Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Young Adult Peer Support workshop @ PAVO AGM

L-R: Julia Gorman (YAPS co-ordinator), Robin Green (YAPS Assistant Co-ordinator)
 - both with Ponthafren Association, and Sarah Harmon
Just last week I joined colleagues to help at our annual PAVO AGM which took place at the Royal Welsh Showground near Builth Wells. In the Chair's invitation to the AGM, Gloria Jones Powell wrote: "Welsh Government's White Paper, Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People, states that we need to be: 'Putting people at the centre and involving service users in prioritising, commissioning, designing, delivering and accessing services'. Unlike the usual approach to consultation and engagement, the projects within PAVO's One Powys - Connecting Voices portfolio invite commissioners, service providers and others to listen to what's important to them".

The Young Adult Peer Support (YAPS) project, which is one of the One Powys - Connecting Voices projects funded by the Big Lottery Fund, held a workshop at the AGM. It was attended by representatives from Powys teaching Health Board, Powys County Council, and numerous voluntary organisations and individuals, all of whom had an interest in mental health. My role was to support the project facilitators on the day, and so it was I joined Julia Gorman, Robin Green, and Sarah Harmon - one of the young people involved with the project - to capture feedback about mental health services from those attending. 

The YAPS project is delivered by Ponthafren Association, and offers peer support mentoring to young people (16-25 years old) who experience mental health issues, by helping to give them a voice of their own in the development of services. A project volunteer wrote about her experience for us last year, and we featured the project video "I don't let mental health define me" earlier this year.

The YAPS team had devised an intriguing game to carry out for the first half of their workshop. They had raided all the Ponthafren board games for dice! The aim of the game was to try and access mental health services as young people would do in the real world if they were experiencing mental distress. Starting at home, a simple throw of the dice would see the workshop participants on their way to the various services on offer in Powys. How hard could it be!

Martin Nosworthy, PAVO trustee, at the start of the YAPS game
Depending on the throw of the dice participants would be directed to one of various stages around the main hall at the AGM venue. They might be sent to College, a Friend's house, the GP, Ponthafren Association, the Police, or Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for example. On the way to their next "station" in the game, they had to negotiate chairs, tables, and numerous other players of the game, all competing to reach their own stage and win the support they so very much needed.

Those lucky enough to reach College/University then had to throw again. 1 = too anxious to go - return home, 2 = bad day - get a Crisis Card, 3 - 5 = good day = go to friends, 6 = pass an exam - take a chocolate and go home. 

The Crisis Card was particularly bad news. It stated: Stop taking your medication, lose a chocolate and go to the GP...

The pile of sweets did go down slowly, but most people, whilst glad to pick up an occasional reward, were starting to feel increasingly frustrated about how often that they had to return home....

Many participants made it to the GP surgery, including Kate van den Ende, one of the reps on the Mental Health National Forum, (who wrote for us very recently about Dual Diagnosis).

However, over at Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services there were very few arrivals...

And at the Police Station whatever the throw of the dice, the news was not good. 1 - 2 = get fined, go home and return a chocolate. 3 - 6 = cautioned, and go home.

After 30 minutes the game was stopped and we gathered the participants together to get their feedback. Everyone expressed frustration at not being able to access the support they needed. They kept "getting caught" or "having to return home". Their frustration escalated significantly when they learnt that one dice roll was equivalent to one whole day! They said that the situation was totally unpredictable and completely out of their control!

Only two players of the game acquired the elusive Mentor Card and were less likely to be trapped at home. They quickly realised that they: 
  • Would no longer be sent home.
  • Had increased confidence.
  • Felt more comfortable. 
  • Could do things and get results. 
As Robin explained: "That is what peer support does. This is what YAPS does."

It was a brilliant game. And both a brilliant and fun way to convey to people the increasing frustrations of a young person trying to access services and being passed from one to another without ever getting to the root of their problem.

Barbara Perkins (centre), PAVO One Powys Connecting Voices Officer
with Sarah and Robin
The workshop continued for another half an hour with an animated discussion around the value of the YAPS Project and the many barriers to young people accessing relevant services in Powys. Watch this space for further updates as the One Powys - Connecting Voices Project continues to make a difference to the way in which public services are planned and delivered. Over at YAPS they are listening hard and looking to suggest some very innovative solutions.

The YAPS Project runs its own blog called VOX. Check it out here.


  1. Thank you for sharing this Jackie. I felt that the conference as a whole offered a lot of what is "real" in our community and Julia Robin and Sarah clearly demonstrated the hurdles encountered by our young people. I look forward to seeing some partnership working with service providers to improve our services

    1. Hi Barbara

      The workshop was very well organised and facilitated on the day and I really enjoyed being part of it. It would be great to see something similar rolled out across the rest of Powys. I'll watch on with interest to see how things unfold around partnership working and the shaping of future services by those in contact with them.

      Thanks for commenting.


  2. Hi Jackie, thank you for this interesting post.

    We produce an e-newsletter where we feature a new participatory technique every month. Would it be OK if we used the game described in this post as the next 'Method of the Month'?

    An example of our recent newsletter is here:

    We will give credit for the technique to PAMH and YAPS of course :-)


    1. Hi Participation Cymru, thanks for the comment. We get your e-newsletter and enjoy reading it each month.

      All the credit definitely goes to YAPS! The game was the perfect way to suggest to partipants how frustrating it could be for a young person trying to find support when in distress. I suggest you contact Julia and Robin who run the YAPS Project at Ponthafren Association about using the game as the next 'Method of the Month'. Check out contact details on their website here.

      All the best with it!


  3. Wow, this game is ingenious! Well done to YAPS for getting their message across in such a unique way.