Improving Bristol’s Mental Health

    For over three years, St Mungo’s has been running the Assertive Contact and Engagement Project (ACE), providing mental health services in Bristol. Paul Sargent, manager at ACE, explains how his team have been reaching out to people who face complex barriers accessing services.

    ‘Services tailored to the needs of people’

    We provide a variety of services tailored to the needs of people who may be mistrustful of treatment, may lead chaotic lifestyles or who have had poor experiences with services in the past. Our 26 staff work closely with the LGBTQI community, asylum seekers and refugees, rough sleepers, parents, and those with risky drug and alcohol use. Our specialised services include outreach, drop-ins, one-to-one support, groups and therapy. We work flexibly until the people we support have accessed the services they need or feel able to do so more easily on their own.

    Over the past three years, ACE has worked with approximately 882 people and assisted them to access mental health support. Approximately 45% of our clients seen on a one-to-one basis are or were rough sleepers.

    ‘Close working relationship with local services and community groups’

    ACE provides training for community groups and services on how to work with individuals with mental health issues. We have delivered 450 group and outreach sessions including a wellbeing group at North Bristol Advice Centre, a breakfast club for isolated men, women’s mornings, Somali yoga sessions, and a weekly sewing group for South Asian women.

    Our links with businesses and community groups have enabled us to run a wide range of initiatives so people we support can enjoy activities such as fishing trips, yoga sessions and trips to the farm. Corporate volunteers from Lloyds Bank got together to give our Filwood hub a much-needed lick of paint.

    We work closely with local services and community groups so we can all support people who are struggling with their mental health. Our first forum devoted to engagement approaches and strategies takes place on 11 October 2017 and we are proud that over 50 partners will be joining us for this special event. The day will consist of a series of workshops led by staff and partners with client involvement sharing our learning and experience over the last three years.

    ‘We are evolving’

    The ACE team are amazing, they know what their jobs are and are aware of the hurdles and challenges facing a mental health engagement service. We continue to provide training so our staff can support clients who need our help. We are developing our psychological interventions offer and ran our first dialectical behaviour therapy course this year. A talking therapy based on cognitive behavioural therapy, this meets the particular needs of people who experience emotions very intensely.

    Mental health outreach worker, Ritchie recently joined our team and goes out five times a week to meet people who are rough sleeping and have been identified as needing mental health support. Currently, seventeen rough sleepers are receiving one-to-one support from Ritchie.

    We have learnt that engaging and building relationships with clients is the priority, closely followed by doing the same with other services, partners and stakeholders.

    It’s tough times for our clients, and supportive services are struggling to manage. Here at St Mungo’s we know this possibly better than anyone and hold on to hope for a better future. Building key partnerships with the services our clients need the most takes patience, belief and assertiveness.

    So what does the future hold? We aim to provide a path to a bright future for our clients, work closely with our partners to increase our influence within the community and change perceptions of mental health services, all whilst enjoying the work that we do.

    To find out more about the Bristol ACE project, please get in touch:

    Telephone: 0117 239 8969 (Mon – Fri 8:00am – 8:00pm)
    Facebook: @ACEBristolMentalHealth
    Twitter: @ACE_BMH



    Protecting the foundations of hostel funding

    Emma Webb, Campaigns Officer, explains why we’ve been campaigning to save hostels…

    Today (on World Homeless Day) we handed in our Save Hostels, Rebuild Lives petition – calling on the government not to put homeless hostels at risk as they change the way supported housing is funded.

    More than 12,000 people signed the petition, and this morning St Mungo’s clients and staff built a model house in Parliament Square displaying the names of some of those signatories. The house was decorated with bricks bearing messages from our clients about what supported housing means to them – things like “hope”, “guidance” and “compassion”.

    When I joined the St Mungo’s campaigns team in August, Save Hostels was already in full swing with 4,500 signatures on the petition. I was new to the homelessness sector and, while it came as no surprise that rough sleeping was on the rise after years of austerity (increasing by 134% since 2010), I was less aware of the pressures on hostels.

    Hostel provision has seen an 18% reduction in bed spaces since 2010, alongside dwindling funding for support contracts from local authorities and mandatory 1% annual rent decreases – all in the face of rising demand for services. The latest proposed changes to supported housing funding (which you can read about in a previous blog) are potentially even more devastating.

    Since then I’ve been visiting St Mungo’s projects and services to get a sense of exactly what’s at stake with these changes. My first visit was to Endsleigh Gardens, a hostel where the basement houses a Bricks and Mortar scheme, teaching residents and other St Mungo’s clients bricklaying and plastering. As well as being an accredited course leading to a diploma and the possibility of paid employment, the scheme boosts people’s confidence and self-esteem.

    I also visited the North London Women’s Hostel, where women who are vulnerable and have support needs are housed with 24 hour support and an on-site counsellor. The hostel provides a safe environment for women who’ve experienced domestic violence or other abuse, while also offering support around physical or mental health problems and drug or alcohol issues.

    Most recently I went to Hope Gardens, a specialist hostel for those who have experienced longer periods of rough sleeping as well as drug or alcohol problems. The hostel recently moved to a new building and in the process was redesigned around residents’ wishes – from decorating the building to overhauling the induction process and incorporating a family room for visits. At the request of residents all posters were removed and what remaining information had to be displayed was framed, transforming the appearance from that of a service to that of a home.

    What these services showed me is that hostels are more than just a place to stay. They provide a home, safety, and the support residents need to rebuild their lives, and that’s why it’s so important that we protect them.

    Homeless hostels provide 30,000 beds a night in England, and currently represent the country’s primary route out of rough sleeping. For those with multiple and complex needs in particular, they are a crucial stepping stone in a person’s journey from the street to independent accommodation.

    That’s why we were at Parliament Square this morning, and why St Mungo’s will continue to make the case for secure and sustainable funding for hostels as government policy develops.

    For now, we’d like to say a huge thank you to the 12,005 supporters who signed the petition, and the 900 campaigners who recently asked their MP to attend today’s debate on the future of supported housing funding. Demonstrating public support for this issue is so important, and that’s what you’ve enabled us to do.

    To be kept up to date on this campaign and to get involved in creating change for people affected by homelessness, sign up to be a St Mungo’s campaigner today.

    ‘Beyond my wildest dreams’

    Life is good. There have been times in my life when I hated life. There was lots of despair. Now I have everything I want in life. It’s not been given to me. I have worked for it. Today, I love life.

    I am on an 15 month apprenticeship programme with St Mungo’s Housing First Service in Brighton. But life was not always like that.

    I come from a long background of substance misuse – 30 years approximately. I have had many issues with the criminal justice system, courts, prison, etc. I’ve had problems with my health including, blood clots, ulcers and pulmonary embolisms. I came to a place in my life around nine years ago where I had just had enough. My health was bad. I was told that if I carried on I would only live for six months. At that point, I was also looking at a long prison sentence. When I went to court I was given a chance with Drug Rehabilitation Requirement (DRR) Order. With this, I was able to become substance free in the community.

    ‘I am a strong believer in remaining positive’

    After successfully completing the Order I got involved in recovery, fellowships and a mentoring program. I did voluntary work for a charity for people with learning difficulties. By keeping myself busy, being positive and constructive, I maintained my recovery whilst giving back to others and the community.

    I got my council flat five years ago and subsequently received a secure tenancy 12 months later. There has been loss of family members and general difficulties of living life on life’s terms, however, I am a strong believer in remaining positive and looking at things in a positive manner. By having an outlook like this, my life remains healthy and fulfilling.

    ‘Part of a team and something special’

    I have been involved with St Mungo’s for many years both as a client, volunteer mentor and paid locum worker. Although I had been a locum with Brighton Housing First for over a year and part of the team, I never had full access to St Mungo’s’ systems and I was not permitted to perform some duties alone.

    The Housing First approach is based on helping people with complex needs to secure a tenancy first along with a long term and flexible package of support around them.

    I applied for a Housing First worker position in July 2016. I was invited for an interview but I was not successful – I had not prepared myself at all. I had never been interviewed formally before. Then I subsequently applied for the St Mungo’s Apprentice Programme, which would give me an opportunity to continue working in a job I enjoy and gain a recognised qualification. The interview was less daunting than the first one, however, I attended fully prepared, although still quite nervous.

    I was notified the following day of my success at getting the position of Apprentice Housing First Worker. This really made me feel part of the team and part of something special. Now I have an employment contract so I feel more secure.

    ‘I get a lot of fulfilment seeing people progress in life’

    I applied to become an apprentice because I wanted to help other people like me. I have knowledge and the ability to work with and empathy towards the clients because of my experience. I also applied for selfish reasons – it makes me feel good about myself. I get a lot of fulfilment in seeing people progress in life. I like to help people ‘tread their path’. I want to help them get to where I am. Everybody’s recovery is different but I can show them how I did it.

    This is a career that I have tried to get into since I came into recovery as I enjoy helping people to achieve their goals and rebuild their lives. I prefer working directly with clients and feel lucky to have such a supportive team around me.

    ‘My clients have been let down so many times in life’

    My clients have multiple complex needs, mental health illness, distrust and serious abandonment issues. They’ve been let down so many times in life. One of my clients wouldn’t let me into his house before. I would bang on his door for 40 minutes but he wouldn’t open the door. Now he waits for me with a cup of tea when I go to see him.

    I thrive on challenges and have the tools and knowledge to deal with any situation that arises.

    My life today is amazing. I live in Brighton. I have a flat with a secure tenancy and a huge network of people I can depend on. I work within substance misuse services helping people like me. Life is good.

    When I first came into recovery I was promised a world beyond my wildest dreams. Most people would associate that with mansions, planes, Ferraris or money. That’s not me – I have peace of mind, a safe home, a pound in my pocket, food in the cupboard and good friends – that’s a world beyond my wildest dreams.

    Don’t give up the fight. Do the right things and the right things happen!

    How you can help people who are homeless

    If you’re interested in the work we do to help our clients and want to do more, here’s how you can get involved:

    Please visit our website for information on the St Mungo’s Apprenticeship Programme.

    There is a lot happening at St Mungo’s. Sign up to our e-newsletters and we’ll email you regular news to keep you up to date with everything that is going on.


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