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

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

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
  • 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.

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