imaginementalhealthlogoInterview with Marie Johnson, Team Leader

In your opinion what do you feel; your service user getting from the Imagine Drop-in Service?

I think that Service Users feel a great sense of empowerment; they are encouraged to do and try new activities and a great sense of choice and independence. I think that group members feel a part of something and the groups are theirs rather than just a service that is just provided with or without them and they really have to buy into and feel part of it and feel commitment towards it and I think that is really powerful. I think the service offers a safe stimulating environment for people that encourage development of skills. It helps them to look at their lives, at what they want to do and look at their aspirations and encourage movement along the road to recovery. I think it is great.

What do you feel would happen if the drop-ins were closed?

I think best case scenario because people feel level of empowerment there’s always the hope that people they would continue to meet and continue to build their own groups from the basis but I think for a lot really people would feel a massive loss and their wellbeing would decrease and without having somewhere to go and people to see and having the support from the team (Staff) and each other – there is a great deal of peer support that happens in the group an without having that formally in place I think that for many people it would be very devastating as they genuinely do like their groups, they like coming, they love coming. They feel a sense of ownership over the service they would feel it would be taken away personally rather than taken away from Imagine or Croydon. So I feel it would be a harsh blow.

You are saying that the drop-ins are very peer supportive in their nature – is there like a cliquey group forming or has formed which alienates new members joining the groups, being excluded not welcomed in?

I don’t think so; I don’t see it like that from an internal perspective. A lot of the service users and its really heart warming, really positive for me to see how the group members and have accept people in the fold and as I’ve said they are really proud their groups and really proud of the service being offered to everybody so when new people come in someone Jump up and hand them a referral form and welcome people in. I often pair people up so if new people come in introduce them to everybody who have been a longer time can tell them a little more about the service. In the past we have done meet and greet training where the team sat down with group members and done training how to welcome people what paper work that needs to be done. Because the groups are user led and that is part of that. It is really refreshing to see how kind and welcoming they are to new people and that really makes me happy

You said that your service provides peer support a safe place to go – do you believe that the groups are help-ling people with their recovery and supporting them not to relapse and require hospitalisation?

Absolutely – our services supports people with recovery; we promote independence, we promote empowerment, we promote social inclusion and I believe and I’m a firm believer that all those things and all those experiences build on someone’s recover and I believe that if someone is disempowered if they feel they are dependant that recovery is a lot harder. In terms of people minimising relapse and minimising people needing to go back to hospital; I think we do provide preventative service I think people know we are there, they know they can come to us, if we obviously are seeing signs that people are becoming unwell there are intervention we can help them access services they need. Obviously we can’t ever stop people becoming unwell because that is the nature of mental illness unfortunately and it does happen but we are a safe supportive environment for people to come to and we do minimise as much as possible people having to go back to hospital

You said that that integrating with your services with SLaM, such as Tamworth Road Resource Centre – How do they respond to cries from you for help

I think they are a difficult egg to crack, we promote ourselves there with have meetings with them, we do try and build up a relationship with them. If someone is feeling unwell we support them to wring their CPN or Care Coordinator or whoever their contact is down there. Unfortunately the majority of the time what I hear from our services users that they are not that happy with the service they receive. Some people do say that they have fantastic CPN and they are really pleased with them. Unfortunately they are not majority of the people I hear they are really not. Time and time again I hear they are told to take yourself to A&E or I haven’t got time to see you. Someone I was speaking to yesterday was told this, they were possibly speaking about the evening so I don’t want to mislead. Unfortunately or usually if I speak their point of contact there they are quite quick in saying take themselves down to Tamworth Road and they can see ‘Duty’. That usually happens. I tend to find that if someone has spoken to them their selves and they haven’t spoken to someone they deem as being a professional they are less quick to offer them that support – That sounds very damming I’m afraid.

You are about to leave and go off to new pastures….. What do you feel that you have gained from working at Imagine and being involved with the project the drop-ins and being in contact with the service users?

Firstly and foremost I feel an immense amount of pride and I’m so happy and it feels amazing to see how people and have come to the services and how they have grown and how they have developed and it’s been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be able to work with the people I have worked with. I wouldn’t change the way the projects have developed and I wouldn’t change the people I have worked with for the world. I think it’s been brilliant and despite initial anxieties within the borough and despite criticisms that have come I can truly say that the services stand up for its self. I would be 100% proud and happy to show everybody what we have done. I have learnt that the immense importance of empowering people and how powerful that can really be. We are not treating people like they are second rate citizens and we are not treating people like they are patients we are treating people as people and they like that in the service and they really like not feeling patronised and feeling like we are all on an equal footing which I believe we all are. It’s been fantastic.

When Imagine Drop-ins first started there was a lot of friction from the services coming to the projects. They had beliefs or misconceptions about what was going to be there for them – where do you feel this came from?

I think that came from genuine anxieties about people leaving behind a style of service that they had known for decades. And I think that is completely understandable and justified and I think in the early days we worked really hard and we worked thoroughly to manage those changes and manage people through those anxieties and obviously now we are able to reflect back upon that time and say we came through that really positively and built up a service where those people who were the ones that were being particularly anxious and being particularly resistant to the changes in the beginning are now being the ones that are championing and moving the service as is now forward and I can really appreciate the fact some of the things that people were worried about the user led aspect the fact that people would have more choice and originally people would have seen that as being too much to take on and how was that going to help my recovery if I have to make decisions and having more choice to things – but now people can see the flip side of that which gives people so much more power to shape their own service to reflect on their own service and their service reflects their own needs and not the needs of someone high up who is telling them what is better for them. Which I don’t feel is always that helpful?

Because of our experience in Croydon and of how people first felt anxious and resistant to Imagine first setting up the groups in Croydon because of that original friction Imagine and have won a tender in Redbridge
Where people feel exact the same it is almost a carbon copy of how people felt in Croydon where they had long standing day service which was staff led and was closed down and turned round to a user led service were service users are at the heart of what is being delivered.

I have been working up there with them – leading a consultation process with them looking at what their concerns are what they are worried about and looking at viable solutions – ways forward. And just talking to people and it really, really helps, just talking to people, just explaining, just clearing up any confusion which has been great, really positive process as well. We can build on and reflect to them what’s happened in Croydon and where people are now how great they feel about the service now and I feel that has really helped them in Redbridge them and help them feel less anxious and concerned.

One of the criticisms there has been in Croydon is that you don’t actually have a building, which you only rent space in buildings and that’s not the model we had before. We had a flagship build(S)

Again that was one of the anxieties for people in the early day and I think we have proven 4 years down the line it seems to be for people an irrelevance; certainly for our service users, it’s never been an issue, people enjoy the variety moving around the borough, that means they are entering area they might not have do before they are accessing different opportunities within those areas. People like the flexibility. People like the fact today I’m at Purley, today I’m at the CVA, I might go up to the Parchmore next week. You find that instead of having one flag ship build we now have four and it is much more about the people rather that the build. We are interested people growing a community out of the groups and that happens and there is a body of people who are friends and enjoy each other’s company and enjoy the space they are in there own and that make the space we rent their own. We have our own cupboards we have our own notice boards, All of our stuff our artwork all of our notices

Each of the groups has its own feel and that’s fantastic and that’s to do with people that go there and way they have moulded their service. And you can see that. Purley is the arty group, the more quieter group perhaps sometimes. CVA has a real vibrate feel about it – there is a lot of community activities that run out of CVA as a base, as it is central. Parchmore is focused around the cooking group and the way that has been moulded and people cooking together and having their meals together. Each group has a different feel and that offers far greater variety for people rather than coming to the same building every day.

Do you feel that your service offers a recovery, a way of helping a person moving forward?

Absolutely; we do one-to-one work with people and we use the ‘Recovery Star’ which is focused on moving people forward. We do see that moving people forward of one of our remits. Our service users set their own targets based on the star.

We are all about moving people forward whether it’s engaging people with community activities and we often see a natural progression for people to do volunteering and that happens a lot. And the way we see the drop-ins is; a safe place for people to come to in addition to doing other things outside of the group. We don’t want to be a place where it is somebody’s only be all and end all…. we work people to make sure that there is other things happening outside of the groups, that are promoting their recovery and are moving people forward and then they come to the drop-in. So people do ‘my volunteering on a Monday and I see my family on this day and if I’m not busy then I’ll come to the drop-in’. And that’s the way we see it; empowering people as well so that there isn’t a dependency on the groups.

Anything else you would like to add about people coming to the groups.

The nice thing about using, coming to the service it that is friendly, it’s not clique. You have a genuine opportunity to do whatever you want there. You are supported by a team to try out any activity you want to. And you really do have a say in what’s going on and you really do have a say in what you want to do and where you want to go with the support all the way. I think that it’s a misconception that there is no staff input what so ever and everyone is left to their own devises and that not the case. We have a core group of services users, around 150 members. And around half of them attend regularly and people drop-in.

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