Mental health charity reopens Downpatrick base

Mental health charity reopens Downpatrick base

18 November 2020

A DOWNPATRICK-BASED charity which helps those affected by mental ill health or addiction problems is back at its base in the heart of the town providing a host of key services to those in need.

Life Change Changes Lives — which was forced to close its Market Street base at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March before reopening in September — has had to implement a series of changes to comply with public health guidance to ensure the safety of the volunteers and those who attend.

But while the charity’s base was closed for almost six months, volunteers continued to provide services, harnessing the power of modern technology to keep in touch, getting out in the fresh air for walks with service users and providing them with creativity and baking kits, gardening planters and vegetables.

The aim of the charity is to encourage those who avail of its services to have a positive and optimistic attitude towards life, increase social interaction, help regulate emotions, reduce the harm caused by alcohol or drug misuse and reaffirm self esteem.

Despite the particularly difficult challenges posed by lockdown, the charity continued to function by working remotely to ensure that the needs of those who rely heavily on its services continued to be met.

Ailish Teague, who helped launch the charity with her husband Manus in 2013, said that during lockdown almost 170 activity packs were delivered to participants, along with 50 ‘bake it to you  make it kits’. Children who have a parent who relies on the charity were also encouraged to get involved in the kitchen.

“We received some funding which enabled us to do this, with the creativity kits purchased to reflect the person’s capabilities and strengths which challenged them to get creative,” said Ailish, confirming that kits were also given to children in the home as well.

The Downpatrick charity also handed out almost 190 phone top ups so that people could keep in contact with others and donated 32 kilos of food to a local foodbank.

“We delivered 50 planters with vegetables in them to our participants to encourage them to cook fresh food and to eat healthily. When the lockdown restrictions were lifted and we could not open our base in Downpatrick, we started up a weekly walk and talk group,” Ailish revealed.

“We all met after travelling separately and moved the locations about so we could be close to people who did not have access to transport. We walked various beauty spots and explored and everybody brought their own picnic and socially distanced.

“It was great to have that face-to-face contact again, albeit at a distance. We always promoted throughout lockdown that it was not social distancing, but physical distancing while still staying socially connected. For those who do suffer from mental health issues, it is important to remain socially connected.”

Highlighting the importance of never losing social connection, Ailish said some of those who use the charity’s services misunderstood the guidelines and thought that they could not talk to anyone else. She also revealed that the walk and talk initiative has been so popular that it continues.

While Life Change Changes Lives is delighted to be back in its home base, it had to carry out significant modifications which were financed via the government’s Covid charity support grant.

A new ventilation system was installed while the interior of the building was completely repainted and deep cleaned. Additional money made available via the New Needs Fund was used to purchase Perspex screens, new tables and chairs.

“People entering the building have their temperature checked while we have numerous sanitisation stations throughout the premises and installed additional hand washing facilities,” explained Ailish.

“We have installed new screens at the entrance and there are infection control barriers throughout. We have also had to reduce our capacity, down from between 25 to 30 participants a day to 16.”

While the charity reopened on September 21, it closed for two weeks at Halloween in line with schools and it was during this period that the walk and talk initiative was stepped up.

“We also enjoyed online group chats and connection via Whatsapps and Messenger and it was great that people were able to interact with one another and provide support,” the charity founder continued.

And it was during one of the walks that one of the members who is keen on photography issued a challenge to others to take a picture and he would provide the theme, with finance for the project secured via the district’s Policing and Community Safety Partnership.

This helped launch the ‘Journey through Covid” scheme over a 12-week period when participants took a number of photos on a range of topics, including emotions they experienced during lockdown, such a as isolation, support, friendship and family.

The photos were subsequently judged with winners and runners-up selected with the winning prints to feature in a 2021 calendar which is at the printers.

Ailish revealed that the charity received a £200 donation from the AIB in Newcastle which was used to buy a digital camera which will be handed to the winner of the best photo taken, with the person receiving their prize within the next few weeks.

Copies of the calendar will be distributed by the charity and also available at their Market Street base or by making contact with Life Change Changes Lives via its social media page.

“The winners of the photo competition and their families are very keen to see the images in the calendar and they are very proud of them as we are. The pictures had to be accompanied by some form of words to explain why the photo met the category it was selected for and are quite poignant as well,” said Ailish.

Pleased to be back in their Downpatrick base and enjoying some sense of normality, the charity has revealed that it spent almost £20,000 upgrading its premises, with those who provide services undertaking some retraining, including first aid.

Ailish added: “We are pleased to be back and while working with reduced numbers, the charity’s important work continues. The changes we have made have helped pave the way for us to return which was made possible by the support of many funders.

“We also have our RBACP counsellor on site providing one-to-one counselling for anyone in crises, just contact us to make an appointment. 

The contact details are 028 4461 6166, or”