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The Big Chat, by Steven Hastings

  • Posted on Nov 28, 2019

I have been getting support from Stepping Stones, a Local Mental Health Service near me in Clydebank for a few years now and I attend one of their social Groups in Alexandria called Reflect & Connect once a week. 

A few months ago, myself and other Stepping Stones members and staff went to a meeting about having some sort of Conversation Café but we were not exactly sure what to expect.  A Man called Robert from Scottish Recovery Network  came to the meeting and said he wanted to help us create a Conversation Café Event focusing on Mental Health Recovery for about 150 people, as they had put on similar events in other areas.  This sounded great, a community event to bring everyone together and highlight mental health, but I think finding the right venue for that amount of people was a bit daunting to most of us.  Other organisations came to the meetings too, including, Work Connect, West Dunbartonshire Health and Social Care Partnership and West Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau. Robert explained that as part of the event everyone would sit at round tables and answer 3 questions about recovery through the day.  We did have a laugh about getting round tables with someone saying can we not just have square tables with round table covers.  The idea of Round instead of square is so no one is at the head of the table and you all feel equal.

Sourcing a suitable venue

A smaller group of us went to look at a few venues and decided that the best one was the newly refurbished Centre in Levengrove Park in Dumbarton which is ran by Work Connect who support people with Learning Difficulties and Mental Health problems.  The building is really good with a reception, two medium sized rooms and a kitchen and a Marque was going to be attached to the building.  Before I saw it, I was unsure of a marque as I hadn’t realised it would be joined on.  I was pleased a floor was going to be put on as well as this would help for Disabled access.   Scottish Recovery Network paid for the Marque and Robert facilitated on the day of the event.   A Buffet was provided by the Work Connect café which is open to anyone who uses the park and this was paid for by a few different organisations including Stepping Stones.

Planning the Meeting

Most of our meetings were in the Venue and once we set a date, things started coming together.  At one of the meetings the fire alarm went off but luckily there was no actual fire, we just had to go outside to some lovely Scottish fresh air and a fire Engine.  We decided to call our event The Big Chat as that’s what we were doing, chatting and there was a lot of people so it was big.  The Poster was created by Ashlie a Support Worker from Stepping Stones although we all helped by saying what we thought of her samples the end result was hers, Clouds in the Sky, a plane flying over with a Banner saying the Big Chat and some trees and grass to represent the park.  We decided on Wed 23 October as the date.  For the Entertainment Emily a Stepping Stones member would be our singer. We were going to also have a choir but unfortunately the choir we had were unable to make it that day.   I am a member of a Folk club so I asked another member Scott who’s very good if he’d like to play his guitar and sing.  I also asked William one of my Support Workers from a carers service called Cornerstone to come and play his accordion as he is very good and has a ceilidh band, they both said yes.   The publicity was good, we got a lot of posters everywhere and we had a good Facebook presence.

Scott and Emily had never met so came to my house to meet and rehearse. It was like having a wee private concert in my living room, they were great.  The night before the event some of us including my very helpful Dad went along to the Park to check everything and along with Work Connect staff we sorted and decorated the tables.   Elaine, a Support Worker from Stepping Stones along with Ashlie was brilliant at emailing everyone over the last few months and lots of other bits and bobs.

The day of the event

So, the Big Day arrived and I was a little nervous as I’m sure everyone from the planning committee was. It all looked great the tables had lovely coloured table clothes and large bits of paper to Write, Draw and Scribble on and then 3 bowls of sweets and I had contributed some Love Hearts as they seemed appropriate.  I won’t set out the whole day and give you every detail but I will give the highlights.  After everyone registered and sat down, the house keeping part was done, then I welcomed everyone and introduced the Chairperson of The Stepping Stones Board to do his opening remarks.  We did a fun activity called mind apples where you write down 5 things that help you in keeping well and then after talking with each other about them you could place them on a tree for everyone to read.  We had three questions to discuss at each table two in the morning and one in the afternoon. The first 2 questions were about what mental health means to us and what helps in our own recoveries and the last question was about thinking to the future and what more could be done to help with recovery and maintaining good mental health. The discussions at my table were great and other tables were getting on great too. One table headed by the Stepping Stones manager seemed so happy they screamed with joy a couple of times.

Hearing peoples stories

There were a few stories shared throughout the day, I read my own recovery story and tried to show my disability does not define me but it’s sometimes been a struggle over the years and I have had very low mood or depression but am now feeling much better, although it’s not always easy. I tried to put humour into my speech which most people seemed to like.  Another member of Stepping Stones told her Story and some were told on behalf of people.  One story in particular read on someone’s behalf was very moving.  The Music was excellent and one great moment was a few people taking partners and dancing to the Accordion music and then we went in a circle to do, of course, Loch Lomond at the end.  The lunch was very good and there were some stalls from the organisations involved informing people about what they do and offer.

Afterwards

We had three different hashtags on the day, one being #thebigchat and it was great looking at photos and reading all the tweets when I came home. There was a local newspaper there and it felt great when the photographer took a group photo of the committee.  It was a great achievement for us all.  We think there was just over 100 people in attendance and they all seemed to have a great time.  It was a brilliant day and now it’s hoped we will have what we will probably call wee chats throughout the year and hopefully another Big Chat in the future too.  It was great to be asked to write something about my experience of West Dunbartonshire Big Chat but if it wasn’t for all of us who were involved including those who attended it would not have been a success. Thank you to them all.