We are a registered charity that runs a peer led user support centre which has a variety of offerings. We are all volunteers many of whom open the drop in service and undertake additional work/campaigning; alongside having full time jobs ourselves and managing our own mental health. We are proud to be service user led and driven at all levels.
What We Do
We are proud to be service user led and driven at all levels. Including a trustee board that is majority governed by those who are service users. We have had real life successful outcomes from people accessing our peer support such as those who report that they have maintained their well-being; got through crisis points; gained meaningful employment or activity; remained in employment; returned to education or even just having a reason to get up and go out that day.
We offer two open drop-in sessions a week, every Monday and Wednesday from 10am – 3pm. These are open to anyone aged 18 or over to support their mental well- being. Alongside these we also offer a number of other classes, groups & activities that are open to members of the charity. We have facilitated evening groups focused upon food and mood in partnership with the local NHS trust Recovery College. Last year we were successful in securing funding from and being commissioned by our local CCG which enabled us to promote people’s management of their wellbeing and develop additional people’s peer mentoring skills. Through this funding we provided programme of health related activities such as tai chi; mindfulness; gardening; cookery sessions and peer mentor support. Following the success of these activities and positive outcomes this funding has now been confirmed again.
As a direct result of our service users growing in confidence we have been able to use our collective voices to campaign about stigma in mental health and raise awareness of issues. On ‘Time to Talk Day’ for the last couple of years we facilitated successful events in the local area. We have taken part in local events such as Cheshire’s first recovery walk and Chester PRIDE. On World Mental Health Day 2015 we organised and facilitated a national conference which was service user led and driven. Speakers included The Chief Nursing Officer of England, NHS England Experience of Care Professional Lead and speakers from every area of mental health provision; these were alongside performances by dancers and singers who had lived experience of mental illness. Organising and putting on these events gave our service users increased confidence in their abilities and the realisation of the power of their voices.
Wider Active Support
We have close links with Rethink Mental Illness who run evening support groups in the local area, one of which is run from our premise; Chester PLUS is commissioned to run community activities by our local CCG (see previous section re wellbeing project bid). Also, as previously mentioned, we have worked in partnership with our local recovery college to facilitate food and mood sessions; Having close links with Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust we have been visited and endorsed by their Director of Nursing. Also we are regularly visited by and recommended by local care coordinators of community mental health teams; We are recommended and visited by local police and NHS street triage teams; We work in partnership with our local police force; We link in with drug and alcohol services who signpost to us and vice versa; We are signposted to by homeless services and vice versa; We have recently worked in partnership with PSL to facilitate Career Development sessions; We work closely with our local council public health development workers; We are represented on local mental health forums.
We work in partnership with our local Healthwatch and are on their mental health citizens panel; All of these partnerships and links have ensured that our service has developed in response to local need and ensures a joined up approach. Our links to statutory services has ensured that if our service users require more formal support we have a pathway on which to signpost but also allows for more ease of those who are making the transition to more informal community based support. Our links to Cheshire Voluntary Action facilitates any training needs we have.
Service users are at the centre of everything we do. As previously mentioned we are a peer led charity which means it is run and facilitated by those who have lived experience of mental illness. Those with ‘lived experience’ can get involved at all levels. That can range from sitting chatting to someone who drops in for support; to putting the kettle on to opening up and facilitating the drop in; to fundraising; to raising the profile of mental health and campaigning; to being a member of the trustee board. We believe that everyone has something to offer and the ability to achieve. These achievements can be the big things such as getting a job etc to the softer but just as important things like getting to meaningful activities we provide and inspiring others to also achieve. Nobody takes a wage, we are all volunteers and willingly offer our time and commitment to others who are in need of support. We have policies and procedures than ensure a safe place for all but do not have the barriers of statutory services therefore we can put service users central to all we do. Any activities are planned by and are at the direct request of the people who use our drop ins.
Looking Back/Challenges Overcome
One thing we initially did not completely ‘get right’ was the original name of our charity, when MIND withdrew their services from Chester a few of the service users from their services wanted to continue to meet and initially we were called ‘Chester Community Mental Health Support’. This did not truly represent the peer led nature of our support; served to confuse people that we were perhaps a statutory service alongside community mental health teams. Also it did not reflect the association between mental wellbeing and physical health, giving the wrong impression that we were only there for those with a mental illness diagnosis rather than supporting any one with concerns about their mental wellbeing (which is very common and more applicable to all). We therefore re-branded to Chester PLUS (Peer Led User Support) with the strap line of: for positive health and mental wellbeing. We also may have advertised our services better but also were mindful that we wanted to get things totally right in house before we spread our reach.
We have faced many challenges or hurdles along the way. One was that we initially had three drop in sessions per week but soon found that we did not have the capacity to have two people opening and closing plus ensuring safety. We therefore reduced our drop in sessions to two per week so we could ensure what we were offering was quality and safe. We have now recruited more service user trustees and hope to increase our drop in sessions soon.
Another challenge was convincing professionals of our credibility and safe practice. We have done this through building a positive reputation via people who use our services; through professional visits; being open and transparent in all we do; having policies and procedures that are adhered to including group ground rules and through highlighting the evidence base of peer support at open days, during presentations and at community forums.
We are constantly recruiting and skilling up new service user trustees. We have a good skill base; always sharing our vision and ideas with each other. We produce written guidance and a log of activities. We are currently rolling out our ongoing wellbeing programme, commissioned by the CCG and one of our targets is to develop and empower increasing numbers of peer supporters.
It has been difficult to have had any formal evaluation as all funds go directly into providing services. We have complied with the CCG well-being programme grant process which includes quality assurance to their satisfaction. The mindfulness sessions providers evaluated their sessions using DASS21 which showed positive results. We also have qualitative service user stories.
We are always happy to share our work and do so on a regular basis. We have an active twitter page, a facebook page which is regularly updated with information and a website: http://www.chesterplus.org
We have shared our experiences through: A conference of world mental health day 2015; A presentation to Rethink Mental Illness Regional conference; A presentation to BPS conference; Presentations at The University of Chester • Presentations to West Cheshire CCG; Presentation to Cheshire West and Chester; We sit on many local forums and always welcome visiting professionals to our drop in sessions. We attend local events and share with the public our service provisions.
Is there any other information you would like to add?
We are an entirely peer led and peer run organisation we started slowly, and have operated conscientiously within defined boundaries. Our journey has been a long one to get us in the position we are in and we are proud of what we have done and what we have become. We started by offering peer support, information and signposting to other professional services. We are currently building links with a local homeless persons unit and have service users attending from there.
Another marginalised and undeserved group we now want to support are ex-offenders. We operated under the radar at the beginning to ensure we didn’t try to take on too much and what we did, we did well. Now we feel we are at a stage where we want to start shouting about what we do and provide more. This award would also raise our profile in the whole community and will increase the amount of people coming through our doors now we are confident of the level of support we can offer.
Peer support is very real to us as it has helped us all become the people with the skills, self-esteem and confidence that we are today. We all understand the power, benefit and potential of peer support, without it some of us wouldn’t be here today.