Thursday, 24 September 2015

Rekindle's Small Steps Project

Rekindle's young people, trustees and staff with Lord Alex Carlile for the summer relaunch
Kemal Keeble is the Recovery Practitioner at the mental health charity Rekindle based in Newtown, North Powys. I went to meet him, his colleague Diane Williams, and some of the young people they work with a few weeks ago at their lovely new premises at Market Street. Kemal runs the Small Steps Project at Rekindle, so he and the young people have now worked together to produce this guest blog post for us.

Some weeks ago I was asked if Small Steps would like to post a blog on the Powys Mental Health blog site run by the mental health team at Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO).

The idea being that we could get some of the young people we are involved with actively writing about their own experiences of mental health and their own roads to recovery. That we might write a little introduction to our service, the things we do, and explain how what we do aids the community we live in. So here I am today putting those words into action!

A little about Rekindle and “The Small Steps Project”………

Rekindle is a small charity that was initially set up some years ago as an intervention service for people who are struggling with mental health. In June 2013 Rekindle's thinking was that the Small Steps Project would restart concentrating on work with 16 – 25 year olds in the Montgomeryshire catchment area. In June 2015 Small Steps moved to new premises on Market Street and has developed into a community hub for the young people we support. 

To coincide with this move we held a celebration at The Elephant and Castle on Saturday 11th July 2015. It was a unique opportunity where organisations could meet Rekindle's trustees, staff,and young people. Lord Alex Carlile of Berriew CBE QC, Rekindle's patron and the guest of honour, attended. He gave an informative speech about the impact of mental health on his own family and why he helped set up Rekindle. Rekindle’s trustee Dr John Scott, Small Steps Project Coordinator Diane Williams, with myself gave a short presentation about the impact of mental health on our community. This was further brought home by a number of young people talking about their own experiences of mental health and how Small Steps had helped them on the journey to recovery.

What we do

At Small Steps we work with young people who are having difficulties. The first meeting can be a very worrying situation for someone who might have problems. We understand how challenging it can be for someone to build up the confidence to walk through our door, meet people they do not know, and then be able to talk about what it is that is causing them to feel at a low ebb. Young people can struggle due to being socially isolated or not having the confidence to meet new people. We often tell them how it’s OK to bring someone along for moral support on the first meeting.

In some of the work we do we can find ourselves mediating and representing clients on a whole variety of matters, for example -  support with benefits, estrangement, appointee duties, anti-social behaviour, appropriate adult, advocacy, physical and mental health, doctors' appointments and various assessments.

Our support means that people in the age group of 16 – 25 can access help and have however much time they need to work through any issues they may have. It means that they are open to our service for what could be many years should they need help. It is a core reason that Small Steps was set up initially as an early intervention service so that young people can understand they do not need to rely on services all their lives, that they can manage their own wellbeing and gain the valuable skills they need to function independently in our community.

At Small Steps we are all about being reactive to our client’s needs, empowering young people to succeed and move up in the world.

Over the past year we have often listened to what our clients have spoken about and also challenged them to try new and different things. We have found this to be a real turning point in our young people’s lives. They have met new people, and made new friendships and self-discoveries along the way. Some of the activities we have run include - photography expeditions to local places of interest, badminton, football, and Britain’s Got Talent auditions. Not to mention sponsored walks. The response from our young people has been that they do like being able to have time out from their normal everyday lives as it gives them new experiences and more enthusiasm for what happens locally in Montgomeryshire.

"Mountains" - by a young person involved in the Small Steps Project

"I am an 18 year old living in Newtown! To everyone else I come across as an always happy, bubbly person. However, even people like this may only be acting. I am on the road of recovery so I am very lucky but I only have achieved this by pushing myself and coming to Small Steps which was the best thing I ever did.

My life has been and is a journey just like anyone else’s just there has been mountains for me to climb. At first I found them too high but it didn’t stop me and it shouldn’t stop anyone else either. I now have to keep climbing these mountains and yes, even now some mountains may grow in front of me, trying to stop me on my path, but I know the best thing for me to do is not let it knock me back or put me down just climb it. I’m not saying it will be easy but with the right support and positive thinking it is possible. I know positive thinking is very hard as I struggle myself to keep positive but I know I am getting the support I need to work on this with Small Steps and anyone else that needs help should go to them too. So no matter how big or small your mountains are you can climb them and get to the other side of them. To cope with these mountains I find things to do such as:

  • Drawing.
  • Singing.
  • Covering my walls in happy quotes to look at when I wake up.
  • Also the main one - surrounding yourself with positive people."

Small Steps Project update

We have recently been nominated for the Powys Business Awards and have got through to being finalists. Part of being a finalist was to have a production company make a short film about Small Steps on 19th August 2015. 

Filming day at Rekindle's Newtown premises
All at Rekindle are now waiting in anticipation for this year’s fiercely fought “charity category”. The Judges' decision is due to be announced live at the Powys Business Awards Ceremony Dinner on Friday 25th September 2015.

UPDATE: Rekindle's Small Steps Project won the Social Enterprise/Charity category of the Powys Business Awards on Friday 25 September 2015. Congratulations!

Kemal told me: "We are very honoured to have won and feel it is positive recognition in raising awareness of the good work that is ongoing throughout Montgomeryshire by The Small Steps Project. Hopefully now we will be able to secure the financial funding we need to continue to support Montgomeryshire's young people as they are potentially our future here in Powys."

Kemal & Diane receive the Powys Business Award
from Mid Wales Housing Association
Many thanks to Kemal and all at Rekindle for telling us about their work. If you are a young person reading this, what do you do to help cope with your "mountains"? Tell us in the comments box below.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

What’s on your plate?

What indeed! Well, I could get started here because my car failed its MOT for the second time in a fortnight yesterday, we’re temporarily short-staffed in the team for a number of reasons and the damp problem in my living room is showing no signs of going away anytime soon…

Michelle Longhurst
But less on the current lows in my life, and back to the meat of this post. What’s on your plate? is the brilliant name given to a relatively new support service run by the mental health charity Ponthafren Association. There are weekly Wednesday sessions at Welshpool (5 - 6pm), whilst in Newtown they are on Mondays (6 - 7.30pm). Earlier today I spoke to Michelle Longhurst, who is the Welshpool Outreach Resource Facilitator, to find out more.

Michelle explained that members of Ponthafren Association now have an opportunity to take time out and talk about specific areas of their lives that they may be struggling with. Tracy Fletcher, a counsellor at Ponthafren, set up What’s on your plate? during the summer months. Michelle has been helping her and will soon be running some of the sessions herself. 

It’s an intriguing mix of group and individual sessions that seems to be working well. 

Participants use the Wheel of Life tool during group sessions to look at any of the following 12 areas: physical wellbeing, achievements & successes, contentment, work & school, friendship, emotional health, energy & enthusiasm, self-esteem, fun & recreation, home & family, relationships and money & finances.

According to the paperwork accompanying the Wheel of Life, it is: “a tool that many life coaches use to help their clients see how balanced the various areas of their life are. Life’s activities are always shifting and so perfect balance cannot be achieved and maintained, but there are times when one area of your life may be requiring so much energy and time that other areas are suffering, and you feel your life is out of balance or even out of control. At these times, it helps to take a look at the big picture and to get some perspective.”

Tracy Fletcher
Each person is asked to mark themselves on a scale of 1 – 10 on how they see themselves doing in each area of their lives. If they have given themselves a low score for any particular area, then this is further discussed within the group. If required participants can then take advantage of a 10 minute session with a counsellor to follow this up in more detail.

Michelle went on to explain that during the first few weeks the What’s on your plate? sessions have focused specifically on work and education. Participants have discussed resitting GCSEs, writing CVs and looking for employment. They then invited staff from the Job Centre to join them at a later session and chat about CV and interview skills. Michelle said: “There is no pressure to join in, but people find the group setting really helpful for sharing ideas and tips.”

Over the next few weeks the main topic will switch to relationships including friendships. A walking group is also planned, plus a focus too on issues around food. People are often signposted to other courses or groups that can provide support, or ideas are generated for new activities altogether. Ponthafren Association has been quick to respond. Whats on your plate? participants recently identified a need for cooking classes and these are currently in the process of being organised.

A new singing group is also a possibility. Joining in this activity would meet many of the aspirations of the Wheel of Life, including "feeling full of energy and experiencing life to the fullest", and "sharing common interests, experiences and feelings". With luck those involved will also learn enough Christmas carols in the lead-up to the festive season to be able to fundraise for Ponthafren with their singing events!

Feedback for ‘What’s on your plate?’ September 2015

“I found what’s on your plate helpful because it was good getting tips from everyone and sharing advice in a group. The advice was really helpful; the conversation about self-confidence gave me more tools to use and helped me feel better about myself. I found it very interesting and I feel we should continue doing it as there are a lot more things we can discuss and learn from each other."  GL

“Since I have attended the sessions, I have benefited from them as they have helped me enquire to the Job Centre about relevant courses to help me find employment and GCSE resits.To be honest I think the sessions are great and helpful.”  MC

“My experience of the course was that it helped me to understand what to concentrate on to improve on, and being aware of the improvement with the use of the wheel of inventory. It was also valuable that we had the lady from the job centre for advice when you have been out of employment for a long time and on what to put down on the CV for this.”  AP

What’s on your plate? sessions are held every Wednesday, 5 – 6pm, at Ponthafren’s Outreach Centre in Welshpool, and also at the Newtown Centre, Mondays 6 - 7.30pm. If you would like to find out more about joining Ponthafren Association (it’s only £2 a year) and taking part, check out the charity’s website.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

World Suicide Prevention Day 2015

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day across the globe. The theme in this 13th year of the Day is “Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives.”

The issue of suicide is as relevant in Powys as it is anywhere else in the world. In speaking to police officers in the local Dyfed Powys force recently I was made aware that the incidence of attempted suicide and self-harm in the county has been rising over recent months. Police officers are often the first emergency services on the scene in crisis situations, along with those from Health. Here in our team we provide an Information Service, not a Crisis Helpline such as Samaritans or C.A.L.L.Helpline, but nevertheless we are still occasionally called or met by people who are extremely distressed and tell us that they want to kill themselves.

According to the Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2015: Male suicides in Wales rose by 23% between 2012 and 2013, and rates are significantly higher than those in England since 2010. The BBC wrote more about these statistics here.

The question has to be asked, why are more people feeling so desperate about the quality of their lives that they consider suicide? The Samaritans Report states: 'The causes of suicide are complex, and we need to encourage people to seek help before they reach a crisis point'.

It seems appropriate then, on World Suicide Prevention Day, to flag up some of the resources and services that are available to people at risk of suicide and those close to them. First, though, a bit about the organisation which established the Day originally.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) was founded in 1960 and is: ‘dedicated to preventing suicidal behaviour, to alleviate its effects, and to provide a forum for academicians, mental health professionals, crisis workers, volunteers and suicide survivors’.

The President of IASP, Professor Ella Arensman, introduces us to World Suicide Prevention Day with the words: “Every year over 800,000 people die by suicide (around the world)…. We now know that for many people who survive a suicide their main intent was not to die but to have a different life. This important insight should encourage all of us to become more proactive, to reach out and to support people improving their quality of life.”


Samaritans provide a helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And you can find more about the local Brecon & Radnor branch here.

C.A.L.L. Helpline offers a confidential listening and support service . Anyone concerned about their own mental health or that of a relative or friend can access the service.

NHS Choices has a very useful webpage on Offering support to someone who’s feeling suicidal. It starts off: “One of the best things you can do if you think someone may be feeling suicidal is to encourage them to talk about their feelings and to listen to what they say”.

The charity Mind has a range of information on its website relating to suicide, including sections about Suicidal feelings and Creating a support plan to use if someone is feeling suicidal.

Author Matt Haig wrote a blog post last year about the time when he nearly killed himself aged 24. It’s called REASONS TO STAY ALIVE.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide is a self-help organisation which exists to meet the needs and break the isolation experienced by those bereaved by suicide.

The BBC has on online guide called How do we talk about teen suicide?

Further information

In July 2015 the Welsh Government published its Suicide and Self Harm Prevention Strategy for Wales 2015-2020 - Talk to me 2. There are 6 priority actions, including:

  • The development and delivery of a Wales framework for the training of professionals, individuals who frequently come in to contact with people at risk of suicide and self harm, and the general public.
  • To promote staff awareness and improve staff knowledge of where to go for help and support through workplaces.
Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is run occasionally in different parts of Wales. It is a 2 day skills building workshop which prepares caregivers of all kinds to provide suicide first aid interventions. There are courses in Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen in November 2015, February, May & August 2016.

If you are urgently looking for help and advice in Powys there is a summary of the main contacts on our Powys Mental Health website.

If you have further suggestions for help and support for people feeling suicidal, then please add in the comments box below.

Finally, there is further research being carried out which aims to understand more about suicide and what can be done to prevent it. If you are interested, find out more about The Quest Study, which has been commissioned by Samaritans and undertaken by psychology researchers at Middlesex University and the University of Westminster.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Comedy and Wellbeing - Havin’ A Laugh Project

by guest author, Owen Griffkin

Gein's Family Gift Shop

There’s an old saying which goes -  "Laughter is the best medicine." There’s also a joke, which is nearly as old, which retorts, "Unless you are diabetic, and then it’s insulin".

I was a stand-up comedian for a good while back in the last millennium, and now I produce a host of comedy nights in and around the Mid Wales area and I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with this adage, having seen first hand the benefits of a ‘right good b%***y laugh’.

Anyone with any experience of mental health issues knows that laughter is a wonderful way to feel better as it decreases our stress hormones, produces endorphins and increases memory, alertness and learning.

It’s for this reason that I have been working with the Wyeside Arts Centre, the Arts Council of Wales, and the Garfield Weston Foundation
on a pilot project right here in Powys to help build confidence, improve mental wellbeing and break down some of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

I had the idea after holding workshops for the recent DIY Futures project and again with Powys Mental Health Information Service. The workshops comprised of simple and quick word play and story-building exercises, which had the participants finding new ways to share experiences in a safe environment. These were a lot of fun and there was huge interest in a longer-term project.

Participants on Owen's Laughter Workshop
Individuals' Forum Day, Caersws, April 2015
Finally after consultation and planning the idea has finally come to fruition (hooray!) in the form of the ‘Havin’ A Laugh’ project and we will be running some taster workshops this October. This will lead on to the main part of the project in early 2016 which will consist of 4/5 more in-depth sessions.

The project will be led by James Meehan and Kiri Pritchard McLean, two of the team behind ‘Gein’s Family Giftshop’ - a deliciously dark sketch show group who have just had a mini-series produced on BBC Radio Wales, and appeared in an episode of the ‘Inside No.9' programme on BBC 2. They have been nominated for most of the major comedy awards over the last two years and we couldn’t ask for anyone better to be heading up this project.

The sessions will be suitable for anyone from any background, of any age and physical ability.

There won’t be any pressure to perform and the focus will be on looking at your stories in a new way, confidence building, and, most importantly, having a laugh and enjoying ourselves.

There will be an OPEN TASTER at Wyeside Arts Centre on Wednesday 14th October from 1:00 - 4:30pm which is open to all and is a great way to see what you can gain from the project.

For more information or to book a place please email

The Open Taster at Wyeside Arts Centre is no longer going ahead. However, there are three other Havin' A Laugh workshops taking place which are open to all:
Tuesday 13 October - 1 - 4pm & 5.30 - 8.30pm
The Wellbeing Centre, Mid Powys Mind, Llandrindod Wells
Thursday 15 October - 2 - 4pm
Wesley Church Centre, Hospital Road, Builth Wells