Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Glorious Gardens From Above: BBC TV @ Ponthafren

This Autumn the glorious terraced garden which is managed by a team of devoted volunteers at the mental health charity Ponthafren Association, Newtown, will feature on a new BBC TV programme called Glorious Gardens From Above

TV/radio gardener and horticulturist Christine Walkden spent the summer journeying across the British Isles in a hot air balloon. From this striking new perspective she flew across the country calling in at some of the most beautiful gardens on her way. The new programme is not just about gardens, but people's relationships with gardens. Ponthafren's garden was chosen to represent the community garden category in the episode focusing on Mid Wales.

I met the BBC producer/director Will Ridgeon and his colleague Helen Shields as they spent the day filming interviews of staff and volunteers at Ponthafren and touring the garden to find some of the best viewpoints. That was not difficult in a stunning garden cut into the steep hillside alongside the River Severn, with views overlooking not just the riverbank, but the town of Newtown opposite.

Nicky Morris (Centre Co-ordinator) began her interview by describing the layout of the garden. Starting at the top, there is a large fruit and veg patch, from which leads a long drystone wall. This is topped with herbs all the way down the sloping path to the sensory gazebo - one of several outdoor seating areas. Next is the sensory garden itself, which is stuffed full of different textured plants and grasses, and then alongside the riverbank is the wildlife walk. This incorporates a pond with a solar powered fountain and mass plantings of shasta daisies which blend perfectly with the natural vegetation of the riverbank. 

Each area has its own features, included topiary figures and sculptures made out of all manner of materials, including a recycled bath and washing machine innards! Iolo Williams opened the garden once the wildlife walk was complete and said it was ideal for wildlife - the dragonfly larvae had moved into the pond already!

Helen and Will then moved on to interview Ponthafren garden volunteer Jan Rogers – who is turning into something of a regular guest on this blog (she recently wrote – Volunteering whilst getting benefits and Mental Health Act 1983 – Code of Practice: the review (in England)). As Jan picked apples from a loaded tree, before moving into the greenhouse for tomatoes and cucumbers, she answered questions about how her involvement as a volunteer gardener at Ponthafren had impacted on her own wellbeing. She also spoke passionately about what she had gained from her experience – including increased confidence, new qualifications and the opportunity to work outside.

She explained that a variety of funders had contributed to the garden improvements over the years, including work to make the garden more accessible to all. In the last few years new raised beds and an extra greenhouse have been added, and also new seating areas. These projects are often planned, costed and built by the garden volunteers themselves, and there is a sense of huge achievement as each idea is brought to life.

Volunteers have been able to attend Coleg Harlech (now WEA Cymru) courses in Drystone Walling, Art & Design in the Garden, and Landscape Design, whilst completing various projects. Jan said "some of us were lucky enough to complete a 12 month Diploma in Horticultural based Progression (14 units including a wide range of topics from herbs, grafting, and seed collecting to writing business plans, to name a few). I personally would have never taken part in this type of course if it had not run at Ponthafren."

Jan heads up the team of garden volunteers at the Centre. Each volunteer chooses what area they want to work in, "one lady can't stand for long but she loves to sit and pot things on. We take a lot of cuttings, and the plants are put in our yard for people to buy which is our money to buy seeds, compost and tools for next year. This is the great thing with our garden, there is something for everyone. The only thing that I do insist on is that everyone enjoys it!"

Jan arrives with a basket full of veggies for an outdoor cookery demonstration.

Julia Gorman (Newtown Resource Centre Facilitator at Ponthafren) was then filmed with Ponthafren members preparing the vegetables Jan had gathered. Julia runs regular nutrition sessions at the Centre for members to attend and learn about food preparation and diet - she and some of the volunteers prepare healthy and tasty food for all to enjoy at the end of a session. 

Contrast this image with one taken about 15 years ago when volunteers started work at Ponthafren to transform the garden.

All in all everyone had a thoroughly enjoyable day - though obviously Will and Helen were working non-stop throughout to film the best shots for the programme! We all noticed during the filming how often noises intrude to interrupt a session. Ponthafren garden always seems very peaceful, but on the day the BBC arrived a whole host of sounds came and went, including: squealing seagulls, bottle bank emptying across the river, workmen building a shed next door, motorbikes roaring along Milford Road, dogs barking and planes soaring high overhead. A tip for anyone wanting to get into the TV business: learn and practice patience as a key skill!

The new series Glorious Gardens From Above will now start broadcasting on Monday 10 November on BBC 1 at 3.45pm daily (please note change of broadcast date!)
There are 15 episodes in total. The Mid Wales episode, in which Ponthafren Association features, will transmit on Wednesday 12 November. It will also feature Powis Castle Gardens, and the Dingle Garden near Welshpool.

You can join a Drop-in Gardening session with Jan at Ponthafren Association 
every Wednesday and Friday 11am - 2.30pm.
Julia runs Foodwise sessions at Ponthafren Association every Thursday 2 - 3pm.
You can find out more here.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hello, and welcome: Terrence Higgins Trust in Powys

A few weeks ago I found out that the Terrence Higgins Trust - the charity promoting a healthy and stigma-free life for people with HIV - had set up a Community Liaison and Participation Project in Powys.  People who have been diagnosed with HIV often experience stress, anxiety and depression, and can feel particularly isolated in a rural county like Powys. The Trust provides support and advice for them and also anybody affected by these issues, such as family members and partners. Andrea Taylor, Support Service Coordinator of the HIV and Hepatitis Action for Wales, kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her work for the Trust, and the support that is available.

Tell us more about the work you are doing

Our Community Liaison Project is a Wales-wide service which can help if you are living with HIV and/or viral hepatitis. We can help if you are feeling isolated or lonely by increasing your access to a wide range of services in the local area. We can also help with some of the day-to-day issues of living with HIV and/or viral hepatitis and how they impact on your life. We can also help if you would like to make your organisation more knowledgeable and welcoming people with these conditions.

What is HIV and Hepatitis Action Wales?

It is a Wales-wide service which can help with any aspect of living with HIV and/or viral hepatitis. If you have questions about your treatment, your test results or day-to-day issues such as employment, housing and welfare benefits we can help support you. We can also provide emotional support and counselling. All our services can be delivered on a face-face basis locally, by phone or via our online support services.

Why is there a need for your work?

Despite the huge progress in care and treatment for people living with HIV/HepC in the last three decades, reducing the stigma around HIV/HepC has taken longer and proven more difficult to address.

HIV is still a stigmatised illness and discrimination and prejudice remain issues of concern to people living with HIV. Fear of discrimination and actual experiences of injustice can have a profound effect on individuals mental health and self esteem, which in turn can have significant implications for society as a whole.

Stigma often prevents people being open about their condition and it inhibits the kind of open discussions that is needed to challenge society’s lack of knowledge and understanding about HIV/HepC.

How do you know about the ongoing stigma associated with HIV?

A 2010 survey found that 66 per cent of the public agree that there is still a great deal of stigma around HIV. A similar number also believe more needs to be done to prevent discrimination. However, general awareness and knowledge levels among the public can still be startlingly low. People living with HIV/HepC regularly report being treated badly, receiving poor service or being discriminated against because of their status. Sadly, a high level of discrimination still occurs within some organisations.

A 2008 survey of people with HIV in London found that one third of people encountered discrimination because of their HIV status. Of those reporting discrimination, half said it had come from a healthcare worker, one in four from a dentist, one in five from a GP and one in ten from hospital staff.

We have supported people who have been bullied, intimidated and even threatened with violence because of their condition. Stigma and prejudice can compromise people's personal relationships and fear of disclosure can prevent them getting the kind of basic support that other people living with long term conditions can expect from family and friends.

How does the stigma of HIV affect people’s emotional wellbeing?

The fear and isolation this creates can have a profound effect on a person’s physical and emotional health. In many instances, people living with HIV/HepC can require more support in dealing with the stress and anxiety caused by the stigma, than with the physical impact of the infection. Mental health and in particular depression is a common experience for people living with HIV and a 2012 study showed that one in four had a current depressive disorder. Despite these figures, depression is not an inevitable aspect of HIV infection, but it could be triggered if you feel anxious or uncertain about your future. It is possible that people living with HIV are suffering from depression without realising it.

What about discrimination against people with HIV seeking employment?

People living with HIV/HepC are often fearful of disclosing their status in employment or recruitment settings and many people face barriers to securing or remaining in employment as a result. Similarly, many people are reluctant to disclose in settings such as with their GP or dentist and this in turn compromises the level of support they can expect from public services.

The public sector is the UK’s largest employer, with the NHS the largest single employer, so it holds considerable potential to not only improve the delivery of services to people living with HIV/HepC, but to also increase HIV awareness and tackle discrimination.

What is happening in Powys and Ceredigion?

A great deal more could be done within the health service in particular in terms of training staff on HIV related stigma rather than focusing on simply HIV infection control. Our projects in Powys and Ceredigion involve working in partnership with people living with HIV and representative agencies. We will continue to fight to challenge HIV stigma and increase awareness in public services and within our community.

If you would like to speak to your local Terrence Higgins Trust support worker either to request training, arrange an appointment, or simply have a chat on how we might be able to support you, please contact:

Andrea Taylor, Support Service Coordinator - HIV and Hepatitis Action for Wales
 mobile: 07824 809 779 email: andrea.taylor@tht.org.uk

Joshua Hall, Community Liaison Project Manager - 
Community Liaison & Participation Project
tel: 02920 666 465  email: josh.hall@tht.org.uk

Friday, 5 September 2014

A visit from the Older People’s Commissioner Office

Earlier this summer Kate Hughes, who works as the Engagement Coordinator for the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, visited some of my colleagues (including Freda Lacey) at PAVO to find out more about our work. She later wrote a blog post about her visit for the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales’ website and with her permission we republish it here. In the post Kate highlights “some of the excellent work underway in Powys that is making a big difference to people’s lives.”

I visited Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO) in Llandrindod Wells to spend the day with Freda Lacey, PAVO’s Mental Health Participation and Involvement Officer, and Barbara Perkins, their Community Voice Officer. They were keen to tell me about some of the outstanding work going on across Powys, supported by PAVO, which helps organisations and improves lives.

Powys is the largest county in Wales, covering a quarter of its land mass, but it is also the least sparsely populated with an average of 26 people per square kilometre. The result is a beautiful rural landscape with soaring mountains and acres of wilderness to explore. There are several population centres, including Newtown, Welshpool, Llandrindod Wells and Hay-on-Wye, but many people live in remote areas that are hard to reach. The result is a patchwork of services that cover the county and a real postcode lottery about what is available to you based on where you live. The Commissioner often talks about people being in the ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky box’ and where you live in Powys and whether you have easy access to transport, can be critical factors in determining which box you are in.

The importance of being able to access transport is highlighted by the fact that there are no District General Hospitals in Powys, so people often have to travel long distances and across borders for diagnosis and treatment. They also told me that older people whose spouses or partners are very ill in hospital often struggle to make the journey to Birmingham or Wrexham and that there have been reports of discharge in the very early hours and a lack of discharge planning.

Rural isolation is also a huge challenge as people often live at some distance from friends, family and community services. There have been projects set up to tackle this and to help support people’s mental health and wellbeing. Freda and Barbara had time to tell me about some of their favourites:

This project helps people to do their shopping. Volunteers phone up to find out the items people need and let them know about special offers etc. They will then shop locally, deliver and unpack the items people have ordered.

This is a wide-ranging service that has really helped service users to get involved in designing and delivering mental health services.

They bring services/(senior managers) and service users/carers together in local communities so they can discuss and resolve any problems, if possible, locally. This is a great example of using patient experience, rather than complaints, to drive improvement.

This service focuses on people over 50 who are lonely, isolated and risk losing independence.  Volunteers work with people for up to a year and support them to become more involved in their communities. Once volunteers have been matched, they help people to identify groups and activities they want to try and support them to try out them out. They try to help people find social activities they can continue to enjoy long after their involvement has ended. This project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and is running until October 2016.

There are a range of initiatives to help Powys become a more supportive place for people with dementia to live. Hay-on-Wye/Brecon  is trailblazing the way to implement Dementia Friendly Communities in Wales.  The aim is to help people and organisations in local areas to better support people with dementia. An example of some of the initiatives linked would be the Butterfly Scheme, which provides training in dementia care within hospitals and is based on the “Reach” programme.

Many thanks to Freda and Barbara for a fascinating day. I have just skimmed the surface of Powys in this blog, but I was struck by the range of innovative solutions people in Powys have found to providing services in such a challenging landscape. I would like to end with a final thought from the Commissioner, “"When we get it wrong, the price is never paid by the service, it's paid by the individual and is far too high".

The situation in Powys may be challenging, but it is heartening to see that so many people are trying to get it right.

Tell us what you think in the comments box below about some of the issues that Kate has raised in her blog post.