Tips on using the online marketplace eBay are just some of the IT lessons on offer at mental health project Lifescopes

Tips for developing recovery services

  • Concentrate on inspiring, and developing clients’ own interests and ideas. Provide internet access as the gateway to research those interests and provide e-learning. Teach the required PC and internet skills as the secondary goal
  • Adhere to proven recovery guidelines. Aim to build confidence and self esteem, help develop a sense of purpose and optimism for the future
  • Provide a pleasant, productive group working environment that will support growth and development
  • Develop local partnerships to ensure signposting and referral paths to further learning, volunteering and work opportunity
  • Develop a volunteer project so that volunteers can use their skills to teach their peers, carers and members of the general public;
  • Aim for service users to make up 50 per cent of staff and volunteers.

Lifescopes Community Learning is an East Dorset based project run with the support of Dorset Healthcare Foundation Trust. It is dedicated to offering online learning and support to those most socially excluded in society as a result of mental health issues.

People with mental health problems often suffer with low self esteem and lack of contact with other people - long term unemployment exacerbates this.

Lifescopes builds confidence and enables service users to regain control of their lives by offering support and practical work based skills in a way that will begin the road to recovery.

The project helps service users to awaken old interests or stimulate new ones using the internet and the acquisition of IT and computer skills. This then assists with further learning in the community and future employment.

Using a range of internet resources means we can inspire clients to develop their own interests and ideas to the point of establishing a sense of individual purpose

Dave Baron, himself a service user with the foundation trust, created Lifescopes Community Learning in 2006.

Mr Baron, who has a computer engineering background, submitted a proposal to make use of the trust’s old computers. He then created a base for Lifescope Community Learning in a disused room in one of the trust’s buildings. The centre has operated five days a week from 10am-4pm since January 2007.

A second centre was opened in Christchurch in May 2008 and there are plans to open further centres in Wimborne, Wareham and Poole.

Four hundred and fifty people aged 18-66 have benefited from the Lifescopes service since January 2007.

Mr Baron says: “With Lifescopes, sessions are flexible so people can dip in and out, which is very useful in early-stage recovery when mood and motivation may vary from week to week. This can be the difference between a sense of failure and wholehearted participation and development.”

“Using a range of internet resources means we can inspire clients to develop their own interests and ideas to the point of establishing a sense of individual purpose,” he adds. “This is the key to beginning the motivation, risk and reward process of taking back control and developing new roles in life.”

Lifescopes employs one administrator and otherwise relies on volunteer support and assistance from the trust, which provides a part time recovery worker to assist the project three days a week.

There is also a Learn Direct tutor who helps with English, maths and computing to certificate (NVQ level 2) standard.

The aim is that 50 per cent of volunteers and staff will be trained service users. Many volunteers are sourced either from a pool of students from Bournemouth University or through the Poole and Bournemouth Volunteer Service or through the trust’s own volunteer co-ordinator.

The trust provides some capital funding as well as assisting in the training of volunteers, but the bulk of funding is generated by Lifescopes staff’s own fund-raising activities.

The Lifescopes team works hard to emphasise the benefits of volunteering to maintain staff levels. Volunteers do not need to be experts in computing - but do need good people skills, empathy and understanding.

BIRTH OF A SALESMAN

One 36-year-old man had been unable to work for an extended period of time due to mental ill health. He had six GCSEs before attending the centre and while at Lifescopes completed First and Next Steps checkpoints and started a Learn Direct course. He also had some informal eBay tuition as well as BBC French. He developed his knowledge and has been able to embark on pursuing employment opportunities. He has also started a small business venture - using his eBay skills - which has proved financially and personally rewarding.