Since October 2014, a pilot project has been running at Orb, enabling local Knaresborough GPs to prescribe our services to their patients. Along with the recent introduction of evening classes, this project represents another significant expansion of the support which we can offer to our local community.

Orb has been based in Knaresborough for the past six years. Over that time, we have built a strong record of using creativity as a tool to improve people’s well-being. A large part of our journey has been centred on supporting people with severe and enduring mental health problems, and working closely with the local community mental health teams who refer them to us.

During this period, we have also been approached directly by people who felt our services could benefit them, but whose circumstances didn’t place them within the remit of the community mental health teams. Some might have been struggling with their jobs; others might have suffered a recent bereavement; others may have found themselves taking more long-term sick leave than usual, returning to work, but then stumbling again. Their issues weren’t severe enough to cause them to be hospitalised, or to be referred to a community mental health team, but their quality of life was still being badly impacted. However, since our funding wasn’t set up to cover such situations, we were unable to offer them our support.

It became increasingly clear that we could potentially tackle these cases via our local GP surgeries. A GP will typically be someone’s first port of call when trying to address their mental health problems. They can prescribe medication, and they can place people on waiting lists for therapy, but there hasn’t been much else available in their toolkit.

We have therefore spent the last couple of years making contact with local GPs, and getting in touch with our local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), who are the body responsible for commissioning health services in our area. Our aim was to work with them to develop an effective, formally designed pathway, from a local surgery to a supportive, centrally located service like ours, which local people have already identified as of potential benefit.

Last year, we were delighted to secure funding from igen, a Leeds-based foundation who are very keen on supporting opportunities for vulnerable people, including those which involve the creative arts. This organisation has funded us to work with the Harrogate & Rural District CCG, through a pilot project with the three Knaresborough surgeries: Beech House, Eastgate and Stockwell Road.

As a result of this pilot project, which runs until autumn 2015, any patient at these surgeries who is struggling with mental ill-health now has the option of being referred to Orb as part of their treatment, where they can engage with the activities we offer: music, art, gardening and creative IT – and if they do already know about Orb, then they can specifically request a referral.

Since the project began, nearly twenty people have been referred to us (as of mid-March 2015). Most of them have responded positively to what we have to offer, and they are getting involved in all aspects of what we do.

“For some people, it’s the first time that they’ve actually managed to get out and do something positive for themselves in years”, says Orb’s project manager Leon Fijalkowski. “For others, it’s really made a difference, helping them get to a point where they feel they can go back out and re-engage with work and other aspects of their lives. People who struggle to hold down a job are feeling more socially confident, and regaining the belief that they can do things, learn new skills, and get back in the saddle.”

Even at this early stage, the success of this pilot project demonstrates that mental well-being does not solely depend on medication and therapy, and that a holistic approach, which includes engaging in creative, social activities in the here and now, can yield additional, tangible benefits, in accordance with MIND’s nationally recgonised “five steps to mental wellbeing”. GPs are being provided with a new tool, patients are being given new opportunities to break their cycles of isolation and guilt, and the risk of needing more serious and costly interventions further down the line is being reduced.

“There’s plenty of time and scope to support more people”, Leon adds, “so we want to encourage people to go to their GP if they feel they would benefit, and ask for a referral.” Perhaps you can help too, by spreading the word?