Havering Mind peer group is safe haven to bring laughs to mental health recovery path
PUBLISHED: 10:00 02 October 2016
This week's marks the first anniversary of Havering Mind's peer group. Chloe Farand meets the charity's former service users over a cup of tea to find out what they do.
Within the comfort of a group of friends, a cup of tea and some biscuits, people with experiences of mental health issues have created their own safe haven on the way to recovery.
Havering Mind’s peer group, which was formed a year ago by former service users, is a place where everyone feels accepted, safe and can socialise.
“Nobody can understand what someone else is going through because it is different for everybody, but we all have experienced something similar,” explained Bob Farnsworth.
“The peer group is a safe place to come because we are not judgmental, we are totally transparent in what we do and where we can, we provide people with the help they need,” he added.
The self-supported group welcomes people from all walks of life, age and gender and is a lifeline for many of its members.
“It is the only reason I leave the house,” one member said.
Here, mental health is not a taboo and there is no stigma.
“If someone has a problem we are all here to listen, but the group is here to socialise. It’s a just a group of lovely, friendly, people that are here to help. We talk about good stuff and laugh a lot,” one woman said.
“Having a mental health issue is what brings us together but it also helps other people feel comfortable to come.”
A bipolar sufferer said she had not told her family, friends or neighbours about her condition, but being at the peer group was “just a normality”.
“I can just say it here – I don’t have to explain it,” she said.
For Lisa, the peer group has given her confidence to join other social groups and pursue activities she enjoys, but others find it difficult to join a club where mental health is not formally acknowledged.
The peer group came to exist after Havering Mind funding was cut, forcing its five-day-a-week community wellbeing service to close, and with it the drop-in activities, days out, arts and crafts and various groups.
Havering Mind replaced the service with a 12-week course called the Live a Better Life project, which provides mental health support along with wellbeing workshops and physical activities for people in recovery.
Members of the group have all had to complete the 12-week course before joining the peer group and many of them are also trained in peer support.
Driven by its members, the group aims to grow and empower those taking part.
Member Les is in charge of organising the group’s days out while some members work closely with Havering College to deliver mental health training and advice.
Sharon Metcalfe, who runs the Live a Better Life project, hopes peers will eventually support their own activities for other service users in the charity.
But for now, the peer group is looking for a new home.
Every Wednesday, the group meets at the Robert Beard Centre, High Street, Hornchurch, from 1pm.
But the centre is due to be taken over by an academy trust, meaning the peer group must eventually find another venue to use.