West Berkshire Council

West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Blog

News and updates from West Berkshire Council's Public Health and Wellbeing Team

Keeping you updated on health and wellbeing issues in West Berkshire, plus health improvement services and campaigns across the council and district. 

Our Public Health and Wellbeing Team is committed to reducing local health inequalities and supporting vulnerable groups. You can contact us or visit our Public Health and Wellbeing pages for more information.



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RunTogether West Berkshire

Written on: 24-5-2018

RunTogether West Berkshire Logo

Joining a RunTogether group is an opportunity to improve your health and get fit at the same time, our West Berkshire RunTogether Groups are a great way to meet new people and run alongside others in a mutually supportive, fun and friendly atmosphere which makes use of green spaces in West Berkshire, catering primarily for beginners.

You may be reading this thinking, "so what, I can't run!", and move on. Don't worry you are not alone, this is a common response but is not true at all.  We have had dozens of runners come through our groups who have moved on from a gentle walk/run to go on and run regularly at our various groups and in local events, with new friends they have met along the way. We all have the capacity to improve our health and wellbeing by gently raising our heart rate through running, being outdoors and meeting people, and we can help you get there.

We offer specific session for those dealing with their mental health.  We have had participants come forward to say that RunTogether has changed their lives for the better, from those who have lost weight to those who feel less isolated having met new friends and simply realising: they can run! What is overlooked sometimes is that coaches and leaders also experience health and wellbeing benefits from participation, keeping fit, being outdoors in the open spaces and positive feedback from runners.

Our runners give witness to the fact that they love running in the countryside as it makes them feel better.  They love the off-road sessions when we take them out into the right of way network and onto the Common. There's no doubt that they prefer these routes to pounding the urban streets, our urban fringe green spaces present a great opportunity for the runners to get a break from the norm and to feel the benefits of being in the country.

Running sessions on grass on our green open spaces is far preferable to being on the road, injury risk is reduced, core strength and balance is improved, you get an overall workout on grass much more so than on the road and it's safer.  Being on grass offers much more flexibility on training, we can keep everyone together and coach more effectively if we get our runners running round a park.

There are surprisingly few challenges we face, however, the main one, unfortunately, is that a lot of open space, is not available to the public. The right of way network does not give linear continuous access in most cases and we have to come back to roads.

You can find out more about our supportive and welcoming groups by visiting the RunTogether West Berkshire website.

Join our Facebook group for specific news and details.

RunTogether photo - 1
RunTogether photo - 1

Stress - are we coping?

Written on: 14-5-2018

That's the question and also the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) 14 to 20 May 2018.

Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this. By tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide

The Heath and Wellbeing Board (HWB) is working to raise awareness of the growing issue of stress and has made its two priorities for the next year about mental health.

We'll be focussing on the impact of stress throughout MHAW and getting the message out to our communities through a special programme of events.

No one is totally immune from stress so please come along and learn some coping mechanisms that you can use every day or host your own event!

Events for Mental Health Awareness Week

Mon 14 May
  • Eight Bells for Mental Health Art Group (1:30 to 3pm) - The Friends Meeting House
  • Run and Talk (5:30 to 6:30pm) - meeting at Goldwell Park, Northcroft Lane, Newbury
Tues 15 May 
  • Open for Hope Activity (1 to 4pm) - Thatcham Memorial Hall
  • Recovery in Mind Wasing Wellbeing Evening (6:30pm) - Wasing Park

Weds 16 May

  • Stress Less- practical advice and information (10:30am to 1pm) - Newbury Library (please call 01635 519900 to book onto this event)
Thurs 17 May
  • Mental Health Awareness Week Market Stall (all day) - Northbrook Street, Newbury
Fri 18 May
  • Board Games and Chat (6:30 to 9pm) - Old Bluecoat School, Thatcham
Sat 19 May
  • Open for Hope/Healthwatch West Berkshire Market Stall (all day) - Thatcham Broadway
  • Eight Bells Art Gallery (2 to 4pm) - Friends Meeting House, Newbury

Positivitree at St. Bartholomew's School
Positivitree at St. Bartholomew's School
We'll be visiting John O'Gaunt School in Hungerford during MHAW to check on the Positivitree pupils planted last year.  Three West Berkshire schools now have Positivitrees and more are looking to start planting. Students who are Mental Health Leaders at St Bartholomew's Secondary School in Newbury championed the idea in 2017 by planting a 'Positivitree' in the school garden. The planting of the tree aligned with the  Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 theme of Surviving or Thriving. Positive messages written by St Bart's students have been planted with the tree, with the view that they will feed the 'Positivitree'. 

We all have mental health. However, good mental health is an asset that helps us to thrive. This is not just the absence of a mental health problem, but having the ability to think, feel and act in a way that allows us to enjoy life and deal with the challenges it presents. Yet it can be easy to assume that ongoing stress is the price we have to pay to keep our lives on track.

Nikki Davies, Schools Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator at West Berkshire Council said, "Physically, as a society we're becoming healthier. But the health of our minds is not following suit. The Mental Health Foundation suggests that our collective mental health is deteriorating and that most of us report experiencing a mental health problem in our lifetime. Reports to this effect from young people are on the rise. While greater recognition of mental health issues can only be a good thing, this clearly suggests a real and emerging problem."

To ensure their mental health priorities are met the HWB have set up a Mental Health Action Group, comprised of voluntary service user groups, statutory services and Healthwatch West Berkshire, that is chaired by Matthew Braovac who is independent and volunteering his time.

The group are looking at a range of issues and potential solutions including;

Community navigation and peer support

We're fortunate in West Berkshire to have a thriving voluntary and community sector with a range of groups around that can help local people improve and maintain their mental wellbeing. The HWB want to make sure that people are able to find what they're looking for and that those who need it have a helping hand to support them.

Digital community resource directory

HWB want information on how to manage mental health and where to find help to be easily accessible and understandable so have been working with West Berkshire's Adult Social Care service to update and make their Information Point better.

Preventable deaths of people with serious mental illness

It's a sad fact that people with a serious mental illness are likely to die younger than people who don't because of the ways that this impacts their physical health. HWB believe that shouldn't be the case and are going to continue to work intensively with people who have mental health and physical health problems so they can live healthier lives.

Improve the experience of patients in crisis

Crisis means different things to different people and HWB want to make sure that when someone has a mental health crisis their families, support networks, GP and mental health professionals can all support them the best they can.

The Board's other priority will be to 'improve opportunities for vulnerable people to access employment, education and volunteering' and this will be led by Fadia Clarke, Deputy Principal at Newbury College.

The Health and Wellbeing Board will receive updates throughout the year on how the action group is doing. Details of Board meetings are available on the Health and Wellbeing Board webpage.

Mental Health Awareness Week is a great time to pause to recognise the signs of stress and its impact on you and others around you.

Find out more about the work being done during Mental Health Awareness Week and how you can become involved on the Mental Health Awareness Week website.

Health and Wellbeing Board
Health and Wellbeing Board
This blog is brought to you on behalf of the West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Board. The Board is responsible for improving the health and wellbeing of our population across the district by developing improved and joined up health and social care services. Tell us what you think by emailing NDCCG.

Embrace Autism because...

Written on: 27-4-2018

Berkshire Autism Alert Card

Autism is a part of the lives of many families. Whether that is having a child with autism, a partner, family member, friend or colleague. You may have autism yourself. People with autism have many positive qualities and given the right opportunities, the environment and support they offer a lot to society. Some of our most inspirational people have, or are thought to have had autism, and many of these have had an impact on the world we live in. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Sir Issac Newton, and more recently Chris Peckham and Temple Grandin are all such people.

West Berkshire Council's Autism Partnership Board has recently completed a survey of adults with autism living in West Berkshire. The results of the survey will enhance the council's ability to understand and respond to the needs of adults with autism. Some of the findings from the survey indicate that adults with autism feel that building awareness of autism should be a high priority for West Berkshire.

One way the council plans to raise awareness of autism is to re-launch the 'Autism Alert Card'. This card has been developed by the charity Autism Berkshire for people with autism to carry, to enable them to quickly and simply communicate that they have autism. For more details look on the Autism Berkshire website

This card can be carried at all times and can be displayed if the people on the spectrum find themselves in a situation where they cannot easily give an explanation about their condition.

Another key aspect of adult life the survey highlighted as an area to improve is employment. The responses to the survey indicated that adults with autism often experience difficulties in the interview process. Further to this, maintaining a job can be challenging for adults with autism. However, given time and understanding from the employer and the employee the working relationship can develop successfully - with the employer seeing the talent and skills the employee with autism can offer. One suggestion to support the development of a successful relationship was to offer trial periods, giving the opportunity for employer and employee to get to know each other.

What is autism?

Many of us are aware of autism and may know someone with autism. However, do we understand it? Do we know how to celebrate the talent a person with autism has? Do we know how to help, if help is needed? Autism is a lifelong, developmental condition that affects the way the brain processes information. Autism impacts on the way a person relates to people and how they perceive the world around them. Autism is a disability.

"Without understanding, autistic people and families are at risk of being isolated and developing mental health problems." Source: National Autistic Society

What does autism look like and how can we help?

Autism is a hidden disability, it is not always easy to notice if someone has autism. It can be too easy to make judgements that are unfair because of a lack of understanding. If we are aware of the characteristics of autism we can understand and help. People with autism have difficulties in three main areas, these are known as the 'triad of impairments'. These are social interaction, social communication and social imagination.

Social interaction

A person with autism may find everyday social activities difficult. Knowing how to make friends, relating to others, and understanding the social 'rules' in life can be challenging. All this can cause isolation, stress and anxiety for the person with autism who may want to be social, but does not know how to join in or start a conversation. Crowds and large gathering are often difficult for a person with autism who may want to watch the football match, but cannot because of their anxiety and the amount of processing the brain needs to do in such a busy and noisy environment.

To help with social interaction we can be supportive by being aware that a person with autism may find being in company difficult. Don't be offended if an invitation is declined, or if when in company a person with autism does not give direct eye contact. A person with autism may not choose to contribute much when in company, but that does not mean they are not enjoying being part of the group.

Social communication

A person with autism may find everyday social communication difficult. Social chit chat may not come easily, so they may stand and listen, rather than join in. A person with autism can sometimes make comments that are quite direct or sound rude or insensitive. At times a person with autism may take what you say literally, so by saying 'give me a minute' - you might find the person with autism expects you to mean exactly that, not a second less, not a second more. Sometimes it can be difficult for a person with autism to understand other people's emotions and indeed can struggle to understand their own emotions. Reading body language is hugely problematic. At times they find it hard to know how and when to react, although people with autism do have empathy.

To help with social communication we can be supportive in many ways, for example by showing objects, photos or writing down what you are talking about. This can make it easier to process and understand what is being discussed. Gain the attention of the person first of all, it may be helpful to keep your language easy to understand, to the point and not overloaded with too many words. Sometimes asking a direct question can help them understand what you are asking about. Give them time to process what you have said, it can take longer for the person with autism to offer a reply. Some people with autism have special interests, these can be good subjects to talk about. They may like to speak about these interests in great detail and may be unaware how long they have been talking for - don't be worried about interjecting to move the conversation forward.

Social imagination

A person with autism may find everyday social imagination difficult. Some people with autism may have wonderful imaginations and create great pieces or art, music or written work, especially if this is part of their special interest. However, many can find it difficult at times to imagine or predict what might happen, visualise a certain place, situation or how something may look or feel like. This can be frightening and cause anxiety leading to them preferring to avoid many situations, especially new ones. Adults with autism often prefer routine and structure, although life isn't always that predictable so change can cause them to become more anxious.

To help with social imagination we can be supportive by helping the person with autism know what, where and when something is happening. Doing this ahead of time, thinking and planning ahead can alleviate any possible distress, so writing things down and talking things though beforehand is a really good idea. Using email to share the details of what is happening is one way to do this. Use the email to share what, where and when, and also things to take, what to expect. This can all help reduce anxiety. Do remember to introduce some flexibility into the message - so say you will meet between 5pm and 5.15pm - rather than at 5pm. If you say 'meet at 5pm' then the person with autism will probably expect you on the dot!

Embrace autism because.....

Autism is positive, often autistic people have a wonderful eye for detail, are very honest and totally reliable. They can be very good at sticking to the rules, staying focused and finishing projects to a high standard. They have a great deal to offer society, however sometimes society makes it difficult for them to engage and contribute. Autism is everywhere, some people with autism are more complex than others, every person with autism is different, and will need different levels and type of support.

This article gives a glimpse into the world of Autism and attempts to show how and why we in West Berkshire can and should embrace people with autism. The right support at the right time can make an enormous difference to peoples' lives and ultimately the community in which we all live.

Embrace autism in adults and young people because we need to recognise the strengths of autistic people whilst also making our community more inclusive.

Visit Autism Berkshire website and The National Autistic Society website for more information.

 Health and Wellbeing Board
Health and Wellbeing Board
Posted on behalf of the West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Board


West Berkshire's Health and Wellbeing Board and Patient and Public Engagement Group

Written on: 26-2-2018

Health and Wellbeing Board

Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs) are hosted by local authorities to tackle local inequalities in health and wellbeing to ensure those most in need are supported and that people and communities become as independent and resilient as possible.

Health inequalities refer to differences in health status or in the distribution of health determinants between different groups.  For example, differences in mobility between elderly people and younger people or differences in mortality rates between people from different backgrounds.

West Berkshire's HWB includes representatives from Newbury and District Clinical Commissioning Group, North and West Reading Clinical Commissioning Group, Healthwatch West Berkshire (the patient's voice), the police, the Third Sector, elected members and representatives from West Berkshire Council such as Adult Social Care, Children and Family Services, andPublic Health and Wellbeing.

The HWB oversees the preparation of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) and the pdf icon Health and Wellbeing Strategy [2Mb].

Health and Wellbeing Board meetings are open to the public.  The meetings usually take place at the Market Street Council Offices, on a Thursday from 9:30am to 11am. You can ask a question at a meeting, if something interests you.

A community engagement strategy was agreed by the HWB in November 2015, with implementation delegated to a sub-group called the Patient and Public Engagement Group (PPE). The PPE's challenge is to work with the other sub-groups of the HWB (such as the Ageing Well - Falls Prevention Task Group and the Substance Misuse Harm Reduction Partnership) to ensure to ensure that engagement with and involvement of the public and service users becomes embedded in all aspects of the work of the sub-groups.

The PPE has been coordinating articles for the Newbury Weekly News touching on aspects of work that is going on in West Berkshire that has been directed by the HWB. The articles are starting to appear on this blog.



It's okay to ask people how they feel

Guest Blog: Garry Poulson, leader of the West Berkshire Suicide Prevention Action Group talks about preventing suicide in West Berkshire

Written on: 15-2-2018

In May 2017, local charity the West Berkshire Volunteer Centre established the Suicide Prevention Action Group in partnership with the West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Board.  The key aim was to act upon the recommendations made by Darrell Gale, a consultant and director of Public Health and the author of the Berkshire-wide Suicide Prevention Strategy.  This new group, under the leadership of Garry Poulson, has brought together around 20 organisations including: I'm not as OK as I pretend to be
I'm not as OK as I pretend to be
  • The Coroners Courts
  • A retired GP
  • NWN editor, Andy Murrill
  • WBC Highways
  • MP Richard Benyon
  • Public Health officers

The key aim of the group is to bring about practical solutions that might prevent suicide and to raise awareness of organisations within West Berkshire that are there to support people who may have been affected by a suicide.

Watch a report from Thames Valley TV explaining the purpose and aims of the West Berkshire Suicide Prevention Action Group.

The profound and shocking event of a suicide of a close relative, spouse, friend or colleague is among the greatest emotional trauma that a human could suffer.

The effects of a suicide among us are long-lasting and leave many unanswered questions for those left behind or a severe emotional trauma for those that may have been unwittingly implicated as witnesses to such an event. What could we have done? What did we miss? If only I had listened to them. If only they had told me how they were feeling. These are the rational questions that may arise after the event.

If you are an employer, do you have a policy at work to support people who are coping with stress and anxiety? Is there a well-being element to work place appraisals or opportunities for staff to discuss workplace stresses?

Research shows that people are afraid of raising the subject of suicide with someone who may have said that they had thoughts of 'ending it all'. Rationality, along with a loss of perspective, usually departs those people who are thinking about taking their own life. People who want to take their own life don't want to die, which may sound odd, but actually people want their circumstances to change and in their moment of irrationality they feel that the only way to change their life is to end it.

It is okay to talk to people about how they are feeling. It is okay to ask people if they are considering taking their own life. It is okay to ask if they are thinking about taking their own life and have they planned it. These questions do not raise the idea of suicide in the mind of the person who is suffering, rather they raise an opportunity for them to talk about their current circumstances and why they may be having suicidal thoughts.

A common reaction to this may be, 'Good god no, I'm not that bad and I wouldn't want to do that to my family'. This is good because at least you will know that their life may not be in danger. If their answer is that they are thinking about taking their life, it may then prompt further questions about what their circumstances are, and what you - as a family member, friend, colleague or employer - may be able to do to alleviate some of the stresses in their life.

People's struggles may be due to personal relationships, deep financial worries, workplace stress, poor mental health or a combination of all of these things. We can all ask questions or make suggestions such as, 'Have you thought of making an appointment with Citizens Advice West Berkshire who are trained to advise and guide people with a myriad of personal problems'.

If their anxieties are around relationships, then organisations such as Relate, based in Newbury and available 24/7, are available and for younger people in West Berkshire we have an organisation called Time to Talk that specialises in listening to young people.

It is incumbent upon employers to take time to talk to staff if, for example, they have displayed different behaviours from the norm. Asking them how things are at home may reveal areas of severe stress that an employer could take into account. It may be that a partner has left the household with children. Perhaps the family home is about to be repossessed due to catastrophic debt problems. 

Employers can help in a number of ways. Perhaps by discussing options with staff, perhaps guide them to expert services, maybe time off to help solve their problems. Overtime may help with money worries or perhaps an employer could fast track them to an in house counselling service and, of course, ensuring that their employee goes to see their family doctor who will be able to refer to expert services within the NHS, such as Talking Therapies and others. 

In October 2017, the Suicide Prevention Action Group invited West Berkshire businesses to attend its first free suicide prevention training morning called 'Start The Conversation'. Experts from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust and the Berkshire Health Foundation Trust (BHFT) delivered a session, giving employers practical messages about how to spot the signs of stress and anxiety in the workplace which could, in some circumstances, lead someone to have suicidal thoughts. 

The 50 employers represented 11,500 employees in West Berkshire. It is the group's intention to deliver two more sessions in 2018. The dates and venues for this free training will be published in the next few weeks.  If you are an employer or person responsible for staff, training or have an HR function and would like to attend one of the forthcoming training mornings, then please email garry@vcwb.org.uk.

If you, or someone you know, is seeking help and advice, here is a small selection of the resources that are available in West Berkshire. These organisations will be able to assist and or direct you to organisations who are able to help.

On Thursday 29 March from 9:30am to 4:30pm, there will be an open day organised by Volunteer Centre West Berkshire, in partnership with the Health and Wellbeing Board, at Newbury Racecourse, promoting West Berkshire voluntary and community sector organisations and the work they do.  It is a free event open to anyone wanting to meet charities, work with them, volunteer with them or use the services they provide. 

Who To Contact

Contact details for West Berkshire's Public Health and Wellbeing Team

01635 503437