Growing on the vyne

    A fierce three-headed dog, Greek mythology, mental health and
    Basingstoke are not things you would often come across in the same
    sentence. But visit Vyne Road – a progressive mental health day
    service in Basingstoke, Hampshire – and anything’s possible.

    “When I arrived in the mid-1990s the service was in a period of
    transition,” says unit manager James Pearce, who now manages a
    learning difficulties day service unit. “We wanted to look at what
    was needed in the area and what we could provide within our remit:
    structured social support for people but recognising that everybody
    would have different needs. The service we now have evolved from
    that.”

    The evolved service has certainly benefited Mervyn Nolan, 59: “I
    was taken ill with depression in 1993. I didn’t want to come to the
    day centre as I’d had a 30-year career as a business systems
    consultant and didn’t think it was for me. But it’s been a
    life-saver in lots of ways.”

    Central to Vyne Road’s ethos is, says Pearce, “working from a
    sense of self-advocacy and a belief that coping strategies can
    enhance quality of life and developing partnerships with
    organisations around that”.
    Indeed, it is one such partnership that has brought the service to
    the very gates of hell. Well, sort of. A carer and service user
    training project, managed by Mark Miller, has attained “emerging
    social firm status”. And it has marked the occasion with a new
    name: Cerberus Associates.

    In Greek mythology, Cerberus was a three-headed dog that guarded
    the entrance to Hades, the underworld where spirits (shades) went
    after death. “The name was a group decision,” says Miller. “There
    was a consensus that we didn’t want anything to do with fruit or
    flowers that often come up in the world of mental health.”

    The project’s courses include confidence-building which covers
    self-esteem, assertiveness and anxiety management. This is an
    eight-week, one session a week course. “But there’s also an
    opportunity to take part in a Training Skills for Trainers course,”
    says Miller. This is one session a week over four months. It’s a
    big commitment and about halfway through we get people to start
    thinking about the 45-minute presentation they need to give on the
    final day of the course.”

    Over two-and-a-half years 32 service users and carers have
    completed the various training courses. As well as being
    commissioned by the council to deliver basic mental health
    awareness courses to social and health care staff, Cerberus has
    trained library staff and is negotiating similar training for
    benefits staff and police.
    Eight people (out of 10) have so far graduated from the training
    skills course. One of the first was Adam Logan who has been using
    services at Vyne Road since it opened. “I was nervous about the
    presentation at the end because you have to give a spiel for 45
    minutes. But it went really well and I was chuffed. Beforehand I
    wouldn’t even dream of doing that sort of thing. It was quite an
    eye-opener.”

    Miller has been knocked out by the quality of the trainers. He
    agrees they are no longer service users who train but are rather
    trainers who happen to be service users. Logan also agrees,
    although he adds: “Mental health services cost taxpayers a lot of
    money and you want value for that money. So, to be able to offer
    back and give help and support is a very altruistic and positive
    move. It works both ways as it also gives workers a sense of joy
    because they know they have participated in your recovery.”

    Lessons Learned

    • It is more powerful to have training coming from service users
      than professionals. Says Miller: “One of our trainers likes to say
      at the start of the course that they are a service user. However,
      this might taint expectations. Another waits until the end to say,
      ‘Oh by the way, I use services myself’. Perhaps, this is a little
      more powerful because it really seems to have a punch and
      effect.”
    • According to Pearce, “it also provides a recognised and
      informed voice for service users in planning and delivering mental
      health services.” Logan is a case in point: “I have since gained
      the confidence to get more involved. Among other things, I’m
      chairman of the local mental health forum and on the local
      implementation group.”
    • Cerberus pays its trainers the same rate social services pays
      its trainers.

    More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.