Through the partnership between the CMHT and the Greenhouses we have forged an environment where our service users carry out voluntary work and training in a non-discriminatory, fully inclusive setting. All attendees regardless of mode of referral are classed as and called volunteers. The site provides a range of activities including horticulture, woodwork, woodturning, building, stone carving, plumbing, arts, crafts, etc. and a range of training from safeguarding and mental health awareness to mentoring and a wide range of practical skills.
What We Did
Through the partnership between the Rossendale & Hyndburn CMHT, East Lancashire Recovery College and the Stubbylee Greenhouses we have forged an environment where our service users carry out voluntary work and training in a non-discriminatory, fully inclusive setting. All attendees regardless of mode of referral are classed as and called volunteers, the phrase service user, being seen as one which can cause division or be perceived as a value statement.
To create the most inclusive service possible volunteers come from primary and secondary mental health services, LD services and from throughout society as self-referrals of retired people, people who work part time and those who have been long term unemployed. The site provides a range of activities including horticulture, woodwork, woodturning, building, stone carving, plumbing, arts, crafts, etc. and a range of training from safeguarding and mental health awareness to mentoring and a wide range of practical skills. Every new volunteer on site is given an appropriately qualified mentor who is drawn from the existing volunteers.
As people progress they are given the option of becoming a mentor themselves as their skills, resilience, well-being and sense of identity grow. There is a recognition that we are all on life’s long and exciting journey and that we all contribute to the journeys of those around us. This all goes to create a pathway into further education, training and employment away from services.
In September 2015 this partnership group grew to contain 14 more partners including: Mindsmatter, CAB, Rossendale Borough Council, Lancashire Women’s Centre, LCC, LAL, Lancashire Wellbeing Service, Experts By Experience and Accrington and Rossendale College to form East Lancashire Recovery College. We deliver a wide range of courses aimed to improve mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing. We have traded the paradigms of patient, therapy, and discharge for learner, education and graduation. We have an open door policy which encourages enrolment to all sections of society which often prevents people entering into specialist mental health services within the NHS. Since September 2015 we have offered over 10,000 hours of guided student learning.
At the Greenhouse site we now average 2000 volunteer hours per month. Since the opening of the site as is we have engaged with over 1700 volunteers most of which have graduated to further volunteering, paid employment or further education. Only a handful of the volunteers so far have not demonstrated a marked progression within their recovery journey.
Wider Active Support
The site and college work in partnership with a wide range of other organisations such as the CAB where we have a dedicated benefits worker employed specifically to work with people with mental health issues, Bacup Consortium Trust, Rubicon – service user group, Restart, those listed above and have worked hard to engage and work with many other third sector providers which strengthens and bolsters their provision. Our prospectuses are distributed widely through GP surgeries, family centres, libraries, charities, statutory services and through social media. We are also working to build some opportunities for partnership work within the wider NHS trust, the police and fire services.
The College is run in partnership with our local Experts By Experience. The Greenhouse Site aside from 2 employed staff is run by volunteers / users averaging 2000 hours of voluntary work per month. Continual input through monthly volunteer meetings on site and student exit questionnaires upon graduation inform the work we do to carry forward the site and college.
Looking Back/Challenges Faced
As the college has grown it would have been easier to manage if I had applied for funding to run it full time at the outset as managing this alongside my day job can be quite draining. However it is now an exemplar model of partnership work towards a shared aim of societal wellbeing which is more than worth the work.
As the Greenhouse site has grown, funding has been an issue although the site has been lucky enough to gain, among others, lottery funding. Skill and knowledge deficits with staff, board members and volunteers have and continue to be addressed through a rolling programme of onsite training. A continuing challenge with the college is not to ‘grow the service’ too quickly as to make it unsustainable – at present demand for the service is very high and the temptation to increase provision to cover demand must be tempered with an eye to assets etc. and the protection of an achievable provision.
Continual development of staff and volunteers to ‘grow our own’ mentors etc who all have been through the Greenhouse site journey creates a constant and sustainable flow. The site is not dependent on funding or staffing from the NHS trust and is slowly growing to a more sustainable business model which should be able to continue without external funding. The college continues to grow as it is a highly effective and cost effective method of engagement for all partnership groups where high prevalence rates can be met through an educational model coupled with positive social reciprocity and the creation of informal support networks within the student body.
Continual assessment through SRQ and structured assessments with volunteers, students, staff, assessment and monitoring as required by Big Lottery Funding, assessment for monthly board reports and annual AGM report etc. An external, independent assessor ‘Spear’ has been employed to evaluate the service.
We would be happy to continue to share our experiences. As a site and a college this is presently done through consultation with other charities and social enterprise, delivering training to charity and business, support to other groups and presentations to a range of local and national organisations. We also offer training to a number of companies and services around mental wellbeing and equality and diversity.