The outreach team at Minsteracres continues to go from strength to strength.
Two years ago, 100 wellbeing stays were provided here. Last year, with the help of the outreach volunteers, that figure doubled to 200, and the team regularly works with around a dozen organisations.
Meeting together at the beginning of 2016, the team reflected on what their work meant for them and their clients.
Liz Holmes, the driving force behind the outreach programme, says “You see reports from other places of crying children, injured people, queues for food and necessities, then you meet people at Minsteracres and hear their stories and it has huge impact.
“For me, being able to do something to alleviate that experience, to provide understanding, acceptance and respite is a huge privilege.
“For parents, having their children cared for by people they can trust means they can take part in adult activities. That’s especially important for single mothers who have no other support – it means they can have a real break.
“It also gives the group leaders time to really get to know their clients as day to day life is often too busy with cooking, cleaning, forms and practical things to take time to chat.”
For the clients, Minsteracres offers something more intangible. Volunteer Tess Gooch says, “It’s a chance to be themselves, not to be constantly looking over their shoulder. It’s great to hear them laughing!”
Fellow volunteer Moira Waugh agrees, “You can see their demeanour lift. Some of them say that here they can sleep for the first time.”
“You can see new bonds being formed among the group. For some it’s a very rare opportunity to speak in their own language. And feeling safe means they feel able to share their stories,” adds Liz.
Maureen Gwilliam thinks Minsteracres adds to the experience, “There’s a sense of peace here. Minsteracres is a real enabler. They feel more able to trust and they know what they say and do here stays here.”
“They’ve met so much hostility,” says Tess. “Here, they are met with respect. It’s like seeing a flower open. By the time they’ve had their first meal you can see them starting to relax. And they love the Peace Garden!”
“We have also been able to expand what we offer while they’re here thanks to new partnerships we’ve built with Let’s Get Growing who deliver therapeutic activities in the Peace Garden, and the YMCA who offer a great outdoor programme for teens and younger people,” says Liz
All of the volunteers have experience of working with children, which is just as well. As Moira observes, “the children can be chaotic, but gradually they come and seek you out.”
Visits can be exhausting for the volunteers. “Residential groups can be really hard work,” says Liz. “We do everything for them from the minute they get up to when they go to bed and there is always something you haven’t anticipated.”
They all know that debriefing is essential, both emotionally and practically to look at what went well and what needs to be changed.
As for the future, Liz hopes to establish a rolling programme with some of the groups who have visited so they can come maybe once a quarter and the team can have time to plan managed breaks rather than one-off visits.
“I’m really excited about the future,” says Tess. “We’ve got a lot of experience now and with Irene Rodding and Carolyn McAllister joining the team able to offer art therapy and massage we have even more to offer.”