This reports summarises research that began in March 2014 and was completed in October 2015 by an experienced inter-disciplinary research team from the Centre for Social Justice and Change and Psycho-Social Research Group, School of Social Sciences, the University of East London (UEL) and included Dr Yang Li from the Centre for Geo-Information Studies, UEL, for the first phase of the study.
Tottenham ‘Thinking Space’ (TTS) was a pilot therapeutic initiative based in local communities and delivered by the Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust and funded by the London Borough of Haringey Directorate of Public Health. TTS aimed to improve mental health and enable and empower local communities.
TTS was situated within a mental health agenda that was integral to Haringey’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2012-2015 and aimed to encourage people to help themselves and each other and develop confident communities. On the one hand TTS was well-suited to this agenda, but, on the other, participants were resistant to, and were trying to free themselves from labelling that implied ‘mental health difficulties’.
A total of 243 meetings were held and 351 people attended 1,716 times. The majority of participants attended four times or less, and 33 people attended between 5 and 10 times and 39 people attended over 10 times. Attending a small number of times does not necessarily mean that the attendee was not helped.
Attendees reflected the ethnic diversity of Tottenham; 29 different ethnic groups attended. The opportunity to meet with people from different cultural backgrounds in a safe space was highly valued by attendees. Similarly, participants valued the wide age range represented and felt that they benefited from listening to inter-generational experiences.
The majority of participants were women (72%) and they were instrumental in initiating further Thinking Spaces, topic specific meetings, the summer programme of activities for mothers and young children and training to meet their needs.
The community development worker had a key role in implementing the initiative and sustaining its growth throughout the pilot period.
We observed that TTS attracted those whose life experiences were marked by personal struggle and trauma. Many participants felt safe enough to disclose mental health difficulties (85% of those who completed a questionnaire). Participants also came seeking a stronger sense of community in their local area.
Key features of the meetings are that they are democratic, non-judgemental, respectful, and focussed on encouraging everyone to listen and to try to understand.
We found that the therapeutic method was put in place by high quality facilitators and health and personal outcomes for participants were consistent with those predicted by the underpinning psychoanalytical and systemic theories.
Outcomes included a reduction in anxieties and improved personal and social functioning; approximately two thirds of those who completed a questionnaire felt better understood, felt more motivated and more hopeful for the future.
The overwhelming majority of survey respondents also felt good about contributing to their community, said that they were more able to cooperate with others and accepting of other cultures, and had made new friends.
Participants typically had a better understanding of their current situation and how to take positive action; of those who completed a questionnaire, over half felt more confident to seek support for a personal issue and to contact services.
Members of TTS supported each other and instilled hope and build community-mindedness that reduced social isolation.