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When Judith Gilboy became concerned about the social isolation experienced by people with mental health issues in Rutland, she set up a group to address the issue.

One sleepless night Judith decided that she needed to do something for her adopted son. She didn’t want him to be alone in a room not speaking to anyone. She wanted to break the isolation by setting up a safe place where he could be himself and socialise with others. She wanted to support her son’s mental health, and support others like him.

Judith talked over her idea for setting up a community group with an occupational therapist, who agreed, “It is definitely needed in Oakham as there aren’t any other support groups for people with severe and on-going mental health issues; people will bite your arm off.”

With the help of the local vicar, a group started to meet on Tuesdays in Oakham’s Congregational Church Hall in 2018. They decided to call the group – Pepper’s: A Safe Place, then Pepper’s moved to a place on Oakham High Street

They currently have 45 members on the books and typically, 15-20 people will come to the group. Although numbers go up and down as people are unwell, go into hospital, and then come back again. Most of the 7 volunteers have first-hand experience of mental illness or are people who just want to help. The NHS and Adult Social Services are very supportive of the work they do and regularly refer clients to Pepper’s. Judith said,

“One of the biggest challenges facing people with mental health problems is social isolation. Pepper’s offers a safe place for them to come and socialise with others. The loss of confidence after suffering a serious mental health condition prevents many people from getting back into society or into work. At Peppers’ our members are encouraged to get involved in voluntary work and participate in activities at Pepper’s to build their confidence and skills.

Sometimes we do art projects or Tai Chi, we have a scrabble expert too, but mostly we sit and chat. One of the volunteers is a cookery teacher in her 80’s and she’s good at engaging with people, she gets people peeling vegetables and helping with making soup. She has helped one of the members to regain their appetite. We offer training in First Aid and also in Food Safety and Hygiene as this can help with finding a job, but there are no targets. We don’t want to be beholden to anyone box ticking and we don’t want to deliver to fund.”

Pepper’s has received funding from On The Edge Fund at Leicestershire and Rutland Community Foundation set up to help anyone who feels they are on the tipping edge. Pepper’s has also had a grant from the Wesleyan Foundation via the Community Foundation.

One of the regular attendees, Ian, shared his very personal story of how his mental health and childhood has brought him to Pepper’s

“I was born on a cold December day to very juvenile parents, things soon deteriorated from there with horrendous bouts of child-abuse of all manners. Some of which is too painful for me to go in to detail. Sadly the abuse lasted for a number of years until finally someone caught on to what was happening.  I subsequently went through the system and finally came out the other side and was adopted by two wonderful people.

I’m now, 28 years old and was recently diagnosed with Complex Anxiety and Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. The side-effects of these mean at present I am unable to work. I do have ambitions for the future which I’ll address later on. I also was diagnosed with Complex Post Trauma Stress Disorder. This was due to the trauma I suffered as a child and the bullying that then happened during my adolescence. It did not make my conditions easier now it is getting to a controllable stage in life thanks to the NHS and the Community Team and the work at Pepper’s.

Well I am not like a normal 28yr old. I did not have many friends but I have since made several through Peppers. I struggled academically. I am on antidepressants which do help me adapt to some of my issues. A big consequence of my Mental Health has of course been the instability of my mood which has caused me not to be able to hold a stable job.  When things are going well my past issues creep in and I jeopardises the job in hand! This happened numerous times from when I was in education doing GCSE’s right through to the volunteering work that I’ve done.

There have been good and bad moments – some of my good moments include learning to drive, becoming an uncle and of course selling some of my Photography through Pepper’s!

The abuse I received as a child made me feel small and not really human and that’s kind of how some people see those with mental health – as being different and not pleasant people… however that could not be further from the truth. Please don’t judge others without knowing as we are all humans, we all are different, some have no health troubles that are known about, others have many.

The Mental Health issues will always be with me and affect me constantly. They are under control with therapy and medicine but to find a career after over 5 years unemployed and with the country uncertainty at moment will be a major challenge. I have ambitions to work either for myself as a driver or perhaps something in the railway industry.  But these require stringent medicals and at moment are not quite within reach to my knowledge. Another outcome of my mental health issues is not being able to find a partner or achieve happiness. Not everyone suffers this way but some of us do and for us it’s very traumatic and frightening as we just can’t get on with life.

So now that you know a brief bit about myself.   This brings me to the subject of why we are all here today.

Pepper’s: A Safe Place is somewhere I go to weekly. It has become a part of my weekly regime.  It’s a place to be social, to relax, to be myself. No one judges me for what I am or who I want to be. It’s a place run by volunteers for volunteers. There is a friendly, almost a family atmosphere but its kept low key.

I have gained some DIY and social skills whilst at Pepper’s. I have also been offered volunteer positions through Pepper’s amazing contacts in the local community. Pepper’s is the one thing that Rutland has lacked for so long so please do support Pepper’s.  It’s a way of securing a safe place to go for those who have troubled times.”