How the Recovery College is adapting to the challenge of coronavirus

Here Kirsty Giles, Manager of the Recovery College at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, writes how they are adapting to these uncertain times

Kirsty Giles, SLaM Recovery College Manager and Occupational Therapist

The Recovery College has been offering wellbeing and mental health education with the support of Maudsley Charity since 2013. It is based on a learning model of co-production, in which sessions are led by those with a lived experience of mental health alongside a specialist practitioner. It is open to people who use mental health services, their friends, family members and supporters, and people who work within South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and partner organisations and teaches 500 students every term.

As with all aspects of life at the moment, the COVID19 coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the way the Recovery College operates.  No face to face workshops can be offered at the moment, so team members are now working from home.

Taking the Recovery College online

Before the pandemic emerged, we had begun an improvement programme with SLaM’s Digital Services, to provide each trainer with a laptop and mobile phone with VPN connection. This meant that we began to work from home almost immediately, barring a few technical challenges,  after the lockdown and began adapting our courses and workshops to develop an online Recovery College which we are testing behind the scenes at the moment, running online webinars and daily mindfulness sessions to get to grips with the technology and completely different methods of teaching.

This has been an incredible challenge for the all the team members, as it has required everyone to adapt not only to a change in work location (for many of us, from a desk in an office, to our kitchen tables or sofas!) but also learning how to use new software, investigating how to develop online learning and becoming confident in setting up and running an online classroom.

Sharing learning with Recovery Colleges around the UK

Although it has been a steep and at time stressful learning curve, SLaM Recovery College’s team have been able to share learning and challenges with other Recovery College teams across the UK.  We recognise that due to the support of both the Maudsley Charity and the NHS trust, we have access to resources and technical support that many other NHS and voluntary sector Recovery Colleges do not.  As a result, we are planning to offer most, if not all, of our new online, pandemic and wellbeing focused workshops available to our partner organisations and communities during these extremely difficult and uncertain times for all, particularly our most vulnerable students. These will be online in late April, once the testing is completed.

Offering psychological support to SLaM Staff

In addition to the work behind the scenes, several of the training team members, both peers and practitioners, are working within SLaM’s Rest and Recharge Hubs during the pandemic.  The Rest and Recharge Hubs offer a place for the staff of the Trust working at the four hospital sites to take their breaks, have something to eat and drink and rest if needed.

Health professionals from the RC team are involved in offering psychological first aid should any colleagues experience distress as the result of their day to day work.  The Recovery College team are able to use many transferrable skills from their day to day work within this valuable service.

Looking ahead to a Recovery College after COVID-19

Once the pandemic is over, the Recovery College team will be able to continue offering online taster sessions for potential students who may be considering attending the face to face workshops, and to support those who may find it difficult to attend in person due to the impact of their symptoms or issues such as caring roles.

However, we believe that the impact of co-produced education is still greatest within the classroom where people are able to share their stories, experiences, knowledge skills and attitudes and learn from one another.  We thank the Maudsley Charity for all their support over the past seven years.

Visit the Recovery College website:

Kirsty Giles is an occupational therapist, originally from New Zealand.  She has worked for SLaM for ten year years, first leading the Staying Well Service in Southwark. She feels very privileged to have managed SLaM Recovery College for the past six years, working with an inspirational and dynamic group of current and former service users, carers and health professionals in the spirit of co-production.