one way of recording information, there is a huge amount of information out there and if you speak to residents or people working in Powys communities they know where there are gaps. The challenge is recording it. The team has used the Community workers’ meetings to also record data around gaps and unmet need and if you don’t already attend one of these meetings I would encourage you to do so.

There are a couple of social prescribing pilot projects in Powys. There seems to be a greater appetite for exploring new and innovative ways to tackling some health & wellbeing issues. What are your thoughts?

Firstly I am not sure I like the terminology ‘social prescribing’. We shouldn’t have to be ‘prescribed’ community based third sector services. However people do need to know what’s available to them to support good health and wellbeing. We should encourage and support people to access community based activities where medical intervention is not required. This type of service is designed to support physical activity and promote good mental health.

Have you taken inspiration from others in the fields of health and wellbeing and / or the Third Sector, and if so, who?

I have actually taken my inspiration from my late father. He was very community minded and spent years as a Town and County Councillor always striving to make people’s lives better. Seeing him work so passionately in the community helped shape me and gave me the firm foundations to strive to deliver the very best for people in the work I do today and every day.

Tell us about some of the most rewarding work you have done at PAVO

Supporting the growth if the connector service has been very rewarding and being shortlisted for an NHS Wales award in autumn 2018 was definitely a highlight. But listening to the difference we can make to people’s lives and to the communities of Powys is always heart warming. I am very clear that without the third sector in Powys the county would be less vibrant.

When you’re not working how do you enjoy spending your time?

My spare time is undoubtedly dedicated to my family. I live with my husband (pictured above on my wedding day) and I have three children and two step children. I am normally running around with various items of sporting kit from rugby to football to horse riding gear. I am very proud of the children and enjoy being on the sidelines cheering them on. I also love cooking with my husband. That's my daily de-stress hour when I get home. I enjoy going to concerts (Bruce Springsteen has to be one of my all time favourites along with The Rolling Stones but I would love to see Sir Tom Jones in concert too). I love walking the dog and getting out into the mountains. Getting fresh air into my lungs helps me to feel grounded and reinvigorated.

BIG thanks to Clair for telling us more about her new role. If you'd like to contact Clair then you can ring 01597 822191 or email

*Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours. Where activities are co‐produced in this way, both services and neighbourhoods become far more effective agents of change.

Definition developed by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and Nesta, in partnership with the Co-production Practitioners’ Network