How we started:
I was an Occupational Therapist in mental health for many years. We were trained to be person centred, but in reality, the services we ran rarely were. When I had to retire on ill-health grounds I had the dream of opening a drop-in which was truly person centred. That was in 2012 and we opened just three hours a week.
We became a registered charity in 2016 and we are truly member-led. Many of our staff and volunteers have lived experience and we develop our programme around the passions, interests and skills of our members.
Examples of work pioneered by our members:-
One of our members, who was formerly a musician and music teacher, started 'with a song in mind' singing group and we developed a choir. One year, we were able to take part with the University Choir and perform 'an unquiet mind' about someone with bi-polar disorder and this was a fantastic opportunity to showcase people's talents.
The same individual is passionate about saving lives, having lost friends to suicide and having been suicidal many times herself. She pioneered our 'keeping the hope' suicide prevention and awareness days. We have now run five annual conferences on suicide prevention.
Our sports programme, for example, came out of one of our members went dog walking for her own mental health round a local lake and discovering sailing was going on there. She volunteered to support the sailing. Eventually our members were able to go along and soon we developed this as a regular activity. Following getting a small grant, we set up regular swimming sessions and sailing in the season, then the following year we developed a whole sports programme.
We now run on almost every day of the week and have a staff of ten persons and eight volunteers and are growing almost daily. We run a main drop-in and several other mid-week groups during the week, including a weekly singing group and choir, men's and women's groups and an art group. We also pioneered 'hope' workshop, which uses people's art skills to produce saleable items and provides training in work skills. This is our income generation arm.
We also have a comprehensive sports programme and a dedicated work for youth.
We pioneered 'keeping the hope' suicide prevention and awareness days and run an annual walk of 'hope' to raise awareness of mental health, by walking before dawn into the daylight.
We have also recently developed open air art and craft classes at a local community farm and during the easing of lockdown, some members have started volunteering on the farm. We have also adopted a duck!
The impact of covid19:
Within ten days of lockdown we had a complete virtual programme up and running and started an evening 'isolation' support group as well as running an online photography chat group, singing online, a weekly quiz, well being group and art online. We also started a fitness group online. We have literally been a lifeline to a number of people who have found lockdown extremely challenging because of their mental health issues. Some of our members have been quite unwell due to the impact of covid19, plus, some of them also had pre-existing health issues and needed to isolate. Our online programme became a lifeline to them at this time. We were also able to institute some telephone befriending with our volunteers.
Since the easing of lockdown we have been able to arrange some outdoor meet ups and established an outdoor programme of activities, including art on location in various places and an outdoor tai-chi class on the common. Our sports worker has also started a cycling group and organised walks locally and further afield. There has been a lot more keenness amongst the members to get fit and more people are interested in joining the gym when they are able to do so. Members are also looking forward to being able to get back to the gym and recommence their sailing classes as well as the monthly horse-riding lessons.
Our need to do more than 'business as usual':
Most of our regular activities are during the week and not accessible to anyone who may have work. Also, at the weekends the statutory services are not available. This is when many people struggle. Our ambition is to open a weekend drop-in facility so that people can gain support and also engage in activities which are mindful and creative to help their well being. We also want to be able to provide a training programme which aid prevention of mental ill-health, support people who are struggling and give them the skills to help their own well being.
We are just about to launch a 'hope' cafe on a Saturday night comprising of 1-1 sessions and group work, on zoom to begin with, but hopefully face to face soon.
What we need now:
We need a dedicated space in the City centre where we can work and hopefully partner with others. What we need most urgently is core funding to support or growing team and be able to train our staff and volunteers to run our expanding programme.
Our longer-term aim:
Is to have a community hub in the centre of town which is accessible to all. The centre would be shared with other partners who serve the community in different ways. We seek to have a service-user run cafe facility and have a place where we can showcase people's talents and market our 'hope' products. Also, to be able to facilitate other income generation arms for our partners. In this way, we would be able to develop the long wished for community hub for well being that many of us has sought for so long.
Our success stories:-
One of our first volunteers worked with us in a voluntary capacity for some three and a half years and then took a part-time paid job with us running computer classes , which she helped to pioneer. She had applied for many jobs over the past few years but been unsuccessful. We helped with some interview skills and were able to give her a good reference and finally she got a job interview and was accepted to work with MIND. She is now full-time with MIND and a team leader.
“The experience at Creative Options increased my confidence and led me to apply for paid work in the mental health sector. I am now in full time work as a Well-being Practitioner working for Solent Mind.
A big thank you to Frances Heather (founder of Creative Options) and all the members for their ongoing support!"
One of our members ran our website and became our chairperson and served on the board for some three years. He met his partner through the project, who also became our secretary for some three years. He now works full-time for an agency which helps young people back into work.
His partner writes:-
"I have grown in confidence so much since I started going to Creative Options over four years ago. It has had a major impact on my life. It is where I met my partner. We have learnt many new skills and if it wasn't for the project founder Frances' dedication, enthusiasm and commitment, I don't think that either my partner or I would be where we are today. Creative Options has given us both hope for a bright, happy and healthy future.”
One of our members who joined us had severe health problems, deep depression and a measure of learning disability. She came along to an arts event we were at and took interest as she had some artistic talents and we also learned about her mental health issues. When she learned about our group she decided to join us. We were able to encourage her in her art and some of her images were then used on our 'hope' products.
Through our photography and computer club she was able to learn more about photography and also image transfer techniques at our 'hope' workshop. She is now an avid photographer and learning more. She was also encouraged to join a computer course to learn more about digital techniques. Through what she learnt she was able to develop her own range of products from her own art work.
Through the project she has gained a lot of confidence and also fulfilled a life time ambition to ride a horse. She now volunteers at the farm and has an ambition to work with animals.
Our success is probably best summed up by one of our long standing members who became our music teacher and pioneered our 'keeping the hope' suicide prevention workshops. She states:
“Creative Options came along just at the time I was beginning to put my head above the parapet. It has been instrumental in my recovery”