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LIVED EXPERIENCE


likely to have the desired effect. I said: ‘Try and think about the potential for these rooms as spaces to the encourage relaxation. I’d like to see them looking more stimulating, and less drab.’”


Helping those in ‘suicidal crisis’ I asked about her other work to help with the design and fitting out of mental healthcare facilities, as well as to help service-users directly. One of her current activities is volunteering at a house for people in suicidal crisis in Finsbury Park, operated by the Maytree charity. The ‘Maytree house’ is open 365 days a year, and offers a free four-night, five-day ‘one- off’ stay for adults over 18 from across the UK. It provides ‘a safe, confidential, non- medical environment where guests can explore their thoughts and feelings, and feel heard with compassion and without judgment’. Following the success of the first house in north London, Maytree is looking to open a second in Manchester soon. A small staff team and the charity’s volunteers ‘spend many hours with each guest during their stay, providing the opportunity for them to explore their thoughts and feelings’. Maytree explains that the first contact people have with it is by phone or email. It adds: ‘From the first conversation, we aim to build a relationship with the caller. We gently encourage them to talk about their suicidal thoughts and background history during a few befriending calls, to explore together whether a stay at Maytree is right for them.’ The charity says that sometimes, during such calls, the callers can ‘begin to discover a way forward for themselves’, and no longer feel they need a stay at the house. Some will go on to have an assessment, which will lead to a stay at the Maytree house being arranged. Where an individual’s medical needs or life circumstances make a stay impractical, Maytree offers them information and contact details of organisations and services that can give them practical help and support.


provide is known as ‘befriending’, a term originally coined by the Samaritans, which entails offering warm, compassionate support and non-judgmental active listening, ‘with unconditional acceptance and positive regard’. It’s way to give the guests a chance to process thoughts, feelings, and memories. We’re not there to therapeutically interpret, or to offer advice, but just to very gently nurture.”


Katharine Lazenby teaches the Creative Wellbeing course at the City & Hackney Recovery College. Having already taught on Photography, Creative Writing, Managing Suicidal Feelings, Creative Wellbeing, and Mindfulness Through Dance, this term she will lead a course entitled ‘Love Your Body: Exploring Body Image’.


An ordinary terraced house Katharine Lazenby said of her work with Maytree: “I have been involved for about a year now, having been aware of the charity for quite a few years. A respite house for people in suicidal crisis, The Maytree house is just an ordinary terraced house, only adapted in the sense that it has an office. People can self-refer, and we have a number of phone calls with them first over a few days. The calls are a chance to explore what has brought them to this point, and to hear a bit about their childhood and their life story, and what issues challenge them most. As a volunteer ‘on shift’, you may spend time with the guests, answer calls, or both. The Maytree house is a really extraordinary place. In contrast to some of the places I’ve described, it’s not clinical at all; rather it’s homely and beautiful. The support we


A professional background Many of the volunteers have a professional background, or might, for example, be studying psychotherapy. Katharine Lazenby explained: “Interestingly, during training, you might be encouraged to resist taking an overly analytical approach. We’re not a medical service, and don’t prescribe. A guest’s suitability for a stay at the house is really carefully assessed. If someone is so acutely ill that a hospital environment is more suitable, they won’t be offered a stay, because it just wouldn’t be appropriate. We also screen for some other things; for instance, those in active addiction must have abstained for eight weeks, both for health reasons, and to get the most from their stay. People are there four nights and five days. They can cook for themselves. We have communal meals, and many of the volunteers also cook. We want the house to be a place where people feel able to rest as well.” Volunteers are not encouraged to be in the house for long shifts. Katharine Lazenby said: “The work is intense; you hear some harrowing stories. There is an awful lot of historic trauma, and guests are there to process that and explore some of these things.” The Maytree charity funds the residents’ stay.


Avoiding adding to trauma Katharine Lazenby added: “It’s important for both volunteers and guests that volunteer shifts are short, because you don’t want to risk adding further trauma by creating a situation where a guest becomes so ‘attached’ to a volunteer that leaving is even more challenging.”


A photo taken during a Creative Writing workshop that my ‘interviewee’ led at the Newham Poetry House in 2019. Right: A training session that Katharine Lazenby delivered for Maytree volunteers this January called ‘Befriending Beyond Talking’ introduced volunteers to ways in which ‘making’ can be used with the charity’s guests ‘to enhance wellbeing and support mental health recovery’.


12 APRIL 2020 | THE NETWORK


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