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Friendship Really Matters: Getting to rock bottom and back again

November 16 2016

Photo Credit: David Levenson

Being part of a close-knit community is important to everyone, but crucial to those struggling with mental illness or addiction.

Holton’s Lee’s Flourish programme is a wellbeing project that helps connect people and set them back on the road to recovery.

Stuart and Rachel both know what social isolation feels like.

Following job loss, divorce and a severe nervous breakdown, Rachel withdrew almost completely from friends and family.

Stuart, another person visiting the centre, had been struggling with addiction, and had tried to keep away from former associates so he could start a new life.

Respectively, both felt their confidence to reach out to others and make connections was at rock bottom, and life was lonely and tough.

Stuart’s first step away from isolation came about through an addiction recovery group, who put him in touch with Livability Holton Lee.

Rachel at Flourish, Livability Holton Lee
“Flourish was my chance to try new things in a life-changing place.” – Rachel

Based in 350 acres of Dorset countryside, Livability Holton Lee is a wellbeing discovery centre that gives people the opportunity to connect to others and to nature, through a range of programmes.

People arrive at the centre with different needs, arising from mental health challenges and a wide range of disabilities – but feeling isolated is a common theme.

About joining Flourish, Stuart said: “I needed to get away from some difficult relationships and build some new ones. Flourish was my chance to try new things in a life-changing place. Everyone came from different backgrounds, but whatever our issues, we gelled as a group.”

Soon after, Rachel turned up to join the Flourish team, overcoming crippling fear to do so.

“I was very worried about it and withdrawn,” Rachel remembers. “I thought of ducking out but instead I turned up one-and-a-half hours early and just walked around the place to try to calm myself down.”

Stuart was one of the first people Rachel met at Livability Holton Lee and they quickly became friends. “Stuart is just lovely. We have the same sense of humour, which helps,” says Rachel. “He’s very kind and thoughtful and never looks down on anybody or anything they do. I feel we are all in it together at Holton Lee – we’re a team that looks after each other and gets on well.”

Within a couple of months, Rachel started to connect with others: “I felt very welcomed, and I loved coming here. I started helping others out. At the time, I felt I was pretty useless and not worth an awful lot, so it felt good to just give some practical help to people.”

Rachel and Stuart at Fourish, Livability Holton Lee
“If either of us are having problems we can call each other and meet up.” – Stuart

Stuart too began to build links and friendships with the Flourish group, and started making social arrangements for himself, which represented a big step for him. “I found the courage to meet up with Rachel, away from Holton Lee, something I hadn’t done for a very long time.”

Rachel’s confidence built, leading to her volunteering at a day centre for disabled people, where she is now employed. With Stuart working as deputy site manager at Holton Lee, their friendship has continued and strengthened: “She’s always been a little ray of sunshine,” says Stuart. “If either of us are having problems, we can call each other and meet up, and it makes it better.”

A unique place where friendships and wellbeing flourish

With 97% of people who attend Flourish reporting an increase in social networks and a decrease in social isolation, Livability Holton Lee is a standout service with local referring agencies.

[pullquote cite=”Bournemouth and Poole College” type=”right”]Those who find it hard to fit in and be compliant elsewhere absolutely thrive there![/pullquote]

Poole Hospital is a regular referrer and says: “Flourish is our first choice…because this service is so different from other places we can refer. It’s also unique because Flourish encourages people to work together, regardless of what issues they are trying to overcome; this allows people to make a genuine contribution.”

Bournemouth and Poole College is similarly impressed by the impact on their clients: “Coming to Holton Lee helps so much with forming relationships. Those who find it hard to fit in and be compliant elsewhere absolutely thrive there!”

Emma Browning at Fourish, Livability Holton Lee
“Everyone is open and welcoming to new people. They take an interest in them as a person…” – Emma

Flourish manager Emma Browning, who has seen hundreds of service users benefit from Flourish’s input, comments: “Making these connections with people is so important when someone hasn’t had great experiences of people and friendships in the past. It rights some wrongs.”

Flourish’s culture of acceptance and building to people’s strengths is key, she adds: “When people arrive, I can see in their face that first morning that they’re questioning where they will fit in. Then you can see it dawning on them that there is no need to ‘fit in’, no clique, because everyone fits in. Everybody is open and welcoming to new people. They take an interest in them as a person – they talk about what TV they’ve watched, what football team they support. Conversations and friendships just start.”

Flourish at Livability Holton Lee is a volunteering and wellbeing programme. Set in 350 acres of outstanding natural beauty, it offers participants a range of projects that connect them to nature and each other.

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