Being seen again at a Space to Talk

11th April 2022

Many people have felt the impact of the pandemic and found themselves in situations they have never experienced before. This can be frightening, increase anxiety and escalate practical difficulties.

Organisations providing mental health and wellbeing support have also become stretched as a result of the pandemic.

Space to Talk was developed in partnership with Carlisle City Council, NHS Primary Care Networks Carlisle Network, Carlisle Healthcare and Carlisle Vineyard Church to give people an opportunity to talk with experienced listeners about their difficult experiences or life challenges and help support their mental wellbeing and reduce isolation.

Carlisle Vineyard Church received £9,168 from the NHS Winter Resilience Fund and the Cumbria COVID-19 Response Fund to support the weekly two-hour NHS Winter Resilience Fundr sessions, which took place every Friday in the city centre and provided an opportunity for people to be signposted to additional support if needed. Each conversation lasted anywhere between 5 – 30 minutes depending on the person sharing their story.

‘Bag of Courage’ were given freely to people approaching the space, with simple items such as tea, biscuits, chocolate and a message of hope – ‘Have some Hope and Courage (and a wee treat too) You’re not forgotten’. It also included a simple flyer with agencies contact details for further support in a variety of areas from mental health support to financial advice.

Miriam Lowe, Operations Manager, said: “Each week, up to 125 people were supported and the volunteer listeners connected with over 5,000 people during the funding period. Hundreds of people reported a change in low mood, feeling of isolation, or feelings of reduced anxiety and increased hope.

A 70 year old lady who visited the Space to Talk during the pandemic, said: “What you’re doing literally saved me. I had given up and no longer wanted to go on with life after being in isolation and struggling for so long. I was closed off in my own little world that day, but as I went past this space, someone asked ‘would you like a free bag of courage? I stopped and for the first time in a very long time I felt seen. It broke into my dark thoughts and stopped me in my tracks. If you hadn’t listened to me that day, I don’t think I would be here. I went to see my GP following that conversation and now they are supporting me.”

An older gentleman in his 90’s said he was generally fit and well but during course of conversation revealed that no one had visited him at home apart from daughter and son in law since 2016 and he felt isolated due to the pandemic.

The concept of Space to Talk, or simply spaces where deliberate listening occurs, can help communities to thrive in their mental health and wellbeing.

Miriam continues: “We have since developed a Space to Talk training model with the aim of it being used by anyone or in any setting. This will allow for greater scope of use based on low/no cost (beyond this initial investment), accessibility and time required to participate. This offers the potential of increasing the scope of the support in other communities, particularly in the rural towns and villages and in smaller spaces such as local schools, the university sites.”