Two months on from the Sellebrity Soccer match at Adams Park, where stars of stage and screen combined with Chairboys legends in a charity football game, we take a look at the impact made by the beneficiary of this special event – the Keep Moving Forward programme, run by the Wycombe Wanderers Sports & Education Trust.
All proceeds from the game in May went towards Keep Moving Forward, which provides two weekly activities to support local people who suffer from problems with their mental health. These activities encompass a community walk and a physical activity session that utilises movement as a way to learn about emotions, coping strategies and a chance to socialise with others.
The Sports & Education Trust are proud to publish four case studies from participants who have benefitted from the programme, and thank everybody who supported the Sellebrity event which enabled more and more people to experience the positive life changes that Keep Moving Forward can bring.
I joined the WWSET Keep Moving Forward project in March 2018. Since my discharge at the end of 2014 from a series of prolonged inpatient stays, my life and recovery had totally stagnated, and I had become very isolated and hopeless about my future, if indeed I had one. It’s honestly no exaggeration to say that the KMF project has given me a new lease of life. As useful and thought-provoking as the content of each of the sessions has been, it is the community of kind, understanding and supportive peers I have found there, which is bolstered by the project’s ethos of inclusion, empathy, trust and the belief in the potential of every individual, that has been the most instrumental factor in moving my life forwards again.
So many of the services I have encountered in the past have had specific criteria for accessing them, and/or have been very time-limited, which fails to really acknowledge the inconvenient fact that recovery from mental ill health is never a quick or straightforward journey. For me, this type of approach simply conjures a sense of pressure and a level of stress which is incompatible with making real and lasting progress. What really stands out about the KMF project is its true inclusivity; anyone is welcome, wherever they’re at and whatever they’re going through and, most importantly, when they need it, rather than being on a waiting list for months or being effectively cut off after a certain period of time.
As I said before, it feels like a community where everyone – be they attending a session or running it – is on a par; there’s no sense of hierarchy or arbitrary boundaries which have the potential to inhibit the willingness of participants to be fully open and honest with each other, and even with themselves. We all have good days and bad days and that’s ok; the KMF project is an ever-expanding network of acceptance, support and encouragement, where confidence can grow, new skills can be learned, horizons can be expanded, barriers and self-limiting belief systems can be challenged and broken down and, most importantly, where it feels safe to do so. When I’m struggling it can be a real challenge to prevent myself from shutting off from the world, but I can guarantee that if I attend a KMF session, I will feel leave in an infinitely better, more positive and optimistic frame of mind than when I arrived.
Although still in its early stages, the diversity of activities the KMF project has so far offered ensures there is something for everyone at every level of ability, and it would be great to see these opportunities continue grow and develop over time. It can be incredibly daunting – sometimes prohibitively so – to try out new activities such as Indian Clubs or yoga at a gym or non- mental health specific community class, and often incurs significant financial cost which further restricts accessibility for those with mental health problems who are often on low incomes, but the KMF project provides these opportunities for enrichment free of charge in a safe, supportive and stigma-free environment where there is no weight of expectation placed on continued attendance and commitment. It is, to my mind, an invaluable asset to mental health provision in the local community.
After a lifelong struggle, I was finally diagnosed age 53 with PTSD (trauma from childhood). Unfortunately NHS mental health service support is very minimal and at most only for a few months. Long term trauma along with many mental health issues are not a quick fix and this is where WWSET groups are a lifeline.
I first attended a walk arranged by WWSET in June 2017. I was very apprehensive when I first attended as I had been at rock bottom with low confidence, mood and even just leaving the house had become a major obstacle. I felt accepted when I first arrived and Sam listened without judgement to my story. I have now been on many walks with WWSET and what started as few people has grown to 15/20 people some weeks. Everyone on these walks is very supportive of each other and you feel very understood and safe to be yourself. I have grown in confidence from these walks due to being with people in similar situations and I have watched people grow too. Sam really understands mental health and doesn’t put anyone under pressure to do anything they don’t feel ready to do, but always there to support, encourage and listen.
I have also attended WWSET classes including exercise your self-esteem and exercise your emotions - both have been very beneficial to my mental health as so much of trauma is held in the body and, again, being in a group who are experiencing similar mental health issues is key to being able to be yourself.
I have since gone onto volunteer with WW fit and fed activities with children after school and during school holidays. I have also volunteered at Grow, which is a community allotment. Both these volunteer opportunities have really improved my confidence and self-esteem and are helping me on my road back to work.
What I’ve noticed from WWSET groups is the tutor’s understanding of mental health and how everyone is treated individually as we are all at various stages of recovery and this can change at any given time. With mental health there are days, weeks or maybe months when people are unable to attend walks or classes due to relapse (or as I like to say a ‘blip’) and the wonderful thing is WWSET excepts you back with open arms when you are ready to come back. (I have been on a NHS therapy group and I was too poorly to attend a few weeks and I was told as I missed a few sessions I wasn’t trying hard enough to get well. I’d like to dispel this myth as the majority of people affected by mental health fight very hard to get well). So supporting people through their blips is the most helpful way to get people to where they want to be.
Future projects I feel would be beneficial are - further yoga classes (great for trauma/panic/anxiety) also exercise classes, walks as being out in nature is so valuable. Craft/art classes are also therapeutic - I’m at the stage that I can sit and draw, but there have been days when attending a glass painting classes that all I could manage was to put a few dots on a bottle and other people could only manage just to sit in the class without even giving eye contact, but to these people it was a huge step just even getting to the class and their first step to getting well.)
The first session I took part in was the nutrition and well-being course back in July 2018, and shortly after started attending the well-being walk.
The first thing that struck me about my first session a year ago was Sam Parker herself. Genuine, warm, happy. I’d forgotten people like her existed. I had also never been to anything like it. It was a simple and basic course on food and exercise, designed for people like me who had become isolated and were no longer functioning well. Not looking after ourselves the way most people probably take for granted. Sam’s positivity is infectious and you feel it in each of the different projects that she has created. Everyone that’s involved says the same thing and once you’ve started one you notice the benefits and want to be part of more. I had a breakdown over 10 years ago and was unable to leave the house for a long time. These sessions are much more than simple courses though. They have become a community. A safe space to rebuild lost confidence, make friendships, learn important life skills and provide a place to belong. I am hoping that eventually it will become the gateway to re-enter the workplace and mainstream society for want of a better expression.
The well-being walk, to me is more than “just a walk”, I think it shouldn’t be overlooked as there are important things to say about the walk. It’s the activity that attracts the most people due to the social aspect. It’s the heart of the community in many ways, a space where people get to know each other, share stories and learn more about the other projects that WWSET provide. Builds social confidence that makes joining the other projects feel less daunting. People turn up in the sun, rain, snow and this last year we turned up on Christmas and New Year’s Eve’s as well as they fell on the Tuesday.
Since then I have attended Exercise your Emotions – advice and guidance on understanding how emotions can affect the body physically, so how to recognise emotions by their physical signals so you can take care of yourself more mindfully or consciously.
I have also joined Football Fans In Training (FFIT) which are Exercise/Nutrition classes for mainly overweight and over 35yr old, local guys. I would not have been able to attend this course a year ago as it is not one of the mental health projects. My general confidence and ability to interact with people has improved more in 1 year with the WWSET activities than nearly 10 years of various NHS mental health counselling and therapy services.
I now also attend some of the newest sessions including GROW, a Community Allotment project that teaches attendees how to grow fruit and vegetables, providing another place to be active, socialise and also the benefits of free food that you’ve helped to cultivate. A surprisingly rewarding project.
Since coming to the WWSET sessions I have really noticed a change in myself and so have my family. My general confidence and how I view myself as a person have improved a lot. When you’re isolated you go into a negative spin that you can’t get out of. It’s only by being in the company of other’s that you can see and begin to believe in your own worth due to the reactions of others. The more I attend the groups the more I want to get out, meet others and attempt new challenges. My physical health is also beginning to improve, and my personal drive is stronger than it has been in a long time. I’m still on medication which I hope to soon begin reducing and a I have a long way to go but I feel I am heading in the right direction.
Since suffering a breakdown, I have only felt comfortable around other people who have lived experience with a mental health crisis. I was unable to ignore the stigma that society has around mental health and couldn’t be around ‘normal’ people. I’ve gained enough confidence in the groups that were specifically aimed at those with lived experience to join FFIT which is not aimed at that group. I would not have been able to join this group a year ago. This shows a massive change in my opinion as 10 years accessing NHS mental health services did not help me make that step.
The mental health arm of WWSET provides a much simpler approach than traditional NHS mental health models but something which is infinitely more tangible. As I previously mentioned, it has provided myself and many others with a place to belong, a real community. Since my breakdown I have accessed a number of different mental health services. The thing those services have in common is that they feel very clinical. They are run and operated by people with qualifications in psychology. Services such as group therapy actively discourage any contact between people using the services. This means that you might access the service for a few hours a week and then be left isolated and having no interaction for the rest of the week. They also focus on mental health alone. I have felt that I was being given psychology 101 classes. What does depression or anxiety mean? That type of thing. When the treatment ends you are sent back to your life of isolation with no answers on how to make real changes and re-enter the workplace or retrain. For some people they become more aware of how their condition affects their life but have no place to go and experience that new awareness. There is no community for you to become a part of until now. WWSET is successfully providing that space. It has the ambition and drive to go further but not the resources. It’s run by people with qualifications in sport and nutrition and have community-based skills.
This project needs two things to be successful. 1. The right people 2. As much funding as possible; and it already has the people. The positivity, drive and kindness of the people who work on the project is inspiring. The ideas discussed during the walks and other social spaces offer great potential for the project to expand, and these are some of the things I would like to see:
1. As a group we put a bid in for a grant for a minibus for day excursions. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. I would love to see this happen. Could open all sorts of opportunities in terms of social events, sports etc.
2. I would like to see more practical courses. Particularly around cooking healthily. I can cook a meal from a recipe book, but having left home and school at 14, I never learnt the basic skills to budget, plan ahead, shop properly and cook for one. I know there are several community cooks in the area, but the project doesn’t have the funds at the moment although it has the contacts.
3. I would like to see courses that teach work-based skills and opportunities to volunteer in workplace environments. I personally have construction-based skills but as a 44-year-old man that has suffered a breakdown and been out of the work for some time, I have no route back into the workplace. The project provides the opportunity to volunteer in some small areas but there is still a massive stigma around mental health. However, there must be employers out there from various industries who have set aside previous prejudices. If those employers could be encouraged to give volunteer/trainee positions to people with lived-experience, then it can be proved that those of us who have experienced a mental health crisis shouldn’t be written off. We still have a desire and valuable contribution to make to society. If WWSET can expand its scope and reach, then it may be able to help break down more barriers and bring on employers as partners to the service.
4. I would like to see the mental health arm of the project have its own permanent hub. There was an idea previously mooted of a premises that consisted of a downstairs community café that could be operated by volunteers from our community with a space upstairs to provide courses. This could provide a place to learn, work and socialise. A permanent place to drop in at any point.
5. I’d also like to see a range of new courses and events spread throughout the week and weekend, both during the days and in the evening. Of course, this would require more staff and resources. Would also be nice to see people who use the service playing an active role in course delivery as their confidence improves. I know this is an idea that is already in development.
As an adult, I have experienced periods of severe depression. For more than 25 years, I found ways to manage them and without it unduly affecting my life or my successful career in research and development. Then about 5 years ago, I suffered a complete emotional breakdown. It must be hard to understand what this is like, unless you have experienced it; certainly, I could not have imagined it, despite having plenty of living experience with depression. It was as if my ability to think and reason was completely cut off, locked in an emotional storm.
With help, I moved back to be closer to family. The experience of emotional overwhelm slowly evolved and has gradually changed, but has left deep wounds and recurs whenever I feel slightly stressed. At the start, it affected my capacity to think and understand what I was experiencing, and most importantly, it affected my ability to obtain help from mental health services. I found it hard to reach out for support, and difficult to articulate the problems I was having; even trying to form complete sentences in my head was difficult without feeling overwhelmed.
In hindsight, this has left me with the opportunity to reflect on the services that I found (and continue to find) to be of the most help.
As I have been taking this long journey towards recovery, I have found a few mental health support networks and services have been of great help. The program “Keep Moving Forward” that is run by Wycombe Wanderers Sports & Education Trust (WWSET) has been particularly noteworthy, both because of the way that it is run and the style and content of the classes.
Firstly, there was a consistency and simple authenticity that was appealing to me in my fragile state of mind. Sam Parker worked hard to developing a clear program and a supportive relationship with me and the service. It might seem obvious, but in mental health in particular, without trust and clear expectations there is little room for healing. (This point is perhaps my biggest complaint with conventional/NHS services).
Secondly, all the courses I attended; Well-being walk, Exercise your emotions, nutrition and well-being and yoga, involved physical activity, some tying those activities to other goals. In my emotionally charged state, I found this unconventional approach to be more effective than the typical classroom approach. Psychologically it would tend to calm me down on a day I was having difficulties, the activities generally promoted a sense of wellbeing and the group setting provided an element of companionship.
Thirdly, the services I attended were run with an appropriate degree of light-heartedness, education and activity that helped to encourage my sense of community and identity. That was important for me because of the tendency to isolate when feeling emotionally unwell.
Finally, unlike other programs, which tend to limit classes so that a person can only attend a class once, this program had no such limit (subject to availability). In particular, I was able to take the class “Exercise your emotions” twice. Although the material remained largely the same, I learned about myself as I picked up different things within the material and noticed how my answers to some of the questions changed as my health improved. It was a very self-affirming experience to recognize my improvements.