As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, our Young Healthwatch Westminster volunteers have been reflecting on the theme of nature and mental wellbeing.
Today, our volunteer Aaniya writes about walking, reflecting, and finding nature in the city:
During the first lockdown I went for a walk almost every single day. Perhaps because it was the only thing I was allowed to do, or maybe it provided an escape from online school – being outside was the exact opposite to being hunched over a desk staring at a screen. My nature wasn’t green fields or forests, but quiet roads, billowing trees and people-watching whilst in socially-distanced coffee queues. However, whilst taking in the sunlight and fresh air, things like exam uncertainty and missing friends faded into the background. Although being back at school and the relaxing of lockdown means I have less time to do, so going for walks is a new habit that I haven’t given up, and a simple one that helps give your mind a break.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week across the UK. This year, the theme for the week is nature. Our Young Healthwatch Westminster volunteers have been reflecting on the topic of mental health and nature. Over the next few days, we are sharing some of their reflections.
First up, our brilliant volunteer Ava has shared a poem she has written!
The feelings formed
Water stretches before me
Calm and even
But something underneath is unsteady
A contradiction if you like
Balancing like an unsteady foal
Students buckling under workload
But the whistling tree leaves
Still twirl down to give them solace
Each bush and fragmented bark
Scuffs your new polished shoes
Only to make you well with sadness
With the burden of responsibility you now face
But you seem to make yourself worry
Again and again
Only to stop when you see the triviality of the animals lives
The project was commissioned by Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) to explore ideas about the future of mental health services in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. When we launched the project back in January, I have to admit I was a bit worried about whether or not meaningful conversations could take place between myself and people I had never actually met ‘in real life’.
In the past I have gathered lived experience in lots of ways…through focus groups, interviews, telephone calls and surveys. Yet I have always felt the best way to listen is in person, physically face-to-face. On one level, I still do believe this, but the pandemic has meant this has not been possible. The world has changed a lot since this time last year, so to run this project I have had to adapt as well.
So, how do you start conversations in a zoom-led world? More importantly, how do keep that conversation flowing, supporting people to be confident and honest despite having to share their voice from behind a computer screen?
The answer is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Listening, really listening, takes time and trust. I wasn’t sure this could be built up during zoom meetings, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised working with the Voice Exchange members.
The members meet every month to discuss inpatient and outpatient mental health services. Each meeting is on zoom and lasts about two hours. But we have also started communicating outside of these meetings, and I think that has helped develop stronger relationships.
Members have an e-newsletter which they receive once a month and we have coffee mornings, which are informal drop-in sessions for members to chat about non-project related topics. We have a Group Agreement, which gives us ground rules for the way we interact with one another – and engaging in a zoom-led world means we have had to consider things which wouldn’t apply in a face-to-face situation. For example, we have a rule about no smoking or vaping in zoom meetings. We also agreed that we need regular breaks because using video conferencing can be very tiring, even though you are not moving about or travelling to a venue.
Since we launched the Voice Exchange, I am learning to listen in new ways. I am tuning into tone of voice more, especially if someone has their camera turned off on zoom. I am beginning to appreciate that conversations are different via zoom, but that is OK.
Lived experience can still be collected in a meaningful way if everyone involved is committed to making it work. This is what I love about the Voice Exchange – everyone is dedicated to shaping the future of mental health services and is determined to make the project work, even if that has to be via zoom!
I hope that by the summer, I can actually meet people face-to-face again and bring together the members of the Voice Exchange. Until then, I am not too proud to admit that I have been proved wrong – conversations can be started in a zoom-led world and they can keep going with the support of everyone involved. Thank you to everyone making it possible so far.
You can find out more information about the Voice Exchange here.
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In January 2020, we launched our Small Grants Programme – a first of its kind project for our organisation. We wanted to reach people in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea who find it hardest to be heard in conversations about health and social care. We awarded the recipients of our grant £500 to complete …
Hello, I’m Laura and I am very excited to be writing this blog to tell you all about our latest project, the Voice Exchange.
Last year, we began chatting with Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) about the future of mental health services in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. As champions of lived experience, we know just how important it is to listen to people, so we were thrilled to launch the Voice Exchange in January 2021.
So, what is it? Well, the Voice Exchange is a project that listens to people’s experiences of inpatient and outpatient mental health services. We do this in several ways – we have a Citizen’s Group, which meets once a month, made up of people with direct experience. We also have a Deliberation Group running alongside this, bringing together individuals who have extensive experience of representing service users.
We have now hosted our first virtual drop-in sessions as well. These are open for anyone to come along and share their experiences. Each session lasts an hour and our next one will be at 12pm on Saturday 10 April. You can find the information and zoom link at https://healthwatchcwl.co.uk/get-involved/voice-exchange/.
The project is running until September 2021 and we hope in the coming months to gather a wide range of views and experience. As we begin discussing what’s working and what could be improved, I will share updates here on this blog.
I would love to know your thoughts too – just come along to a drop-in session or email me using the details below.
Thank you to everyone who has been involved so far in the Voice Exchange – here’s to shaping the future!
We have published a COVID-19 insight report in collaboration with LEGS. The report highlights the impact of COVID-19 on those who have had a stroke or who are living with a neurological condition.
When the pandemic took hold earlier this year, we wanted to reach people in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea who are under-represented in conversations about health and social care and ensure their voices are heard during this challenging period. To do this, we collaborated with local community groups to run focus group sessions, interviews, and surveys. Our latest report presents the results of a focus group carried out with LEGS.
A number of recurring issues and themes have emerged over the course of our collaborative work on the impact of COVID-19. Many of these themes were seen in our work with LEGS.
Across our engagement work on COVID-19, digital exclusion is an issue which has been frequently discussed.
From listening to participants’ stories, we found that a lack of access to and understanding of new technologies can present a significant barrier for support and engagement. Some participants told us that even though they had access to technology, they still felt excluded from receiving the support they needed. One participant told us that
“I am using the Zoom platform now, through LEGS, but [my physiotherapist at UCLH, in the hospital for neurology] is using something called Attend Everywhere. I am not young, so using all this new technology is very stressful. Because I have a carer, who is young and understands technology, they could help me.”
Importantly, digital provision does not just exclude people with no access to technology. The ability or desire of someone to use technology for their healthcare are two other important factors that can lead to digital exclusion. The conversation around digital exclusion, and the solutions proposed to ensure all people are included, must take into account that having the appropriate technology is not the only factor in combatting this issue.
Other participants told us that digital solutions did not provide a good replacement for existing arrangements.
One told us that
“Some things you can’t just have on the phone. I go from someone saying, ‘you must come in and have your treatment, to someone saying, ‘now you can’t.”
Another participant observed that
“Being with the person you are talking to really does help.”
Digital exclusion is an important issue. It is an issue with many different sides, perspectives, and problems. At the moment, we are in the process of developing a project to engagement substantially with the issue in the coming months.
Access to non-emergency treatment
Participants across much of our COVID-19 engagement work have expressed worries about the long-term impact of cancelled appointments, check-ups, and non-emergency surgeries. This was an issue that we explored in detail in our collaboration with LEGS.
Participants told us about the strain they feel living with uncertainty about their treatment. As one participant put it
“I am waiting for everything; it’s all been rescheduled. Nothing is urgent, but it’s all ongoing.”
This is an issue which many people have spoken to us about. In our work with Breathe Easy Westminster, for instance, we found that 10% of participants have had trouble accessing regular medication from their pharmacy. As health and social care service providers begin to put in place long-term plans for living with COVID-19, stronger arrangements to safeguard vital non-emergency treatments need to be made.
Worries about lockdown easing
During the first, second and third national lockdowns, people have told us about their worries about lockdown easing. People have expressed worry about the long-term impact of these lockdowns, and about how safe life after lockdown will be.
In our focus group with LEGS, which took place one restrictions began to ease after the first national lockdown, one participant told us that
“Going back out after a long time inside was hard. I was scared.”
Some participants also expressed concerns about the safety of going outside. Many people we spoke to had experienced disruptions to physiotherapy treatment which meant leaving the house presented a greater challenge.
From our engagement work it is clear: an awareness of the unique challenges, both mental and physical, which many people will face once restrictions begin to loosen is vital.
Looking forward and safeguarding standards
As measures to contain COVID-19 remain in place, listening to patients’ voices, learning from their experiences, and adapting processes accordingly remains important. It is vital that the voices of patients and carers are listened to in discussions about new ways of working, and when commissioning and evaluating services.
You can read our full report now. We would like to say a massive thank you to LEGS for all their hard work on this project.
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Take our updated ‘Coronavirus: Your Experience Matters’ survey now.
2020 has been a busy year for us at Young Healthwatch Westminster. This year we have worked harder than ever to ensure that young people’s voices are heard to influence the design and delivery of mental health services across Westminster. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how important mental health services are. It has also shown us in detail where services need to improve.
As the year draws to a close, we are looking back at some of the highlights of our work over the last 12 months.
Our mental health survey
In April we launched our mental health survey. We wanted to find out how young people think about their mental health and what causes them stress. We wanted to know what knowledge young people have about local and national support. We also wanted to learn about the impact of COVID-19 on young people’s well-being.
Before the onset of the pandemic, we created a draft survey by discussing as a group of volunteers what issues are most pressing for us. After COVID-19 took hold, we added new questions so that we could find out what impact the pandemic was having on young people’s mental health.
We received a fantastic response to the survey. Over 200 young people responded and told us about their experiences.
In June, we published an interim report which discussed the results of the survey we had received. We also created an infographic to display our findings in a more colourful, visual way.
Through the survey we were able to learn so much about young people’s experience of mental health and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have shared some of these insights with decision makers at regional level, with local councils, NHS Trusts, Public Health England, and various community partners.
Our COVID-19 Q&A webinar
In July we partnered with Hammersmith and Fulham Volunteer Police Cadets, Kooth, and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to run an online COVID-19 Q&A event. In the webinar, young people put their questions about COVID-19 to a panel of experts.
The event gave young people the opportunity to put their questions and concerns to experts and find out accurate, reliable information. A range of different questions and issues were discussed. These included questions on face masks in schools, the possibility of a second wave, the impact of a vaccine, the availability of mental health services and the safety of other medical treatments in hospitals during the pandemic.
One of our key roles at Young Healthwatch is to signpost young people to accurate information on health and social care services. We were delighted to collaborate with other local organisations to provide an innovative and informative webinar to help address young people’s questions and concerns about COVID-19!
Our appearances on One Community Radio
In May and October we went on CNWL’s One Community Radio show to share our work with residents, service users, NHS staff and community organisations.
In our first appearance, our volunteers Civan, Jane, and Rupert talked about the need to end stigma around mental health problems. We talked about the priority given to physical health over mental health, the benefits of psychotherapy and the need for greater mental health awareness for people of all generations. In our second appearance, we hosted an interactive quiz that debunked myths around various mental health conditions.
We have really enjoyed working with the One Community Radio team and finding new ways to communicate our messages about mental health to local people. It was a pleasure to be involved in the project!
Our work with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea youth councils
In November, we brought together Westminster Youth Council and Kensington & Chelsea Youth Council for the first (of hopefully many) bi-borough meetings. This meeting gave us the opportunity to hear from young people across the two boroughs. We found out how young people think about their mental health and what their experiences of mental health services have been.
Our chair, Civan, who also chairs the Westminster Youth Council, led the Mental Health session alongside our volunteer Aaniya. We enjoyed working alongside the Westminster lead, Shofa, and Reginald and Hasheam, who lead the RBKC Youth Council.
After the session, we were pleased to receive some lovely feedback. One member told us:
‘I found it interesting to see what everyone else thought of and I think I enjoyed it because it made me feel less alone even though these were not reflected on us it just helped to talk about it and reflect. I also think it made us think that everyone is going through something and lockdown has been hard on all of us and we should be kind to everyone not knowing what they are going through.’
We are looking forward to more joint bi-borough meetings in 2021.
Our work on Healthwatch’s Annual Meeting
Earlier this month three of our volunteers, Civan, Rupert and Ava spoke at Healthwatch Central West London’s Annual Meeting. They spoke about our work this year, their experiences volunteering for Young Healthwatch, why having good mental health services is important and how passionate they are to make positive change.
We received lovely feedback about our work and our volunteers from attendees at the meeting. They told us how impressed they were with our work this year, and how much they enjoyed hearing from us at the meeting. We have exciting plans for the future to share our work widely with as many organisations and people as possible!
We would like to say a massive thank you to all our volunteers for all their hard work, dedication and time in helping us achieve so much this year. All your work is greatly appreciated.
We would also like to say thank you to everyone who has worked with us, filled out our survey, shared their experiences with us, or reached out in any way.
We have exciting plans in place for 2021. We are looking forward to further campaigning to raise awareness of mental health issues and pushing for constructive change in mental health services.
Get in touch
If you are aged between 11 – 25 and live, work or study in or around the borough of Westminster, you can apply to join YHWW by emailing Alex on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 020 8968 7049 and ask for an application form.
Last week we were excited to host our first virtual Annual Meeting.
We brought together over 80 Healthwatch Central West London members, stakeholders, volunteers, staff, trustees, external colleagues and local people to present our annual report and showcase our work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though we could not meet in person, we had a fantastic turnout, and it was great to see so many familiar faces.
We normally hold our annual meetings in person. Last year we met at Kensington Town Hall. The Annual Meeting provides an opportunity to look back on our work, meet with local people and other colleagues and begin to plan for the future. This year, we had to find a new way to bring us all together and tell the story.
To do this, we worked with Anna Geyer, an artist from NewPossibilities, who created a visual record of our work on COVID-19 over the past nine months. We shared this with all attendees and talked about aspects of our work in detail during short discussion sessions during the meeting.
Who did we hear from?
At the meeting we heard short presentations from our chair Christine, our treasurer Layo, our CEO Olivia and Patient Participation Group Coordinator Odeta, who talked about our work on our COVID-19: Your Experience Matters survey. Carena, our Programme Manager, chaired the meeting.
We were delighted to also welcome Kiki, to talk about some of our collaborative work together.
Kiki is a member of Women’s Association for Networking Development (WAND), an organisation that works to empower women and address the problems facing women in isolated and excluded communities. This year we collaborated with WAND on some COVID-19 engagement work. We ran a focus group to highlight the experiences of under-represented communities during the pandemic. In the meeting, Kiki talked about the challenges faced by BAME communities and the assistance that WAND provided.
Alongside Kiki, it was a pleasure to hear from Civan, Rupert, and Ava, three of our Young Healthwatch Westminster (YHWW) Volunteers. They talked about their experiences volunteering for YHWW and the group’s plans for next year.
Civan is the chair of YHWW and has been with the group for over a year. In the meeting, Civan opened the discussion with his experiences in YHWW and his role in the Mental Health Survey. Working with YHWW on the design and creation of the survey, he discussed how crucial the survey was in capturing young people’s views on mental health and existing services.
Rupert, a volunteer of YHWW, spoke passionately about the YHWW mental health survey he has been involved in. In particular, he told us how much he enjoyed crunching the data and picking out trends in the survey. He spoke about going on CNWL’s One Community Radio show, sharing YHWW work with residents, service users, NHS staff and community organisations, and learning about the inspirational work being done in Westminster.
Ava, our newest volunteer of YHWW, gave an inspirational speech on the mental health campaign she’s been working on. She spoke about the different skills she has learnt during this process, and her appetite to make real change to mental health services. Her enthusiasm and passion to ensure the health needs of young people are properly addressed really shone through in her speech. We are proud to have such dedicated young volunteers as part of our organisation.
We would like to say a massive thank you to Kiki, Civan, Rupert, Ava, Christine, Layo, Olivia and Carena for speaking.
What did we talk about?
We are always looking to hear from people and learn about their experiences. As part of the meeting, we held short discussions in small groups to find out how attendees had managed during the COVID-19 pandemic, how they had engaged with us, what they thought we were doing well, and how they thought we could improve. Across the discussion groups, there were a number of recurring themes.
Many attendees brought up concerns and questions relating to the COVID-19 vaccine. Attendees wanted to know more about any vaccine’s safety, how it has been developed, and how it works. Some attendees wanted to know how the NHS plan to roll-out the vaccine to the public, and what the schedule for this will be.
We have found that the topic of the vaccine is one that is often brought up by people in our recent engagement work. We know that it is a topic that is very important to local people. As the vaccine roll-out begins, we will communicate important information through our website, and will continue to listen to local people’s thoughts and experiences on the vaccine through our ongoing engagement on COVID-19.
Many attendees also brought up the topic of digital exclusion. Attendees told us that this year has brought the issue into focus. With more healthcare taking place virtually as a result of COVID-19, the exclusion of people who do not access healthcare digitally has increased.
Digital exclusion is important. We have begun significant work on this topic and will be able to share more details very soon.
Young Healthwatch Westminster
Many attendees praised our Young Healthwatch Westminster group. They talked highly of the work of the group, of the volunteers who presented at the meeting, and at our plans for the future. Some attendees told us that they would like to hear more from YHWW. We will be showcasing their work more over the coming months across our website, social media and in person!
Our recent engagement work
We were touched by the many attendees who praised our engagement work on COVID-19 over the past few months. Attendees told us the information we have provided through our reports, emails, website, and physical information packs was clear and useful. Since the pandemic began, we wanted to talk to as many people as possible, from across the local community, to help influence local health and social care provision during this period. As the pandemic progresses, we will continue this work, and continue to speak to people from across the community including to those who find it most difficult to be heard. We will continue to feedback our work and our findings as widely as possible.
It was lovely to see so many people at our meeting. Thank you to everyone who attended for sharing their experiences and helping us with our work this year.
Olivia Clymer, our CEO, said:
“I was delighted and encouraged that so many people came along to our Annual Meeting. I know December is such a busy time with lots of competing demands on people’s time, so I want to say a big thank you to everyone who came. The insights we learned from our conversations at the meeting were so valuable and are already being shared.
Have a safe and peaceful Christmas.”
Get in touch
Take our updated ‘Coronavirus: Your Experience Matters’ survey now.
When the pandemic took hold earlier this year, we wanted to reach people in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea who are under-represented in conversations about health and social care and ensure their voices are heard during this challenging period. To do this, we collaborated with local community groups to run focus group sessions, interviews, and surveys. Our latest report presents the results of a survey carried out with Breathe Easy Westminster.
A number of recurring issues and themes have emerged over the course of our collaborative work on the impact of COVID-19. Many of these themes were seen in our work with Breathe Easy Westminster.
The issue of digital exclusion has been frequently discussed across much of our recent engagement work on COVID-19.
Evidence in our report shows that the issue of digital exclusion is complex. There are many obstacles to digital exclusion, and many ways people may be digitally excluded. People may be able to access emails on their smartphone, for example, but lack the knowledge or support to be able to use the internet to find information or to communicate with healthcare providers.
In our survey with Breathe Easy Westminster, we asked respondents how they found the support they needed. At 44%, the phone was significantly the most popular method of seeking support. Around a fifth of respondents (21%) searched the internet, while a similar number (18%) received emails. It was particularly interesting to learn that significantly more people used the phone for information than the internet.
Digital exclusion is an important issue. At the moment we are working on a project to engage further with the issue in the coming months.
Visibility of services
Another recurring issue throughout our engagement work concerns patients’ awareness of local services. A high number of participants across all our recent work have been unaware of all the services and care options which are available to them.
A further key issue highlighted through our survey work with Breathe Easy Westminster was the availability of prescription medication and non-emergency care during the pandemic. Across our engagement work, although the majority of patients we have heard from have been able to access prescription medication during this period, we have still heard from many people who have had trouble receiving the medicine and support they need.
In our survey with Breathe Easy Westminster, we asked respondents if they had faced difficulty accessing regular medicine from their local or hospital pharmacy. the majority of respondents (86%) indicated that they had no problem accessing regular medication. However, over 10% of respondents had experienced difficulty. The accessibility of prescriptions remains an important issue.
From listening to local people over the past few months, we have been told of huge access barriers to health and social care services that remain in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. As we move into a new phase of measures to contain and treat COVID-19, it is vital that the voices of patients and carers are heard. We will continue to engage with local communities, share what people are telling us, and present what we have learnt in order to influence the provision of local health and social care services.
You can read the full report now. We would like to say a massive thank you to Breathe Easy Westminster for their hard work on this project.
Get in touch
Take our updated ‘Coronavirus: Your Experience Matters’ survey now.
When the pandemic took hold earlier this year, we wanted to hear local people’s views and experiences. We ran focus groups and interview sessions with local groups and launched our first survey to give people the opportunity to talk to us about their experiences.
We wanted as many people as possible to be able to share their experiences with us. As well as our online survey and our focus group and interview sessions, we also sent out over 1,000 physical copies of our survey to local people. We did this to make sure that people without access to the internet, or people who would rather respond on paper, could still share their experiences with us. For a small organisation, sending out over 1,000 physical surveys was a big task: envelopes and paper took over our office for the entire spring and summer!
Our dedicated group of volunteers were essential. They spent hours helping us get the physical surveys and information sheets into envelopes, and also helped distribute them to friends, family and neighbours.
People told us about the toll this period has taken on their mental health, their financial worries and how difficult it has been coming out of lockdown.
We received over 300 responses to our online survey and we are still receiving physical responses in the post. Respondents told us about their concerns and the difficulties they were facing. They also told us good stories about keeping in touch with loved ones, trying out new routines, and reconnecting with old friends and family. People told us about the toll this period has taken on their mental health, their financial worries and how difficult it has been coming out of lockdown. People also spoke about how thankful they were for their family, friends and carers for the support they have received over this period.
We wanted to make sure that local people’s experiences were heard in decisions about health and social care provision.
We wanted to make sure that local people’s experiences were heard in decisions about health and social care provision. Based on what people had told us, we created and published reports, infographics and blog posts. You can read our work on COVID-19 on our website.
We also shared what we were told in conversations with health and social care service providers and commissioners, public health officials, other local charities and organisations, North West London NHS Trust and NHS England. We wanted to make sure that they understand how rapid changes have impacted patients and what they need to do to make sure that local people can get the help and support they need.
As part of this effort, we met with the special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) lead in Westminster to report on the communication and support needs of parents with children with SEND during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings from this COVID-19 engagement will now be used to help develop improved communications with parents with children with SEND that highlights all the support offered locally.
Alongside this, Thrive LDN are using our COVID-19 engagement findings to support their work ensuring that all Londoners have access to proper mental health support. Our engagement work will contribute to their drive to ensure that mental health provision takes into consideration the lived experiences of those impacted by inequality, injustice or poverty.
We have also been using what we have learnt over this period to make sure that stakeholders involved in the ongoing development of the Borough Plans have access to evidence that sets out how local people, including from identified seldom heard groups, have experienced accessing health services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
We want to know what is working, and what is not, so we can make sure that local people’s experiences are reflected in ongoing changes in health and social care provision in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.
Eight months has now passed from the launch of our original survey. The situation in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea is different. Since we launched our survey in March, we have seen new measures to deal with COVID-19 introduced and relaxed. We have had news about a possible vaccine. Most importantly, we are facing a second wave of COVID-19 and have now seen more measures reintroduced.
We want to hear local people’s views and experiences of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to know how people are coping, how services could work better, and what additional support people need. We want to know how things are different now from earlier in the year. We want to know what is working, and what is not, so we can make sure that local people’s experiences are reflected in ongoing changes in health and social care provision in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.