“Buzzed” About Wellbeing
It’s 10.45 AM on Wednesday 25thApril and there is already a queue signing in to the first ever BHappy Hub wellbeing gathering. Over the course of the next four hours around 50 members of the Kings Heath community and around a dozen “wellbeing providers” congregate at the Hazelwell Hub in Kings Heath, Birmingham to exchange ideas about wellbeing. And, it has to be said, to enjoy some rather delicious food cooked and provided by a volunteer fondly known to the community as “Uncle”. In case you’re wondering, it was a delicious lentil curry with rice and a fresh garden salad on the side.
The event is the brainchild of Dr Asfia Aftab who has been a GP for over 20 years now. You could say, Dr Aftab is a “Village Doctor”, because she likes to make a clear distinction between the medical and social needs of her patients. She has a vision of a space where they can go and have conversations about taking control of their wellbeing through an organic, developmental process. Firstly by “Being Heard”; then by “Being Relaxed”; “Being Brighter” (both in and out of doors) and then finally “Being Together”.
These four stages of progression to improved wellbeing will resonate with anyone familiar with the “Ways to Wellbeing” model. However, what is truly inspiring about Dr Aftab’s interpretation is that it allows the person to define for themselves what their journey to wellbeing feels like. As such, the Happy Hub team respond to these conversations by collaborating with members to run “pop up” sessions where .. well, any goes really (within reason of course). The result? This is not a predetermined, ‘cookie cutter” process and there is no prejudgment about what is needed. In the BHappy Hub space the person learns they are not so much a patient as they are active members and contributors. They are, as we like to say, “real people in a real place”. During this inaugural session there was a real buzz as members flowed through the space and sample the various activities on offer.
More “Members” Than “Patients”
The feedback was encouraging, with 95% of the participants scoring the session as either excellent or very good. The format comprised “main stage” talks on a range of wellbeing topics. These included “Mindful Eating’ by Bushra Siddiqui, a dietician. There was yoga by Dionne Roberts; and “The Psychology of Wellbeing” by GP, Dr Mohan Singh. There was a fascinating session on how singing improves breathing and helps manage respiratory conditions by May McDermott and Sarah Wright-Owens from the British Lung Foundation.
Throughout the event, members then had the opportunity to circulate through a range of conversations at variously themed tables hosted by artists, horticulturists, hypnotherapists and so forth. For our part, we hosted a table where participants talked about the things they would like to see in future Happy Hub sessions. What we learned from these conversations was that whichever path brought them to this moment, the participants all enjoyed a sense of membership and empowerment. The energy in the room was palpable; contagious even.
A Member’s Journey
One of the members is 85 and lives alone. She is the lady in the white head scarf featured above in our cover picture, along with her daughter, and a Maker-Artist called Faiqa Uppal. Since her husband died 17 years ago, she rarely leaves the house save for frequent trips to the doctor’s surgery. She has been diagnosed with agoraphobia. She is frail and over the years has lost a lot of confidence. Her GP suggested the Happy Hub might be a good place for her, and we were invited to support her engagement with the service. For us, this meant understanding every aspect of her “personal ecology”. Her day to day circumstances; her fears; the events that have shaped her life so far; her hopes and aspirations. We had made several attempts to speak with her on the phone (as per the agreed protocol), and for a while there was no answer.
Eventually, her daughter returned our call. She wanted to know why we had been calling her mother. She informs us her mother had recently been targeted by telephone scammers. So, as would any loving daughter in that situation, she wanted more information about who we were and why we were calling. So we talked and explained what was on offer and why the family doctor thought it was a good idea. What followed was exactly the kind of conversation that gets us out of bed in the morning. The daughter became very enthusiastic on behalf of her mother. She saw the benefits it could bring and, more significantly, offered plenty of suggestions about what would make the Happy Hub sessions even more meaningful for her mum. As if to underscore all that, the daughter promised to take a day off work and drive up to Birmingham from Cambridge to accompany her mother.
Come the day, it was wonderful to see mother and daughter walk through the door of the BHappy Hub and engage in the various conversations. Naturally, we were equally delighted to see each of the attendees as they arrived. But it has to be said, this moment felt special for all the reasons stated and goes to the heart of what the Happy Hub is all about. Everyone has a “personal ecology” that contextualises their lived experience. With this programme, SmartCare aim to engage with the person and their circumstances. That takes time, patience and space to talk. It’s worth mentioning the “drop out” rate for this kind of event is usually very high. So we were delighted that a total 43 out of 55 invites attended and a fair few brought along a friend or family member.
The ambition is to hold member’s and maker’s sessions every month to start with. However, in between the Hub sessions, there will be no pausing the conversation. Members and makers are continuously engaged in a wellbeing dialogue. We check in on how they’re feeling and what they’re doing to progress their wellbeing journeys. We’re excited to be involved in this programme. There was one interesting question that was posed by one of the attendees, “This is all fabulous, but how are you planning to measure its success and demonstrate the impact?” And that, we feel, is where things really begin to get interesting.