Our aim is to provide a social framework that can enable adults living with mental health issues and other vulnerable people, to live as fulfilled lives as possible. We work to combat the personal and social consequences of mental illness, to promote innovative, client-led approaches to recovery, and to facilitate mental well-being through therapeutic activity.
Our key objectives are:
- to combat social isolation through supporting people to reintegrate into the mainstream community;
- to empower Connect clients to work towards greater independence and control over their own lives;
- to assist clients to make informed choices.
In addition, Connect aims to provide a non-statutory first point of contact for adults in need of support with conditions like anxiety and depression. We work with clients to devise solution focused therapeutic approaches that both encourage the recognition of existing strengths and coping strategies, and how to develop these as an aid to recovery. We actively encourage and support social interaction within the context of the project, helping people rebuild their self-esteem and giving them the confidence to get back into the wider community.
Ultimately, what the project is about is promoting ‘Connectedness’
According to Educational Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, connectedness “is a sense of being a part of something larger than oneself. It is a sense of belonging, or … that feeling in your bones that you are not alone. It is a sense that, no matter how scary things may become, there is a hand for you in the dark. While ambition drives us to achieve, connectedness is that which urges us … to enter into mutual relationships, to take strength and to grow through cooperative behavior”.
The idea of Connectedness is at the heart of everything Connect does, particularly in our daily interactions with clients. From the moment an individual joins the project they are presented with opportunities to make connections with others. They have the freedom to share experiences with people in a safe environment, to talk openly about the things they have been through or to listen to others articulate their own experiences of mental ill health. Such sharing help to build a sense of mutual trust. In the longer terms, people come to recognise that they are not alone, which helps overcome their feelings of isolation and disconnectedness.
The ability to feel connected to others, to feel that you belong, is the glue that holds a community together. Membership of the project bestows this connectedness on clients.
Right from the start we reinforce the idea that this connection will endure by reassuring clients that if and when they no longer need our service, they will remain connected to the project and be able to call upon us at any time in the future should they need to do so.
Connect as a community
For those who have become isolated and cut off from family and friends as a consequence of mental ill-health, becoming a member of Connect can be a crucial step on the journey towards recovery. The project provides a welcoming and supportive environment in which members can begin to reconnect – through making new friends and participating in a wide range of meaningful activities – with the wider community.
At the heart of Connect is its relaxed café-style environment, complete with its own peaceful, sunlit courtyard. Here, members can sit in peace and quiet, or enjoy company and conversation with others. We offer an extensive range of activities and workshops prompted by the wishes and interests of our members.
Regularly scheduled activities include:
- social evenings
- live music sessions
- gardening at our own allotment
- walking group
- singing group
- football training and tournaments
- monthly day trips: either to places of cultural/historical importance, or more relaxed, fun outings to theme parks, wildlife parks or shopping expeditions
- cycling group
- free wifi
In addition we run a weekly timetable of workshops:
- art and crafts
- cookery (food hygiene & safety, healthy eating & cooking)
- music tuition (guitar, keyboards, drums)
- creative writing
- literacy and numeracy
- ICT and internet skills
- Weekly surgery offering advice on benefits, housing, and debt
We have our own football team that participates in Street Soccer Wales. The team trains every Monday and play league and cup fixtures once a month on Wednesdays. We also offer summer BBQs, a Christmas party, theatre and cinema trips, and a range of one-off social events.
You can visit the Connect blog at http://connectcaerlas.tumblr.com/
Who owns Connect?
We strive to promote an understanding among our members that their needs shape the delivery of the project’s services. In effect, Connect belongs to them. This sense of ownership not only bestows responsibility but gives people a sense of control, a belief that they have a vital role in shaping the project’s future direction.
- this sense of control encourages independence rather than reliance
- ownership leads to a greater emotional involvement – this is my project, my community – what can I do to help the community and those others within it to whom I am connected?
- the feeling of belonging to a community boosts confidence and participation
- members have an equal say in what goes on, helping determine the type and nature of workshops and activities.
How do we promote this sense of ownership?
As a client-led community resource, we are always keen to respond positively to the needs of our members. We do this primarily through client consultation via our action group which meets once a month to discuss what’s going on in the project and to make decisions about new activities and trips. The meeting is open to all members and is chaired by different members in turn. Proposals and decisions taken by the action group are handed over to our members’ forum, where they are developed in co-operation with staff and volunteers. Out of this consultation process has come a number of one-off taster sessions or events, including a sea fishing trip, a golf day, an afternoon cruise on the river Tawe through the historical industrial quarter of Swansea, and a variety of theatre and cinema trips.
We also organise and run an annual coach holiday for our service users for a week every Summer, and have visited Brighton, Skegness, Blackpool, and Folkestone over the last few years.
We also run an internal volunteering programme through which members are given opportunities to gain experience and develop new skills through participation in our Helpers Group. Helpers are recruited from within the project and help to run Connect. They attend action group meetings, manage the café accounts, the vending machine, run a food co-op, carry out some admin tasks, facilitate a number of workshops, drive the minibus, shop for and assist cookery workshops, and provide a hairdressing service. When an individual’s strengths and skills are used for the benefit of others and for Connect as a whole, it helps instill not only self respect, but a sense of usefulness and belonging.
Caer Las and Connect would like to thank The People’s Postcode Lottery for making it possible for the Connect project to deliver healthy eating courses to our members. This came about through the award of a grant in August 2014, that enabled us to fund the installation of a new kitchen and the purchase of a new double oven and cooker, a fridge freezer and dishwasher.
With the new kitchen in place and with staff having completed training in Level 2 Community food and Nutrition Skills, Connect was able to offer all members the opportunity to complete an Agored Cymru accredited level one course in Community Food and Nutrition. The first presentation of the course commenced on 9th February and was delivered over 7 weeks. It is designed to provide basic knowledge of the different food groups, the proportions from each that make up a healthy meal, and how to ensure that we are consuming the right amount of these nutrients. The course also helps participants to read and understand food packaging labels, and so to make better informed choices when purchasing ingredients. Through theory and practical session participants have learned how to develop recipes and create meal plans that satisfy the taste buds whilst providing healthy meals.
Throughout 2012, Connect provided practical, social and therapeutic support to 256 separate clients.
This support took the following forms:
- 564 individual support sessions
- 87 separate individuals attending the project weekly
- an average of 28 different types of workshop or social activity per week
- average weekly provision of 77 workshop hours
- 133 workshop attendances per week
- 94 clients referred to the project through the year, of which 86 went on to become Connect members
- 18 clients contributing time and skills to the project as internal volunteers
How to contact Connect
The Customs House, Cambrian Place
Swansea SA1 1RG