male counsellor talking to attendees in circle

Volunteers for mental health and wellbeing in Cardiff

Published : 12/08/20 | Categories: Volunteering |

For members of diverse communities based in North Cardiff, the Community Care and Wellbeing service (CCAWS) is a lifeline, offering supportive services in more than 13 languages and with a welcoming understanding of diverse cultures.

CCAWS offers counselling, befriending and advocacy services, taking referrals from GP services and mental health teams, as well as self-referrals.

Counselling is delivered by qualified counsellors and students on placement. Between them they offer a range of different approaches to counselling.  Befriending is for anyone over the age of 18, (although many using the service are 60+) who is lonely or isolated; often clients are experiencing mental health issues. Advocacy includes helping clients who have immigration and benefits issues, such as universal credit.

In addition, weekly men’s and women’s support groups provide a safe and confidential space for discussing issues that relate to mental wellbeing.

The role of volunteers

After an initial chat, training and DBS checks, volunteers may be involved in befriending, advocacy, social media, admin, in conducting initial client assessments or carrying out monitoring and evaluation. (Only students on recognised courses engage in counselling clients and with professional supervision.)

Volunteers in befriending roles are accompanied to an initial meeting, which takes place in a café or other public place.  Those offering Advocacy meet with clients on CCAWS premises; they are encouraged to assess what a client needs, to research options and to work with the client to come up with solutions.

‘Volunteering can take you out of your comfort zone’ said Bilal Anjum, Volunteer Support Officer ‘but we are here to talk it through. We are always only a phone call away.’

Students volunteering through Cardiff University Insight scheme and have made their mark:  Abi, for example, supported the weekly women’s group and helped to develop a 26-week programme for the group.  Gabby created content for the Facebook page, especially around mental health, support and wellbeing and Marlowe instigated regular blogs on mental health and developed the facility to make online donations to CCAWS.

Making a difference

Since the service started 2 years ago, the rate of referrals has more than doubled and CCAWS has supported more than 1500 clients in total.

‘The service complements NHS services by providing a holistic approach to mental health support in the community and addressing mild to moderate issues before they become more serious.   This helps to reduce the huge demand on the NHS, including lengthy waiting times of six months or more for counselling and enables the NHS to concentrate on more specialised needs,’ said Dr Meraj Hasan MBE, a trustee and Consultant Psychiatrist.

‘Clients receive counselling through CCAWS usually within 6 – 8 weeks. They can access this in the language of their choice, which is really important, especially when discussing personal or difficult issues.’

CCAWS is responsive to individual clients, often by involving more than one of the advertised services.  For example, a Bangladeshi man was referred for counselling after other services in the community were unsuccessful. He was an asylum seeker. As well as counselling provided by a CCAWS Bengali counsellor, he was allocated an advocacy volunteer who was able to help him gather evidence for his case and to liaise with the solicitor.

Individual needs are addressed wherever possible. One client was supported to access IVF treatment for example; others have been helped with applications for financial support to meet specific needs.

Clients are monitored using a recognised measure for anxiety and depression, which shows the positive impact on their mental wellbeing. They also complete a service evaluation form, which helps to shape the development of CCAWS services.   A community programme of workshops on stress management and self-esteem, for example, has resulted from clients’ feedback.

Challenges and lessons learned

Initially volunteer led and now with only 3 staff, CCAWS has relied upon a passionate, hardworking and dedicated team to build up and deliver a reliable and effective service. Bilal describes the challenge of getting the service off the ground.

‘I was a volunteer with a previous organisation which provided holistic support to BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and Muslim communities, but folded due to funding issues. Clients continued to come to us, however, so beneficiaries and volunteers were determined to see the work continue. We came up with the new name and decided to focus our services on counselling, befriending and advocacy.

‘We needed a new brand image. A lot of work went into developing different strategies to attract volunteers, bearing in mind the different motivations that they have for getting involved.  Students can approach us online, for example, and we make sure that we offer them valuable experience.

‘Before we had any paid staff posts, the three strands of the work were developed with volunteers. We developed links with University of South Wales and now have counselling students on placement with us on a regular basis.’

Bilal, 22 years, is a full time MBA student as well having a part time paid role as Volunteer Support Officer. He has contributed his business expertise to the strategic development of CCAWS, in particular the development of the volunteer befriending and advocacy services.

Read about Bilal’s volunteer journey here

The Impact of Coronavirus

Bilal Anjum describes the Impact of Covid-19 on the services provided. ‘The CCAWS office has remained open throughout lockdown.  The hours were reduced at first and have now gradually returned to normal. We have continued to provide advocacy support for our clients and our volunteers have been making weekly check in calls to vulnerable and isolated individuals.

‘The counselling service was quickly moved to an online platform using Zoom as well as providing telephone counselling. Our Facebook content has been regularly updated and we have created content to help members in the community to put coping strategies in place to help reduce stress and manage anxiety.  Our psycho-education courses are being delivered online and have had positive feedback.

‘The type of referrals being made to CCAWS are far more complex and severe than previously experienced by the service. We have been signposting individuals to GP’s for mental health assessments a lot more than usual.

Looking to the future

‘We want to retain volunteers for as long as possible and we do that by giving them challenging experiences but with plenty of support, to enable them to really benefit from being here,’ said Bilal.

‘We would like to develop volunteer ambassadors to increase awareness in the community of what we do, organise events and fundraising projects, for example and we would like to develop accredited training for our volunteers.

‘Succession planning for the future is vital – securing ongoing funding and continuing to recruit volunteers to meet the demand for services. We would like to grow as an organisation; with bigger premises we could accommodate more clients.  But we will take care not to compromise the culture that we have here – which is responsive and supportive to both clients and volunteers.

‘We are grateful and proud of the support our team of volunteers have provided and will continue to provide, to vulnerable individuals within our diverse communities’.

Case study by Helpforce Cymru. Helpforce is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 CVCs), Welsh Government and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering to support health and social care services in Wales,

The Helpforce page on our website includes links to recent articles, blogs and case stories.

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