A Crafts-based retreat for the NHS

The Fathom Trust

In September The Fathom Trust organised an away day for the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Management Service, which is part of the NHS Powys Teaching Health Board in Wales.  At that time, we were still allowed to gather up to thirty people outside and so we did exactly that:  fifteen local craftsmen and women from the Usk valley and fifteen NHS colleagues, including psychologists, occupational therapists, GPs, physiotherapists, managers and administrative staff.

We spent the day in the sublime setting in the grounds of Penpont House. We took advantage of the glorious September weather to familiarise ourselves with the gardens, and to reconnect with our bodies by focusing our attention on our senses. After an excellent buffet lunch provided by local caterers Cat Soup Kitchen, we spent the afternoon trying a range of different crafts including spoon carving, leatherwork, felting, willow weaving, green woodwork, wood carving, and antique embroidery.

It was striking how many of the makers had found their peace through their chosen crafts. This was not lost on the participants who work with chronic pain patients across Powys and who themselves have had to deal with a range of mental illness in the course of their work. There was a wonderful sense of two very different perspectives – professional and creative – coming together to create a new approach to managing chronic pain and fatigue.  Both groups expressed a commitment to working together to create further opportunities such as this for the people they serve across the county.

Here are some comments from the day:

I found the connection with nature beneficial. It created a relaxed, thoughtful environment. The afternoon was wonderful with the opportunity to extend my usual boundaries. I found the Makers thoughtful, caring and full of joy. They were easy to engage with and I found myself having some in depth meaningful conversations.

“Being so engrossed in the task meant I didn’t think of anything else.”

“I feel that I benefitted in many ways. I learnt a new skill that I always wanted to try with facilitators who were patient and friendly. My highlight was the mindfulness practice in the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed moving my body and having the time to just notice how I am feeling and take in the beautiful environment. I returned home feeling valued, relaxed and inspired.”

“Fantastic to be out in the sun in such lovely surroundings. Felt really relaxed with the mindful walk and in the mini maze with my shoes off! I enjoyed how Will made me think about using all my senses during the morning session, which seemed to open up a bit more of a creative side in me, which I wasn’t aware of.”

“Improved self-esteem, reduced anxiety and was good rapport building.”

“I believe that this event may have inspired many people in the team to think how we can make our interventions more nature based”

“Concentrating upon the activities takes your mind away from your own personal issues and focuses it on the activity.  You come aware refreshed and relaxed.”

Gentle activity-based learning is great to breakdown some of the barriers around ‘I can’t do it’, ‘it’s too difficult’ etc. Concentrating on the physical activity allows the brain to meander and forget, also, provides a great trigger for useful conversation. Although, some of the activities may need to be toned down a little (and, I really think this should just be, a little) there should be huge benefits in using activity to trigger positive change. Most experienced a great sense of achievement from their chosen activity, in addition removing people from their usual surroundings usually provide benefits.”

“Being absorbed in the task allowed for more free and comfortable discussions. “

“I have applied the activity of stepping outside for 10/15 mins and just noticing. I applied this in one of my sessions and there was excellent feedback from the users.”

“I liked the idea of undertaking a task whilst engaging in a conversation in a more comfortable setting. This may help to reduce anxiety by concentrating on physical activity and increase self-esteem by coming out with an end product.”

The NHS team with local makers at Penpont
A Focus Group reflecting on the value of craft making in the management of chronic pain and fatigue
Participants proudly displaying their woven willow stars
A masterclass in spoon carving by Barn The Spoon
Willow Weaver Amanda Rayner offering instruction to the group
A courtyard of activity at Penpont House