Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Safe Space – a wellbeing support group for new and expectant parents in Gloucester

Footsteps Counselling and Care are pleased to introduce you to our guest blogger Emily Le Page, with details of Safe Space. 

The NCT is the UK’s largest charity for parents, supporting over 100,000 annually through courses and its 300 branches nationwide. [1]  This year it is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Gloucester branch has a very active and keen group of volunteers that I joined in July 2015, just prior to returning to my day job.
I started volunteering towards the end of my maternity leave, which was wonderful, but I became all too aware that this is not always the case for many women and their families.  

Pregnancy, labour and the year afterwards is a time of real emotional highs and lows, but for some women it can be the cause of some serious mental health struggles. As many as 1 in 5 women suffer from depression, anxiety or psychosis during pregnancy or a year after giving birth[2]. Understanding how risky this time can be we were keen to think about how we as a branch could support women and our wider community.

In Gloucestershire in any one year, there may be between 600 and 900 women suffering with cases of mild to moderate Depressive Illness and Anxiety.  This number doesn’t include those women who may be suffering in silence or have not been able to access help they really need.

Access to the right help is normally done via the GP, midwife or self-referral. This can include things such as talking therapy (known locally as ‘Lets Talk’), medication, community nursing support or hospital treatment depending severity. Charities such as ‘Footsteps’ also help to plug the gaps in care to a huge extent. They are such a valuable asset to the local community.

Considering the large numbers of women and families affected every year by mental health difficulties there is little in the way of specialized community support groups. These are really important in promoting and maintaining mental health. Research has pointed to benefits peer support in particular can provide; ‘The mutuality and reciprocity that occurs, builds social capital, which in turn is associated with well-being and resilience’[3]
Our branch really wanted to know what would be helpful to local mums and families in Gloucester so we ran a survey from our NCT Facebook page to get some ideas. We focused specifically on how we could develop an emotional wellbeing support system and what that might look like.

We had lots of really insightful ideas and we are really grateful to everyone who took part. Offering a really informal, friendly ‘safe space’ as an interface into other local services was the most popular concept. A space to talk about shared experiences and develop a ‘friendship network’ in knowledge you are not alone was the key theme.

Knowing what we needed to do, our next challenge was how and where to start running a potential group. It took a while, but we have kindly been allowed a wonderfully resourced play-room to use free of charge on a monthly basis at ‘The Compass’ Children’s Centre in Coney Hill, Gloucester City. Refreshments have been provided through the Community Champion scheme at the Tesco superstore, St Oswald’s Retail Park. This allows us to ensure the group is free, a real bonus!

We have been networking with the health visiting teams, community midwives and charitable services in the hopes that the word is spread where we are and how we can help. This also provides a great link in to women who may be in need of more support outside of what the group offers.

We designed the logo ourselves. A rainbow umbrella; the idea of shelter and safety with the beauty that can come after a stormy time.

Our first group ran in early April and was really well received. We are operating monthly until Christmas as a pilot, inclusive of the summer holidays. We hope it will slowly gain ground and become a group run by members for members.

Peer support is the mainstay of what we help facilitate, but reflecting on other suggestions we had from our survey we have a  ‘wellbeing toolkit’ of resources. This includes information about voluntary sector services, a library of books, mindfulness colouring and inspirational stories of ‘lived experience’.
This is a really friendly and free group open to all – NCT member or not. Pregnant ladies whether it’s your first or fifth, those with pre-school age children, partners and other family members are all most welcome.

Your GP, Midwife or Health Visitor should always be the first port of call for any Mental Health concerns. We aim to provide additional support alongside treatment or input you may be getting elsewhere.
Looking nationally the NCT has been awarded a grant by the Department of Health to develop longer-term peer support network. [4] This will begin in 3 pilot areas yet to be confirmed. If successful this could build upon what we have started with Safe Space.
Small projects like ours and the latest NCT initiative on a national scale can hopefully make sure every woman gets access to the care she needs and deserves.

Our next group runs on Friday 5th August 2016. We hope to see you there!

We hope to be able to help anyone that needs it. You can message our page if you have any queries, concerns or would like a bit more information. It can be really scary to make the first step, but know that you do not have to suffer alone. Help is out there.

Thank you so much to Daisy and her team for giving us some space on the blog.
If you would like to find out more about NCT Gloucester and our ‘Safe Space’ group we are on Facebook or the NCT website. Follow the links below.


Emily Le Page

[1] NCT. 2015. What we do for parents. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/about-nct/what-we-do-parents. [Accessed 19 April 2016].[2] Local Gov; Councils urged to reduce mental health problems amongst pregnant women. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at:  http://www.localgov.co.uk/Councils-urged-to-reduce-mental-health-problems-among-pregnant-women/41202
[3] McKenzie, K. (2006). Social risk, mental health and social capital. In: McKenzie, K. & Harpham, T. (Eds) Social Capital and Mental Health. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.[4] NCT. 2015. NCT announces new mental health peer support project. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/press-release/nct-announces-new-mental-health-peer-support-project. [Accessed 19 April 2016].