Co-Production Learning Disabilities & Autism Real Lives

Recovery College helps dismantle barriers

At Heatherwood Court Hospital in Pontypridd, a low security hospital offering treatment and rehabilitation for men and women on a forensic mental health pathway, co-production is at the heart of the hospital’s development of meaningful provision, with patients themselves driving the movement.

The hospital holds monthly forums where both patients and staff discuss the needs of the patient group and generate ideas for new initiatives to address those needs.

For example, in 2019 the forum recognised that patients were not as actively engaged in hospital activities as they could be and one of the patients, Suz Yates, suggested the development of a Recovery College.

The idea was received with enthusiasm and, after applying, Suz took on a new paid role as Peer Support Chair to work alongside staff to develop the Recovery College.

After consultation with the patients, the Recovery College now offers a diverse range of courses from educational subjects such as English and Maths, to community living topics such as employability workshops, cookery and digital literacy.

The college is co-managed by service users themselves giving them an active role in its production and delivery, putting them at the heart of its success.

The success of the college has been clearly evidenced by the increased number of patients who are willing to engage in activities which has led Suz to instigate further projects. Her initiative, enthusiasm and tenacity have earned her a reputation as the hospital’s co-production champion.

Suz is now the editor and designer of the Recovery College’s quarterly magazine, Side by Side. A fun publication with a strong therapeutic content driven by the patients themselves, each addition is eagerly awaited by both patients and staff.

Suz has been instrumental in revamping the patient forums to ensure that they are accessible and fit for purpose. The renamed monthly Patient Council meetings have a much greater patient membership, with patients feeling more empowered to raise concerns and suggest improvements.

There is also now an agenda slot for Suz in the hospital’s Clinical Governance meetings where she feeds back issues and ideas.

The council is constantly looking for ways to engage and make life better across the hospital. Feedback suggested that the hospital’s patient Welcome Guide could be confusing. Consequently, Suz is working with stakeholders to revise the guide. A range of smaller, bite-size leaflets set out policies and procedures in a more accessible format, making the process of settling in much easier.

Suz commented: “When they are hospitalised, patients often feel that they are de-skilled, de-personalised, separated from their support networks and find they can’t use their usual coping strategies.  On top of that, policies and procedures in a standard hospital environment create an ‘us and them’ culture. The Recovery College helps dismantle these barriers.

“When I arrived at Heatherwood and realised that patients were bored and not using their time productively, I suggested the Recovery College idea which I had had experience back in my local community. I was delighted when everyone agreed and the project was given the go ahead; I was eager to play a role in its development. Being appointed as Peer Support Chair has made a huge difference to my life; it has helped me gain self-confidence and increase my self-management skills.

“Without the divide between ‘staff’ and ‘patient’ I feel accepted and recognised as having intrinsic value to offer; an ‘expert by experience’.

“But the most gratifying aspect for me is that other patients see me as a role model and a mentor and I spend a lot of my time now guiding other patients so that they can develop their own new activities such as our new themed topic days. Our first ‘loneliness’ day was well attended and the team are now rolling out further themes that patients have suggested.”

Royston Scott, Recovery College Lead, said: “Now that the Recovery College is well established, we have a clearer idea of what service users find beneficial and what they want to see more of. The initial idea was quite educationally-focused but, with the input and support of Suz and the other patients, we have been able to broaden our ambitions and take co-production to another level.

“We are so proud of Suz and the co-production team and the work they have undertaken to make the Recovery College and all their other initiatives a success, they do a phenomenal job.”



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