Monday, 27 March 2017

When I grow up

by Suzanne Iuppa, Community Connector  Llanidloes (2nd from left)*

I grow old … I grow old … 
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? 
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot

What do you want your older age to feel like, sound like, look like?

I’ve spent much time thinking about this on my long drives working around the very beautiful countryside of Powys. I’ve worked for Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO) now for six months as a Community Connector, linking older people in the county with services to improve their health and wellbeing. 

I moved here from Flintshire in September 2016, where I lived for 25 years and raised all three of my children as a single mother. My boys now live in the four corners of the planet and we joke (well, it is my favourite fantasy) that when I get older I will wing in with my Mary Poppins umbrella, all sprightly and fun, right when my beloved daughters-in-law can’t face another meal prep or load of washing, to look after my many grandchildren in turn, in different countries. My loving offspring will have a very small but beautiful granny flat in each of their houses for me to make magic in during my regular, seasonal visits. When I am not on Nainey duty I will be in my stunning but tiny (ie: low maintenance) cottage with the view at the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. I’ll have dinner parties, write stories, make crafts, feed the birds, and still make the long walks to the pub or garden centre. Or perhaps even take my trusty bike. I’ll thrive. I’ll be happy.

That’s if: if in future I’ll be able to travel easily to see my family, if I develop no long-term health conditions which sap my energy, if my children do indeed have children, and if my daughters-in-law will want my help on a regular basis.

I’m good at being flexible, but, with my family living at a distance and most of my friends being a good ten or fifteen years older than me (I was a young Mum, and my friends and I raised our children together) chances are, if my fantasy does not play out, my older age could be at risk of feeling lonely. In Powys there are plenty of places like my village, small tight-knit rural communities where children are living at a distance from parents and many people are of an aging population, all developing complex health problems as their age advances, in tandem. We might all want to be social! But for one reason or other, it may be hard to do. 

I help many people in Powys whose friends are not able to assist and whose family are not present, by linking them to befriending groups or ‘good neighbour’ schemes. It’s very important these schemes are well supported with funding and volunteers. Because — loneliness is not a condition we want to allow in our communities. The Older People's Commissioner for Wales, Sarah Rochira says: "Loneliness is a major Public Health problem here in Wales. We can all help — one day it could be us."

Loneliness has an effect on mortality that is similar to that of cigarette smoking. It is associated with poor mental health and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and dementia.

Loneliness has a much wider Public Health impact too: it is associated with a number of negative health outcomes including mortality, morbidity, depression and suicide, as well as increased health service use.

Most of my work is centered around helping people feel listened to, and responding to people’s individual needs, particularly older people living with a sensory loss, cognitive impairment or dementia, those who are carers or who have mobility issues. It seems in Powys these older people are most socially isolated. In addition, the people I have worked with have reported:

  • Loss of trusted relationships.
  • Loss of privacy and dignity.
  • Being a full-time carer with little social mobility.
  • Poor access to a car or public transport.
  • Not being able to run a home by oneself anymore.
The answer is not the NHS to any of these problems; either primary or secondary care. But… quite often that is where lonely older people end up. If we think of primary healthcare, we can also think of primary health and social services for older people. These should be first in line for funding and support for to prevent hospitalisation. These are: appropriate housing (including residential and nursing care) day centres, personal care, befriending, community transport, practical services such as shopping, cleaning and gardening, and social links.

We need to listen better to older people’s life stories and their wishes to create an enabling environment for all, so we can work together to provide the primary social services. Understanding the sense of loss would be a start. Veronica Jarman, day hospital sister at Llanidloes Day Hospital and a Wales Nurse of the Year, explains: "It’s grief — loss of partner, social position, income, friends… the grief can be overwhelming."

Active and reflective listening are keys skills in grief therapy, and could be an early response to people asking for help with loneliness, before accessing NHS services at a crisis moment.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, for example, has emphasized the link between the ability to communicate clearly with an individual’s ability to make informed decisions, to access services, enjoy their rights and overall, the dignity and respect that they experience.

Of course the older people in our society have lived through unprecedented change. For all the developments in communications and technology, the needs at the start and end of life are still best met through personal interactions. 

Our society is ageist — the only people really admired and in the driving seat in our society are from age 25 
 60 years. Like puberty, older age is a time of radical transformation for many; complete change. Whereas in previous societies elders had specific roles as guides, healers, mediators, correspondents, even dispute resolution specialists, because their amassed life experience was held in great esteem, now we tend to disrobe older people of roles and responsibility, in our families and in society generally. I’ve no doubt this disengagement has an effect on cognitive function. What would happen if we were able to advertise for older people to fill specialist roles in our community  designers, garden and horticulture, childcare, farming practices with wildlife conservation, flood prevention, town planning, holistic healing, dance events, history projects, clothes manufacture, community transport, language classes? What if people 65 years+ were the only ones to fit the bill, because of their wealth of experience, their time and their care?

Perhaps the Nainey duties and the dinner parties could keep me at the top of my game, for longer. I’m joining some craft guilds just in case — oh and my local town choir! I’ve even started an online course in herbal medicine. Still, I wonder if my daughters-in-law will be able to recommend a really good hairdresser in each country? I hope so!

To contact Suzanne for further information about her work as a Community Connector, please email or ring 01597 828649.

* The photograph also features (L-R) Carla Rosenthal — Community Connector in Knighton, and Melissa Townsend  Volunteer Officer PAVO.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Therapeutic gardening in Machynlleth

At the start of a new gardening year we talk to Kate Doubleday, Garden Volunteer Co-ordinator at Gerddi Bro Dyfi Gardens in North Powys. Kate tells us more about this therapeutic open space for people which is also beneficial to local wildlife.

What is the aim of the project?

Gerddi Bro Ddyfi is an organic wildlife community garden in the heart of Machynlleth. It is a people-led project, where the volunteers can choose their own activity. The aim is to create a nurturing, peaceful environment where everyone can feel supported and gain a sense of belonging. Our volunteer days are on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10.30am - 4pm. We provide refreshments and have a volunteer shelter where people can take refuge in the rain. Throughout the year we also offer a range of one day activity workshops in scything, willow weaving, bird watching, and green woodworking for example.

Tell us more about your role at Gerddi Bro Ddyfi Gardens?

My role is mainly to facilitate a group of volunteers to enjoy and explore the garden. I work with a dedicated volunteer committee, and none of it would happen without their efforts.

My role is multi-faceted, and I go from gardening with the volunteers to liaising with Community Psychiatric Nurses to sitting in fundraising meetings.

I also work with the community nursery group doing wild play and environmental education with Early Years, and I’ve worked with youth clubs, doing outdoor work and graffiti projects with young people. The youth club was instrumental in the design aspect of the garden in the early days.

How long have you worked there and what drew you to the role?

I’ve worked at the gardens since 2008. Myself and a colleague, Leigh Munton, had both previously worked in therapeutic gardening roles and saw a need for this in Machynlleth. We ran short horticultural courses in the community and realised that when people had finished these one-off courses there was no way for people to carry on gardening in a social way.

Having worked at the Martineau Gardens in Birmingham previously I’d seen the value of a permanent therapeutic garden and how much this can provide a community. I’d experienced the incredible power gardening has on our wellbeing.

Tell us about the volunteers at the gardens

They’re fantastic! The garden wouldn’t be what it is without our volunteers, both on the ground and on the committee. We have a dedicated core group, who are all ages and from a variety of backgrounds, who turn up whatever the weather and maintain the garden for the community. Some of them have been coming for years.

What kind of work do they get involved with?

We do a range of activities, from weeding to woodwork, to planting flowers to attract wildlife to maintaining the vegetable beds.

How does a typical day pan out?

The day always starts with a cup of tea and a catch-up, and often some cake too! There’s usually a list of things that need doing, and this depends very much on the season, but people lead their own activities, and they can do as little or as much as they want. You can work alone or in a team – people have their own preferences.

Things always get exciting when we’re preparing for an event. It’s good to have something to work towards.

Who can volunteer to join the project?

Gerddi Bro Ddyfi is open to anyone from the community. We have good wheelchair access and hope to be as inclusive as possible. We’re particularly open to people who may feel excluded or who are having challenging life experiences.

What kind of support do you offer to the volunteers?

I see myself as a facilitator to help people come together in a beautiful space to socialise and connect with one another, and with nature. I aim to always provide a listening ear too. In some cases I signpost people to receive further support.

How does volunteering in a garden environment impact on people’s mental health?

Research shows that the act of looking after plants, as well as being active outdoors, is beneficial for a person’s mental health.

Horticulture as a therapy differs from other therapies in that it works with living entities which have their own needs and requirements. Through nurturing these entities, people become involved in something outside of themselves and this process can help them feel less isolated and more connected with the social and natural world, as well as developing a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Volunteers also interact with visitors from the community and this is clearly beneficial for their confidence, especially if they feel stigmatised.

Tell us how your work fits in with other voluntary sector groups

We work closely with the volunteer bureau, Community Action Machynlleth & District (CAMAD), also based in Machynlleth, which often sends volunteers our way. We’ve recently been building bridges with Ponthafren Association in Newtown, and we’ve done joint events with Edible Mach, Bro Ddyfi Advice Centre, and Mid Wales Housing, under the banner Bwyd Dyfi Partnership.

What are the main challenges of your role?

Fundraising, without a doubt, is the biggest challenge. It’s very difficult to raise funds alongside the work I do on the ground, and obviously with austerity policies things are getting harder. Working with volunteers is extremely rewarding, although sometimes it’s challenging, and I’m learning all the time.

Tell us about some of the most rewarding work you have done at the Gardens

I’ve found it very rewarding to be involved in providing access for people with physical disabilities, enabling them to garden and to take pleasure from outdoor work. The greatest reward is to see the volunteers connecting and growing to support one another, so that my role becomes marginal. Some of them become very close friends. Also it makes me happy to see volunteers go on to find jobs afterwards, with greater confidence, having used the gardens as a stepping stone. Having been a volunteer myself in Birmingham during a difficult time in my life, it gives me pleasure to be able to give something back.

If you would like to get involved at Gerddi Bro Ddyfi Gardens contact Kate on 07941 908 891 or check out the website.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Horsing Around Project

A Horsing Around Project volunteer with a Lluest pony
Previous posts on this blog have featured some of the innovative projects run by West Wales Action for Mental Health, including Tonic – surfing for mental health and Spirituality and Recovery in mental health.

This week our guest author is Marie Rocke, a Mental Health Development Worker at WWAMH. Recently Marie has been working very closely with an animal charity in the Brecon Beacons in Carmarthenshire called Lluest (“Haven” in Welsh). Lluest set up the Horsing Around Project with funding from the Big Lottery Fund and support from WWAMH. Marie tells us more about the project.

It is a well-known fact that Animal Assisted Therapy can support many people to gain confidence, become more self aware and to generally get more out of life. This kind of therapy, especially Equine Therapy, has proven its success repeatedly in supporting individuals on the road to Recovery.

Lluest Horse and Pony Trust, in collaboration with WWAMH, is offering 'Lluest’s Horsing Around Project' to provide Equine based learning for individuals living with mental health problems in Carmarthenshire. The courses are free for participants, and travel costs are covered by the project which is fully funded by the Big Lottery Fund. This is a pilot project incorporating training of staff from both organisations to allow them to collaboratively run future courses over the next few years to create a legacy.

The courses consist of horse care, so participants learn about grooming and mucking out and progress onto horse-watching to learn about body language and horse communication. There is then the opportunity to play games with the ponies, to improve the confidence of the attendee. Games include navigating around an obstacle course within the manège (the enclosed area where horses are trained) and end with games at liberty with the ponies. There is no riding at any point. The courses have been running very successfully for the past 12 months. The last day will run in March and is fully booked. Participants were accompanied by their Occupational Therapists or Community Psychiatrist Nurses in some cases.

Lluest is experienced in providing sessions on Horse and Pony Care and has been doing so for around three years. The staff are trained and well versed and many a young person has learnt what it really entails to keep a horse or pony – before they buy or loan an animal. This is all part of Lluest’s education drive to prevent horses and ponies being abandoned or neglected. We are hopeful that this work will continue at Lluest for the benefit of the attendees and the horses that they support.

What the WWAMH Director and Development Worker say

Lluest staff have had great success in providing training for individuals who wish to know more about Horse and Pony Care. They now wish to extend and offer this course to those individuals living with mental health problems who would normally not find this kind of training accessible for a number of reasons, be that confidence, finances or transport.

Many individuals living with mental health conditions find it hard to attend new and unfamiliar groups unless these are recommended by a trusted advisory service. Also, social isolation, lack of confidence and low self-esteem all inhibit these individuals from gaining valuable experiences, training and positive collaborations which would assist them in reaching their own personal goals.

Lluest wishes to overcome these barriers and believes that by working in collaboration with the West Wales Action for Mental Health, and by having access to the wide variety of groups currently supporting those with mental health problems, that these courses and educational horse and pony experiences, can be widely available to those who may benefit from them the most.

We are proud to be working with Lluest and hope to run many more courses collaboratively in the future.

Angie Darlington - Director of WWAMH
Marie Rocke - Mental Health Development Worker

If you require further information, or live in Carmarthenshire and wish to attend a Horsing Around Day, please contact Lluest on 01550 740661.

And if you live in Powys – do you think a similar project would work well here? Let us know in the comments box below.