STARs In Our Eyes

Twenty-twenty. Frustrating, bewildering, anxiety-ridden. And yet it offered space and time for reflection, renewal and self-improvement. As we tread tentatively into 2021, Bristol Wellbeing College takes a look at one of our biggest achievements of 2020, the establishment of our learners’ involvement programme, known as the STAR Group.

Under the mantra ‘experts by experience’, learners’ involvement values the experience of ill mental health, and the use of related services, as knowledge in its own right. The idea acknowledges that those we work for should be actively involved in creating the services they use.

In the past, Bristol Wellbeing College has worked closely with its learners in designing a number of its workshops and courses, including Me, My Diagnosis & I and Discovering Good Mental Health. However, it took until now, amid the furore of rebuilding our services on a virtual platform, to create a pilot group of service users to be involved in the creation of our service for the next year, not just in course content but across all aspects of our service, from booking to volunteering.

Heading the programme is our senior tutor Nina Simmonds:

“The first meeting with the STAR Team was an eye opener and made us realise just how much we could improve on what we do. The STAR team came up with so many great suggestions, from how we communication with learners through to our booking process. It gave us all a renewed excitement and motivation for the work we do and just how important it is to listen to those who have firsthand experience.”

We asked our STAR Group about their experience so far and what they hope to see from the programme.

What have you got out of the STAR Group?

Sharon: Helping build some self confidence that I had lost during illness, a sense of community with the rest of the group.

A purpose outside of my own wellbeing, helping to improve service for others.

Scott: I have got a sense of purpose from joining the group and a focus when it is on too. It has been nice to have some contact with others also. It has gave me a taster of what Second Step is like to work for.

Ally: It’s been good to hear feedback from other learners and to input into developing courses and student information. 

Chelsea: I get a sense of pride and purpose being part of the STAR group. I often feel and tell myself I’m not good enough, but being asked to participate made me feel proud that someone else saw that needed ability in me.

What do you like to see change/happen as a result of being in the Group?

Sharon: Continued improvements in my own wellbeing and that of other group members 

More user-friendly access to College

Provide constructive feedback for tutors and staff

Scott: I would like to see simpler access to enrolment, viewing and booking of the Wellbeing College online. More people to be able to access it due to the criteria.

Ally: I’d like to see the provision widen its course resources and see more people engage with the provision. 

Chelsea: Just seeing our ideas and suggestions implemented will be good enough!

How has your perception of the College changed since your first session?

Sharon: I thought it would be like the mental health services, cold and clinical… It was the absolute opposite. Friendly, understanding and welcoming tutors, useful advice and practical tools to try. No pressure to speak.

Scott: It feels like there is a lot going on at all levels and it can feel a bit overwhelming and corporate.

Ally: I realise just how busy the tutors are behind the scenes. 

Chelsea: I always knew the college worked hard, but now I REALLY know how hard they all need to work to function. It takes a lot of cogs working together to keep it going smoothly.

Any advice to people who want to book on sessions but are feeling unsure?

Sharon: Book a session, there is no pressure to share your story etc. Just listen if you don’t want to speak. No one judges you or interrogates. Try a few different sessions to see what works for you. It helps give you control of your own wellbeing. 

Scott: I would say it is a great step to improving your long term wellbeing. It is not a magic wand but can provide you with tools to work with and an understanding and safe space to learn and explore. It can help you get through a difficult day, give you ideas and some time out and help you to work through things. Be open minded, give things a go. I thought the Mindful Portraits wouldn’t be my thing but I gave it a go and it was the most fun session I have done.

Ally: Take a chance no matter how you’re feeling. I can guarantee you will feel better after meeting the friendly tutors and learning more about how to help yourself in whatever situation you find yourself in. There are new friends to be made and you will feel less isolated. 

Chelsea: To the College, maybe having a “buddy” system for someone who is unsure. A quick phone call or personal email from a group leader just explaining the format can be incredibly helpful.

In 2021, the Bristol Wellbeing College has a lot of work to do. To quote Nina, all of us here “are passionate about what we do and care deeply about your experience of the service”. If hard work means change for the better, we embrace it.

If you are interested in joining a session but feel unsure, please feel free to get in touch via phone or email and ask us lots of questions! We aim to keep sessions structured but informal. Numbers are capped so we generally don’t have more than 8 people in a session at one time. We aim to offer suggestions, tools and strategies that might be helpful to you; we will not lecture you on what you should or shouldn’t do. We believe that you are the expert in your experience and only you will know what will help you. Find out more about the Bristol Wellbeing College here. You can find out more about our STAR involvement groups here.

Afterword: please note that this is a pilot group and we have not yet formalised any process for recruiting new people to the STAR group. We are not currently seeking applicants.

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