Report from – Recovery Devons Open Meeting on January 24th 2018

Recovery Devon spent much of 2016/17 working on making our organisation more resilient. This ‘Towards a Recovery Community’ meet-up was a big step in our plans to spend 2018 ‘looking outward’ and connecting with people.

The Meet-up

Thirty people, plus Socks the dog, attended a good-humoured, honest and illuminating meeting at the Exeter Football Club. Our theme was to look at how to create and sustain opportunities for Recovery – how we as individuals or groups can start projects, recruit people or get involved in existing work.

The meeting did not have a specific agenda because we wanted to be able to talk about whatever arose. Guided by James Wooldridge as chair of the meeting, we explored the places where we would like to see change or progress, and heard from some people who are already engaged in projects to support recovery.

Suicide prevention

We started talking about suicide prevention after hearing about Marie’s work with the Devon and Torbay Suicide Prevention Alliance. People at the meeting shared some sad and difficult experiences of suicide attempts and bereavement by suicide, and we acknowledged that while suicide is still mercifully rare, its impact is such that there are many people who have been touched by it in some way. We agreed that prevention is very difficult, as the signs of suicidal thinking are not always clear, and that there is still a need for easier, more open conversations about it. Marie described the ASIST training which teaches people how to have that kind of conversation. She reminded us that people can emerge from even the darkest struggles. Cally and others spoke of the value of telling their stories in creative writing or music. A strong sense of trust and confidence developed in the room and James helped us along by offering a chance to talk things through individually outside the meeting if anyone felt they needed to take a break.

Recovery Devon Development Fund

James went on to describe the Recovery Devon Development Fund, which offers small grants to people who have a particular project in mind to support recovery, providing opportunities for people to create their own resources and establish a “community of recovery”. An occupational therapist described the project she would like to run at the Langdon forensic psychiatric hospital, working with “Horsemanship for Health” to enable residents there to learn to develop the kind of caring, wordless relationship we can have with animals, and to go on from there to develop a different awareness of our environment.

We went on to talk about how to get people together to share knowledge and ideas, how to get a welcoming social group going, and what is the best kind of information hub to advertise what’s available. Ashley talked a little about the Peer Support resources she developed as part of Recovery Devon’s work. Caron talked about her “Happy to Share” cards, used to help encourage people in cafes to talk and share tables.

Tea break

Almost as much was achieved during the tea-break, with everyone connecting, chatting and swapping contact details. It was wonderful to see the relaxed socialising among so many different people – a tribute to how open the meeting had been.

Using your experience

After the break James talked about his work as a mental health consultant and how his experiences of mental health problems had become a source of help and support to other people. Ian followed this up by describing the years he had spent as a carer for his wife, and how he is now putting his knowledge and skills to use in helping Devon Partnership Trust (DPT) to include mental health sufferers and their carers to contribute to the work of providing mental health services. Ian runs the Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP), which works with DPT, and he spoke about the progress which has been made – not just in giving opinions or advice, but in setting up real collaborative working, creative problem-solving and the chance for staff and patients to discover each other’s point of view.

Rebecca talked about her research at Plymouth University, which aims to find out why it is more difficult to gain good feedback from psychiatric patients, and to suggest ways to make it easier for patients to share their views and ideas on how to improve services.  We agreed that this is a very important area to keep working on. Some people in the meeting remembered bad experiences of not being able to express themselves, of not being listened to, of feeling powerless, and I hope it was encouraging to them to know that this is a real concern which the “recovery community” would like to address.

More next time?

When we asked people what they wanted from us, more open meetings were high on the list. Therefore, it was great to see our first meeting succeed. Lots of people, lots of ideas, everyone comfortable to share and everyone able to listen.

We look forward to our next meeting, which is planned for April 2018, and we hope to see you there.

The RD Team