Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Ponthafren: out of hours, full of ideas

Chinese Night at Ponthafren Association
Barbara Perkins has been working at Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO) for three years now as the Community Voice Officer for the One Powys – Connecting Voices project. Originally three days a week, this post went down to one day earlier this year as planned in the original lottery funded bid and in May she started a new role as the Out of Hours Centre Facilitator at the mental health charity Ponthafren Association in Newtown, North Powys.

I caught up with Barbara on one of her PAVO days at our Plas Dolerw base to find out more about her new role.

Tell us more about your role at Ponthafren

I have the great job of working with members of Ponthafren on two days a week. I organise information evenings and social evenings. 

Of an evening I will chat to members and this gives us a chance to get to know each other. It may be that someone will pop in and see me because they are dealing with a particular crisis and need a bit of support or it may be they will pop in looking for company or advice on local services. 

Everyone is welcome and at an annual membership fee of £2 Ponthafren is a great place to be involved with. Just recently we held a Chinese evening with members arranging a Chinese meal to sit down and share together.

Every evening is different but all are interesting

How is the new job going so far?

I have been well looked after both by staff and management but most of all by Marg. Marg is a dedicated volunteer who comes in every Monday and Wednesday evening to ensure the quality of service at Ponthafren. As one of the longest serving members of the team, Marg has taken me under her wing and helped me navigate through the first few months in this new job.

What do you bring to your new role from your experience as the Community Voice Officer?

As the Community Voice Coordinator at PAVO I was already fortunate enough to be working with the Ponthafren YAPS* project and was aware of the valuable work being undertaken at Ponthafren. PAVO has a huge amount of information and can signpost both individuals and organisations to the many, many services available in Powys. Awareness of the role of third sector brokers and, of course, knowledge of Info Engine (Welsh online services directory) has been very helpful. In addition, in my working life I have gained experience in third sector services, social housing, learning disabilities, the benefits system and domiciliary support (yes I have lived quite a long time :0). I feel that all these experiences contribute to my life skills which I am able to make use of and share in this new job.

*The Young Adult Peer Support project 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.

Housing advice session with Auden from
Mid Wales Housing Association
What kind of activities have you been organising for the members? Which are the most popular so far? 

If anyone reading this article wonders what is already on the Newtown Ponthafren calendar for future evenings, I can tell you that we have more from story teller Rod Evans, film night, your housing questions answered, meal deal night, woodcarving, nocook cooking to name but a few. We also organise video links with our Welshpool centre and members can chat with each other over the internet.

You work with volunteers at the Centre, what qualities/skills are you looking for in new volunteers?

If anyone is interested in looking for volunteering opportunities then Ponthafren can provide free training to provide a better understanding of what it means to be a volunteer. Everyone has useful skills that can be valuable and volunteering can be a good way to identify them and put them to best use. Whether you are a natural talker or listener, very creative, like to make everything neat and tidy or are a whizz on computer games and computers, everyone has skills. You may be a gardener or love to garden (yes, some people do enjoy pulling weeds) or a handyman or be blessed with other skill. Why not share them and look at the opportunities to volunteer.

If someone was feeling isolated or a bit down and considering calling in to a Ponthafren evening session but was feeling unsure, what would you say?

The biggest step if you are feeling isolated is walking through that front door for the first time. Why not have a look on our website or our notice board outside the centre and see what is going on. You may be able to find an activity that you could sign up for (perhaps with someone else). You are also welcome to pop in on a Monday or Wednesday 16.30 – 21.00 and just ask for Barbara. I will happily introduce myself and colleagues and members and show you around. It will also provide an opportunity to learn more about what we can do to help you.

Curry night cooking in the Ponthafren kitchen
What are the main challenges of the role?

TIME – every evening goes by in a flash and inevitably we are trying to get things done. It is important to be there for the members and some evenings are very very busy but some can be very chilled.

Tell us about some of the most rewarding work you have done with Ponthafren to date

I recently approached one of our members to ask if he could do some volunteering for a day helping at an event. He actually thanked me for the opportunity when I was so very grateful for the difference he had made with his hard work. WOW that was humbling.

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

I am currently spending time getting fit. In January I had actually started using a walking stick at times. I am now averaging about 4-5 miles (our poor dog is exhausted) a day along with some weightlifting (not very feminine but good fun) so feeling so much fitter. I also volunteer for a group called Meeting Point Montgomeryshire (MPM) which organises events once a month that are available to anyone who is feeling socially isolated. The events are fully wheelchair accessible.

To find out more about the Late Night Openings at Ponthafren Association in Newtown, please ring 01686 621586 or email

Monday, 19 September 2016

Festivals and the wellbeing scene

courtesy Shambala Festival
by guest author Philip Moisson

During this blog I'd like to talk about the Powys Five Ways to Wellbeing and how they interact with the experience of summer festivals – now that the season has come to an end. 

This year I was one of the thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds who volunteered for Oxfam as a Festival Steward. There are many festivals around the UK and beyond, and Oxfam provides the stewards for a good number of them. I was at the glittery and costume filled world of Shambala in the Midlands. In return for three shifts, and including three square meals, you can enjoy the festival experience for nothing – whilst earning money for Oxfam's vital work at the same time.

Philip Moisson
The stewarding scene at Shambala Festival this year was the friendliest I've ever known – and I had an amazing, almost spiritual experience which caused an acute 'mental health' reaction (think clenched fists, inner turmoil and shouting followed by hours of tears) – but thanks to the support and sound words of those around me I feel I can remain healthy and well since processing this

I did however receive absolutely first rate support from Oxfam and the security staff at the festival, which is pleasing to say.

So, let's look at the Powys Five Ways to Wellbeing. They are based on the following: Take Notice, Keep Learning, Connect, Be Creative & Give and Be Active. I want to talk about how a good festival experience can impact on yours and others wellbeing, and also to discuss how hard we should be working and partying.

The first thing you do in regards to your wellbeing at a festival is Be Active. Dancing is something that almost everyone can do and enjoy –  whether they have mobility problems or not. It is social, physical and healthy.

The second thing you do when you dance is Be Creative & Give – and just as dancing is very creative it also helps when you give love to the artist on stage, who in turn performs with all of their energy for the crowd. It's worth mentioning that stewarding is a very giving role, so if you volunteer for Oxfam you will be all over this element.

For people who go to festivals or who steward, a good festival will push your boundaries and encourage you to Keep Learning. Stewarding is a challenge, and even if you are a regular participant you should be ready to join talks and debates and take part in workshops.

I always find at Shambala that the harmonious ensemble of the senses at most times causes me to reflect and Take Notice. Knowing how you feel when the music is playing and the atmosphere is heightened, and then knowing how you feel about your more normal life – is essential to making the playground of the festival have an impact on your daily routine.

And finally, let us all agree that we would hope to Connect at any festival gathering, large or small. Connecting involves making and cherishing friends and partners and family, and extending this love outwards in perpetual circles. 

courtesy Shambala Festival

So, if festivals are good for your mental health, what went wrong for me recently and what was the good practice in mental health? Similarly, are there lots of youngsters pushing themselves to the same sort of distant extremes, but with drink and drugs, and therefore negating the effects of the Five Ways?

Stewarding for Oxfam at Shambala meant being part of a family of people who lived and danced, ate and slept, laughed and sometimes cried together. I was hugged at Shambala more times than ever before, and that was before my moment of severe anguish.

On a busy festival Saturday night I was on my stewarding shift at the Stiletto Disco venue, helping, interacting with, and chatting to, festival goers. The night was long and we gave every ounce of energy we had into making the venue swing and into keeping the crowd and short but constant queue as happy as possible. At some point before 5am, I sadly met a man who was in a bad place, and he connected with me emotionally.

I rejected his drunken and poor attitude –  and when I lost my temper I had clenched my fists with all my might and had to howl towards the heavens in horror until he left me alone. However, if it hadn't been for the security guard who asked me first “What happened mate?” then I might not have calmed down so quickly.

Similarly, Oxfam quickly moved to protect me and relieve me of stress and worry and any further compulsory duties. I was taken to the Welfare Tent – a place for tea and empathy. I was told I had nothing to feel bad about, but the heartbreak at meeting someone who wanted to ruin the perfection of the festival left me weeping in my colleague's arms until the following day.

I'm fine now, and will be back next year for more. Be prepared to assess your wellbeing at a festival, and consider the range of places you can steward for Oxfam –  it comes highly recommended and they will offer you a first rate experience brimming with happiness and love, and then, as in my case, 100% support if things don't go to plan.

Finally, let’s be frank, we all know that festivals can involve drug taking for some people. It’s important that those who do educate themselves about what they are taking and why. There is a not-for-profit community interest company called The Loop “that aims to promote health and minimise harms in nightclubs, bars and festivals. It provides information, outreach and interventions by trained and experienced staff about alcohol, drugs, sexual health, mental health, crime and violence.” Thanks to The Loop some festivals are even offering free drug testing now. These drug testing kits can provide a safer experience for those who like to take things away from the ordinary run of the mill of streets, roads and offices into the primal nature of musical communion in a place which is as follows:

"Shambala is a space to play, to reinvent, revitalise, and return to the world fueled-up on the beauty of being alive. It’s a playground, a realm for wild experimentation and alternative education, where unforgettable life skills are shared, learned and put to use.

We see Shambala, as so much more than just a monumental party, it’s a haven, a think-tank, a happening - all infused with a heartfelt, purposeful hedonism. So let’s revel in being human, in all the things we do so well - the euphoric heights to tangible solutions - and see how much we really can do together.”    Shambala Festival

Many thanks for Phil for writing about the Five Ways to Wellbeing from a festival point of view. You can read more about the Five Ways in our team blog post. Do the Five Ways work for you? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Second Chances, New Horizons

Matt Clark (second from left), retiring Reserve Warden, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust

This week's guest post was first published in the latest edition of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust News. Many thanks to the local wildlife charity for allowing us to republish here.

Volunteers are vital to the Trust’s work – we simply couldn’t do it without them! We are also grateful for the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives, as this letter from retiring reserve warden Matt Clark shows:

In February 2012 I had just been released from HMP Altcourse after serving 9 months for what I still class as a despicable crime of fraud and forgery. On returning home I was unable to go out without my parents for I lived in fear of retribution. I was diagnosed with manic depression and, as in prison, I was under the care of a mental health team due to attempts to take my own life.

In March 2012 the Montgomeryshire Volunteer Bureau suggested I try a visit to the Nurtured by Nature project at Severn Farm Pond. I went along in the first week of April and lasted all of 6 minutes. It was just too much for me - all those eyes looking at me and judging me, as I thought. But the following week I went again and stayed for the whole session. I started to attend unaccompanied and quickly realised that I wasn’t being judged at all, that one’s past can be left at the door. I was able to go there and share my interest in wildlife, under the leadership and later friendship of Mel. I was able to find my feet and in August of that year I was able to go to Tesco on my own to buy a paper - a huge achievement.

I worked at the pond for 3 years every Wednesday without fail. Whilst there I have learnt more about myself, have a better tolerance of people and have learnt how to build bug hotels, bird boxes, adapt habitats for the benefit of wildlife and learnt about wild flowers. My general knowledge has increased widely and I have built up the courage to join many other wildlife groups and Trusts. Over the time I spent at the project I was able to express myself, to tell my story and not be judged. Through the project I have met a chap from a completely different walk of life who has turned out to be a dear friend, something I would never have done before.

Prison strips you of everything - self-belief, self-respect and freedom. The project gave it all back to me as well as a sense of belonging. I was fortunate to be made warden of Severn Farm Pond which was a huge honour. To be given that chance in life to give something back was truly excellent. As a result of the self-confidence I have gained from the project I now run my own business, have been signed off by the mental health team and am starting a new adventure in my life.

If anyone gets an opportunity to join or work with MWT or at Severn Farm Pond then do it. It will change your life for the better, I guarantee it. As I have said before, Mel* and the project changed my life. The sessions at the reserve mean so much to the people that attend them. I’m sure I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to pass through the Nurtured by Nature project and be so much better for it.

Many thanks for Matt for sharing his story with a wider audience. Have you volunteered in conservation work? How has it impacted on your mental health? Tell us more in the comment box below.

*Mel Chandler is the MWT Community Partnerships Officer. She works with local community, voluntary and statutory agencies to develop outreach projects, such as Nurtured by Nature, which promote and connect people and the natural world. You can contact Mel to find out more by emailing or ringing 01938 555654.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Psychoeducation for Bipolar Disorder

We recently found out about a new support initiative in Powys for people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We asked Paul Gauci, who works at the National Centre for Mental Health in Cardiff, and Julie, a recent participant on the course down there, to tell us more. 

Talking therapies often involve individual, one-on-one sessions, but a programme being run by the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) is using group sessions to help improve quality of life for people with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Education Programme Cymru, or BEPC, is an award-winning group education programme developed by the Centre and their colleagues at Cardiff University.

It aims to help people with bipolar disorder to better understand and manage the condition, identify early warning signs of highs and lows, and develop the skills needed to stay as well as possible.

By delivering the programme in a group setting, people have the opportunity to share their personal experiences of living with bipolar disorder and to learn from each other, as well as from the course. It also gives the programme a more social element, making it more enjoyable and encouraging participants to attend all the sessions.

For many people it might be the first time they’ve ever met anyone else with the condition, so it can be a very positive experience for them to know that they aren’t the only ones affected by it.

There are 10 sessions, in groups of up to 15, each lasting for between two and two and a half hours. These combine presentations, informal group discussions and short exercises. The sessions include:

  • Introduction.
  • What is bipolar disorder?
  • What causes bipolar disorder?
  • The use of medication in bipolar disorder.
  • Psychological approaches to bipolar disorder.
  • Lifestyle issues and bipolar disorder.
  • Monitoring mood and identifying triggers.
  • Early warning signature.
  • Bringing it all together.
Family members and carers of the group participants are also given the option to attend an additional session where they can find out more about bipolar disorder and meet other people in similar situations.

Courses have been delivered throughout Wales, and an estimated 570 people have benefited from taking part, including 65 in 2015 - 16. The model has also been adopted internationally, with healthcare providers as far afield as New Zealand, the Netherlands and Turkey running courses based on BEPC.

A participant’s view...

I first became unwell in my 20s and I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It was the start of a very difficult time in my life where I really struggled with my illness.

I also experienced what I now know were manic episodes, which could be just as devastating as my episodes of depression. I’ve gotten into very dangerous situations and the aftermath can be terrible.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder following the birth of my son, and the medication has been helpful although my mood still fluctuates and I can become very unwell. My psychiatrist told me about BEPC and recommended I try it.

The day I started the programme I was really nervous, but the facilitators really made me feel at ease. I found it amazing to meet people with the same diagnosis as me - all from different walks of life - different cultures and ages experiencing the same struggles.

I learned about managing my lifestyle, relapse prevention and early intervention through being aware of triggers and early warning signs. I also completed a manual as we went through the course which was tailored to my needs. I still use it today and it forms the basis of my care plan - I call it my bible.

This programme changed my life and I’m almost certain it has saved my life. I have gone from coping to managing my bipolar disorder.

BEPC in Powys

A new course will be running in Brecon, beginning on Tuesday 27 September, and then running every Tuesday for 10 weeks. There may be an 11th week, depending on whether there is demand for a friends and families session.

For more information contact the NCMH on 029 2068 8399 or email

About NCMH

The National Centre for Mental Health is a research centre made up of researchers from Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor Universities. It is funded by Health and Care Research Wales, and aims to improve treatment, diagnosis and support for people affected by mental health problems including bipolar disorder.

The Centre is looking for volunteers to take part in its research - it takes under an hour and can take place in your own home. Find out more about taking part.