Conclusion: Is the BUCFP a Centre for Mental Well-being?

One of the things we’ve attempted to show with this rather clunky ‘cut n shut’ format is that the actual workings of well-being encounters and practices often tend to be quite banal, implicit, silent and indecipherable within the terms of the typical apparatuses used to assess impact and improvement. But if we understand well-being not as an internalised quality but as sets of effects variably produced in specific times and places, and as situational and relational,19 as complex assemblages of relations not only between people but also between people and places, material objects and less material constituents of places including atmospheres, histories and values, then we can think about spaces like the centre in different ways. Duff20 talks about the ‘everyday work of recovery’ and the importance of routine, social inclusion and access to diverse beneficial spaces. The BUCFP can be viewed as an enabling place and one that is made or nurtured as much as it is ‘discovered’. To date, the balance of evidence regarding the therapeutic character of places has emphasised the characteristics of those places in contrast to activities and practices of users and inhabitants. When you look at Lilly, Gary, Ros, Alan and Sally, their encounters show that they actively make them places of their wellbeing or convert them into places of recovery.

Mental health professionals and employment rehabilitation professionals typically plan rehabilitation activities targeted to assist people to acquire and apply new skills, and access the resources to live a meaningful life in the community.21 The people that were interviewed provided a picture of a centre that offer these opportunities but implicitly rather than through a routinised plan of care and self-development. In so doing, it provided a community platform for some of the centre users to move from alienation and lack of purpose to finding a sense of meaning through working with people experiencing circumstances and histories similar to theirs.

Centres like the BUCFP foster networks and opportunities for disadvantaged people in a way that statutory services can find difficult: where an environment is provided that allows people to get help, information and community interaction without waiting behind a glass partition,11

where they aren’t required to develop the identity of the ‘helped’ in order to access this.

So if you can, if you can treat people like human beings and give them a bit of you know feeling like they’re worth something rather than I think a lot of agencies turn up and say well that’s it, you’ve only got an hour here, you have to go (Participant 9, staff)

Many people who come to the centre have been subject to repeated experiences of being negatively labelled by others around them and are passive recipients of interventions to improve their conduct in some way. People don’t tend to come to the centre to engage in projects to reconstruct their sense of self, sense of self-worth and capacity to integrate in society. They will come to the centre to use a high-class creche, enjoy a low-cost meal and receive urgent advice to maintain their benefits or their home. Some might want to come to the centre to get away from some people, or to be around other people, to try something new by joining an art class or a computer or language class. The reasons that draw people to the centre are wide and varied. Through the centre they come to feel worthy of other people’s attention and not due to their deficits but due to their capabilities, talents and status as a deserving person. For some who use the centre, it provides a natural bridge between previous experiences of mental health and welfare dependency in what Mezzina et al.22 call the ‘naturally occurring opportunities and rhythms of community life’.

People talked about the reconstruction of the self that can occur at the centre. This occurred as a result of the provision of a safe space, meeting people in similar situations through which they can empathise and build networks, a social meal that provides a context for social engagement, and through the more structured and formal volunteering opportunities so central to the development of self-worth and value. It is for this reason that the BUCFP can facilitate changes in some centre users’ mental well-being. [1]

was depressed, extreme, extreme anxiety and that carried on a little bit... I was being here, being busy doing other things, I wasn’t in my head, at home on my own in my head (Participant 12, volunteer)

I actually got in the, sort of, suffering from depression, from being poor and, sort of, alienated, and so I can only, best example is to use myself. When I started coming here it changed my whole outlook on my situation, realising that ‘God, you can get involved, you can do this, you can do that’ and going home thinking ‘Oh that was really, you know’ and that was, I, self-worth, you know, going home thinking ‘Oh, I made a little bit of a difference today’ you know what I mean? (Participant 3, trustee)

For some people, they receive respite, safety, warmth and food. For others, they get the chance to talk to other people, socialise and interact at their own pace and in a manner that feels comfortable to them. The centre allows people a place to be, a place to reconnect at their pace through activities like photography, art and yoga, that they may never have experienced in the past. The centre can provide a platform for people to address the incredibly damaging and difficult experience of complete isolation that is experienced by so many people in the margins of society, who have struggled with poverty, unemployment and mental distress. The ethos of the centre is such that these people are catered for and allowed to just ‘be’. It is a place where people can come to be social, to be well and to be productive in a multitude of ways that are not recognised by a strict workfare agenda and its notions of citizenship. An implicit acceptance that people have different needs and that they move at different paces is an antidote to previous paternalistic and corralling contact with impersonal institutions interested in pushing them into certain identities, regardless of their histories, capabilities or readiness. The ethos of the centre, hands-on for those who are ready, and hands-off for those who are not, provides a context for people to relate to others in ways that don’t feel forced or strained.

More than one interviewee from the paid workers’ and trustee board specifically outlined that the centre was not a mental health project. However, the accounts of many of the people who use the centre suggest that, while the centre has not been formulated with the intention of explicitly improving the mental well-being of centre users, it has, through numerous mechanisms, had a very significant impact in this area. Indeed if one is to adopt a social view of mental well-being that moves beyond clinical practice, the activities that take place at the centre can be viewed as fundamental to many centre users’ mental well-being.

  • [1] did change, yeah, so it was very good for me, yeah... it’s just that I reconnected with the world, I... you know, and I got back to being myself eventually, it took six months, you know, I’d just have extreme anxiety when I
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