Last year, the Chinese Mental Health Association (CMHA), a charity with a nearly three decade-long history faced the dilemma of how to respond to the UK’s national lockdown.
The broad range of services we ran were almost entirely provided in-person, with people typically meeting up in groups. With the lockdown introduced to prevent gatherings and protect public health our method of delivering services was made impractical.
At the same time, it was clear from the start that a lockdown would have a substantial impact on many different aspects of people’s wellbeing. Issues like loneliness, anxiety, depression would be on the rise. People would have fewer opportunities for physical activity, to get out for some fresh air, and restrictions were placed on socialising and seeing loved ones.
It was in this context, that we decided to establish an online wellbeing platform. Meridian Wellbeing was born, with the CMHA rebranding under this new name. Our services were moved online and introducing new services to support people’s wellbeing during the pandemic we were able to play our part in helping the community.
Our Services, Our Service Users
DC, a former service user emphasised the importance of ‘connection’ to everything we offer. “That connection with each other might be done through a wellbeing workshop or through a Tai Chi class, it might be through flower arranging, even through listening to podcasts”.
Continuing, DC told us “everything we do through Meridian Wellbeing connects us with each other. It just reduces that isolation, especially this lockdown isolation”.
Talking about our work as it continues to develop, DC explained the role of peer-led events as part of our work. “Our next event is January Jukebox… Everyone will get a chance to put their songs on the playlist, we’ll enjoy it together - it will be quite casual” adding that “we can sing with the mics on, mics off”.
As part of our Peer Support Project volunteers have increasingly played a proactive role in organising fun virtual activities for those looking for something to do and people to socialise with during the pandemic. With so many unable to see friends and family and worried about the pandemic, this has been a chance to reinvigorate community spirit and let volunteers and service users take charge of organising fun activities.
RK, one of our service users, spoke to us about why he had come to us. “The reason why I have come to Meridian Wellbeing is after forty years of a career which I enjoyed very much which led to a mental health breakdown and the subsequent domestic abuse I suffered for many years… I was able to go to the classes at Meridian Wellbeing… and I was able to get full support face to face in helping me deal with my demons”.
Continuing RK told us “the reason why I support Meridian Wellbeing, is that firstly it’s in my borough and it not only offers a range of services but has one hell of a tremendous website’.
Speaking to SS, she told us how she has engaged with our services for years since we were based in Old Street and describing her involvement with Meridian Wellbeing’s services as ‘nice, it’s really nice’.
GG, one of our Peer Support Volunteers who serves as a contact for people facing isolation in the local community. told us about the importance of having services provided by people or organisations familiar with a local area. “The difference between going to something national, which is inevitably impersonal… Whereas if you feel you are with people you can trust and in particular who have knowledge of your local area”.
AJ one of our newer Peer Support Volunteers, spoke about the role our Peer Support Project has played in bonding with people facing isolation in lockdown. AJ told us that after only a couple of phone calls “has really helped me get to know more people I would have never known”. He highlighted the value of local contact during the lockdown, “you start talking to them and you find they are someone who lives close by… you will be sharing the same things”.
One of our service users RT spoke about how her family have “enjoyed” CMHA’s services for a number of years and feels a “benefit from the wellbeing activities and workshops”. She spoke about how she ‘benefitted from health talks’ and how our services updated her on the current situation regarding the pandemic and the ongoing restrictions.
Another service user, SS, explained she was “very, very happy to join” us at Meridian Wellbeing and highlighted that the physical exercise activities we offer we’re “very helpful”. She contrasted the social experience of taking part in physical exercise with others, rather than doing exercise alone. SS explained that she was “very impressed” that we offer “so many activities”, stating she “had not seen that before”.
AF told us “really enjoy the activities offered by (Meridian Wellbeing)” and that she “learns a lot from different activities and workshops”. She added that since joining us her “low mood has improved” and that she no longer feels “so low, so down”.
ST told us that thanks to our services ‘during the Covid-19 period, we are not lonely” and that they were “impressed” by the services on offer.
Providing Support in a Pandemic
When we began to develop our online services, we wanted to put the hopes, desires and interests of service users first, ensuring services are person-centred and inclusive.
This has included substantive involvement from service users. Both from co-production of services and activities, demonstrating the value of participation in ensuring services meet people’s needs, and by regular surveys which shape our events and activities.
With the risk of the pandemic making this situation worse, we spent much of last year developing new services, activities and resources to support people during this difficult time.
Our service users come from a wide range of backgrounds and have demonstrated the positive role these services have played in supporting them during the pandemic and the importance of giving people input into the services provided.
Photo credit: Flickr/craftivist collective.