Sharing the learning: Moray Wellbeing Hub

2nd October 2017

Moray Wellbeing Hub focuses on harnessing the power of personal experiences to inspire more mentally healthy lives. Project Lead Heidi Tweedie reflects on this grassroots project, one year on, and shares some of the learning with a view to inspiring others to use this approach.

Developing the project

2016/17 was an activity packed year, as the Moray Wellbeing Hub (MWH) went from an idea to a funded project and on to a peer-led social enterprise built on human rights values.

The MWH project was built on a dream, nurtured since 2012 by people brought together in Moray through a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Planning) pilot. Their passion was fired by positive experiences in recovering their own lives through this self-management tool and the powerful peer group environment for change it generated. Our vision was simply to improve the lives of people with mental health problems and build sustainable change for Moray. To achieve this, we focused on peer-led activities that empower people to look beyond labels and illness, focusing on their strengths and in turn empowering others to do the same.

Forming the details of a project plan and attracting resources was far from straightforward. Building values-based partnerships between a range of local services, national partners, peer researchers and community members was vital. Not to mention the practical challenge of sourcing appropriate peer led governance to deal with logistics such as finance. Providing a fresh perspective and catalyst to stakeholders was the Making Recovery Real programme. This fostered mutuality and facilitated the process beyond negative power dynamics.

Owing to the long development time, we had a better grasp on the tools needed to create change, including the language and resources available to make our project a more tangible idea. Additionally, leadership and policies, such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act and health and social care integration agenda in Scotland became noticeably aligned.

With conditions favourable, as well as local trust and shared vision built, we finally applied for project funding in 2016. The news that we had been awarded funds not only from one source, but from both See Me and the Health and Social Care ALLIANCE Scotland, provided more than a boost to financial resources, it gave merit to our ideas and investment in partnership.

Values and language are important

As the project started our first task was to gather more people, recruiting a wide base of like-minded individuals who shared our values and were willing to both take part in and lead community activities. The first barrier we faced in achieving this foundation was almost self-created. When we reflected on our values, rooted in evidence based tools, we recognised that we needed to go further than employing common recovery-based language or risked limiting the scope of our work.

Reflecting on our own experiences of involvement in projects as participants, we realised that using terms like ‘mental health problem’ or even ‘lived experience of…’ focused people back on what was wrong in their lives rather than what was possible. We also realised that the practice of defining life experiences from an external position limits individuals’ access to self-determination, and could create groups focused on negative life experience or need (i.e. carer, service user, benefit claimant) that unintentionally maintain stigma rather than explore strengths.

To counter this, we decided to encourage people to look at themselves, and others, holistically as having a range of life experiences that they may, or may not, choose to identify and share at any one time, recognising our core message that mental health is a universal asset and that all human beings can experience vulnerability.

We carefully selected a definition for our recruitment publicity that used this principle and also focused on action. We chose the proactive term ‘Champions’ and defined this role as: “Individuals who have experienced crisis or challenge in their mental health and want to create change as part of the Moray Wellbeing Hub project”. One of our Champions commented:

A key strength of the programme… has been embodiment of the capacity to work to people’s strengths and evolve with people, this has helped to  engender a sense of collective ownership and helped participants to feel truly involved and self-directed – it’s been successfully coproduced, ‘done with, rather than ‘ done to’.

 

Become a Champion

Participatory Action Research

We quickly grew and retained a large collective of value-focused Champions. Indeed, time taken in establishing this cornerstone element of the project has reaped rewards in terms of impact; of the 101 Champions’ involved:

  • 68% felt more able to make a change in their community
  • 84% better able to provide other support
  • 77% better able to self-manage their wellbeing
  • 64% more aware of their self-stigma.

A Champion said:

A wonderful way to connect with like-minded souls in a geographical area. A joy to connect with people who want to work with together to make things happen. A new chapter in the shift of power dynamics around mental health.

 

The process underpinning our decision making, referred to Participatory Action Research (PAR) (a reflective exploration, data collection, and action cycle), became a vital component to our activity, evidence collection and evaluation. This approach supported the development of all Champions from project participants to peer-researchers and co-producers. Further still the mechanism of PAR provided a self-management tool; as people reflected and documented the improvements in their own health through taking actions, small and large, they practiced an invaluable wellness tool of personal journaling.

A grassroots approach

However, focusing solely on process would not have attracted a wide community nor solved the challenge of sustainability beyond 2016. Our success was based on a having a tangible output. The long-term goal of creating a physical hub, café and Wellness College, where anyone can feel welcome, became a call to action. This gave us the chance to develop governance and recruit directors within the collective of Champions. In this way, our social enterprise is truly grassroots, led by the very people who would use and provide future services created.

In terms of facts and figures around our activities, in one year the project reached over 100,000 people with communications and contributed 68 opportunities in outreach. Certainly, with funding for only one paid worker to coordinate all activity, if the community had not risen up and embraced the Champion role very little would have been possible.

Legacy

With the project funds spent, what remains from 2016 is a legacy that includes an organisation that continues to challenge boundaries and expectations, a growing collective of empowered community activists, and strengthened mutual partnerships with stakeholders that continue to realise change in Moray. One of our champions commented:

… the cascading effect on others in the wider community, such as family, friends and colleagues, means that work such as that being undertaken by MWH is having a significant impact in building more aware and resilient communities as a whole, communities more equipped to collectively deal with the challenges that naturally arise throughout life

 

We are delighted to have achieved, and in most areas surpassed, the activities we set out to deliver in the MWH project. Some elements have not been possible such as securing a physical base for the hub, but in such cases there is reflection and learning behind why this has not been met that aligns with our focus on values – the ‘how’ not ‘what’ in creating change.

To support others to follow this project’s example, our findings would benefit from being pooled with a larger evidence base beyond Moray. It is reasonable to expect that by using a values-based, peer-led approach based on human rights we can create sustainable healthier and happier communities.

Read the Moray Wellbeing Hub Independent Evaluation

Check out the Moray Wellbeing Hub Prezi Presentation

For more information contact Project Lead, Heidi Tweedie

 

References

Ulab Change theory

Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP)

CHIME (Scottish Recovery Network website). Conceptual framework: Mary Leamy,* Victoria Bird,* Clair Le Boutillier, Julie Williams and Mike Slade

Human rights based approach – PANEL (Scottish Human Rights Commission)