“The partnership has provided opportunities for participants to become equals”

Aberdeen Foyer works in Aberdeen City and wider Aberdeenshire on a number of projects, one being the Impact project that aids self management of long term mental health conditions. The birth of the project led to a striking partnership with Aberdeen City Council, integrating two services to the betterment of both.

With many participants in Aberdeen Foyer’s self management programme living in pockets of deprivation, access to green space was minimal. With group members saying they craved access to it, it was timely that the opportunity to utilise unused allotment space on offer from Aberdeen City Council came up. This was snapped up by Foyer Health Team Leader Brenda McGinlay.

“The partnership with the Council is fabulous. They allocated one greenhouse to us and we went from strength to strength. The Council provided everything we needed, they saw the potential for this for folk within Aberdeen City” says Brenda.

The positive impact on the mental health of participants has been marked. Brenda gives the example of one individual who had been accessing treatment for ten years with little progress. The project allowed the person, with severe anxiety issues and alcohol dependency, to find meaning, purpose and a sense of responsibility, ultimately impacting on their overall wellbeing and level of functioning.

From having minimal social interaction and lack of access to any activity, the participant now volunteers full time with Aberdeen City Council taking care of their memorial benches, a transformation from a previous way of life.

Brenda states that the partnership has provided opportunities for participants to become equals, rather than seeing themselves in the position of those accessing services. The Council asked the group to help with their Scotland in Bloom and Beautiful Scotland campaigns, shifting the balance as participants felt they were bringing their talents and skills to the Council: “It was amazing for their self-esteem and self-confidence. It really made them feel they were on a more equal footing” says Brenda.

The partnership has also seen awareness raising around mental health issues become part of the group’s focus, with an honesty shop being set up on a nearby pathway where participants engage with members of the public educating them on the Foyer’s Impact project and topics around mental illness and wellbeing.

The partnership has grown, with Aberdeen Foyer now interacting with a number of community organisations utilising surrounding allotment space. The Council has now employed a member of staff to work with those organisations. Brenda states: “It’s been so integrated. The Council staff who were working at the allotments planting things didn’t know anything about our project, so it was this complete culture shock. Gradually, over the years, we’ve worked together to create this fantastic partnership. It’s the jewel in our crown.”

On integrated working, Brenda is clear, “Absolutely go for it, we’re all better working in partnerships than on our own. We need to get away from silo thinking. The obvious partnerships are the ones within the HSCP but also think outside of that. Think broad, look around, have your wish list.”