Gateway Family Services https://gatewayfs.org Mon, 09 Dec 2019 17:53:42 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.1 https://gatewayfs.org/files/2017/04/cropped-Gateway-Icon-Blue-sq-512-32x32.png Gateway Family Services https://gatewayfs.org 32 32 Meet our MVP Chair: Chloe https://gatewayfs.org/2019/12/09/meet-our-mvp-chair-chloe/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/12/09/meet-our-mvp-chair-chloe/#respond Mon, 09 Dec 2019 12:59:30 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11662 In the summer, we welcomed a new Chair for our Maternity Voices Partnership: Chloe Cadby.

The role of Chair is a busy one, and we’re happy to say Chloe has thrown herself into it over the last four months!

Last week, a team from the MVP visited Solihull Maternity Unit to take the “15 Steps” challenge and feed back with their first impressions

The Maternity Voices Partnership is made up of maternity professionals (like midwives and doctors), and service users (women who have been pregnant and given birth and their family members) and it’s Chloe’s job to speak on behalf of services users in these external meetings.

So as well as attending the regular MVP sessions, which are once a quarter, she has also been attending focus groups, quarterly meetings with Bump, meetings with us here at Gateway, and other events like the “15 Steps for Maternity” walks we’ve organised.

As a mum of two children, who each had very different births, Chloe has had experience of the local maternity services herself. She’s also experienced in helping new mums, thanks to her work in Children’s Centres over the last few years. But she’s also very interested in making things better for others, as she tells us here.

“I love anything maternity. A few years ago I started volunteering in my local Children’s Centre and as part of that I’ve done lots of training, including a 12 week breastfeeding course, which means I can give new moms really useful, practical, help.

 

 

“When my baby was about four months old, I found out about the MVP meetings. At first, I wasn’t really sure what it was all about but I went along anyway because it sounded interesting and I could take him along with me.

 

 

“I continued going, and found myself reading up on everything we talked about, and learning more and more. So when the chair position came up, I went for it.

 

 

“I really like the idea of being able to feed back into the system through the MVP. I love hearing people’s birth stories, and at the MVP meetings we don’t just get to talk about our maternity experiences, we can share important opinions with maternity professionals, and they listen. We’re working together to make things better for other women and families.

 

 

“Eventually, I want to go back to work, and I’d love to work in this area if I can, so working with the MVP is a good foot in the door. Having children, you sometimes feel like your brain has gone to mush, but this is helping me to stay challenged and feel like I’m really using my brain. I love listening to others, learning more, reading up on what we talk about at each meeting. It’s a chance to really be me, not just a mom!”

 

Want to get involved?

If you have personal experience of local maternity services, we welcome all “service user” voices and we aim to make all meetings accessible and child-friendly. Call Reshma at Gateway on 0121 456 7820 to find out about the next MVP event.

“I love that it’s giving women a voice!”

Hear from Chloe in her own words in this short video.

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Want to quit smoking? Introducing the Solihull Stop Smoking Service https://gatewayfs.org/2019/11/07/want-to-quit-smoking-introducing-the-solihull-stop-smoking-service/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/11/07/want-to-quit-smoking-introducing-the-solihull-stop-smoking-service/#respond Thu, 07 Nov 2019 10:05:05 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11619 Did you know you’re three times more likely to quit with the help of a Stop Smoking service?

The Solihull Stop Smoking service is now part of the Solihull Lifestyle Service, so it’s FREE and easy to access if you live in Solihull, or have a Solihull GP.

How does it work?

Call free on 0800 599 9880
If you’d like to stop smoking, call the Solihull Lifestyle Service on 0800 599 9880, or ask your GP or pharmacist about stop smoking support. After a brief initial assessment, you’ll be put in touch with an NCSCT certified Stop Smoking Practitioner who will start working with you as soon as you’re ready.

At your regular one-to-one appointments, held at convenient times and locations, you and your Practitioner will create a tailored action plan together. You will be provided with information and access to stop smoking medications (prescription costs when applicable) and your Stop Smoking Practitioner will provide advice, support and encouragement.

What to expect

Vicky Masters is the Senior Practitioner for the Solihull Stop Smoking Service. Here, she explains what to expect when you start working with a Stop Smoking Practitioner.

Vicky Masters, Senior Stop Smoking Practitioner, Solihull Lifestyle Service

“Often people are quite nervous when they come to their first appointment, but they soon find we are friendly and helpful and they start to relax. It’s really important to be completely honest with your Stop Smoking Practitioner at the first session, as that is how we create your tailored plan.

“It’s a 12 week course and over those 12 weeks your Stop Smoking Practitioner will help you in sticking to your plan and keeping smokefree. Even if something doesn’t go quite to plan we will help you get back on track. The best way to quit smoking is with support and medication, and the Solihull Stop Smoking service can provide you with both!

“If you don’t know what medication you want to use, your Stop Smoking Practitioner will assist you and go through all the nicotine replacement products, such gum and patches, and also prescription-only medication such as Champix. You will have expert guidance on how to get the best out of your chosen medication.

“At each session you will have your carbon monoxide reading taken, which is a quick and simple breath test, and shows how much carbon monoxide is in your system. It’s really great when it goes to a ‘non-smoker’ reading and people tell us how much better they feel – sometimes physically, other times financially and also mentally.

“Stopping smoking isn’t an easy thing to do, but when people quit with support and motivation from the team it is so fantastic!”

Think you might be ready to make the change? Call 0800 599 9880 free or fill in a referral form and start your quit journey today!

10 self-help tips to stop smoking

from the NHS Live Well website

Think positive
You might have tried to quit smoking before and not managed it, but don’t let that put you off. Look back at the things your experience has taught you and think about how you’re really going to do it this time.

Make a plan to quit smoking
Make a promise, set a date and stick to it. Sticking to the “not a drag” rule can really help. Whenever you find yourself in difficulty, say to yourself, “I won’t even have a single drag”, and stick with this until the cravings pass. Think ahead to times where it might be difficult (a party, for instance), and plan your actions and escape routes in advance.

Consider your diet
Is your after-dinner cigarette your favourite? A US study revealed that some foods, including meat, make cigarettes more satisfying. Others, including cheese, fruit and vegetables, make cigarettes taste terrible. So swap your usual steak or burger for a veggie pizza instead. You may also want to change your routine at or after mealtimes. Getting up and doing the dishes straight away or settling down in a room where you don’t smoke may help.

Change your drink
The same US study as above also looked at drinks. Fizzy drinks, alcohol, cola, tea and coffee all make cigarettes taste better. So when you’re out, drink more water and juice. Some people find simply changing their drink (for example, switching from wine to a vodka and tomato juice) affects their need to reach for a cigarette.

Identify when you crave cigarettes
A craving can last 5 minutes. Before you give up, make a list of 5-minute strategies. For example, you could leave the party for a minute, dance or go to the bar. And think about this: the combination of smoking and drinking raises your risk of mouth cancer by 38 times.

Get some stop smoking support
If friends or family members want to give up, too, suggest to them that you give up together. There’s also support available from your local stop smoking service. Did you know that you’re up to 4 times more likely to quit successfully with their expert help and advice? You can also call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044, open Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm and Saturday to Sunday, 11am to 4pm.

Get moving
A review of scientific studies has proved exercise, even a 5-minute walk or stretch, cuts cravings and may help your brain produce anti-craving chemicals.

Make non-smoking friends
When you’re at a party, stick with the non-smokers. “When you look at the smokers, don’t envy them,” says Louise, 52, an ex-smoker. “Think of what they’re doing as a bit strange – lighting a small white tube and breathing in smoke.”

Keep your hands and mouth busy
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can double your chances of success. As well as patches, there are tablets, lozenges, gum and a nasal spray. And if you like holding a cigarette, there are handheld products like the inhalator or e-cigarettes. When you’re out, try putting your drink in the hand that usually holds a cigarette, or drink from a straw to keep your mouth busy.

Make a list of reasons to quit
Keep reminding yourself why you made the decision to give up. Make a list of the reasons and read it when you need support. Ex-smoker Chris, 28, says: “I used to take a picture of my baby daughter with me when I went out. If I was tempted, I’d look at that.”

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Building happier and healthier teams https://gatewayfs.org/2019/10/23/building-happier-and-healthier-teams/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/10/23/building-happier-and-healthier-teams/#comments Wed, 23 Oct 2019 11:01:27 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11496 We’ve been running Workplace Wellbeing services for a couple of years now, but right now we’re delivering one of our largest Workplace Wellbeing commissions yet: a series of events for Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust.

Gateway’s Wellbeing Advisers and Trainers have been working in a number of locations around the city, delivering one-to-one advice sessions and group workshops to several different NHS divisions, and have been working with hundreds of people.

Like all our Workplace Wellbeing activities, the work for the Trust is designed to get employees thinking about their own health and actively managing their own wellbeing; in this case activities are covering topics like eating healthily, managing stress and getting a good night’s sleep. We’ve designed the programme in collaboration with the Trust to ensure that each activity is based on the wellbeing needs that staff have identified themselves.

The numbers at a glance

There are a few more events left in our schedule for the Trust, but we’ve already engaged hundreds of people, up to senior management level, across six venues. For this piece of work so far:

  • 160 people have received a mini health check (blood pressure and BMI taken, followed by personalised advice)
  • 82 people have attended stress management workshops
  • 33 people have attended mindfulness workshops
  • 30 people have attended resilience training
  • more than 100 people have received advice and taken leaflets from our information stands

We also ran some half-day “taster events” where people could try out short sessions of activities like Tai Chi and guided meditation, and there was good attendance at these, too.

“Thank you to all your team. The day and the afternoon sessions evaluated really well.”
— Richard French-Lowe, Senior Consultant (Organisation Development), Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust

Why commission a workplace wellbeing service?

Structured support and simple, practical advice from professional health facilitators can help employees to understand how work and health is intrinsically linked, and to create a happier and healthier workforce. Educating and supporting staff to manage their wellbeing has been shown to:

  • Reduce absences and sickness levels
  • Reduce risk before illness occurs
  • Improve staff retention
  • Improve motivation
  • Improve productivity

Your organisation or business can choose from a range of workforce wellbeing packages, including individual one-to-one support, group sessions and team workshops. We’ll work with you to come up with a bespoke plan that will address your staff’s needs. Topics available for sessions, workshops and activities include:

  • Healthy eating
  • Physical activity, included seated exercise
  • Stress management and resilience
  • Mindfulness
  • Better sleep
  • Smoking cessation
  • Alcohol awareness, including “mocktail” recipes
  • Blood pressure tests
  • BMI checks

If you’d like to commission Gateway’s health advisers to come and deliver Workplace Wellbeing events at your place of work, please contact Katherine on 0121 456 7820, or email k.hewitt@gatewayfs.org.

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Caring for our carers – an award-winning strategy https://gatewayfs.org/2019/09/23/caring-for-our-carers-an-award-winning-strategy/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/09/23/caring-for-our-carers-an-award-winning-strategy/#respond Mon, 23 Sep 2019 10:16:57 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11446 Last week we were very pleased to find out we’ve won a top prize for supporting our staff in caring roles.

The Carer Friendly Business Awards Birmingham are part of the Working for Carers programme by Forward Carers, an organisation developed to make a real difference to the lives of people in carer roles, and Gateway won first prize in the Working for Carers Award category.

The judges were impressed by the flexibility we offer to staff who also have caring responsibilities, including adapting our HR policies to allow for people who may need extra support.

Caring for carers

We have always prided ourselves on being a caring, supportive employer, and our employees are a diverse mix of people with a range of responsibilities outside work. Work and home are intrinsically linked, so we aim to provide a considerate environment where staff can be open about their needs, including regular meetings with line managers, plenty of frank, honest conversation, and a willingness to look at a range of solutions.

Because of this, our working and employment policies have always been flexible, but since joining the Forward Carers scheme as a Working For Carers accredited employer in January, we have reviewed and improved them even more.

We based the following changes on conversations with the carers we employ:

  • At point of employment we now directly ask if the person has caring responsibilities. If they have, we discuss and implement a plan which is then regularly reviewed.
  • Carers told us practical support is often most helpful, so we encourage staff to tell their immediate colleagues they have caring responsibilities. We have found that colleagues are keen to help, supporting them through the common peaks and troughs of caring.
  • Carers also talked about the importance of maintaining their health and wellbeing, so as well as making sure everyone has the opportunity to take part in our internal workplace wellbeing activities, we also encourage carers to be assessed and take up any offers they might be entitled to.

“Worthy winners”

Gateway’s CEO Katherine and Chair Paul with the other Carer Friendly Business Award winners

One of the judges on the Working for Carers Award panel was Councillor Mary Locke. She said: “It was clear from the award entry that Gateway Family Services recognises that carers make up a very important part of the community and they need extra support if they are to continue working, alongside their other responsibilities.

“The team have worked hard to create a working environment which is supporting their staff, also in a carer role outside of the office. The judges were also impressed at how staff are being encouraged to be friendly, open and understanding, which can be hugely beneficial for anyone who is starting to feel isolated or overwhelmed in their role as a carer.

“We thought they were all worthy winners, but Gateway Family Services stood out for all of us.”

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Disruption to phone lines Thursday 12th Sept. https://gatewayfs.org/2019/09/11/disruption-to-phone-lines-thursday-12th-sept/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/09/11/disruption-to-phone-lines-thursday-12th-sept/#respond Wed, 11 Sep 2019 16:13:34 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11441 We’re moving offices on Thursday so from 12pm we will be without phone lines but we hope we’ll be back up and running again within a few hours and certainly by the end of the afternoon. You can still email us info@gatewayfs.org and if you have any individual staff members mobile numbers please continue to use as normal as these will be unaffected.  All should be back to normal on Friday.

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Rewarding and fun: working as a Peer Educator https://gatewayfs.org/2019/09/04/rewarding-and-fun-working-as-a-peer-educator/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/09/04/rewarding-and-fun-working-as-a-peer-educator/#respond Wed, 04 Sep 2019 13:10:09 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11422 Over the last few months we’ve been blogging about the work our Straight Talking Peer Educators do in schools, drawing on their own experiences to educate young people about early parenthood and helping them learn about making healthy choices.

But the scheme has a lot of benefits for the Peer Educators themselves, too.

That’s because the point of Straight Talking’s Peer Educators scheme is not only to reduce teenage pregnancy and child sexual exploitation in the UK, but to support teenage parents to achieve economic wellbeing and quality of life.

Paid work with training

The work is paid (including expenses), with full training, and flexible enough to fit around childcare and other needs – so it offers really good work experience for young parents, many of whom have not had a career before, and opens the door to potential longer term employment.

As well as the training the Peer Educators receive through Straight Talking – which includes things like classroom management and presentation skills, and workshops on the subjects covered in the sessions, including child sexual exploitation – they can take advantage of further training through Gateway. This includes things like our own Safeguarding and Health and Safety courses, and courses from external providers, such as Umbrella sexual health services.

Two of our Peer Educators, Che and Casey, have already moved up to become Assistant Co-ordinators, a salaried part-time role with more responsibilities, including things like interviewing new recruits and calling schools to book sessions.

“Sometimes problem-solving in the classroom means managing challenging groups of students; having behaviour management training from Straight Talking has made me more confident when overcoming this problem and has helped improve my decision-making skills.”
— Natalie, in her latest feedback

New confidence and new friends

When delivering sessions in schools or youth groups, the Peer Educators are the experts. With the support of their colleagues and the training they’ve been given, they use their own experiences to share knowledge and open up discussions with the children, and get the whole classroom listening to and engaging with the topics they cover. All of our Peer Educators say they find the work empowering and rewarding, and that it is helping them to build confidence in other areas of their life, too.

And, importantly, working for Straight Talking also offers the opportunities for new friendships. Being a young parent can be very isolating, but working for Straight Talking means they have the opportunity to meet and work with others who understand what it’s like and can empathise. Many have gone on to make friendships outside work with other young parents, which could otherwise have been difficult.

Overall, the Peer Educators that have worked for us so far have found it an incredibly positive experience. Don’t take our word for it, though: listen to our Peer Educators talking about what it’s like to work for Straight Talking!

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New Lifestyle Programme has given Karen her cooking mojo back! https://gatewayfs.org/2019/08/15/new-lifestyle-programme-has-given-karen-her-cooking-mojo-back/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/08/15/new-lifestyle-programme-has-given-karen-her-cooking-mojo-back/#respond Thu, 15 Aug 2019 11:24:35 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11391 After a period of illness and a series of surgeries, Karen (pictured above, left) found it hard to bounce back to her old self. Although her physical health was generally improving, she was still feeling low.

The 12 week course is part of Gateway’s new Solihull Lifestyle Service

“I’d always managed to maintain a good weight before my illness,” Karen says, “but even though I’d recovered from my operations, things weren’t the same. I had no energy, I felt low and suddenly I couldn’t seem to keep the weight off like I used to.”

One of the things Karen used to enjoy was cooking. But since her illness, she’d stopped spending time in the kitchen and instead would grab something quick and easy.

“I was tired all the time,” she says, “so I just wanted a quick fix. But those quick fixes had to be cheap, too. So instead of cooking from fresh, I was just grabbing a snack or a ready meal at the end of the day.”

Karen mentioned how she was feeling to her GP during a routine appointment, and her GP asked if she’d be interested in a free 12 week Lifestyle Programme.

“I jumped at the chance!” says Karen. “I’m on my own at home, with quite a tight budget, plus I work all day so I’m short on time, too, but I could fit in an evening class. And it wouldn’t cost me anything! I felt like I was being offered a chance to take advantage of free help with all the things I’d been worried about, so of course I said yes.”

The 12 week course

The Lifestyle Programme is part of the new Solihull Lifestyle Service. It replaces the Solihull Lighten Up service, and is designed to be a distinct 12-week behavioural change course, rather than a slimming group that people continue to go to indefinitely. The group Karen went to was at the Bosworth Community Centre in Fordbridge, North Solihull, but we hold meetings at a number of community venues in the borough.

By the end of 12 weeks, we hope the people who attend won’t only have lost weight (and all of the participants on Karen’s course had indeed lost weight by the final session) but will have made the changes required to keep the weight off. We don’t want the people we work with to be attending weight management groups forever; we want to give them the tools they need to make the changes themselves.

“A real boost”

Karen says that she enjoyed the programme because she didn’t feel pressured to lose weight.

For the final session of the course at the Bosworth Centre, attendees celebrated with a buffet – including a few treats!

“The course leader was really supportive and I liked the fact that it wasn’t all about getting your weight down – it was much deeper than that,” she says. “It was really educational. It’s not just buying branded diet meals or allowing yourself a certain number of ‘naughty’ foods. I feel like I’ve actually been on a proper course and learned a lot about food and how the body works.”

One of the big revelations for Karen was the fact that her low energy and low moods might be caused by the type of food she was eating.

“I thought I was knowledgeable, but a lot of the things I’ve learned here have shocked me. It turns out I was in a vicious circle. After learning about healthy fats, and salt and sugar levels, I realised that the quick meals were just sapping my energy and making me feel worse.

“I’d also stopped buying some of the things I really enjoy eating, like smoked mackerel and avocado, because I was under the impression that if they contained fat, they must be bad. Now I’ve learned that they’re OK and you actually need some of that in your diet.”

Thinking about food in a new way was the kick-start Karen needed to get back into healthier eating habits and to start cooking again. She says she’s already got more energy than she has had in years, which has stopped her downward spiral and given her motivation.

She says, “This programme has given me a real boost. It’s made me go back into the kitchen and spend time making nice meals again, from scratch, with the type of fresh food that I really want to eat. And the more I do it, the more energy I have to do it – it’s like I’ve found my mojo and I’m doing what I love again!”

Eye openers

Here are some of the things that attendees learned on the course, which they told us were “eye openers” for them:

  • The “traffic light” food labelling system, showing how much fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt is in your food
  • Portion control, with examples and easy ways to measure out the right portions of popular foods
  • The importance of drinking water, and how staying hydrated helps your body to process everything
  • Cooking healthily on a budget: simple recipes including a pizza that costs a quarter of the price of a takeaway
  • The Change4Life mobile app, which you can use when shopping to scan food items and make healthier choices

The Lifestyle Programme is part of the new Solihull Lifestyle Service, offering a range of tailored health and wellbeing advice and support to help you make positive lifestyle changes. If you live in Solihull, or have a Solihull GP, call 0800 599 9880 and ask about signing up — or complete an online referral form.

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Straight Talking Peer Educators are in youth clubs this summer https://gatewayfs.org/2019/07/15/straight-talking-peer-educators-are-in-youth-clubs-this-summer/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/07/15/straight-talking-peer-educators-are-in-youth-clubs-this-summer/#respond Mon, 15 Jul 2019 10:38:00 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11317 You might have thought that our Straight Talking Peer Educators would be having a break over the summer, but they’re busier than ever!

Peer Educator Cherelle talks to pupils in Coventry

That’s because the Straight Talking programme isn’t just for schools — our Peer Educators also deliver to any youth groups or clubs where young people get together.

Our Peer Educators are young people who became parents as teenagers themselves. They are fully trained to work with children and young people, and they draw upon their personal experiences to raise awareness of things like child sexual exploitation (CSE), healthy and unhealthy relationships and the realities and implications of early parenthood.

The aim is to reduce teenage parenthood and sexual exploitation by allowing young people the opportunity to make better informed life choices. Overall, children and young people find the sessions great fun, but they also learn about the consequences of things like sexting, and about the difficulties of young parenthood, including the difficult practical and financial choices that parents need to make.

Think your youth group would benefit from some Straight Talking?

Schools, clubs and youth groups can book sessions and find out more about the programme by calling 0121 456 7820 and asking for Peer Educators Che or Casey, or Straight Talking Co-ordinator Marc.

Find out more

Watch Peer Educators Che and Natasha talking about what happened when they delivered the Straight Talking programme in a youth group recently…

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We’re crowdfunding for Healthy Futures https://gatewayfs.org/2019/05/21/crowdfunding-for-healthy-futures/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/05/21/crowdfunding-for-healthy-futures/#respond Tue, 21 May 2019 14:22:26 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11261 Ralph, Wellbeing Navigator
Ralph, a Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator

You might already know that our Social Prescribing service, Healthy Futures, had to stop taking referrals at the end of last year, due to lack of funds. You might also know that Healthy Futures is desperately needed in Birmingham. People who need support are relying on their GP or local A&E because they don’t know where else to go.

But did you know that if all of our Twitter followers chipped in with a tenner, we could support at least ten people for another year?

So we’re asking for your help.

In the next few weeks, we’re going to be launching a crowdfunding campaign. We’re hoping to raise £7000, which would allow our Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigators to support more than ten people for a period of about twelve months.

For now, we’re asking people to sign up to the Gateway Healthy Futures mailing list, and to help spread the word. Then, when our crowdfunding campaign is about to launch, we’ll drop you a line.

sign up for crowdfunder info

A Healthy Futures success story: Royin

“I have moved forward in the last year more than I did in seven years. And it’s all because of you.”

Last year, one of our Healthy Futures clients was Royin, filmed here talking to his Wellbeing Navigator Ralph.

When Royin was two years old, he fell down the stairs and suffered a brain injury which caused life-changing disabilities. Despite doctors’ predictions that he would never be able to work, Royin went on to get a degree and a career in senior management.

But seven years ago, things started to go wrong…

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“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this group”: Dennis’s story https://gatewayfs.org/2019/04/29/i-wouldnt-be-here-if-it-wasnt-for-this-group-denniss-story/ https://gatewayfs.org/2019/04/29/i-wouldnt-be-here-if-it-wasnt-for-this-group-denniss-story/#respond Mon, 29 Apr 2019 08:45:20 +0000 https://gatewayfs.org/?p=11225 We’re pleased to say the South Birmingham Long Term Conditions Group, which we started supporting in 2014, is still going strong.

carer picking up leaflets
The meetings include an opportunity to share information and find out what support is available
The meetings, facilitated by Gateway and funded by the NHS South Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), have gone from being every three months to every month. Gateway supports the group committee to host a range of speakers, health and wellbeing activity sessions, entertainment and social activities.

Members of the group – which is also known as the Patient Health Forum or the Personal Health Forum – are living with, or caring for people who live with, a range of long term health conditions.

The forum provides an opportunity for people to meet others with similar issues, but it also gives them a voice and the chance to influence services by giving their local CCG insights and feedback about the health services they all use.

Last week we spoke to some of the group members to find out a bit more about them, and how they feel they benefit from going to the meetings.

Meet Dennis

Dennis started coming to the Long Term Conditions Group after what he refers to as a “mental breakdown”. Now, he’s a key member of the group – a committee member with a strong social network.

Four years ago, Dennis’s GP referred him to a Gateway Health Trainer for help with weight management. However, at this point in his life Dennis was also quite mentally unwell. He’d been isolating himself at home, and worrying, to the point where he was having suicidal thoughts.

Dennis’s stress and worry problems came to a head one night and he emailed several people to ask for help. First thing next morning, his Health Trainer Richard visited him at home and arranged crisis support, including an emergency psychiatric appointment and ongoing help from a home treatment team. And later, Richard also introduced Dennis to the South Birmingham Long Term Conditions Group.

Dennis says, “I hadn’t been out for years and years. My flat was my comfort zone. But Richard explained what the group was like and what it was for. He gave me the names of the people who ran it, and I went along.

“When I first started coming, it was difficult to speak to people. I was so nervous, I would just stay quiet. Then the committee gave me a job as a ‘meet and greet’ person. The first time I did that, I remember my hands shaking so much I spilled the tea.

“But over the next couple of years my confidence really built up. Now, I can stand up at the front of the group and make announcements, introduce people and thank the speakers.” He seems surprised at himself. “I even tell jokes!”

Dennis says he likes the group because although people have health issues and can talk about them if they want to, it’s not the focus of the meetings. He says, “We all know everyone has a reason to be here. We’ve all been through something, but you don’t have to talk about it. You can concentrate on the entertainment and the discussion.”

As Dennis is talking, the meeting is finishing and a stream of friends stops by to remind him to call them or meet up later in the week.

He says, “I don’t want to be dramatic but I really believe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this group. I haven’t had suicidal thoughts in ages. It’s a stepping stone, if you like, from having an illness to having something to look forward to.”

Membership of the Long Term Conditions Group is open to anyone who lives in South Birmingham, or is registered with a South Birmingham GP, and lives with a long term health condition. If you’d like to get involved, give us a call on 0121 456 7820 and ask to speak to someone about the Patient Health Forum.

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