Our 2024 conference ‘Aspects of Being Alongside’: report

This year’s annual conference explored different ways that churches and other community groups can effectively ‘be alongside’ those experiencing mental health challenges.

Drawing on the rich experience of our affiliate groups, the gathering enjoyed stimulating presentations from various examples of community-based pastoral support, and lots of opportunities to chat about how these beacons of good practice could help inspire other such projects.

More than 30 supporters of Being Alongside gathered in the wonderful setting of St Peter’s, Battersea, at the heart of the Winstanley Estate.

The day began with an opening address by Dr Larry Culliford – Being Alongside’s new Patron. Larry reflected on his experience as a psychiatrist, in particular in training new practitioners to respond attentively to the needs of their patients. Larry stressed the importance of ‘being’ rather ‘doing’; and of sitting in true company with those who are suffering. He reflected on the role of spirituality as part of the human experience, and the value of meditative practice.

Larry’s address can be heard in full below, ending with a fitting quotation from Thomas Merton on the importance of trusting God on the journey – wherever it leads us.

Listen to Larry’s address below

Next, Canon Andrew Wilson, Vice-Chair of Croydon APCMH, introduced the organisation’s work supporting residents of Croydon and surrounding areas. The group has been active since 1989, offering various drop-in sessions and weekly activities for those experiencing mental health challenges.

Andrew spoke of the need for all such projects to accept their limitations, reflecting that ‘small is beautiful’ – and the value of being realistic about the operating environment of the organisation, while being open to surprises.

At present, Croydon APCMH is offering a Friday group offering a two course hot lunch, a chance to reflect and pray together, and opportunities to get involved in different creative activities. Andrew offered beautiful reflections on the nature of the charity’s ministry in journeying alongside those in need.

Andrew’s address can be heard in full by clicking on the ‘play’ button below. He ends his remarks by quoting Rowan Williams on the value of compassion and understanding between people – and in “sharing common, mutually assured wellbeing, poured out by God and shared”.

Listen to Andrew’s remarks below

After an enjoyable sandwich lunch, attendees reconvened to hear about Being Alongside’s grant scheme, which enables local organisations to apply for seed corn funding for new projects that help those with mental health difficulties. BA Chair Ben Wilson listed the projects which have already secured funding through the scheme, with over £7,000 given away so far to schemes – with beneficiaries spread from Axminster in Devon to Frodsham in Cheshire.

Ben set out how applications are being considered quarterly, with the next round due to be assessed in May 2024. Attendees were encouraged to spread the word about the availability of the grants.

As a further example, BA Treasurer John Vallat spoke about an emerging project in Godalming, Surrey, where a longstanding church-backed community café is now offering a specific slot in the week when those with mental health challenges can drop in and be assured of a safe, warm space and a friendly ear. BA has recently awarded a grant of £1,250 to the Cellar Café to develop and grow this work.

To round off the day, attendees heard about the work of the Battersea Befriending Network (BBN). The organisation’s Chair, Sarah Rackham, introduced the work of the charity, which links up those keen to forge a supportive connection with someone local to them in the south west London borough.

Sarah and some of her fellow trustees described the steps they have undertaken to establish the charity and ensure its proper governance. These administrative efforts are crucial to supporting the forging of safe, sustainable befriending relationships, the team explained. Sarah spoke with great warmth and appreciation of the skills and time her fellow volunteers offered, both as trustees and as befrienders.

The BBN presentation also included a moving insight into the value of befriending relationships, with contributions from David, Nayani and Elsie who are all variously involved in the the charity. David and Nayani talked about how they were matched and the friendship that has grown since; and Elsie spoke about the benefits of BBN’s work both to individual volunteers but also to the wellbeing of the wider community.

It was an eye-opening and inspiring presentation, and attendees at the conference were hugely grateful for the time that each speaker kindly gave to contributing to the day.

Listen to Sarah and the BBN team’s presentation below

Overall the day was a great success, providing an opportunity for those who have been involved both in the national charity and its various affiliates and branches to meet, reconnect, swap experiences and plan for the future.

We look forward to the next such occasion!

Action sheets updated

We’ve revised and updated our set of five “action sheets” which provide valuable advice and information based on the experience our local groups and affiliates have gained over many years.

If you are considering setting up a drop-in session or befriending scheme, or working to make your community group or place of worship more welcoming for people who are in mental distress, we hope you will find them useful.

Summer 2023 magazine

Our summer issue of Being Alongside magazine is out, with a cover featuring the theme of “setting free”.

We begin by paying a grateful tribute to our late patron Professor Andrew Sims, who died in November last year, and Jamie Summers reflects on a thought-provoking afternoon of conversation with the distinguished professor a few years ago.

Ben Wilson introduces our new grant scheme for local drop-ins, with a special focus on helping to get new projects off the ground.

We thank outgoing trustees Miriam Reyes, Marissa Lawingco and Stafford Cunningham for their service to our association over a combined total of nearly 20 years.

Continuing our series exploring organisations with similar aims to ours, we meet Befriending Networks, among whose members is our affiliate Battersea Befriending Network.

Our administrator Lucy Roose, a priest with a passion for compassion, tells us about how something as simple as a table can signify something rather special.

The second half of this issue features content from “Setting Free”, the conference we held last Spring with a focus on the inter-related topics of addiction, prison life and mental health. Dr Paul McLaren gives us the medical view of the latest analysis and trends in the area of additions; counsellor Tess tells us how Alcoholics Anonymous enables her to be a better person, and outlines what rehab owes to AA; Revd Jonathan Aitken, a chaplain at HMP Pentonville, entertains and enlightens with the lessons he learned since becoming the first cabinet minister since Tudor times to be jailed; and custodial manager Neil Fraser introduces Pentonville’s innovative Neurodiverse Unit.

Our magazine is freely available to all digitally. If you would like to enjoy it in glossy paper form, you are warmly encouraged to become one of our supporters.

‘Setting Free’ event on mental health, addiction and prison: conference report

On Saturday 11 March, more than 40 people gathered at The Charterhouse in central London for the third conference organised by Being Alongside since the start of 2022.

The day focused on the inter-related topics of substance addiction, mental health and prison life, and we were pleased to welcome a range of expert guest speakers to help explore our subject.

Revd Jonathan Aitken, chaplain at HMP Pentonville, addresses the conference

Delegates heard from experienced psychiatrist Dr Paul McLaren about the current medical approach to major substance addictions – chief among them, alcohol dependency – and about recent updates to the international classification system, which guides healthcare professionals in making diagnoses. We also heard about the remaining gaps in medical knowledge about the nature of addictions and their treatment.

Our second speaker, Tess, focused on the long standing work of Alcoholics Anonymous, introducing the audience to the 12 step programme and other founding principles of the movement’s approach.

In the afternoon, we heard from the Revd Jonathan Aitken and CM Neil Fraser, two professionals working in the prison service, on their experience of mental health and neurodiversity among prisoners. Jonathan and Neil highlighted a project at HMP Pentonville which is actively seeking to better support inmates with autism and other related conditions.

In closing, BA Chair Ben Wilson set out plans by the charity to award grants to local churches and other faith groups interested in setting up frontline services – such as befriending schemes and café style drop-in services – which would help support in “being alongside” those experiencing mental health difficulties, and facing gaps in statutory services.

Feedback from delegates suggested the conference was very well received. The trustees would again like to express their gratitude to the team at The Charterhouse for their hospitality in granting use of such fantastic facilities for the day.

You can listen back to the addresses given by our guest speakers below.

Dr Paul McLaren speaks on addiction

Dr Paul McLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Priory Group gave an overview of the current psychiatric approach to addictions and trends in such behaviours, and recent updates to the international classification system. Dr McLaren also offered thoughts on the relationship between addiction and mental health.

Tess, a healthcare professional working in private psychiatry, who gave a personal account of the support offered by Alcoholics Anonymous, drawing upon her professional experience working in rehabilitation.

CM Neil Fraser introduces delegates to the concept of the Neurodiversity Unit

Revd Jonathan Aitken, chaplain at HMP Pentonville, and his colleague Custodial Manager Neil Fraser, who gave insights onto how mental health difficulties are handled in UK prisons, and introduced Pentonville’s pioneering approach to supporting inmates with neurodiverse conditions such as autism. (While such conditions are today understood by the medical profession as neurodevelopmental in nature rather than psychiatric, the former can coexist with and exacerbate the latter, particularly in stressful contexts.)

Jamie Summers introduces Jonathan and Neil
Revd Jonathan Aitken and CM Neil Fraser speak to delegates

Setting Free: Mental health, addiction & prison – Next BA conference, Saturday 11 March

We are pleased to announce that our next event is taking place in spring, focused on the related topics of substance addiction, mental health and prison life.

With guest speakers:
Revd Jonathan Aitken, Prison Chaplain at HMP Pentonville
Dr Paul McLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist , Priory Group
• Another healthcare professional working in private psychiatry

The event will take place in the wonderful surroundings of The Charterhouse in central London (close to Barbican and Farringdon stations, at Charterhouse Square, EC1M 6AN) on Saturday 11 March 2023, beginning at 11.00am and finishing by 3.00pm.

This conference is the third on in our recent series and will offer the chance to hear from those working in frontline services and ministry on how they support those facing mental health problems and substance addiction in different settings, and how faith groups might also better help such individuals.

All our events seek to reflect the importance the charity places on ‘being alongside’ those experiencing mental health difficulties, and the role of supportive pastoral care as part of holistic treatment.

Tea and coffee will be served on arrival, and a buffet sandwich lunch will also be available. Donations are invited to cover the cost of this catering; the day itself is entirely free.

Please note that while all are welcome, this is a conference setting and we are not able to offer professional support to individuals in this context.

For more details and to reserve your free place please contact Lucy Roose at admin@beingalongside.org.uk or on 07496 909828.

Winter 2022/23 magazine

The Winter 2022/23 issue of Being Alongside, available free here digitally as well as in glossy paper magazine form to our supporters, is both inward- and outward-looking.

Catching up with comings and goings within the Being Alongside family, we meet our new chair Ben, and say thanks to key figures retiring from their posts, as well as a respectful and grateful farewell to the man who was said to have saved our assocation.

Looking outwards, in the first of a series looking at the many other wonderful organisations with similar aims to ours, we find out about Kintsugi Hope, a charity that’s seeding wellbeing groups throughout the UK.

This issue’s first-person testimony is provided by Michael Rothwell, who asks: “What is mental illness like to Everyman?”

And our long read is a transcription of a fascinating talk given at one of our conferences earlier in the year by Philip Bacon, centred on the “delicate and difficult” task of exploring spiritual wellbeing in a clinical setting.

Being Alongside Everyone: conference report and ‘AGM’

Members gathered at The Charterhouse in central London on 21st May 2022, for a day-long conference exploring questions of diversity and inclusion in relation to faith and mental health.

The event also included Being Alongside’s ‘Annual General Meeting’ – though in fact, the Charity Commission had approved the organisation’s change of legal status to a Charity Incorporated Organisation just days before, which means only the trustees need to attend and vote at these formal meetings in future.

Our two guest speakers stimulated much thought and discussion with their talks about the Church’s relationship with two broad groups of identity: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities; and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

A third session saw members discuss racial justice, guided by the UK Minority Ethnic Mental Health Toolkit produced by the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.

All three elements sparked further ideas about how Being Alongside can better support local churches and other faith organisations in helping the widest possible range of people in an inclusive, welcoming and responsive way.

The trustees would again like to express their gratitude to the team at The Charterhouse for their hospitality in granting our use of such fantastic facilities for the day.

You can listen back to the addresses given by our guest speakers below.

Canon Ann Clarke, Preacher at The Charterhouse, London on the history of marginalisation of the LGBT community by the Church, and the impact of this stigma on mental health.

Canon Ann Clarke talks about LGBT issues in the Anglican Church

Revd Joseph Fernandez, Lead Chaplain for Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller Communities, London Diocese outlines some of the experiences of Gypsy and Traveller people in the UK, their historic relationship with mainstream Churches, and health disparities faced by these groups.

Revd Joseph Fernandez talks about his work with GRT communities
A collage of images from Being Alongside Everyone, which took place at The Charterhouse in London; speakers Ann Clarke and Joseph Fernandez are pictured on the bottom row alongside new Chair Ben Wilson

The day closed with elements of what would usually be included in Being Alongside’s AGM, including reports from our branches and an overview of the organisation’s finances.

The main news was the Charity Commission’s recent approval of the trustees’ application for the organisation to become a CIO, which will reduce administrative burdens and allow us to focus on delivering our core objectives.

Tributes were paid to outgoing Chair Jamie Summers and committee member (and Croydon APCHM Chair) Canon Andrew Wilson; while new Being Alongside Chair Ben Wilson introduced himself to members.

Committee support members – who will help the trustees in leading the work of the charity – were appointed, alongside Treasurer John Vallat.

Members were also updated on ongoing efforts to establish a new online banking facility to assist with the effective running of the organisation.

New Chair Ben Wilson, Adminstrator and CIO Secretary Revd Lucy Roose, and outgoing Chair Jamie Summers, pictured at the end of the event

Join us for our conference and AGM on 21st May 2022

Saturday 21st May 2022
11am to 3pm
The Charterhouse, Barbican, London EC1M 6AN

With the theme of “Being Alongside Everyone”, our Spring conference on will explore the relationship between mental health and spirituality, with a focus on diversity and inclusion.

It will be an opportunity to discuss how faith groups can support the mental health of individuals from traditionally marginalised groups.

Speakers include:

The conference will be following by our Annual General Meeting (starting at 2.15pm).

Refreshments provided. Sandwich lunch available (donation requested).

This event is free to attend and open to all.

To book your place please contact Lucy Roose, charity administrator, via admin@beingalongside.org.uk or 07496 909828

Being Alongside the Anxious: conference report

Members gathered online and in-person for a special day conference on Saturday 15 January 2022, exploring the relationship between anxiety, depression and spirituality.

Members gathered at the Charterhouse, London, and online

Contributors covered topics ranging from the place of faith in the treatment of those with mental health difficulties, to what the Bible tells us about Jesus’ approach to healing. Group discussion and reflection followed each talk.

The event was hosted in the beautiful, peaceful sorroundings of the Charterhouse in central London. As well as chance to consider our theme of helping those experiencing anxiety, the event gave members an opportunity to meet informally – for the first time in many months.

You can listen back to the addresses given by our three guest speakers below.

Philip Bacon, Brother of the Charterhouse & former psychotherapist on different approaches to the “delicate and difficult” task of exploring spiritual wellbeing in a clinical setting, and his experiences of encouraging patients to overcome a natural anxiety to discuss questions of faith.

John Cullen, homelessness outreach worker & chaplain of Nazareth House, Hammersmith on the power of listening attentively to those suffering from anxiety, and the imperative for all of religious faith to help those experiencing mental health difficulties see the potential of the future.

Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford on the lessons to be drawn from some of the Gospel stories about Jesus’ healing miracles: His unconditional standing with the unloved and oppressed.

Martyn Percy (centre) delivers his address at the conference, watched by John Cullen (left) and Jamie Summers (right)

The Being Alongside committee are very grateful to our guest speakers, and the brothers and staff of the Charterhouse for their kind hospitality.

The committee hope to arrange similar conferences in future, and welcome ideas on topics that could be covered or speakers to invite.

Philip Bacon (standing) addresses the conference, held in the Charterhouse’s Learning Centre