GUEST BLOG: Flourish House - World Mental Health Day

9 October 2020
4 men talking to each other in an allotment garden. They are sitting round a fire.

Flourish House is a community mental health charity in Glasgow. It has been open for over 20 years and currently has over 250 members. This is a snapshot of the summer of 2020 in Flourish House.

At the end of March we were making our plans for the coming year; we had funding in place and new projects to develop. We were excited about building on the funding of the past and getting more people from Flourish out into nature and woodlands.

Then the covid lockdown hit. In 24 hours we had to close the building and tell all the members that they couldn’t come in for the time being. We had to rush lots of new procedures through; finding a way to contact people, setting up tracking to make sure no-one fell through the cracks….all the time learning new skills.

It has been said that people suffering from long term mental illness are used to social isolation and loneliness. Challenging this has been the cornerstone of our work; to encourage people to feel safe to step back into a community, try new experiences and use the skills they already had to help others.

We support people who need structure and routine in their life to live and continue to thrive, in an ever changing situation that is confusing to everyone. Feelings of security and safety can lead to many returning to their isolated lifestyles and we have to keep encouraging people to link in and keep in touch.

A few of our members took very quickly to their old life; resisting even phone calls and not having access to any online services. Others chafed at these restrictions on their new way of life; more bitter because of their memories of the past.

Gradually groups of support emerged. A regular group of zoom enthusiasts meet every day to check in and share how they are as well as information, updates and quizzes. Oh yes, thank god for quizzes!!

We immediately started a newsletter; beginning as a way to keep people informed it rapidly grew to a 16 page tome with lots of contributions from many members. Because we always sent out a stamped addressed envelope, even those not online were able to send in poems, drawings and pieces of writing.

We bought a few tablets and data packages because as weeks went by, some members who had had no internet access at home began to be more open to trying to get online. To be honest, the tablets weren’t the thing that made this possible. It was the support from staff helping people navigate a completely new experience whilst not being able to be there in person. It is hard to explain to someone how to swipe, or how long to press a button for.

As things began to open up we organised small meetups in parks with themes like photography, Viking Chess and womens’ heritage walks. In September we cautiously opened our doors to small groups of members with short sessions, strict guidelines and timetables for cleaning etc. In some ways it could not have been less like a Clubhouse. The thing that kept it true were the members and staff. Some members have not yet returned, saying they are happy for now to be on zoom and leave the spaces for those who have no other option. Some have found it difficult to come back.

There is a clear need for Flourish House as well as other organisations in the voluntary sector and we will all continue to adapt our service to whatever changes the future brings, but we need to be in a network of support from statutory sectors as never before and it will prove crucial in the time to come that we are engaged in the dialogues about the future and what it may hold.

Part of our future planning is Christmas. We have around 40 people every year for Christmas dinner who would otherwise be on their own and we have no idea how we will do this in December. Anyone out there with great ideas, get in touch!