Monday, 18 December 2017

Favourite walks for Christmas 2017

In the past our festive blog post has featured Our Alternative Christmas, Havin' a Comedy Christmas and Top 10 Tips to Survive Christmas. This year my PAVO finance team colleague Lisa Banfield suggested favourite walks (and a bike ride!)

As I write it's pouring with rain outside after several cold bright days of snow which turned Powys into a winter wonderland. So, stay safe, but if possible take the opportunity over Christmas and New Year to head outdoors, get those leg muscles working, some fresh air in your lungs, and rejoice in some of the amazing scenery right on our doorstep (and a little further afield in one case).

Here are my colleagues' top suggestions:

Owen Griffkin - Mental Health Participation Support Worker

Title: My Dog Walks
Route length: Anywhere between 0.5 - 5 miles
Time: 10 minutes - 2 hours
Start/finish: Llandrindod

The walk
I’ve had my dog Honey Lemon Squash Meringue - Honey for short - a cockapoo - for just over a year now, and although my daughter and partner promised to do the bulk of the walking, it has generally fallen on me to do the early morning and late evening walks. Not that I am complaining, as I get to see some beautiful sunsets, sunrises, and the passing of the seasons and the effect on the landscape. Most of my walks take in Rock Park, so this autumn has been spectacular, with beautiful colours falling from the trees and covering the ground in a different way every day. I also appreciate the different routes you can take from Rock Park - take a walk to Lovers' Leap for great views towards Howey and Newbridge, or venture past the old bakery and up to the Lake. This means no two walks are the same.

The dog loves it too, and frequently jumps into the stream, no matter what I try to do to stop her.

Impact on my wellbeing
Having a dog, and being made to leave the house first thing is a great way to start the day, and definitely helps with at least two of the Five Ways to Wellbeing - Be Active and Take Notice.

Lisa Banfield - Finance Officer

Title: Newtown - Pwll Penarth Nature Reserve by bike (or you could walk)
Route length: 4.6 miles (7.4 kms)
Time: 1 hour approx (longer if walking)
Start/finish: Suspension bridge, Back Lane car park, Newtown

The ride
This is an ideal bike ride to suit a range of ages and abilities (good for confidence building too if you’re new to cycling!) as it is all on a generally flat surface and no roads.

The bike ride starts at the suspension bridge in Newtown by Back Lane car park where you will see a (faded) fingerpost. Follow the path going under the traffic bridge, along the river, up, and over the bridge by the gravel car park. After crossing the bridge turn left down a short bank (Route 81 National Cycle Trail) and follow the path alongside the river. Go through the gate at the end of the path and under the pipe bridge and past the ‘Old Pump House’ on your right.

Continue on the path passing a small parking area near Llanllwchaiarn marked by a finger post.The path follows the line of the old canal and you will soon pass another parking area connected to the Llanllwchaiarn to Aberbechan road and a fingerpost.

Go through a gate passing the sewage works on your right, across the lane and continue along the footpath. Pass the old Dolfor Lock on your left and the Pwll Penarth Nature Reserve is on your right through a gate. The bike ride ends here so turn around and retrace your tracks back to the beginning.

Although you can continue further if you wish, as this is part of the Route 81 National Cycle Trail Aberystwyth – Wolverhampton.

Impact on my wellbeing
I feel this is a nice easy bike ride and gives me time to destress and take in the views and sounds of the lovely surroundings.

Freda Lacey - Senior Officer, Health & Social Care

Title: Crunching the Shells
Route length: About 3 kilometers
Time: 1 hour (depending on how long you spend looking at or for shells, stones, drift wood, slimy seaweed)
Start/finish: Woodstown Beach, Waterford, Ireland, but Ynyslas/near Aberystwyth just as good!

The walk
I grew up the near the sea, it has always been a part of my life. I need to scent seaweed strewn over rocks, crunching the shells walking along the shifting sands, picking up a coloured stone and rubbing it imagining where it has drifted in and landed from, spotting bits of wood re-imaging shapes and faces, the wind battering me from the front and compelling me from the back when I turn around, the sound of crashing waves, or the slurp and swish of gentle tides... The experience of walking along the beach takes me back to childhood and time with family, mostly spent sand digging or tidal pool shopping, but also takes me away now on tides of time, past and present. 

Impact on my wellbeing
The walking activity is for me a side benefit of the experience of beach combing, it’s the draw of the sights, smells, touching, leaning into the stinging wind and relief of the vigorous pushing wind that for me sums up the tingling feeling of wellbeing and renewal once I’m back inside. For me, it’s an activity where I bring the outside in and the inside out…

If you go to Ynyslas, I’d suggest going at ebbing tide, park on the beach, take the “Board Walk” into the sand dunes.

Jane Cooke - Senior Officer, Mental Health

Title: Llanwrthwl to Cwmdeuddwr
Route length: approx 2.5 miles to Cwmdeuddwr
Time: Takes me ages - I’m slow & creaky!
Start/finish: Llanwrthwl (if you catch a bus back)

The walk
From our track you can see the first part of this walk; of the many walks I have done and loved, this is one of the reasons that I like this particular walk, in some ways I keep it in my sights. The walk starts in Llanwrthwl, just off the A470 between Newbridge on Wye and Rhayader, climbs up along a track that on the lower section passes through a bank of Rhododendron. Conservationists of course loath R Ponticum, a thick leaved thug that shades out competition and spreads across hillsides, the leaves shrugging off conventional herbicides. But like many plants that we now demonise, in itself it is beautiful and in the spring when the blowsy purple blooms are at their best, I can see this haze of colour from our track.

Climbing higher the route passes Cefyn, surely one of the highest holdings in the area. Highland cattle and shorthorns are well equipped to tough out the weather here and can often be seen grazing the tough Molinia grass. After the Cefyn the path levels out and before long there is a lichen covered finger post inviting the right hand turn that we always take at this point. This marks the highest part of the walk and I like to linger here. With my creaky knees I no longer do the high and challenging hill walks that I used to love. The experience of being at height, the particular feel of the wind as you approach a high point, standing on a ridge looking in all directions are all joys of upland walking; this walk is manageable for me now and also gives me the chance to experience these moments.

Heading down hill there is a choice of a delightful meander through woods managed by the Woodland Trust, or following the edge of the wood down to a minor road. From there you walk along a short stretch of delightful minor road before crossing the river Wye over the lovely Glyn bridge, a suspension foot-bridge. Passing Glyn Farm you are then on the last leg, along another minor road, dropping down into Cwmdeuddwr and the Triangle Inn. If you have timed things well there is time to stop for lunch and a well earned pint before catching the bus back to Llanwrthwl to pick up the car.

Impact on my wellbeing
It certainly is ‘active’! It enlivens my capacity to take notice as I stop and take in all that is around me and relish the wind and the sounds of the high ground.

Jackie Newey - Information Officer, Mental Health

Title: Llyn Clywedog circular trail
Route length: 2.5 miles
Time: 1 - 2 hours as plenty to stop and look at on the way round.
Start/finish: Take the B4518 from Llanidloes, turn left on the circular road around Llyn Clywedog. Drive up past the dam and 500 metres further to a layby on the right where the walk starts and finishes.

The walk
Llyn Clywedog reservoir was created in 1967 when the River Clywedog was dammed to alleviate flooding in the Upper Severn Valley. This is a short walk around a narrow peninsula of land shooting out into the reservoir. It boasts some incredible views across the reservoir in all directions, to the surrounding mountains soaring high around, and at lower levels the Clywedog Sailing Club on the opposite shore.

The signposted track is up and down dale, but well trodden, though unfortunately not accessible to wheelchairs. We often go with extended family and their children and particularly enjoy resting on the narrow beach half way along where we do a spot of bird watching - identifying buzzards and red kites amongst others. Most times we seem to have the whole peninsula to ourselves - to climb windblown trees and pick up pine cones, to feel the breeze on our faces and watch the clouds scudding for miles into the distance. We always thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

Impact on my wellbeing
This walk is local to me but could be a million miles away! Mother Nature is usually on top form and I feel truly grateful to be alive and experience all she has to offer on the day.

Do you have any favourite walks or bike rides you could recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Owen's 5 x 5 Ways of Wellbeing: Part 1

by Owen Griffkin
Mental Health Participation Support Worker

If you have been reading our blog recently you will have seen a number of articles about The Five Ways to Wellbeing.

Maybe these have inspired you to undertake an activity or take up a new hobby to improve your wellbeing. I’ve been looking at ways I can implement this in my life, and at the same time maybe provide some ideas for readers of our blog. I’ll provide 5 ways to engage in each of the 5 ways to wellbeing. The best thing about many of these activities is the fact that they straddle more than one ‘Way to Wellbeing’, often combining social activities with creative or active hobbies.

Part 1 - Connect

The advice is to connect with those around you as this will support and enrich you every day. Sometimes in rural areas it can feel hard to connect socially with people so maybe give yourself a jump-start by using an activity or interest to create social relationships.

1. Gaming Hubs

Gaming is a rapidly growing industry, with clubs springing up all over the county. Game designers are releasing board games that are reaching a much wider audience then in the heyday of Dungeons and Dragons. The subject matter and scope of these games is huge - I have played these myself sometimes with friends and strangers, and so far I have re-enacted the 1960 US election (I was JFK obviously and destroyed Nixon), started a railroad company in 1850s America, and pushed the boundaries of taste with the worldwide phenomenon of ‘Cards against Humanity’. Gaming is a great social activity as it allows for pressure free conversation and the fun of friendly competition.

An evening at the gaming hub in full swing

Two local hubs/shops that are very welcoming to newcomers are:

I went to a gaming night at KDM Gaming with my daughter, and whilst she was kept interested by an old version of Pac-man, I was able to have a game and chat with other attendees.

2. Sing!

It’s only natural living in the land of song that we would feature a musical activity. A community choir is a wonderful way to connect, and we are blessed with many friendly and welcoming choirs in Powys.

Your first port of call should be Sing Your Heart Out. This is a purely social choir, and they do not do public performances so there is no pressure to perform. There are weekly sessions in Llandrindod and Meifod. If these aren’t close enough check local noticeboards for info on choirs closer to you. I attended a free taster session and was warmly welcomed and had a lot of fun - even if my vocal gymnastics were more Alan Ball then Michael Ball.

3. Men's Sheds

The Men’s Shed is a movement to create community spaces for men to come together to socialise and to reduce loneliness and isolation. Imagine lots of cups of tea, usage of power tools, and a supportive and welcoming atmosphere. Sounds brilliant! Especially the power tools bit. The local Llandrindod group, aka The Golden Boys, works together on projects commissioned by groups such as Mid Powys Mind.

4. Book Club 

I love reading, but sometimes it’s hard to have the self-discipline to sit down to plough through a lengthy tome - and once you’ve finished the book all you want to do is discuss it with someone. This is where book clubs come in. They have been popular for a few years now and are still one of the most fun and rewarding social activities you can enjoy at your own pace. Like the gaming hubs, book clubs take a lot of pressure out of socialising, as conversation is created by the discussion around the book and you can engage with other club members. Not surprisingly Powys has a plethora of book clubs, lots of which are based at local libraries. Your library is the best starting point, but also check out independent book shops like The Hours in Brecon and the Great Oak Bookshop in Llanidloes.

5. Clubs and Societies 

An early meeting of the United Nations in Builth Wells*

Ok, number 5 is quite vague. That’s because there is probably a club (or society) for whatever activity you would like to engage in. A club is a good way to learn more from other people about one of your interests, share ideas or work, and maybe organise day-trips or social events.

In a quick five minute search I have found active groups in Powys for astronomy, beekeeping and cameras. I then gave up on the ABC approach and also found model railway, community arts, historical societies and not forgetting the excellent Women’s Institute, who have groups all over the county.

Think about what activity you may like to do in a social setting - and if there isn’t a club already - why not set one up. One thing Powys doesn’t lack is space to hold meetings/events. From local church/village halls to rooms in pubs. Some of the largest societies in the world started out as small groups so who knows where it could lead. For example, the United Nations started as a monthly meeting in Builth Wells Village Hall of like-minded people from Powys who wanted to stop all wars and bring about world peace. *

*disclaimer - citation needed. Might not be factually accurate...

Read Part 2 of Owen's blog series here.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Farming and mental health: the challenge

This Autumn our team arranged an engagement opportunity at Gilfach Nature Reserve near Rhayader aimed at the farming community. It was called “Ramble with a Big Cheese.”

The invitation went out on social media and we put up as many posters as we could in places where we hoped to attract the attention of farmers. These included Rhayader market, feed merchants and numerous shops and businesses in the neighbouring area. We rang round our own contacts. We made new contacts. We spoke to people very closely connected to the farming community through their families and work. We encouraged all of them to spread the word about the session (many of them did – thank you!) and wondered if they would like to come along themselves. 

In the event, despite our efforts, we really struggled to encourage individual farmers or members of the farming community to join us. And again and again we were told – farmers are too busy, they only leave their farms to go to market, some of them really are struggling with their emotional wellbeing but they don’t want to talk to anyone else about their problems. People of the farming community are extremely hard to reach.

A couple of months previously the Farmers’ Union of Wales had hosted an event called “It’s OK to say” at this year’s Royal Welsh Show – “putting the spotlight on mental health in the farming community”. My colleague Anne attended and told us she was impressed by the level of interest. She was interested to find out more about the Pembrokeshire based charity the DPJ Foundation which was “set up in July 2016 following the death of Daniel Picton-Jones. The foundation aims to support people in rural communities with poor mental health, especially men in the agricultural sector. Agriculture carries one of the highest rates of suicide and with mental health being such a big problem across society the foundation aims to break down the stigma that surrounds mental health and provide support services for those in rural communities.”

On our Mid Powys Ramble we were really pleased to welcome Aled Jones from the Farmers’ Union of Wales (Brecknock and Radnorshire Officer) and David Williams from the Farming Community Network. We posed a number of questions to stimulate discussion with the “Big Cheeses” - Joy Garfitt (Deputy Director for Mental Health, Powys Teaching Health Board) and Margaret Meredith, (Head of Primary Care South Powys, PTHB). It turned out to be an extremely fruitful exercise. The start of a much-needed ongoing discussion.

There will be no one way to provide support to individuals in the farming community around mental wellbeing. Statutory mental health services might meet one person’s needs but be entirely inappropriate for another. Community activities and voluntary sector support, such as that provided in Pembrokeshire by the DPJ Foundation, will probably play an important role. But whatever services are delivered, we want farmers to have their say in how they are shaped.

If you have a few minutes, watch the video and find out why.

If you need support now, contact the Farming Community Network or the Samaritans.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

White Ribbon Day 2017 in Llanidloes

Suzanne Iuppa (left) PAVO Community Connector, & Fleur Frantz-Morgans of
Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre
White Ribbon Campaign UK is part of a global movement to put a stop to male violence against women and girls.

On the 25th November, the world marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day. From then until the 10th December, we encourage everybody to take part in the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. 

Suzanne is the PAVO Community Connector covering Llanidloes and District, working with adults to access the services, information and support that they need to maintain an independent life. She wanted to bring the White Ribbon message to her patch: “We will be addressing men and making them feel good about themselves, more confident about stating their opinions and talking through problems, as well as supporting women.”

So, keen to find out more myself, I joined Suzanne and Fleur Frantz-Morgans of Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre in Llanidloes last Saturday, on the coldest weekend of the year so far. Sustained by hot mulled apple juice, mince pies, and extra layers, we spent half a day chatting to local people – most of whom had never heard of the campaign – though with a couple of key exceptions – more below. Our market stall, sandwiched between local political activists and a fruit and veg trader with a healthy sideline in log snowmen and santas, was well placed for the three of us to engage with shoppers stocking up on fresh bread or catching up with friends.

Our aim was to promote:

Members of Llanidloes Rotary Club show their support for White Ribbon Day

White Ribbon Campaign

"To wear a White Ribbon is to pledge never to commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence. Our message to men is to practice tolerance, respect and kindness, and to stand up against male violence, bullying and sexism in all forms".

White Ribbon was founded in 2007, and around 500 men in the UK are now White Ribbon Ambassadors. The organisation provides training and outreach to local authorities, groups and clubs. There is even a White Ribbon All Party Parliamentary Group of MPs, plus sports and trade union campaigns to help spread the word.

"To end violence against women we need a culture change. We need people to speak out and condemn it. So, one of the most important things you can do is to talk about it, especially to the uninitiated, unaware and unconvinced".

Finding out about White Ribbon Day

Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre

“MFCC aims to reduce the risk of domestic abuse and to positively change the lives of our clients by providing specialist support and guidance; encouraging clients not only to survive, but to thrive from their experiences, enabling them to move on to develop healthy, respectful relationships in the future”.

Fleur is a Community Liaison Officer at MFCC and one of her key roles is to raise awareness that help is at hand in North Powys for anyone experiencing domestic abuse – both men and women. From 2014 – 2015 a total of 829 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the police in Powys, and over half were from Montgomeryshire. The charity has access to safe emergency accommodation where people can take temporary refuge, access support and advice and take time to decide on next steps. The Haven is a refuge for women and Davis House is for men. Both take adults with accompanying children. Referrals could come from the police, voluntary agencies or from people experiencing crisis themselves.

One of the support workers from the male refuge joined us briefly in Great Oak Street to tell us more about her role. “Some men come in with literally nothing. We provide a welcome pack with toiletries, food and clothing. We take people to the food bank if they have to wait before receiving benefits. They might need a solicitor or counselling – we give them help with whatever they need.” The residents then live independently in the refuge – “we support but don’t care for people.”

The support worker explained that the residents are also extremely supportive of each other. They could be in the refuge anything from a few weeks to a year depending on individual circumstances. “All have mental health problems because of the effect of the abuse. At the very least they have stress and anxiety, and many are depressed.” People can be referred for counselling and other sources of support such as specialist counselling relating to sexual abuse or misuse of drugs and alcohol.

The 24 hour crisis line for MFCC is: 01686 629114. Once the office is closed for the day the staff become on call workers, calls are diverted to the Live Fear Free helpline  – a Wales-wide service for victims of domestic or sexual abuse, they support any out of area callers, signposting them to the services in their area and forwarding any local emergencies to the MFCC on call worker, workers regularly bring local emergencies into the safe houses, day and night, MFCC are on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the residents of North Powys.

Maggie Fitzpatrick-Reeves (left) ask me ambassador, with Fleur

ask me scheme 

As if by magic the next person to show up alongside the Town Hall in Llanidloes was Maggie Fitzpatrick-Reeves, who is an ask me ambassador in North Powys. Maggie told me that her role is to raise awareness of domestic abuse in the community. “Most people think the abuse is mainly about physical violence, but less than 1 in 6 incidents are violence-related, the rest are cases of psychological and emotional abuse”. After attending a two day course recently in the town Maggie is able to challenge myths likes this and also said that people now confide in her. She knows how to signpost victims to expert advice and support – how to keep both them and herself safe.

The ask me scheme breaks the silence about domestic abuse within a community, and removes the barriers that make it hard for survivors to tell others about their experiences.

Fleur explained that "people experiencing domestic abuse can feel a sense of loss and even guilt at the thought of leaving family and friends behind, or for taking children away from loved ones, their friends and school, even pets, it can be an exceptionally hard decision. This can be made even harder when abusers, someone they have feeling for, apologise for their behaviour and make promises that the abuse will never happen again. One minute victims may suffer terrible emotional and physical abuse, the next minute they can be showered with love, regret and promises to change, giving them glimpses of the person they fell for, giving them hope for the future, but still fearing the present". 

We also spoke to people about issues relating to older people and abusive relationships. A husband and wife could be married for many decades, and then one of them may develop dementia in later life. Dementia can sometimes lead people to behave in aggressive and even violent ways towards their partners. Some carers may find that they have become the victim of domestic violence and have to leave their husband or wife and start a new life well into their eighties or nineties.

If you know someone who lives with domestic abuse – actual or threatened physical, emotional, psychological, sexual or financial abuse by a partner, family member or someone with whom there is or has been a close relationship – then Montgomeryshire Family Crisis Centre can help, whether you live in Llanfyllin or Llanidloes or anywhere in between. Call: 01686 629114.

For help in other areas of Powys call Welsh Women’s Aid: 0808 80 10 100.

Are you supporting the White Ribbon Campaign this year? If so, tell us more about your involvement in the comment box below.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Connecting at Brecon’s Bipolar UK support group

This week's post is from a regular attendee at the monthly Bipolar UK support group in Brecon.

My name is Liz and I have bipolar disorder. I first experienced mental health difficulties at aged 16, and was diagnosed with depression at 22. I continued to experience depressive episodes, which became more severe and frequent during my working life, leading to early retirement when I was 48. 

I was treated with a number of antidepressants, but these had limited efficacy and activating side effects. I was told I had Treatment Resistant Depression and things seemed pretty bleak. 

Six years ago, in my early fifties, I was sectioned and admitted to a psychiatric ward with psychosis. Following this I continued to experience mental health symptoms, despite medication and therapy. 

In April 2016 I was seen at the National Centre for Mental Health in Cardiff and given the diagnosis of Bipolar 1 Disorder. Since starting a mood stabilizer, I have been much better. 

I also attended the Bipolar Education Programme Cymru, an award winning education programme for people with bipolar developed by Cardiff University.

Following my diagnosis, I picked up a Bipolar UK flyer at the hospital. I later contacted Bipolar UK to find out what support was available in my area, and they put me in touch with the Bipolar Support group in Brecon. I have been attending the group for almost a year, travelling the 20 miles from Merthyr, and really value the sessions.

The group meets on the 4th Monday of the month between 7 and 9pm in Brecon and District Mind. The sessions are open to people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, family and carers, and it costs just £1 to attend. Refreshments are provided.

The meetings allow time to find out more about bipolar disorder, and to share how we are all feeling and doing. Sometimes we have outside speakers. These have included Jodine Fec, the Lead Pharmacist Mental Health for Powys Teaching Local Health Board and Support Workers from Gwalia Care and Support. We might also watch films with a bipolar theme – one was Infinitely Polar Bear – a comedy drama about a man from Boston with bipolar. Or sometimes we enjoy a bring and share meal together. 

Personally, I really value the mutual sharing and support, in a friendly and non-judgmental environment. I have my own social networks, but it’s not the same as talking to someone with bipolar disorder who has the understanding and experience.

You don’t have to speak at the meetings if you don’t want to, although everyone has the opportunity to do so. You can stay as long as you want – so leave whenever you wish. And you can come along to as many or as few meetings as you like.

The groups are aimed at people aged 18 and over, but young people aged between 16 – 18 can attend if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. 

The next meeting is on Monday 27 November 2017. If you would like to join us at this or any future meetings you would be very welcome. You can:
Stop press: We plan to screen a film about Graham Obree, the cyclist nicknamed “The Flying Scotsman” who lives with bipolar disorder, at a future meeting.

Many thanks to Liz for telling us about the Bipolar Support group at Brecon. This is currently the only such group operating in Powys, but if you would like to see a group in your area then contact Bipolar UK to express an interest. The more people who want a group in a specific area then the more viable it becomes.

All artwork by Liz.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

FIVE on Five Ways to Wellbeing

Have you tried the Five Ways to Wellbeing yet? 
Five members of the Engage to Change sub-group, of the Powys Mental Health Planning & Development Partnership, write about their experiences.

Be Creative and Give: Louisa Kerr, Mental Health Partnership 

Being creative can mean many different things to different people. We are all creative in one way or another whether it be by applying innovative or imaginative solutions to problems at work, to inventing a new recipe for the family to try.

I used to love to draw but a busy life has meant I haven’t picked up a pencil for anything other than work for many years. With the Five Ways to Wellbeing in mind, I decided to have a go at drawing a picture for my sister’s birthday, she has a lovely West Highland Terrier called Gwyn – I attempted a little sketch of him and thought well if it turns out rubbish I can always get her something else!

Finding quiet time to do the drawing was difficult at first. I felt guilty for not doing other things, like housework, but I quickly found that I could do as little as 5 minutes and enjoy it, or on the weekend, get a load of other stuff done and then have an hour to myself without worrying. Thinking about nothing else but the picture was brilliant, very relaxing and I was shocked to find that what I was creating looked like a dog! Thankfully she loved it and it meant a lot because it was personal. I’m glad I gave it a go and would recommend finding time for creative things like this to other people.

Be Creative and Learn: Penny Price, Senior Nurse for Adult Mental Health Services in South Powys, Powys Teaching Health Board 

Continued learning through life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the opportunity to engage in work or educational activities particularly helps to lift older people out of depression. The practice of setting goals, which is related to adult learning in particular, has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing.

I belong to 2 am-dram groups in Brecon: Westenders and Brecon Little Theatre. Being part of these groups has offered me so many benefits. I have met a whole range of different people, younger, older and the same age as myself. My friendship group has quadrupled in the time I have been part of these groups.

Westenders is the bigger of the 2 groups with the most members, they have been putting on a yearly pantomime in the theatre in Brecon for over 75 years. Being part of Westenders has built my confidence over the years. Getting up on the stage in front of 400 people, 8 shows a week, is no easy thing, but once you have done it the feeling you get from the audience clapping and cheering is amazing.

Being in the pantomime is a real stress buster, we have rehearsals on a Monday and a Wednesday and sometimes I think I really can’t be bothered with this because I’m tired or work has been busy but I have to go because I don’t want to let people down. Once I get there all of my stress and tiredness disappears because of the atmosphere, the people, the dancing and singing.

Brecon Little Theatre makes me feel more creative. We are a little group with very little money so we have to make all of our props and scenery with very little money. We recently put on a production of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Twits’. For this we needed to design a Roly Poly Bird and other birds. We involved the children who were taking part in the production. I designed the Roly Poly Bird and suggested to use crisp packets for the feathers. Everyone was encouraged to bring in their empty crisp packets (not very healthy I know but a good way to recycle) and together we made the bird by stapling the shredded crisp packets to the frame. Everyone gets involved and there’s a real camaraderie about it. Every production, whether I am acting in it or part of the production team, makes me swell with pride because we have done it ourselves. Our last production of The Twits had such great reviews. I was assistant director and it was amazing, I was so proud of everyone involved.

I have also learnt so much from both groups, from child protection issues around changing rooms and restrictions on the hours of performance, to finance issues around hiring of venues and storage of costumes. I can honestly say joining the groups has been one of the best things I have done.

Connect : Jackie Newey is a Mental Health Information Officer with Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations

There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world.

It’s clear that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages.

Here I am (standing far right) with fellow trustees at The Quilt Association recently. The charity’s home is The Minerva Arts Centre in Llanidloes not far from where I live. I have been a trustee since 2006, after starting volunteering there in 2003. 

For me it’s all about connecting with people in my community and particularly those with a keen interest in the creative arts. I probably get far more out of volunteering with the charity than I put in. The biggest buzz is seeing the Centre alive with happy, busy people – whether that be at an afternoon quilt documentation workshop, the popular annual World Textile Day or a group of college students being inspired by our latest exhibition. It’s clear to see straight away in these situations that the wellbeing of these individuals is enhanced by the social interaction, creative activity and learning opportunities. But the two words “mental health” never get uttered by anyone!

Be Active: Anne Woods is a Participation Officer in the mental health team at PAVO

Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.

Exercise is essential for slowing age-related cognitive decline and for promoting well-being.

But it doesn’t need to be particularly intense for you to feel good - slower-paced activities, such as walking, can have the benefit of encouraging social interactions as well providing some level of exercise.

I play football for Hay St Mary’s LFC and have done for the last two seasons – the team’s first two seasons in competitive football. We play in the Mid West Counties Female Football League and travel to matches as far afield as Worcester and Kidderminster. This photo shows me (in green and white) about to tackle a Kidderminster Harriers player, in a game we went on to lose 3-0; a good result against the team at the top of the table.

I enjoy being active. As well as helping to keep me physically fit, playing football develops mental toughness, determination, resilience and allows me to tap into my competitive spirit. It goes without saying that team work is essential and so connecting with others (another of the Five Ways) on and off the pitch, looking out for each other and good communication is also important. Plus it’s fun! Exercise releases endorphins and makes us feel better (although when we’re losing, and it’s raining, it sometimes makes me wonder…).

Be Active and Take Notice: Tim Williams, Community Safety Officer 
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service

Reminding yourself to ‘take notice’ can strengthen and broaden awareness.

Studies have shown that being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your well-being and savouring ‘the moment’ can help to reaffirm your life priorities.

Heightened awareness also enhances your self-understanding and allows you to make positive choices based on your own values and motivations.

Next bank holiday weekend, I intend to cycle to Stratford upon Avon and visit Shakespeare’s birthplace. I have never seen or read anything by the bard so I will endeavour to learn something about him.

The ride was a success:

Read more about the Five Ways to Wellbeing on this blog:

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Golden Boys – Men’s Shed Llandod

Tony White and Sean Tohill
“Somewhere for men to meet new friends, work on group or individual projects, learn new skills or just chill out and relax, to help prevent social isolation, frustration and boredom.”

The ‘Shed’ movement is slowly but surely spreading throughout the UK. One of its aims is to tackle loneliness and social isolation by creating community spaces where men can feel at home and work on projects in a safe and friendly venue.

Their local Shed is a great space to share skills and socialise with other men from the neighbourhood. Ultimately the men may regain a sense of purpose and find that their general wellbeing improves.

At the time of writing there are two Men's Sheds in Powys, one in Knighton and another near Llandrindod Wells. The Llandod Shed is based at Ashfield Community Enterprise in Howey, just a couple of miles south of the town. It was officially opened on 10 June 2017 by Assembly Member Kirsty Williams. Members Nigel Frankland, Sean Tohill and Tony White, who all helped set up the Shed, told me more about it.

How did you identify the need for the Men’s Shed?

We’d seen about it on the internet – how it was all over the UK. This was about two and a half years ago. Once we put feelers out it became apparent that a lot of men out there are at a loose end and have become socially isolated. Me for one! Some of us have had to retire from work for health reasons and we’d only go out of the house if we had to. If there wasn’t a need to go shopping, for example, we might not even bother getting dressed! We put posters around town about the Men’s Shed and men got in touch to find out more.

How did your involvement start? What was your role in making it happen?

We looked around for a location for a while but nothing suitable came up in Llandrindod town centre. Then we became aware of this space at Ashfield Community Enterprise. We put out an appeal for equipment on Facebook and Freecycle and were inundated with donations. We’ve had £1000 worth of tools given to us by people who no longer need the kit, everything from sliding mitre saws and plane thicknessers to work benches and loads of hand tools.

Now if people want to make donations we ask them to get in touch to discuss what they have. Having said that we are keen to acquire a standing pillar drill, and also a computer and printer! And we accept donations of timber to make products. In the early days we were also pleased to receive a £1000 grant from Greggs and other small grants from local groups.

Nigel Frankland (foreground)
Tell me more about what happens at the Men’s Shed?

We come in twice a week. We could be working on individual or group projects using the kit. A lot of the time we stand and talk – which does a world of good! We have a laugh, a joke, and a cup of coffee. One of the Ashfield staff said to me once: “It’s lovely to walk past the Shed and hear laughter.” We get on and do things. At the end of the day we’re here to have fun.

One of the members has dementia, and it was three to four months before he mentioned this to the others. “I have good days and bad days. I come here to unwind and relax. There’s no major pressure.”

Another member said “I was banned from my own shed by ‘senior management’ so I come here instead!”

Some people can’t always have a shed of their own at home. And even for those that do there is so much more space and equipment here. And there is an opportunity to learn new skills – one of the members is a very experienced woodworker.

Who can join?

It is open to all men aged 18 and over. The annual fee is £5, plus it’s £1 to attend a session. At the moment we are open for business on Tuesday and Thursdays between 10am – 1pm.

We also welcome “ladies by arrangement!” Particularly those who want to learn skills or have skills they can pass on. We have actually been approached by three women who want to learn how to make things like shave horses and three legged stools, so we will be running a session for them soon.

If the members didn’t have the Shed what would they be doing?

Well I would be climbing up the wall! I’m the sort of person that if I’m not doing something then it drives me nuts!

How does attending a Men’s Shed impact on men’s emotional wellbeing?

For most of the time I feel a lot happier once I’ve been to a session. We laugh and joke and I look forward to coming to the next session, which has to be a bonus.

So many people get stuck, trapped in their jobs – having to pay the mortgage, having to put food on the table. Yet some of them have no career prospects. These days there are few places to learn skills such as woodwork, bricklaying and plumbing. People aspire to white collar jobs and most go to university. Someone could come here for a year and learn something and set themselves up in business. The future of the country is in Small Medium Enterprises, not big business!

Do you network with other Men’s Sheds?

We are in contact with the Shed in Knighton – we visit each other and swap tips and ideas. They are in a similar position to us – looking for funding to pay their running costs.

Hereford Shed has also been in touch recently – their members want to make a visit.

The umbrella body for Men’s Sheds in Wales is – Men’s Sheds Cymru. We were the first Shed in Wales to be issued with the organisation’s new golden badges – and that is where the name The Golden Boys came from.

Where did the idea for Men’s Sheds come from? I read: “Women talk to each other, men like to talk while immersing themselves in a task.”

It was an Australian idea originally. They noticed that amongst men and women who had the same operation, on the same day, in the same theatre, with the same surgeon, that the women were much quicker in their recovery.

The men that were recovering turned out to be commercial fishermen. These men were not governed in their work by the clock, but by Nature. After fishing trips they would sit together to mend their nets and chat.

99% of Australian Sheds are government funded because they realise the value of them.

The first Men’s Shed in England and Wales opened in Hartford, Cheshire, in 2009. There are now nearly 300 Sheds across the UK.

Do you take part in other activities apart from those in the Shed?

At some Men’s Sheds the members fix bicycles or cars for people in the community, but most are based around woodwork. We need to look at our communities and see what is required. Members of our Shed have done gardening for people locally in the past and also refurbished council benches in town.

What is the most challenging part of your roles?

Trying to find a market for the products that we make in the Shed. We need to earn an income so that we can cover our running costs (rent and utility bills). The grants are never big enough or long enough! 3 – 5 year funding would be ideal. Organisations need stable funding.

To raise money we have made everything from planters, bird tables and owl boxes to Recycling Crate shelves (a bargain £35!). Local delivery can be arranged in return for a donation. The members also take on commissions – we are currently refurbishing the cold frames at Ashfield, have made signs for GP surgeries, and benches for other local charities. Occasionally we will have a market stall in Llandrindod on Fridays. At the same time we try not to turn it into a job as that is not what the idea of the Shed is all about…

What advice would you give to men hoping to set up a Shed in their community?

Go for it! You don’t need lots of equipment to start out with, just a few hand tools and some premises. Give it a go, and good luck!

Many thanks to Nigel, Sean and Tony for telling us all about The Golden Boys! If you want to find out more about the Llandod Men’s Shed you can contact Nigel by emailing

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Welcoming Syrian families to start new lives in North Powys

Megan Bowler (second from the left) is a Family Support Worker at Ethnic Youth Support Team and has played a key role in resettling refugee Syrian families in Newtown, North Powys with her colleague Hamed Hassoun.

Ethnic Youth Support Team was set up in 2005 by a group of ethnic minority young people in Swansea. It aimed to fill a gap in provision for young Black & Minority Ethnic people aged 11-25 by providing a “targeted, culturally sensitive and holistic support service to meet their needs.” It now has a team of 15 staff across Wales, mainly in the South.

I caught up with Megan at The Siawns Teg Hub in Newtown to find out more.

How did your involvement start?

A few years ago I was browsing the Powys County Council Facebook page and first found out that there was a plan to resettle Syrian refugees in the county. I followed it out of interest, and then soon later two jobs popped up on the Jobcentre Plus site. These were with EYST – the organisation had just moved into Mid Wales and received funding to supply Support Workers for Newtown. I applied for and got one of the jobs – which is completely different to what I had been doing. During my training in Swansea I met a fantastic team who do some fabulous work in South Wales.

Hamed joined me after starting initially as an Arabic translator. He has lived in Powys for 40 years but came from Palestine originally.

Megan and Hamed
Where did your interest in the project stem from?

I am myself of mixed race. My Dad is chairman of the Refugee Service in NE England, so I have a long-standing interest in resettlement. My Dad’s Mum was from India – she married an Englishman from London who was in the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately she experienced a lot of racial abuse in the 1950s. It was a tough time, and Nana experienced mental health issues as a result.

Tell us more about your role with EYST

The first two families travelled to Newtown in December 2016, and then four more over the early months of 2017. It is nice that their arrival was spread out as the initial resettlement time can be busy and difficult. Our first job is to meet the families at the airport when they touch down.

Our role then is to help them settle by working closely with Powys County Council who find the families homes. We assist them to stock up on food, to register with the GP and a dentist, and to contact the Benefits’ Office. The hardest thing for them to deal with is finding foodstuffs that are right for them as so few are sold in this area.

Luckily there is a small prayer room above one of the restaurants in Newtown that the men can use for prayers on a Friday. An Iman travels from Telford every week and also meets special requests for food which the families have!

Do the families require support around their emotional wellbeing?

Once they have arrived we let them rest and chill. They need to settle their feet as they are so tired when they first get here. We visit regularly in the first two weeks to make sure that they are OK. We don’t want them to feel lost.

It was harder with the first families as it was the first time for us. Subsequent families have benefitted from the first families’ own support system which is now in place.

The families may want to talk about their background or they may not. It is up to them. It has certainly been a long waiting game for them. They sometimes talk about feeling sad. We will listen and then after a short cry they will get over it.

If there is found to be a need we would seek further support. We are still in the honeymoon period where everything is new and exciting. Maybe in a year down the line things may change, but no one is requesting extra support yet. There is a sense they want to get on with their lives as they have been through the worst really.

How do families cope with language barriers?

English for Speakers of other languages (ESOL) courses have been set up for the families at St David’s House in Newtown. They attend three sessions a week. There are some really good speakers in the first couple of families now. The original six children are in primary and secondary school and are doing fantastically – they have settled in so well.

At Newtown Food Fair, September 2017

What support have the families received from the community?

People in Newtown have been really helpful and welcoming. They have offered friendship, they greet the family members on the street, and invite them in for tea. Shopkeepers have also assisted – offering help if people are confused or lost. There has not been a lot of tension, and certainly nothing confrontational.

I experienced a lot of racism when I was little so I am very wary of it. But it is totally different here. People are very open about the situation and willing to confront it more.

What is your ongoing role now the families are becoming settled?

They pop in and see me once a week. We have a lot of volunteers on a Friday here who run an English conversation session. It is also useful for me to provide a link between the school and the parents. And if anything ever goes wrong they can come back to us and we will help fix things. They know we’re here if they need us.

What’s the next step for the families?

The next level is to help support people into work. It is about giving them the confidence to make phone calls and go to appointments.

Are you working in partnership with other organisations?

Yes, several. These include PCC, schools and colleges, St David’s House for the ESOL courses, the charity Siawns Teg (this place is like a community centre for the families), and the police – who have made sure that the neighbourhoods are safe and also make themselves known to the families – there was an initial fear of the uniforms.

Sarah Leyland-Morgan at Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations is the Third Sector Strategic Lead on the relocation of Syrian families into Powys. She has engaged with the local communities to provide active support to EYST and the families.

Henrietta Davies-Dunn at SOVA – increasing BME employment – in Machynlleth helps the families to get back into work by providing sessions on English language, writing CVs and finding voluntary work.

What are the challenges of your role?

Sometimes things don’t happen as quickly as the families would like and there is a level of frustration. As the link between the families and services we can feel a bit like middle men and get the blame for things.

Emotionally it can be difficult to hear the stories – I go home and think how would I cope with that? We have to be tough.

Tell us about some of the most rewarding work you have done so far with EYST?

The best thing is seeing the kids really progressing through the schools – seeing how well they’ve done and how hard they work to learn English.

The families did some cooking in a kitchen tent at the Food Fair in September. They were so full of enthusiasm because they wanted to give something back to the community. One of the women explained, in English, all about each dish. That really warmed my heart. It’s just so nice seeing them succeed and making their own friends. That’s very rewarding.

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

I’m a mum. I have a 10 year old and a 3 year old. I’m also a jeweller and I make jewellery to sell. I enjoy doing art and jewellery workshops with kids. I’m definitely a maker!

Many thanks to Megan for telling us all about her work supporting resettlement of Syrian families in Newtown. If you want to find out more about the EYST project you can contact Megan by emailing