Shaftesbury Mental Health Support Group Relaunched By Dorset Mind

What events or activities do you think should be arranged in Shaftesbury to help residents’ mental health? Dorset Mind has asked locals to help shape their services during the launch of a wellbeing peer support group at a Town Hall event on Thursday. Alfred was there.

Since April 2018, Amanda Sadler has volunteered a huge amount of time running her mental health peer support group. Amanda launched monthly, informal sessions at the Trinity Centre for people who are bipolar or who have depression, anxiety, Asperger’s or PTSD. As the group grew, Amanda switched venues to the Hope HQ at Longmead, but she has still had to arrange the drop-in events and secure funding herself – until yesterday when Dorset Mind took over the service and employed Amanda.

Amanda Sadler

“I got together with Dorset Mind, who were preparing to open groups in Shaftesbury and Gillingham. After a lot of talking I was employed to be the facilitator of the Shaftesbury group. Having a launch today is a new start,” said Amanda. “We’ve grown to usually have twelve people per session so we are moving to bigger premises, the Royal British Legion. And in between those events we will be meeting socially at the Grosvenor.”

As we chatted the Town Hall’s downstairs Guildhall room quickly filled with members of community groups, politicians and dignitaries who had been invited to this launch event. The professional looking Dorset Mind roll-up banners dotted around the room and the generous buffet spread subtly indicated how this group had moved into a different league.

Amanda was wearing her Dorset Mind t-shirt was we chatted. He commitment to the group and understanding of the issues had kept her sessions alive, without funding, for 18 months. Dorset Mind now brings finance, infrastructure and new opportunities.

“There were teething troubles trying to mesh its together,” said Amanda. “Obviously, with Dorset Mind being a charity and having funders, there needs to be more feedback about people’s improvements and how happy they are with the service.”

Bernadette Jones is Dorset Mind’s Service Development Manager. Based in Bridport, she works in rural areas of the county identifying which services are missing. In her address she was keen to stress that the charity’s CEO wants to set up new services in partnership with locals and not ‘place their tanks onto other people’s lawns’. She says that Dorset Mind’s support will be good for Amanda and her group.

“It gives her, probably, a structure and a framework. Other people are delivering very similar things, so it’s nice to be part of something bigger,” said Bernadette, adding, “I don’t think it will change. She has good numbers and people return so she’s doing a good job there.”

Bernadette Jones

Amanda agrees that she doesn’t intend to alter her original approach and that the support group will remain relaxed and informal under its new stewardship. “You can say a lot. You can say nothing. Everybody’s welcome, whatever age. We have about half men, half women aged between 19 years of age up to their seventies,” said Amanda.

In his address to the guests, Mayor of Shaftesbury, Cllr Tim Cook, recognised that mental health awareness is lacking in rural areas of Dorset. He said he appreciates that people who are facing a crisis find it difficult when they don’t know where to go or who to turn to. He is supportive of the plans.

Mental wellbeing campaigner Adam Harvey and one of the Shaftesbury men behind the ‘Headstrong’ initiative also threw his weight behind this relaunched support group. “I think it’s a really good initiative. There’s been a great turnout for this launch event. Hopefully those numbers will be (reflected) in the groups. This is a service that is well needed,” Adam said.

Bernadette explained that she has been overseeing the setup of what are effectively advisory groups, reflecting what mental health provision is needed within different Dorset communities. She worked with Adam when setting up the Sherborne group. Now Shaftesbury gets its own panel.

“I am looking to form groups of between four and six people. I have called them ‘locality working groups’. They will understand what the town needs. Today, I have recruited two local people who have said they would like to get involved with that,” said Bernadette, adding that she was keen to find more volunteers.

Bernadette says if the group comes up with recommendations, Dorset Mind will look into the feasibility of arranging what has been suggested and will investigate funding options. “We have to set up services which are aligned to the Dorset Mind long-term and medium-term strategy,” she cautioned. “We can’t randomly set up all things to all people.”

Bernadette explained that Dorset Mind views projects involving wellbeing to be within its core activities. They don’t act as a crisis support or intervention service. “Dorset Mind is very good at wellbeing groups, whether that’s working on an allotment or people coming together as a group. If the locality working group agree that they want an ecological project, then we will look at what that entails and source funding for it. Local people have local knowledge and Dorset Mind has fundraising capabilities. If you join those two things together you should produce a strong service,” she said.

Adam believes that groups that follow a defined activity are helpful. “Someone touched on the need for creative support earlier and I think creative groups are great. Talking is good but encouraging people to express themselves through other means is another thing. I would also throw sport into the mix as well,” Adam said.

Mayor Tim Cook addressing the meeting

During the session, attendees heard that a walking football group is being planned for Gillingham. That prompted me to ask Bernadette how local this Shaftesbury group would be. Often, countywide organisations see Shaftesbury and Gillingham as one. Amanda set up her group initially to tackle rural social isolation, and although Shaftesbury is near to Gillingham, Shaftesbury residents could find travelling down the road difficult in the evenings and at weekends when public transport is limited.

“I think there is a case to treat them as two different places because transport is a huge issue. It needs to be on a case-by-case basis,” said Bernadette, who returned to the walking football group as a case in point. “If Shaftesbury decide that they want to have something similar, I think we could explore what we could do.”

Adam also thinks that sessions need to be arranged outside the working day. Again, transport options could be a consideration at these times. “A lot of people with mental health challenges are still going to work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Some stuff needs to happen in the evening time and at weekends, so this caters to everybody,” he said.

Bernadette says that Dorset Mind has been liaising with Adam’s Headstrong group. “I met Adam in the early days of me starting with Dorset Mind and I have worked closely with him. I’d like to work more closely with him and I have a meeting in the diary,” she said.

Dorset Mind has not partnered with Shaftesbury mental health charity Hope at this stage. “It’s not that we won’t,” she explained. “Our path hasn’t crossed as yet but I’m sure that we could, and Amanda has been based there and they come very highly recommended.”

You can find out more about Amanda’s Dorset Mind sessions by emailing amanda.sadler@dorsetmind.uk.

Adam’s next Headstrong support event is on 22nd November at the Trinity Centre in Shaftesbury, starting at 7.30pm.