By Geoff Brennan
Whenever we give out a Full Monty, we meet staff and patients who humble and inspire us. So, this July, when I went to the beautiful cathedral city of Durham, I was expecting to be impressed. I have to tell you, I was more than impressed – I was blown away by the staff and patients at the Cambian Appletree Unit.
A 26-bed female unit it is bright, swanky and bursting with fantastic staff and female patients. One of the first things you see when you walk onto the unit is a beautiful pencil sketch framed on the wall. The artist is Mandy and the sketch won an award at the Koestler Trust Baltic Exhibition in 2016. When it was put up for sale, Cambian Appletree bought it. I met Mandy and complimented her on her work. She was quiet and humble but a lady with a great talent.
Mandy and the other women have had difficult journeys to the unit, but are quietly proud of the amazing environment. There is a lot to be proud of. Vibrant colours, carefully selected décor and furniture make the unit a joy to walk around. Yet Cambian Appletree is much more than nice paint and wallpaper.
Amanda Fletcher, the staff member who showed me around took me to activity rooms; lounge and quiet areas; a sensory modulation room; a gym, a purpose built kitchen and, pride of place, a “pamper area” that was a well-equipped salon- oh, and there was an internet café space as well.
Occupational Therapist Sheena Elliot had already told us that patients receive a “WOW” pack which includes items such as dressing gowns, alarm clocks, and toiletries.; As part of the WOW pack they also receive £300 cash, in instalments, to spend on items that will help make them feel good such as clothing or sensory items. The ladies I spoke to confirmed this and that the staff on the unit were truly superb.
The unit has a range of vibrant activities, some of which have been chosen by the woman on the unit. We hear of singing lessons run by a resident, gardening activities in the large greenhouses and central courtyard, exercise groups, group cooks and all these reviewed and adapted every three months. There were also the traditional mental health activities – community meetings, one to ones and therapy sessions. Some of the women kept diaries, some attended activities outside the unit. It really is a sparky and busy place!
Now, you know that no Star Wards story would be complete without a bit about animals, well Appletree has them in abundance. I saw two very shy guinea pigs called Florence and Oddball and also played “Spot the Rabbit” in a green house where Fudge, a biscuit coloured bunny was peacefully spending the afternoon oblivious to my presence. I was also told about Lexy, a staff members glorious mutt who visited the ward. Yet that’s not all! There are also organised dog walking sessions at the local Dog & Cat shelter supported by volunteer dog-walker and this Easter they looked after some chicks for a while. Now that’s thinking outside the box.
The staff also told us about the special efforts they had made to include carers in the working of the unit, particularly as some of the women came from some distance away. But I’ll let them tell this bit in their own words:
“Through Star Wards we also recognised that improvements could be made in relation to involvement with families and carers. Our Mental Health Act Administrator created a letter that is now sent out to Nearest Relatives, and any other family member as requested by the patients, which gives details of the hospital and the staff team. The aim of the letter is to allow family/carers to feel a sense of reassurance to know where/ what type of facility their family members are residing in, and to introduce the core staff team. We held a family and carers Afternoon Tea event last year, which was a first for Appletree. We have since been inspired by stories from other Cambian hospitals where different types of event days have been held for families and carers, such as holding BBQ’s and inviting families onto the unit to share in activities for special days and charity events. This year we are aiming to invite families and carers to a summer BBQ event held in our therapy garden.”
Isn’t that just great!
So I had lunch with the ladies (and yes, the food was gorgeous) and afterwards I was shown something that made we think that this was a really special unit. As part of their activities in the local community, he residents collect food for a local food bank. The present box of groceries was in one of the offices and there was a rota for the residents and staff group who were down to help at the local the food bank. So here, in this place full of difficult stories but wonderful people, these women who were working towards their own recovery, were also making a valid and essential contribution to local people in need.
Did we give them a Full Monty? Of course we did. It really was the least we could do for this amazing, inspiring and humbling community of people who really have created a place of healing and, in the true sense of the word, asylum.
Durham? Delightful place!