Monday, 16 December 2013

Powys Mental Health Alliance: AGM and Winter Open Day 2013

At the end of November Powys Mental Health Alliance held its Annual General Meeting and Winter Open Day at the Commodore Hotel in Llandrindod Wells. In July I had travelled down to Brecon for the PMHA Summer Open Day to find out how the organisation was doing and this seemed like the ideal opportunity to catch up with activities.

Trustees Bill Fawcett and John Steadman
I was greeted in the hotel foyer by trustee John Steadman from Ystradgynlais alongside a roaring open fire. Days before there had been a christening at the venue and the decorations were still in place – it all looked very cheerful with bunting and colourful paper lanterns.

The meeting kicked off with the formal AGM business. Chairman Bryan Douglas-Matthews welcomed all and we were straight into the Directors’ Report for the previous year followed by the finances. Two new trustees were elected to the Board on the day. Louise Evans is a member of Ponthafren Association in North Powys. She has enjoyed taking part in a variety of activities for the past couple of years, and is now keen to take on this new responsibility with PMHA. Bob Short is an adult learning tutor from Newbridge-on-Wye who is also involved with several voluntary groups.

Louise Evans and Bob Short - new trustees
Next up was – Jane Cooke, DIY Futures Project Manager – to speak about the book – “it’s the inside that matters.” It features thirteen stories from people who came into contact with the DIY service since it started in 2009, alongside artwork described as visual poetry. People have responded very favourably to the book so far, as it is promoted with the aim of helping to reduce stigma around mental distress, with groups from Aberystwyth, Ystradgynlais and Llanfair Caereinion expressing interest.

Jane Cooke, DIY Futures Project Manager, and contributor Adam Payne
Free copies of the book are available to organisations and groups which will set up an event which uses the book to start some discussion around stigma. “That could have been my story,” was the refrain I heard again and again as people chatted enthusiastically about the book.

Magazine editor Carla Rosenthal is currently working on the third issue of Headspace, which is due out in early 2014 – the deadline for submitting articles, letters, poems or artwork is 20 December. She said that PMHA is hoping to produce a book of poetry if funds can be sourced – “a huge amount of people love to send poems for the magazine.” There will also be a new poetry page on the website soon.

The art workshop
Workshops followed, with the option of art with Terri Sweeney, bead-making with Christine Brooks, and poetry with Carla. Then we enjoyed a delicious hot lunch, and a chance to catch up with friends and fellow members.

The afternoon session started with speaker Penny Nicholson, who volunteers with the bereavement counselling charity Cruse – “somewhere to turn when someone dies.” Penny said that 10 – 15% of mental health issues are the result of unresolved grief. “I cannot take your grief away. It is a question of learning to manage it.” She compared it to learning to walk with a broken leg – so that you don’t have a limp for the rest of your life. “It is a process of growth. You will flower eventually as a result of the pain and anguish and the pride of the relationship is still there.”

Penny Nicholson, on volunteering with Cruse
The talk was brought to life by Penny’s reference to her own personal experience of bereavement, as she was widowed unexpectedly at a young age with two young children to care for. “I was cut in half and bleeding from one side.” Penny described driving her MGB car with the hood down and screaming as she drove down the A3. This made her feel a lot better – “but Cruse would have been a softer and cheaper option!”

There are about 30 Cruse volunteers providing counselling across the length and breadth of Powys. People self-refer, and others are referred by social services. The sessions are weekly for the first three weeks, then fortnightly, and then once a month. The longest Penny has supported someone is just over a year – it depends on the age of the person and their personality. All in all it was a really interesting talk, with insights into the Cruse service, the nature of grief and how healing takes place.

Diane Millbury & Penny Nicholson
The day was rounded off with a contrasting but equally valuable session – Diane Millbury spoke briefly about the natural healing therapies and techniques which she practices before encouraging us to participate in a relaxing meditation session ourselves. Diane explained that she used to work for the health service, but that the medical model of the NHS did not suit her ethos in life. She learnt instead about meditation techniques which help people find their true potential by taking a holistic approach.

Once we were all chilled out from the meditation, Diane asked us to stand. “If you’re feeling sad (or happy) move your body and it helps.” So we finished with two exercises, The Palm Tree and The Lion. One thing I can guarantee – you can’t help smiling as you turn into a lion… my final photograph of the day sums it up really!

Let us know what you thought it you were there – and if you have suggestions for future activities I’m sure all at PMHA would appreciate feedback too!

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