A story by MECOPP
We delivered an overnight residential short break in Perthshire focusing on improving mental health and wellbeing for carers within the Gypsy/Traveller community. Activities included forest bathing, story-telling, therapeutic massage, relaxation session, silent disco and hula hooping.
What Creative Companions did
With the agreement of the funder, we focused on organising and delivering 2 overnight residential short breaks for carers within the Gypsy/Traveller community which took place at the Atholl Centre in Perthshire in March 2022.
A programme of activities was developed informed by previous residentials which had proved popular and successful with community members. Activities included forest bathing/story telling sticks, story-telling session with renowned story-teller Margaret Bennett, relaxation session, therapeutic massage, silent disco, hula-hooping and arts/crafts.
Each residential was able to accommodate 12 overnight guests plus 3 staff members. Local authority areas were nominally allocated 4 places each to ensure a fair distribution. Individual carers were identified by support staff based on their knowledge of the individual and their caring situation. Mutual attendance for both the carer and cared for was also available if it meant the carer could still participate.
In addition to the planned activities, mental health and wellbeing support staff provided resources on health and wellbeing and each participant was provided with a ‘goody bag’ of wellbeing themed items to take away.
Whilst the first residential went to plan, the second residential experienced a number of issues with a number of carers unable to attend on the day. As a waiting list was in place, staff were able to organise at short notice for other carers to attend although 4 places were left unallocated.
The success of the two residentials, as evidenced in our evaluations, is the difference between how carers arrived and how they left feeling.
Examples of quotes from evaluations received:
“So glad to get away, it’s been too long.”
“Really enjoyed getting a chat with different folk, been the same faces and voices for a long time now.”
“Can we have 2 nights the next time?!"
What MECOPP has learned
Re-establishing relationships with communities impacted by COVID-19: restrictions placed on face to face contact and the loss of a key member of staff placed additional barriers in working with the community and particularly those in more remote and rural areas. The quality and success of our work depends heavily on one to one relationships which were adversely affected by more remote ways of working. The ability to provide these residentials provided a valuable means of re-invigorating pre-existing relationships within a supportive and 'fun' environment with a focus on mental health and wellbeing.
The experience has underlined the importance of bringing people together who share a common heritage and cultural background to enjoy shared activities.
Project planning: the project underlined for us the need to keep planning 'tight' as there was a tendency to 'get carried away' with plans. We addressed this by setting up a small planning group who met weekly to progress actions and report back on progress. We were also mindful of the outcomes we were setting out to achieve and that activities had to align to these. Members of the planning group were able to seek input from colleagues as and when required. As part of this group, we were also able to put in place contingency plans, eg. waiting lists, should carers be unable to attend at the last minute. This included making arrangements for travel should they be required.
The value of networks/contacts: As part of our planning, we were able to draw on existing contacts to provide the activities. This was important as activity leaders were already known to the community and had a positive pre-existing relationship with them. This also enabled us to introduce new activities such as the silent disco and forest bathing. Activity leaders were also able to have informal conversations with participants about possible areas of interest that they might want to pursue in the future and to feed this back to the organisation, eg. nature themed breaks.
How MECOPP has benefitted from the funding
Funding from Creative Breaks provided the resources to enable us to re-connect in a very positive way with a community who experience significant hardship as carers. Unlike many other services which were able to move online to continue to provide support to carers, digital exclusion is a significant factor for this community extending to a lack of devices, lack of digital capacity and confidence, connectivity and cost. As a result of delivering the residentials and subsequent requests for longer breaks, we feel we have gone some way towards regaining ground whilst meeting a very real need in the community.
Carers will have developed more opportunities for peer support to sustain them in their caring role. Carers will feel more confident in engaging with mental wellbeing services as a key support in enabling them to continue to care
This outcome was only partly met as the original means of achieving this was the workshop series set out in our application but which was unable to proceed due to COVID-19. The 2 overnight residentials delivered did achieve the following: rebuilt confidence in being away from home; re-connected people many of whom had been shielding for long periods of time; provided an introduction to mental health and wellbeing services/workers; and, focused on encouraging participants to experience a range of mental health and wellbeing activities. We believe that this will be a solid foundation to build on which will include encouraging and supporting carers to develop peer support and by participating in existing MECOPP mental health and wellbeing activities. Feedback from participants includes the following quotes: "lifted my spirits", "feeling more motivated" and "getting away from the stress".
X has never engaged with mental health services for their own wellbeing – only when supporting their cared for persons needed help access supports. During the break X disclosed that they had been struggling recently with their own wellbeing and that they felt they needed some help for themselves. A lot has happened for X over the last few years, there have been many changes within the family set-up including house moves, family addiction issues, and mental health and physical health hospitalisations. X has tried to juggle their own commitments along with caring responsibilities for more than one member of their family for a significant part of their life. X has never had an opportunity to discuss these issues with anyone or explore the associated emotions. X spent some time with the Community Mental Health & Wellbeing worker discussing some of the options available to them, this has resulted in X being referred to MECOPP’s telephone support service. X has also recognised some other coping strategies that may support their mental health (e.g. exercise) and has already managed to implement this in their daily life.
Carers will have a greater understanding of the role a short break can play in promoting mental health and a greater willingness to participate in activities that are designed to improve mental wellbeing.
Again, this outcome was only partially met as our original planned activities were severely curtailed due to the pandemic. However, our evaluation does evidence that the break had a positive impact on their mental wellbeing. Words used to describe how carers felt on arrival included: tired, heavy, stressed with life, depressed, sad and anxious. On leaving, the difference is marked: chilled, calm, relaxed, still sore but not as stressed and feeling good. The opportunity to speak to the mental health and wellbeing worker was also received very positively: "got to talk to (worker name) about mental health, was very helpful." As with outcome 2, we believe that this will provide a positive starting point to further develop work on supporting mental health and wellbeing for carers in this community.
To be honest I really didn’t think coming away was going to make that much of a difference to me and how I felt. I’ve struggled with my mental health for the majority of my adult life. I was in an abusive relationship for many years, and have only recently felt strong enough to leave the relationship and be open with my family about how things have been for me. This relationship had such an impact on me, my children and my wider family for so long – and I didn’t realise to what extent until I broke free. I wasn’t the only person directly affected by this relationship and although I am receiving support for my mental health, I am also providing caring for my children as they have also been affected. I was encouraged to come along by [family member] who has been away with MECOPP before and felt it would be something I would really benefit from. I was really apprehensive about it at first, but very quickly I felt really relaxed around everyone. I hadn’t tried most of the activities we did during the stay – some I hadn’t even heard of! I love being out in nature and really enjoyed the walk and making our story sticks. But I also enjoyed being indoors - listening to the storyteller, having a massage and doing the silent disco which was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life! For a long time I’ve lived day-to-day and it’s been quite chaotic and challenging, I never thought that stopping and taking some time out I would benefit me so much. When it was time to head home after the break, I felt so much more refreshed and positive and I really feel that I have a new energy to take back home with me. I’m heading home looking forward to moving on with my life, I’ve spoken to people I’d never spoken to before, and been more open than I ever thought I’d be able to. I’ll not hesitate to put my name down for the next trip!