Perth and Kinross Association of Voluntary Service (PKAVS) is a local charity that does some tremendous work out there in our community. They help 5000 people in Perth and Kinross across five hubs, and work on inspiring projects and organise fantastic events every single year.
One of the things that PKAVS has become well known for is the charity’s work in helping people recover from mental health problems. The Mental Health and Wellbeing hub is based across two separate locations in Perthshire – Wisecraft in Blairgowrie, and the Walled Garden on the grounds of Murray Royal Hospital.
It’s at the latter where I met with Sarah Oelmez – the hub manager for PKAVS – to find out more about the services that they offer the local community.
“We’re an adult mental health day service and we support people from the age of sixteen upwards,” Sarah told me as we sat down for a coffee in the Walled Garden café. We’re an adult mental health day service and we support people from the age of sixteen upwards.
“The people we support are recovering from a wide variety of mental health problems. It’s all about group work, confidence building, learning new and different skills, and socialising with others. We offer four types of activity here – healthy lifestyle activities, garden activities, arts and crafts, and finally the café itself.”
The healthy lifestyle activities include walking groups, healthy cooking classes, racket sports and gym sessions. The charity works closely with Live Active Leisure to deliver these activities, and has recently employed a fitness instructor to lead the group during these sessions.
“We’re linked with Live Active and we use Bell’s Sports Centre for the racket sports and Rodney for the gym. It’s great and the clients love it. Some of them have even traded phone numbers and meet up for games themselves out with the PKAVS Mental Health and Wellbeing hub.
“Of course we also have our Walled Garden activities and our clients help to maintain the garden which is a big job! Everything we grow is either used here at the café or it’s sold on. We champion that sort of farm to fork idea, and a lot of the clients have a big involvement in what we grow. Every year in May, we have our big plant sale which is always a really fun day!
“We also have our art studio which is down at the bottom of the garden. This is where we encourage our clients to work on their creative side and it’s mainly crafts and painting that we do. We often do exhibitions at Perth Museum and Art Gallery to showcase the clients’ work. Moving forward, we want to enhance this by adding music and creative writing as activity options too.
“The final thing is our Walled Garden café and here our clients gain experience in a working environment by getting involved with the cooking and cleaning, and dealing with the general public and improving their customer service skills. For some it’s the first steps into gaining employment so it’s a very important part of the service.”
Sarah became the PKAVS Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub manager two years ago, but a few years prior to that she did an internship with the charity while studying for a degree in social work. She quickly noticed that there was a big gap in the amount of young people who were using the service.
In a bid to rectify this, Sarah has managed to get the PKAVS Mental Health and Wellbeing hub involved in the Lost in Transition project.
“When I started working here, my aim was to encourage more young people to use the service,” Sarah told me. When I started working here, my aim was to encourage more young people to use the service.
“I really wanted to focus on that 16-25 age range because we felt there were lots of people needing our help that were just out of school and maybe didn’t quite understand their feelings or struggled with their mental health.
“We struggled to successfully gain funding initially, but we were encouraged to do some research into why the gap existed and to identify whether the activities we offered from the hub were appropriate for young people.
“We had a post-graduate student come in to do a four month research project and she managed to uncover enough evidence to suggest that our activities were appealing to young people and that really helped us to gain funding.
“We were granted funding from the Scottish Government through the Aspiring Communities Fund to get the Lost in Transition project off the ground and with that money we were able to employ three staff members on sixteen month contracts, which started in November which is great!”
The number of young people using the service is gradually increasing, but it’s still something Sarah is looking to improve further. When I asked her about the reasons for youngsters being less likely to come to the Mental Health and Wellbeing hub, she told me her theory.
“I think it’s the misconceptions around mental health and I think that the young ones tend to think of psychiatry and such like when they hear the words mental health services.
“They don’t think about something as informal as we offer here at the Walled Garden and Wisecraft. Younger people can struggle more with the confidence needed to come to a place like this because their symptoms are often new and confusing.
“I think they also see the Walled Garden in particular as a place for old people but that’s definitely not the case. It is improving though and since the Lost in Transition project started we’ve been seeing a lot more youngsters being referred to us through school which is great. It’s such a rewarding thing when you can help people like that, and that’s what we’re doing every day at PKAVS.
“One recent example was from a young client who had left school and gone into employment but had to stop because of his mental health problems. He actually became an inpatient at Murray Royal Hospital for a brief period, before being referred to us upon his release.
“He worked in the café three days a week and the difference it made was incredible. It lifted him up so much that after six months, we felt like he was ready to get back into work so we helped him with his CV and he managed to get himself a job.
“It’s such a rewarding thing when you can help people like that, and that’s what we’re doing every day at PKAVS. We love helping everybody but young people in particular are a personal highlight of the job for me. It’s lovely getting to know each and every one of them but we’re at our happiest when we can finally say goodbye to them.
“That’s not because we don’t like to see them and work with them – it’s because our hub has served its purpose and helped them to feel better and be in a position to move on and live meaningful lives.”
PKAVS Mental Health and Wellbeing's Spring Plant Sale takes place on Saturday 12th May from 11am - 3pm at The Walled Garden.
The Walled Garden café will be open for light lunches and snacks, and there will be live music throughout the day from young local bands/musicians (to coincide with the year of young people 2018), a bbq, fun activities for children, the art studio will be open for creative workshops and we will have a huge selection of plants for sale.
The theme is bumble bees and we will be providing some learning opportunities for all ages, to find out a little bit more about the different species of bumble bees in our garden.
For more information about PKAVS' Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub, or if you'd like to apply to attend as a client, please contact Janice Paterson, PKAVS Recovery and Development Officer, on 01738 631777 or email Janice.Paterson@pkavs.org.uk.
Perth born journalist, broadcaster and television executive Stuart Cosgrove has always been passionate about Soul music in all its forms.
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