Mental Health

Alison Dolphin is the Churches Together in Winchester champion for mental health. She has established the Renew Wellbeing Café, held every Thursday in the Salvation Army Hall in Parchment Street.

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What motivated you to becoming mental health champion for Churches Together?

I’ve worked for the NHS for five years in community mental health and mental health has always been close to my heart. I had some involvement with the cafe that the NHS mental health chaplains used to run in Winchester. That provision isn’t there anymore, although lots of churches are doing bits and pieces.

I have been progressing the idea of a wellbeing café for the last five or six months and doing it as a volunteer in my free time. I wanted to do it somewhere central so that people could get to the location and it would get the footfall.

God really cares. So many verses show us this. Like Psalm 34, which says “the Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”. We are to reflect God’s heart as church. We’re called to be a community of welcome and hope and healing, so it’s kind of like our mandate and it reflects how God feels.

Some people have said we’re in a mental health pandemic. Is that the case?

So many people struggle with their mental health. More than one in seven adults say that their mental health is currently either bad or the worst it’s ever been. Another statistic is that one in four people can expect to have a diagnosis of a mental health issue in their lifetime.

Since COVID things have got worse. Things like anxiety, social isolation, but it doesn’t have to have something with a label. Lots of people are simply not thriving and prospering.

People need all sorts of different types of support, so why is your answer a wellbeing café?

In the café, we are being present to one another. This is the key thing to say. We would not want to take the place of mental health professionals. So, if people need medical care, financial help or other forms of support, we signpost or connect them for that.

Our remit is to provide a place of peace; the Christian word is Shalom.  This basically means a place of hospitality and being with; we want to provide a place of welcome and hope and belonging, a place where people can go and they’re not known by their label.

You won’t know who is on the team and who is a guest. We co-produce together, share hobbies, teach one another our skills. We’ve all got something. The café will be a success if we can build a place of community and connection.

Is there a model for this?

It’s called a Renew well-being café and this is a UK charity. There are about 300 of them across the country and we’re using their format.

They have looked at what produces good well-being, good health and there are five values according to the New Economics Foundation which we’re aiming to put into practice.

  • Give to others – whether that is time or small acts of kindness
  • Be physically active
  • Connect with others
  • Keep learning new things
  • Take notice of what’s going on around you in that moment

Are there other things you would like to be doing to support people’s mental health in the district?

Absolutely. I see the cafe in the Salvation Army Hall as the first thing, and I’m already having discussions about establishing another café in another area of Winchester. I’ve also got a bigger vision that builds upon these cafes. It’s early days but on my heart is to bridge across to the churches and all they can offer around mental, emotional, psychological healing and wholeness.

Just as I can say to those who attend our cafes that Citizens Advice, Solent Mind or Avalon House (for the NHS) might be a good place to find support, I could also say, you know, there’s this Alpha course, or inner healing prayer, food bank or listening group or whatever the churches are running.

I also have thoughts of establishing a Hub. The Renew wellbeing café, that’s like the centre of a hub, but I would love to see it spoking out so people can receive support from a smorgasbord of opportunities perhaps all housed within the one building. Let’s see!

What can the Christians of Winchester do and pray to help you? What do you need?

This café is run according to three Ps: prayer, presence and partnership.  Prayer is the foundation of it all, so please pray for the work.

Secondly, tell people in your churches. It’s a place for the public and for members of churches to go to. If we can let members know this cafe exists, they can tell friends. Friends telling friends is the best way for people to discover it and to have the confidence to walk across the threshold.

We have got volunteers running this cafe already from four different churches. And I would love that to grow, because if we can grow our volunteer team, we can replicate and reproduce this in other locations as well. We are stronger together, aren’t we?

The third thing, as I say, would be to let us know what good things you’re doing in your church so that we can promote them. It could be a coffee morning, exercise, a Pilates class, all sorts of different things. I would love to know what churches are doing so I can join up lots of dots.

Finally, what signs should we be looking for in those amongst us, and perhaps even in ourselves, to recognise here is somebody who’s struggling?

We all have mental health. We’re on a scale and some days it goes worse and some days it goes better. There is a dynamic there, it’s fluid. But it’s when it goes beyond a healthy threshold then it’s more of a problem.

I suppose one of the key things would be when a person doesn’t seem their normal self, they’re not bouncing back in the usual way. Possibly they’re withdrawing, not feeling like going out and facing people. Everything seems to be an effort to get through the day. These could be signs of depression.

One of the beautiful things about the Renew well-being café is that we can balance our hectic lives up into some pleasurable activities. We all practise our wellbeing together there whether team or guest! I often talk about a tree. You know, if a tree looks good above the ground and it’s producing good fruit, it’s because it’s got healthy roots. In the NHS, we look at words like hope, meaning, value, purpose, connectedness, belonging, identity. If some of these things are missing in our life, then the tree will struggle above the ground.

So please, get involved in whatever way you can to help renew wellbeing in our city.

For more information on the Renew Wellbeing café, visit its Facebook page.