Thursday, 25 June 2015

Change Step - led by veterans for veterans

Stephen Jones has recently taken on a new role with the charity Kaleidoscope

He works to support veterans and their families in Powys, particularly in respect of any problems associated with military service and the transition to civilian life. 

A lot has been written about the mental health of service and ex-service personnel, such as this 2013 report from the Mental Health Foundation.

We asked Stephen to tell us more about his new role and why it is needed in Powys.

You seem to have two separate but linked roles - tell us more

I have recently become the Listen In Project Co-ordinator for Change Step – this role sees me supporting families, friends and carers of veterans to aid in promoting recovery from problems associated with military service and the transition to civilian life.

I am also currently a Change Step peer mentor aiding the veterans themselves, providing a unique peer-led service.

What led you to these particular roles?

As a veteran myself, and a volunteer for Kaleidoscope (the substance misuse service in Powys), my personal journey is and can be seen to be very similar to those who I support.

Steve at Ystradgynlais Welfare Club
How do you define the term “veteran”?

A veteran is anyone who has served one day's service with the Armed Forces, whether it be as a reservist or full time member.

Tell us more about why veterans in Powys need the kind of support you offer?

It can be a very daunting process, leaving the military to joining civilian life, with there being many changes to day to day life. Sometimes it can appear to be a lonely process and there are many new challenges ahead for those leaving the forces. In particular some veterans may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or issues surrounding family life, housing, and also substance/alcohol misuse. I feel that anyone leaving the military may benefit from a quick chat with someone who has been in their shoes and understands these unique issues.

Do you know how many veterans there are in Powys? What barriers might prevent them seeking support and how do you work to overcome those?

I would imagine that there are many veterans in Powys, and we also have a large Gurkha population in the county. Powys is a very rural area, which could present as a barrier within itself. I work Powys-wide, so can travel to see those who cannot travel to see me, helping those in remote areas.

Trust is also a barrier, which is where Change Step and Listen In assist greatly as we are veterans supporting veterans.

Are there particular issues which arise in rural areas for veterans experiencing mental distress?

I think it is hard for anyone suffering mental distress, and I think the main issue is being heard, supported and knowing where to go for that support.

Steve at Dering Lines Army Camp 
Drink Drive Awareness Day
What kinds of activities are available to support veterans in Powys, and in your experience which are found to be the most appreciated and/or useful?

There are various support groups in Wales such as Combat Stress, Veterans Wales, Royal British Legion (RBL), SSAFA (Soldiers Sailors Airmen & Families Association) and many more. I am having meetings with the RBL and hope to open drop in centres in some of the major towns in Powys, where veterans can pop in for a cuppa and a chat.

What support is needed by the families of veterans who struggle to make the transition to civilian life? What is your role here? 

It can be hard for veterans to adjust, however it is also hard for the families to adjust – they may have lived apart for some time and be used to a different lifestyle, maybe in military accommodation in this country or abroad.

They will also potentially see their family member 24/7 for the first time, and also experience issues surrounding witnessing their family member suffering with PTSD. They could feel isolated and not sure where or who to turn to.

What is the most challenging aspect of the job?

I think that the main challenge with my role is making sure that I can reach all those who need our support – there are a lot of veterans and families who may need support however have not yet heard of Change Step or Listen In, something which we are working hard on changing.

Can veterans sign up to volunteer with the project? If so, what are the criteria for people who are interested, and what kind of roles are available?

Yes, and we would like to see veterans signing up as this in itself can help alleviate some issues surrounding isolation or boredom, and also help those who have not yet referred into the service. Contact us for further information.

When you are not working for Kaleidoscope, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I am a keen fisherman and spend a lot of my spare time at the coast. I also enjoy camping in the summer months.

Many thanks to Stephen for taking time out to update us about his new role. You can contact him at Kaleidoscope: 9 Castle Street, Brecon, LD3 9DD, tel: 01874 622333, mobile: 07738 320 390, or email

Monday, 15 June 2015

Five Ways to Wellbeing

Have you heard about the  Five Ways to Wellbeing? We wanted to find out more in our team, so decided to ask Sophia Bird. Sophia is a Principal Health Promotion Specialist in the Powys Public Health team, and amongst other things, leads on mental health promotion for the team. We asked her:

What are the Five Ways to Wellbeing and where has the idea come from?

Sophia Bird
Well, the New Economics Foundation was commissioned, a few years ago, as part of the Foresight project, to research the key factors influencing well-being. NEF was asked to identify these key factors and then turn them into a simple, understandable resource containing actions that can be undertaken by almost anyone within their everyday lives. What they came up with is the Five Ways to Wellbeing. They found that those people who were active in 5 particular areas of their life tended to live happier and healthier lives. Furthermore, the research showed that by building the Five Ways to Wellbeing into daily routines, people could add around 7.5 years to their lives. More recently, The Children’s Society published a report showing that the Five Ways applies equally to children and young people, though being creative is more applicable for them than giving.

So, why not use the plan to see how much you are doing and whether some areas could do with a little more action?

Or, for those of you who are more electronically minded, you can download an app that will give you reminders about the goals you set yourself and some other ideas of things you can do for you. The app is called Five Ways to Wellbeing and was developed by Somerset County Council.

And let me know what you think and how you are getting on.

So, within the mental health team here at PAVO, we decided to explore what the Five Ways meant to us personally.

1. Connect

If I’m honest, one of the reasons I enjoy volunteering at The Quilt Association in Llanidloes so much is because it immerses me in a community of creative like-minded souls! Most of the time… we don’t always see eye to eye, but so long as it stays on good terms a bit of debate can be healthy anyway! Jackie

Another summer exhibition at The Quilt Association in Llanidloes

So - if I am being honest this is a difficult area for me - I am a bit of a hermit and not very comfortable socially unless I have a role or I am with people that I am very familiar with - having said that when I do really connect it is often very liberating - one reason I chose the Gestalt route for my therapy training was that it’s very experiential and gave me lots of opportunity for being open and vulnerable in a safe supported place - I still go to a personal development group four times a year. Jane

Yes, honesty is the challenge! So I feel I connect by being involved as a voluntary advocate for a person with mild learning disabilities. Spending time with her, listening, sharing, supporting and laughing together is huge and something that I enjoy doing. I also love to spend time with friends and family, particularly my children and my grandson who always helps me to ‘step out of my comfort zone’, for example, quad-biking and zip-flying!  Glynis

I’m involved in several hobby groups and clubs, where I connect to people who share similar interests. Sometimes I take an active role in the organisation of these groups and at other times, I prefer to leave all that to others so I can relax, go along to participate and have fun! I play football, attend various creative groups - writing, photography etc and regularly volunteer at large sports events. Although it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I love social media and I connect to many of my friends that way, some of whom now live on the other side of the world. I love to communicate in writing and so facebook has revolutionised my social life - in a good way!  Anne

2. Be active

Love walking my daughter’s dog across the fields at home and losing myself in the moment…..very lucky to live in such a beautiful place. Gardening is another love but I need to actively find more time (perhaps once the building project is complete) for improvement! Joined a running club that starts soon…..who knows?  Glynis

Anne (far left) with Hay St Mary's Ladies' Football Club. (Photo: Brecon & Radnor Express)

I have always had loads of energy and my parents soon realised that this was best channelled into sport rather than me climbing all over the furniture or hanging upside down from playground equipment! At the moment, I play football for Hay St Mary’s Ladies' Football Club and train regularly with them. I like to cycle - although the undulating landscape of Powys provides more of a challenge than London used to. Yoga I find relaxing and good to maintain suppleness. Every now and then, I think that I’m still a gymnast. Unfortunately, at my age, my somersault days are (probably) well and truly over!  Anne

Could do better! There are lots of active things I like doing - gardening, walking, yoga - but do I do them often or consistently enough - no!  Jane

My garden, on a steep hill overlooking the Upper Severn Valley, keeps me fit! I love growing my own fruit and veg despite the many challenges of hungry mice, slugs, blackbirds and pigeons, who all think I’m growing food for them!  Jackie

3. Take notice

The Montgomeryshire Canal - a familiar view for Glynis

I have been meditating for nearly a decade (not continuously - that would be silly) and I find that this helps me to relax and notice what my body is telling me: very useful if I start to rush around too much and neglect to rest as much I need to. Learning to pay attention to what my body is telling me is a lifelong task - and one I still grapple with.  Anne

One of the things I like to encourage is being open to our senses - so as often as possible I take a few minutes outside to close my eyes and listen, or notice the breeze.  Jane

I like to notice other creatures as well as the humans in my life… Sometimes it’s positive - my cat does smile, seriously… but slug slime can be maddening if it’s deposited all across a half-eaten lettuce in my veggie garden...  Jackie

4. Keep learning

My sister is currently learning Chinese! That’s a step too far for me… but this year I did learn how to graft apple trees and now have 10 baby trees - thanks to my former colleague Laura for the prunings to get me started!  Jackie

I always love learning - I am writing a dissertation now as part of my on-going learning as a therapist - working in the Mental Health team at PAVO always gives me lots to learn and follow up on - I like the feeling of learning new things and being excited by challenging ideas.  Jane

Stitchwort flowering by Jane's garden

Well, they don’t call me “three degrees Anne” for nothing. Actually, they don’t, but I do like to remind people about them fairly regularly, I admit! If there’s a course that aligns with my interests and I have time, then I’m on it. I like to really immerse myself in a new subject and learn about it in depth. Really, it’s all about learning about myself and hence more about others too. I’m fascinated by people - we’re such complicated and interesting creatures. There will always be new things to learn about how we think, how we interact with our environment and how different we are from each other, whilst at the same time all being fundamentally human. And one day, I really will start that PhD...  Anne

Love learning (in all forms)… thinking of signing up to a clinical nutritional course next September…..well, watch this space!!   Glynis

5. Be creative and give

Love to travel down to London to spend time with my eldest son or over to Shropshire to see my daughter. Miss seeing my youngest son who has just returned from Canada and is currently based in Germany….but the summer is fast approaching!  Glynis

I’ve got eight grandchildren - so no shortage of opportunities for giving birthday presents! I also support a number of local and national charities.  Jane

Time is my most precious commodity I think. I don’t give enough time to family and friends, especially those living far away, so here’s hoping to make a better effort in future. (Starting to use WhatsApp on my phone recently probably doesn’t count….)  Jackie

I’ve been a volunteer in sport for most of my adult life and this is one of the ways that I give back. I love helping people. I like to create safe and relaxed environments where people can fully express themselves and have fun. I also volunteer in mental health and for various causes that align with my values. I think, for me, a big challenge is making sure that I don’t give too much of my energy to other people and to make sure that I look after myself properly too. Spending time on ourselves isn’t selfish, especially for those of us who work so hard to look after other people. Sometimes I need to remind myself of this.  Anne

Cat or tiger....? Jackie's feline friend...

What do you think about the Five Ways to Wellbeing? Let us know in the comments box below.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Brecon & District Mind - Mental Health Awareness Day

Val Walker, of Brecon and District Mind, reports on the Mental Health Awareness Day the charity held a couple of weeks ago as part of Mental Health Awareness Week:

On the only wet and windy day of the week Brecon and District Mind, in conjunction with the Brecon Beacons National Park, held a Mental Health and Wellbeing Day at the Mountain Visitor Centre at Libanus in May. The aim was to promote the benefits of accessing the great outdoors to improve mental health and wellbeing.

A range of organisations were involved including the National Trust, Ecotransport network, Gwalia, Hafal, Kaleidoscope, Arts Alive, Brecon Dementia Friendly Community, Dyfed-Powys Police, a nutritionist, National Resources Wales, Cynon Valley Ramblers' Association and various others who were represented.

Although some of the outdoor activities such as the nature walks, geocaching and trialling the Bomber and electric cars were a little hampered by the damp weather, the activities still went ahead with those people who were brave enough to don waterproofs and get out there in the elements.

The specially adapted Bomber bike was fun. This provides an opportunity for wheelchair users and people with mobility problems to be able to go out across the mountains independently.

The electric cars were also good fun and although the open sided one was a bit damp and cold when out in the open, it was still an interesting experience. 25 miles an hour felt like 50 so speeding was not an issue!

There was an indoor
programme of events throughout the day, including workshops and exercise classes. Many people attended these due to the poor weather. The printmaking went down fantastically well and so did the wool spinning, Qui Jung and Zumba sessions.

Thanks go out to Ceri Bevan and her team of wardens and trainees at the National Parks who facilitated the event for us and struggled against the elements to erect their fabulous new marquee. Thanks also to a grant from the Sustainable Grant Fund which enabled the shuttle bus provided by Williams Coaches to run up to and back from the Visitor Centre. Without this some people would not have been able to access the event.

The day attracted around 60 - 70 visitors to the event who came from as far afield as Pontypool, Blackwood, Newtown and Pembrokeshire.

Despite the weather the event was a success and something that we hope to repeat with the National Parks.

Thanks to Val for the update! Find out more about future Brecon and District Mind events here.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Powys Befrienders - more than a cuppa and a chat

My colleague Rachael Beech has been working for the past 3½ years as the Powys Befrienders’ Project Co-ordinator at Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations. Powys Befrienders is a lottery funded project set up to improve the independence of people aged over 50.

We caught up with Rachael at her PAVO base at Ddole Road in Llandrindod Wells to find out more about the project.

What was the original idea behind the Befrienders Project?

Very simply to support people over the age of 50 to engage back into the community; to increase their independence and confidence, and stay in their own homes as long as possible. That includes people who are experiencing mental distress, bereavement or social inclusion – it could be anyone. The project runs across the whole of Powys. People are matched with volunteers for a period of 12 months with a view to them becoming more independent ultimately.

Who can ask for a befriender?

Basically anyone who is lonely and isolated and needs help to take that first step. The befriender supports that person to reach their goals, so although a cuppa and a chat are vitally important they need to identify that they need support in particular areas of their lives to increase their independence. People can self-refer or be referred by family, statutory or voluntary organisations.

People assume loneliness and isolation are the same and their definition can be very different to the reality of the situation. You can be completely isolated and in a housing estate surrounded by a thousand people, not necessarily out in the sticks. Being lonely is down to how people cope with day to day life. Someone with a carer twice a day or a member of a club could still feel lonely because they are not having meaningful interaction. That can cause a huge amount of loneliness, especially if they are not being listened to.

Tell us about the staff and volunteers working on the project and their different roles

I manage the project across the county working with 3 outreach officers and 2 delivery partners. We promote the project, identify clients and volunteers, and then match them. This includes setting up volunteer training, support and supervision. The outreach workers also make sure that both parties understand the principles and boundaries of the project. The client will understand that they have choice and control over the goals that are identified. Staff may also identify other client needs that can be met by other statutory or voluntary organisations. Even if clients come to us who don’t meet the project criteria we will still try and point them in the right direction.

We look at the skill set and interests of a volunteer when matching them with a client although it’s not always possible to get the ideal match because of the geographical nature of Powys. Then the volunteer will go in once a week for 2 – 3 hours to support the client with their goals.

How can your project volunteers support people to strengthen their social networks?

People who have lost confidence and independence find it very difficult to take that first step to interact with other people, to start a conversation, even to walk into a room. But if they have someone there to help it makes all the difference.

We have some severely mentally distressed clients who have been ostracised in their community because of certain character traits. They feel people don’t understand them and they feel completely and utterly alone. We go in, their goals are no different to other peoples, and we help them reintegrate.

What kind of goals are set?

Using the outcome star we look at particular areas of people’s lives. The client’s goal could be learning to walk again after a hip replacement operation. Or to access shopping and social activities. Or advocacy. Someone who is not able to leave their house may want to access the internet. People get their lives back. Ultimately some may go from being clients to being volunteers, which really helps with their confidence.

Some clients have terminal illnesses – the project aims to increase independence but also wellbeing. If befriending helps a person do things in their last year of life that they have previously been unable to do it meets the criteria.

I believe the staff provide support to people with severe mental distress?

Yes, often there is no other support – not a befriending, mentoring style of support. People can become aggravated, suspicious and wary of others and it is more difficult to support them back into the community. So, either we provided support, or people might spiral into a pit of despair. In some areas of the county we are now setting up groups to help support people.

We also have two delivery partners to help us in this area – Crickhowell Volunteer Bureau (Crickhowell & District only) and Healthy Friendships (which covers North Brecknock specifically for clients with mental health needs).

What do the volunteers in particular bring to the project?

They bring lived experience, flexibility, skills and knowledge… they increase the capacity of the team. In some cases they bring long-term friendship. Some volunteers and clients have developed a relationship that does continue after the more formal arrangement has come to an end.

Volunteers currently range in age from 45 – 89, but can anyone over the age of 18 can volunteer.

If the Befrienders project did not exist, what would happen to people who contact you in need of support?

If you have lost your independence and self-esteem you are at rock bottom. If you fall ill you don’t want to pick up the phone. You have no friends, you can’t ring family 200 miles away, so you let it continue and then you might end up hospitalised. If you don’t have good mental health it reflects on physical health and vice versa.

How does the work of Befrienders fit in with that of other voluntary sector groups

We work in partnership with Mind, Disability Powys, the British Red Cross, and Age Cymru, plus all organisations who have clients of 50 or over.

Tell us some of the hardest things about working on this project

Seeing some of our clients and where they are now and thinking how easy it would have been to prevent that with a kindly neighbour or family intervention.

And sourcing volunteers. So many organisations are looking for volunteers – we don’t get many youngsters, and the majority we get have been volunteering their whole lives. We’ve lost that generation who volunteer without even thinking.

Now tell us some of the nice things about working on the project

We know we can make a difference, even if it’s absolutely tiny. We are part of a much bigger chain that is health and social care but we can help people. People who had not been out of the house for 12 months and were completely reliant on others for shopping have, a year down the line, helped set up our first independent group. That’s brilliant.

Helping people gain more skills and confidence through volunteering is really good. When we talk about beneficiaries – our clients and volunteers are all beneficiaries.

Because of the way we have worked we have been able to demonstrate categorically that Powys Befrienders has a measured effect which means we have evidence to try and make this a long-term project.

What is the most valuable thing you have learnt since starting your role?

Looking at this project as a whole has made me think this type of care must be sustainable – we’ve got to help the community to help the community.

What do you like to do in your own time when you’re not working for PAVO? 

We’re 18 years into a building project, we bought a 9 foot by 9 foot stone chimney and have done all the work ourselves but we are nearly at the end! I also grow a lot of vegetables, I’ve created a whole new garden, I enjoy riding my horse, taking the dogs on long walks and popping down to Pembrokeshire where we have a caravan and swimming in the sea from February to November.

Many thanks to Rachael for telling us about Powys Befrienders. You can contact her by emailing or ringing 01597 822191.

UPDATE October 2015: Powys Befrienders is pleased to announce that it is the first befriending service in Wales to be awarded the Befriending Quality Mark. Read more here.