A warm, sun-soaked Friday morning in Bognor Regis’s Hotham Park sees the United Response team heading into the community to raise awareness of mental health. Tombola, craft making, cake icing, and a produce and plant stall provides a wealth of activities for both young and old at the Big Picnic. Music from Radio Respect, started by staff member Chris, keeps everyone in high spirits throughout the day, with hits like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” causing people to get up and have a dance. Contrary to last year, the sun has come out for everyone to enjoy, and a children’s circus next door creates a steady flow of passers-by.

 

“Everyone is so friendly”

On the tombola stall I meet 27-year-old Sophie, who has been supported by us for three years. She tells me how important House 48, the local United Response drop-in centre, has been for her: “I had no friends before, and everyone there is so friendly.” Before going to the centre, she explains how she used to sit indoors. “Now it has given me something to do. I’ve started getting on the bus too, which I’d never done before.”

 

Person-centred support

Working with Sophie on the busy tombola stall is 28-year-old Maisie. The two both share the same support worker. “It’s been life-changing, I’d never had that constant support before,” says Maisie, who has been supported by us for two years and lives with bipolar disorder. “I wish I’d known about United Response sooner as it could’ve saved me a lot of time in hospital.” She stresses the benefits she has felt through the person-centred support: “it allowed me to feel human again, rather than clinical or alien.”

 

At around midday the local mayor Pat Dillon arrives to greet everyone, and a lunch of sandwiches and pasta is served.

 

A helping hand

Grabbing a bite to eat are good friends Richard and John, who met through House 48. Richard has been supported by us for two years, and enjoys socialising at the camera club. “There are really nice people there,” says Richard, “John helped me with my housing tenancy when it wasn’t renewed. It was a really stressful time.” John, who has been supported by us for eight years, has now taken a peer support course so that he can help other service users. He runs a peer-to-peer support group every other Wednesday.

 

Broadening horizons

The strong presence of these close relations becomes apparent throughout the day. Everyone has been involved with the planning of the event. Senior Area Manager Mary Doran expresses the value of this: “it broadens their horizons and strengthens the link with the wider community.” With a lot of the stalls being organised and run by service users, it is clear that days like this are an important step on the path to recovery.

 

A big thank you to the Bognor Regis team who managed to raise £120 on the day!