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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Beyond the front door - conference on loneliness and isolation

Written on: 25-4-2019

In late 2018, West Berkshire Volunteer Centre was asked by Newbury MP Richard Benyon to discuss a potential conference that would showcase the work being done in the community to combat loneliness and isolation. The aim was to inspire other groups to start similar projects within their own communities and to learn about existing services and projects. 

On 8 February 2019, at Fair Close Centre in Newbury, a loneliness and isolation conference was held run in partnership with Connecting Communities Berkshire.

Over 90 people, representing churches, community groups, voluntary groups, charitable organisations and NHS staff gathered to discuss the subjects of loneliness and isolation.

There were many questions and reflections from the floor, here is just a sample:

  • there are West Berkshire Volunteer Centre community transport schemes across West Berkshire

  • work on the national loneliness strategy and the NHS Long-Term Plan is in development

  • Neighbourhood Plans can lead to the development of new community activities, for example, the Inkpen Plan highlighted four individuals who play chess, but they didn't know each other so they were linked and formed a new chess group

  • Hampstead Norreys have a lunch for elderly, walking clubs, and U3A; they have a men's breakfast in Hampstead Norreys every other month on a Saturday, as it was found that men did not have time to interact with other men during the week

  • Men's sheds are being set up in Theale and a plan to set up more in Newbury, Hungerford and Thatcham

  • Village Agents have been delivering community navigation and support for a number of years and is in the process of expansion across West Berkshire via GP surgeries

  • Patient Information Point (PIP) at West Berkshire community hospital provides a wide range of information leaflets and volunteers and staff at PIP are able to talk to members of the public who approach them about bereavement and other issues and concerns

  • ENRYCH Berkshire help physically disabled adults to engage in activities and interests (not for people with mental health issues)

  • Walking for Health helps to reduce loneliness and there are currently 12 walks across Berkshire and where there is interest, more walks will be set up

  • Berkshire Vision need more volunteers, drivers and befrienders

  • Kennet Cassette provides recorded information for visually impaired people

  • Faith communities can contribute to net wellbeing

  • Building Communities Together acts as the bridge between statutory services and communities

  • West Berkshire Directory - Fair Close Centre said that community groups can bring their members to them for lunch and activities and make a whole day out for them - they want more community groups to use their services and they have transport

  • Fair Close provide meals on wheels service for housebound people and staff take time to listen and get to know them; there's also the home library service

  • the "All Aboard" group in Hungerford meets twice a month for board games or just chat, located at Redwood care home for residents and non-residents, transport can be arranged, contact the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire

  • when developing community work, there will be a focus on bringing different age groups together which is already happening in some care homes

  • Speen Village Hall has a connect cafe, lunch club that connects old people and young mums

  • community groups are run at St. Nicholas Church Hall

Find out more from the West Berkshire Directory.

Mental Health First Aid at Work

Best practice guidance on how to implement MHFA in the workplace.

Written on: 11-3-2019

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Logo

New recommendations

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England has just launched best-practice guidance on how to implement Mental Health First Aid in the workplace. Developed in consultation with leading employers including Royal Mail and Thames Water, the new guidance provides information on how Mental Health First Aiders can improve employee mental health and wellbeing.

The publication of these guidelines follows the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) recent recommendations that all organisations include 'mental health trained first aiders' alongside regular first aiders.

Mental Health First Aid training

There are three different MHFA courses to choose from:

  • become Mental Health Aware (half-day)
  • become a Mental Health Champion (1 day)
  • become a Mental Health First Aider (2 day course)

All of the courses teach people to spot the symptoms of mental health issues, offer initial help and guide a person towards support. The courses don't teach people to be therapists but they do teach people to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis and potentially reach out to someone before a crisis happens.

Courses in the West Berkshire area

West Berkshire Wellbeing, managed by the Public Health and Wellbeing team at West Berkshire Council, offer high quality Mental Health First Aid courses. We offer these courses as public courses at our training rooms in Shaw House, Newbury or bespoke courses at a date, time and venue to suit you.

All of our Instructors are accredited by Mental Health First Aid England, have professional backgrounds in Psychology or Nursing and are highly experienced in delivering MHFA training

Find out more about local MHFA training 

Links to the MHFA guidance:

MHFA - Implementing Mental Health First Aiders Guide for Employers

MHFA - Being a Mental Health First Aider: Your guide to the role

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


Who To Contact

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

01635 503437