Supporting young people at Chalkhill

In 2015, we funded a pilot activities scheme for young people who are cared for at Chalkhill Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit in Haywards Heath.

Run by the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Chalkhill is the only in-patient hospital for children and young people with a range of mental health illnesses in Sussex. The centre supports over 8,750 children and adolescents each year, and provides day care, outreach and – where absolutely necessary and appropriate – inpatients services.

The Rockinghorse Activities Programme has gone on to prove a great success, and since 2015, we have supported the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s charity ‘Heads On’, by providing funding for the programme on an annual basis.

Access to leisure activities are vital for the recovery of young people with mental health needs, helping them enhance their psychological, emotional, social and physical well-being. The scheme has greatly complemented the clinical work at Chalkhill and runs alongside their education programme.

The feedback we’ve received demonstrates how The Rockinghorse Activities Programme has helped young people to increase their self-esteem and confidence, improved their overall health, as well as helping to develop skills that will become beneficial for further education.

The Rockinghorse team have been invited on several occasions to see first-hand how the programme is making a real difference. Last year, during our 50th anniversary appeal, we invited MP for Mid Sussex, Sir Nicholas Soames, to witness for himself how the scheme is helping to shape the future of young people on the unit.

1 in 10 children and young people in the UK aged 5-16 unfortunately suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, and without the services provided by the likes of Chalkhill, these young people would simply not receive the support they need. We believe it is vital to support this service and help to ensure that it will be there for those that need it for many years to come.

Being in a hospital setting is more often than not a worrying experience for anyone, but for a child or young person struggling in the midst of a mental health crisis, it can seem very scary and confusing. Through our activities programme, staff at Chalkhill are able to offer children and young people stimulating and fun activities that will help increase their confidence and social development, in addition to supporting their mental health recovery.

Having the opportunity to take part in new things, means that young patients can develop and nurture an interest in something that they can turn to support themselves in times of difficulty. The regular weekly activities our funding has enabled, includes:

·         Eat well group – a group that is for young people experiencing eating disorders. This is a sensitive and supportive group that gently teaches children and young people about nutrition and how to prepare nourishing, healthy foods and meals.

·         Independent and community living skills group – a key part of the recovery process is developing independence and confidence in making decisions. The group includes skills such as cooking, CV writing and travelling on public transport.

·         Gym group – exercise has so many benefits, particularly for mental health. It also helps the young people to get used to leaving the unit.

·         Dramatherapy – these drama and movement therapy sessions allow the children and young people to be creative and express themselves, in both a fun and relaxing environment.

·         Yoga – relaxing and calming session that give young people tools and techniques to manage their emotions.

·         Creative film making – having the opportunity to create and explore issues through film and learning new skills.

·         Creative arts group – art is a wonderful way of communicating and working through feelings in a non-verbal way.

·         Horticulture group – an innovative group that uses plants and growing techniques as a starting point to work through emotions.

·         Weekend activities – these are hugely popular with the young people as it gives them a chance to take part in so called ‘normal’ activities that their peers would be engaged in, such as trips to the shops, the cinema, and going bowling.

In addition to the activities above, the activities programme provided throughout the holidays (when there is a break in the educational programme), is an essential part of the treatment provision. It is developed in consultation with the patients themselves and has been made as varied and colourful as possible.

Some of the activities that take part during this time, includes: graffiti art workshops, interactive music making sessions, a comic cartoonist club, circus skills workshop, chicken wire sculpture art groups, an ‘animazing’ zoo experience and pamper workshops.

The incredible team at Chalkhill keep us regularly updated with feedback, and it is truly humbling to hear how The Rockinghorse Activities Programme is making a difference. Although we’ve had to keep them anonymous, we wanted to share with you some of the young people’s own experiences of how the scheme is helping them…

“Rockinghorse help everybody, and without the donations they receive from their supporters, we would have no activities, games or groups to attend. These things are vital to a young person, and everybody I’ve come into contact with while at Chalkhill, has been impacted in a really positive way by the amazing activities we can do.”

“I have had the privilege to have done some amazing things at Chalkhill – like going to Plumpton College on Wednesday’s, visiting the Sea Life Centre in Brighton, looking after baby chicks, creating a photography scrapbook, going to Fun Pots pottery painting, taking part in a Lush workshop – the list is endless. It’s not just the big activities that make a difference, it’s also the day-to-day running of the ward, such as the games and art supplies that provide a distraction. Even at Christmas, we all got presents from Rockinghorse. It made all of us smile and helped make a difficult situation that little bit better. All of these things would never be able to be funded by the NHS and we have been so lucky to have had this extra funding available.”

“I cannot explain how thankful I am for everything Rockinghorse has given. It has made such a big difference to me and I will never forget what they’ve done and the impact it’s had. Rockinghorse keep Chalkhill going. I hope other children and young people will be able to be as lucky as me and to experience what I have.”

“The Dramatherapy sessions are like creative therapy. There aren’t many boundaries to what type of creative thing can be done in sessions – it is an expressive, fun and safe space for me. I can share what I feel comfortable sharing and I wasn’t under any pressure. I like that there are fun and relaxing activities as it makes me feel more comfortable rather than being in a serious therapy session.”

“Having been at Chalkhill for a long time, I have experienced what a big impact the Rockinghorse Activities Programme has made to me and other young people. Thanks to the funding provided for activities, I have become more confident, able to express myself, take steps in my recovery, and had experiences that I never would have otherwise experienced. Whether it’s going swimming, to the shops, cooking or taking part in workshops, it has made such a big difference to my recovery.”

“Before I went into hospital, I had been struggling with low mood, social anxiety and some other issues for around five to six years. I had to go into Chalkhill to keep me safe and so that I could start achieving the things I was meant to do. Before that I wasn’t doing anything really, just staying at home with no routine and only ever spending time with family. Whilst I’ve been at Chalkhill, I’ve gone on quite a few trips, and taken part in different activities at weekends, like baking and art. These things have made a huge difference to me.”

Lisa, an Occupational Therapist at Chalkhill, shares her really positive feedback of the programme: “Coping with a mental illness or severe distress is so hard. The activities that happen on the ward and out of the unit, as a young person starts their road to recovery, are only possible due to the funding we receive from Rockinghorse.

“I have seen young people who hated sport at school and suffered from the physical and emotional effects of inactivity, play sports with both staff and their peers, and in turn learning that they can do it. In this safe place, no one laughs at them if they make a mistake. I see them encouraging each other and learning the positivity of peer relationships, as they realise that there are different opportunities and paths in life.

“Some mornings I come in and there is a jigsaw started with young people joining in together, and because they have a focus, we can engage without pressure to find out how they are doing. In the evenings when parents are visiting, it really helps for them to join in and play the games available, such as pool.

“When we start working towards discharge, the young people will develop aims to cope in the outside world, with professional support in place to help them develop coping strategies that work because they are developed in a real-life environment. None of this would be possible without the funding of the activities programme – it underpins everything we do here at Chalkhill.”

The Rockinghorse Activities Programme at Chalkhill is absolutely integral to the care provided to young people by kindling their interests and passions and giving them the opportunity to envision hopeful futures. Thank you so much to each and every one of our supporters for enabling us to continue this vital service.

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