For our NNS Spotlight on we spoke to Santosh Rai from the Bethel Health and Healing Network. Santosh is the service manager for the RAPHA Listening Service, a role that she has held since December 2019. During our chat she told us about the project, Bethel Health and Healing Network and gave us an insight into her life outside of her role with the organisation.
Bethel Health and Healing Network are a registered charity that has been providing services for the community since 2006. Bethel Health and Healing Network focus on supporting vulnerable adults to become “physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy” with a focus on supporting people’s health and wellbeing. Alongside the RAPHA Listening Service the charity also provides a Doula service. Doula’s are women who provide emotional and practical support to pregnant women leading up to the birth of their child. Many of the women who access Bethel’s Doula service are referred through their GP surgeries because of vulnerabilities; many have escaped domestic violence or are asylum seekers or refugees without family in Birmingham. Upon referral to Bethel they are assigned a volunteer Doula who takes them through their pregnancy journey. The Doula project is funded mainly through Birmingham and Solihull CCG and provides a lifeline to otherwise isolated vulnerable pregnant women.
The RAPHA Listening Service is also a lifeline to those who use it. The Listening Service was developed in 2017 when the charity recognised that there was not a lot of support available for people who were experiencing low level mental health needs. “There are many people who just need someone to talk to, and without that can face deterioration in their mental health”, Santosh explained. After successfully applying to funding from the Tudor Trust the RAPHA Listening Service began and has been supporting people with low level anxiety and depression ever since. The project is delivered by volunteers who are trained in listening and focuses on prevention rather than intervention. As the team are not medically trained, they are unable to support individuals with more complex mental health needs, and those who need more care and support are referred to relevant organisations. The project acts as an important stepping stone for people who might otherwise be shut out from accessing mental health support.
The name of the project is literal, staff and volunteers are there to listen to clients who are experiencing hardship and need to talk. But the name of the project also helps to combat stigmas around mental health that can exist in society, particularly within Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Santosh explained that “Within BAME communities there can be a stigma around mental health and accessing mental health support. It can be hard for people from BAME communities to tell their friends and family that they are attending counselling, but if they say they are going to a listening appointment it is easier for their families to understand.” Bethel harnessed previous experiencing running a counselling service to inform the Listening Service, adapting it to meet the diverse needs of the communities they work with.
Adapting is what Bethel Health and Healing Network are good at, and when COVID-19 hit they were quick to adapt their services and move to providing remote support for their service users. The team were also quick to bring in new volunteers, with a focus on recruiting volunteers with the ability to speak community languages, ensuring that as many people as possible can benefit from their support. This has also enabled Bethel Health and Healing Network to help meet the growing demanded for wellbeing support that the Coronavirus pandemic has given way to.
At the time of our chat with Santosh the team were continuing to provide support via social distanced resources. While the pandemic has brought along many challenges it has also enabled Bethel Health and Healing Network to try new approaches to the support that they provide. During the pandemic and lockdown measures Bethel were able to trial their Telephone Listening Service, helping them to support hard to reach individuals: “We anticipate that most people will prefer a face-to-face service when lockdown eases, but having a telephone option for people who may not be able to travel to us because of their disabilities or who cannot get childcare, it enables them to access a new service”.
For those who would be accessing face-to-face support, Bethel has a base in the heart of Balsall Heath in Hall Green constituency, as well as a location in Alum Rock in neighbouring Hodge Hill. They also use other venues so people can access support in their local communities. When asked what her favourite part of working in Hall Green is, Santosh informed me that the diversity of the constituency reminders her of her own childhood, “in the early part of my childhood I lived in Handsworth and Lozell’s so the diversity of Hall Green reflects my upbringing. Hall Green has a lot of affluence but there is also a lot of poverty and need, when I see that it reminds me of why the work that we do is so vital.”
Alongside her role with Bethel Santosh owns a consultancy company and works alongside charities to support them with their strategy, planning, monitoring and research. It is this work that lead Santosh to Bethel Health and Healing Network after she got to know the charity through her consultancy work. Her faith was also a big motivation in her working with Bethel, “I am a Christian and have been since I was 21. My faith is a big driver for what I do. I do have a compassion for people and want to use my skills to support others, which is why I was drawn to working with charities and Bethel which is a faith-based organisation.”
With much of Santosh’s work focusing on supporting staff and volunteers working on the RAPHA Listening Service, a role that can have its demands, we wanted to know how Santosh relaxes when she is not at work. Santosh told us that gardening is a big part of her life, “each spring I like to start fresh and replant my garden, I like having new flowers each year”. Santosh also likes to keep active and starts her morning with a hula-hoop routine, something which has kept her active during lockdown measures alongside daily walks. Travelling is another interest of Santosh’s, but she has put this on hold during the pandemic.
Going forward Bethel Health and Healing Network are continuing to provide vital health and wellbeing services to those in need. To find out more information contact Santosh Rai via 0121 389 0267 or Santosh@bethelnetwork.org.uk.