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Gaynor Brooke

Head of Services at Servol Community Services

Call for New Ideas: Commonweal were fantastic and supported us all the way through the process

Gaynor Brooke, Head of Services at successful 2022 Call for New Ideas applicant Servol Community Services, reflects on her organisation’s journey with Commonweal’s Call for New Ideas:

I have worked in the Voluntary, Community, Faith, and Social Enterprise (VCFSE) sector in the West Midlands for over 20 years and joined Servol Community Services in 2021 as Head of Services.

Servol is a mental health charity that works with adults who are living with enduring mental health conditions/severe mental illness (SMI). This refers to people with psychological problems that are so debilitating that their ability to engage in functional and occupational activities is severely impaired. Schizophrenia and bipolar are often referred to as SMI.

Our vision is to help people on their journey to mental wellness, purpose, and independence, developments within our service are co-produced with service users, encouraging engagement and participation.

My background is in criminal justice and after joining Servol I quickly realised that a high percentage of the individuals we support have direct experience of the criminal justice system (CJS). For most, the experience has not been a positive one.

On release from prison finding accommodation, work and maintaining relationships with family and friends is challenging for anyone but for an individual living with SMI it is even harder. This creates a continuum with many returning to prison repeatedly, including those who in some cases re-offend intentionally to return prison as it is feels like a safe place.

We began to explore ideas around how we could provide specialist support and accommodation for adults living with SMI leaving prison. Servol knew the need was there but required an evidence base to move our idea forward.

A contact made us aware of Commonweal Housing and after some fact finding, and a conversation with Amy Doyle, Commonweal’s Deputy Chief Executive we made our application via Call for New Ideas to undertake a feasibility study which was successful.

Call for New Ideas is Commonweal’s partnership programme inviting organisations to apply for funding to conduct a feasibility study to test innovative housing models. The aim of our feasibility study was to explore the need to provide specialist support for adult ex-offenders who have identified enduring and complex mental health problems, including those with a dual diagnosis.

Servol was new to carrying out research and quickly realised our original methodology was not going to work in the time we had to complete the study as we would not be able to access the prisons directly. Commonweal were incredibly supportive, and we moved to running interviews and focus groups with people living with SMI with direct experience of the CJS through our VCFSE partners. This was successful and provided us with valuable insights into the specific challenges faced by our participants.

The team at Commonweal were fantastic and supported us all the way through the project, providing expert advice, guidance and signposting when needed.

We submitted our feasibility study in early 2023 and are excited to be moving toward the project development stage, with an opportunity to make our project a reality. We are currently in the stages of working with Commonweal to explore partnerships with social investors to finance our housing model.

Our hope is that we will be able to set up a pilot project in partnership with Commonweal to provide a direct route to safe accommodation on release from prison for individual diagnosed with mental health conditions. Providing targeted support to address the specific needs of individuals living with SMI who have experience of the CJS improving mental health and reducing re-offending.

If anyone has an idea to tackle a social injustice and needs support to develop, I strongly suggest that you consider the Call for New Ideas.

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