Life Changes Changes Lives Adapts To The New Normal

A Downpatrick-based mental health and addictions charity meets the Covid-19 requirements... a number of significant adaptions and service changes are made.

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A Downpatrick-based mental health and addictions charity meets the Covid-19 requirements… a number of significant adaptions and service changes are made.

No-one back in March thought that the Covid-19 pandemic would have transformed our way of working and living so dramatically.

Six months on from the start of the lockdown in March, Life Changes Changes Lives (LCCL), a Downpatrick charity working in mental health and addiction in a safe and inclusive environment, has adapted the way it delivers its services for its clients in the ‘new Covid-19 normal’.

Providing value for money: Ailish Teague, a director of Life Changes Changes Lives, with the social impact study leaflet.

Ailish Teague, one of the founding directors of Life Changes Changes Lives, described the situation as “very difficult for health charities”. She said they face a wide range of issues in adapting their services and premises to cope with new health regimes to fight Covid-19.

Life Changes Changes Lives is very involved in up-cycling mainly furniture and small items and is keen to sell these on to help maintain sustainability, a constant struggle.

LCCL Starts With Risk Assessment

Ailish said: “Following a thorough risk assessment of our premises and activities, we have made a number of very important and necessary changes.

“We were very fortunate in receiving funding support from the New Needs Fund and the Department of Economy Charities Fund. But we still needed to find a third of the cost ourselves to get the changes implements from the risk assessment.

“We had great support from volunteers such as Marco McKee who did the painting throughout, and Tom Higgins who did the joinery. And the tidying and cleaning was done by Janet Smith and Sonya Craig. Our thanks go to them.

The kitchen /canteen area now compliant with Covid-19 guidlines.

“I would also like to thank Kieran Casement and the attention from the Board of Directors for their commitment in these times of extra pressure.”

The premises can only now accommodate 16 individuals for social distancing purposes – previously there were 25/30 in some days while it was open five days a week. Now it is planned to open only Monday to Wednesday.

“We had a wide range of improvements to the premises to make to include:

  • new work individual work tables with individual sets of paint brushes and paints etc.
  • infection control barriers installed with perspex screens.
  • a ventilation system has been set up to take air in and blow out while not recirculating it.
  • the kitchen is now sectioned off when it was previously open plan.
  • a hand sanitizer pump at the front door and sanitizers throughout.
  • the premises has been repainted throughout.
  • a one-way system has been introduced necessitating removing some space from the front sales area.
  • and we have adequate signage too to ensure Covid-19 awareness.

Ailish added: “All our participants are keen to get back again. We have done a couple of walk and talk sessions in the fresh air with our clients, and for those that face a crisis, we still provide counselling support for them to help meet their critical mental health needs.

“The way we are structured now is that if there is another full or local lockdown, then we are at least positioned well to re-open when the right time comes. Everything will be in place in terms of our infrastructure.

“Basically, we have a duty of care to all our volunteers and clients, and our Board, and we will do whatever is necessary to ensure everyone is safe.

“Quite simply, we have to adapt to the circumstances to get through this pandemic. Social distancing has brought its own level of problems.

“It has certainly increased the level of mental health issues in our community.

“People are certainly feeling more anxious and facing depression and other issues such as OCD, sleep disorders, alcohol dependency, substance abuse, and relationship breakdowns, and our fear as that this will escalate the longer the pandemic lingers on for.

“But the bottom line for us is that we are still seeing people in crisis and we respond to them as best we can to alleviate their stress.

“The social isolation is harming many individuals in our society.

Ailish Teague, LCCL director, shows off the individual work stations now in place.

“Covid-19 threatens elderly people more. We are aware that our Board is composed of mainly more vulnerable and elderly members. But they are sticking well to their task.

“Recently we completed a social impact study and one of the outcomes from our work is that Life Changes Changes Lives provides £6.81 for every £1.00 we spend.

“In 2018 we generated £658,000 worth of social value in total with 166 participants, 144 therapeutic sessions, and 996 counselling sessions, with

“We are going through a very difficult time in our community at the moment and we will try and meet the mental health and addiction needs of people presenting to us as best we can.”

Ailish explained that the charity has lowered its capacity in handling a large volume of participants but added: “We will make every effort to reach out to everyone who has been with us and help them through what lies ahead with this pandemic which is certainly bringing its own ranges of mental health issues to the fore.”

MORE ON LIFE CHANGES CHANGES LIVES.

LCCL was set up in 2013 as a non-profit charity .

Its aim was to support people affected by mental health and / or addictions issues, and who are unsupported by the health system for different reasons.

Despite LCCL showing excellent value for money in its social impact study, it received no money from the Department of Health or from any funding stream inside Northern Ireland.

LCCL taps into finding streams from organisations mainly in the UK.

The client users are currently from 22 housing estates in and around the Downpatrick area.

Downpatrick is within the top 10% of deprived areas in Northern Ireland for social deprivation.

The aims of working with the participants in the programme are:

  • to encourage all participants to adopt a positive and optimistic attitude to life.
  • to increase their level of social interaction.
  • to help regulate an emotional balance.
  • to reduce harm from drugs or alcohol misuse.
  • to encourage building of self-esteem.

LCCL uses a range to methods to achieve its aims through:

  • creative therapy which includes upcycling.
  • physical activity.
  • encouraging health eating through cookery demonstrations.
  • creative writing.
  • group outings designed for participants to gain new experiences.
  • and through training, counselling and peer mentoring.

The above activities helps participants to rekindle their zest for life and it helps them to move beyond mental health stigma they may have experienced.

There are therefore also a number of positive outcomes from the work of LCCL:

  • improved mental health
  • access to counselling in the area.
  • personal development courses.
  • creative arts therapy.
  • suicide awareness training. volunteering.
  • social activities.