The other day, we (some staff, volunteers and service users of Mary Seacole House, Liverpool) went on a day trip to Llangollen. This wasn't the first time I accompanied them on a day trip. In fact, this must have been the third or fourth time I am going on a trip with the group since February 2022. Whenever I go on a trip with the group, it fills me with endless joy. It is not just the fact that I love travelling, but the fact that these trips give me an opportunity to know the people around me better.
For most service users, these trips are new experiences. Many of them don't get an opportunity to travel out of Liverpool. They spend all the time cooped up in the hotels/hostel after returning from classes/activities organised by MSH. And if someone gets an opportunity, they don't usually have the money or resource to fund their trip. For almost all of them, these trips are avenues of escape from the harsh realities of life. It is something to look forward to and remind them that despite all the difficulties, they are valued and cared for, at least by us.
For us, as service providers, it is an opportunity to help them improve their mental health and well-being. Although we are mostly cash-strapped and have to depend on small pots of funds/projects, trips like these are ways to offer the service users a much needed respite from the daily gloom. It is a holistic way to provide them with enriching life experiences with positive impacts on mental health.
After getting back from our recent trip to Llangollen, I reflected on it and realised a few things that these trips did:
Strong community and social connection: All our trips brings the community closer as it fosters better social connection with each other. A vast majority of our service users often feel isolated and lonely. The trips that we take them on gives an opportunity for people to come together, relax and support each other. It helps forge meaningful connection with oneself and others who share similar experiences. As such, a sense of belonging sets in, which goes a long way in boosting self esteem, reducing isolation and promoting overall well-being.Better physical and emotional well-being: Although the trips are far and few in between, they nevertheless include physical activities and outdoor adventures. It offers an excellent opportunity for service users to engage in exercise and explore the great British outdoors. As we all know, physical activity has a positive impact on mental health as it releases endorphins and reduces stress levels. Furthermore, time spent in nature has a calming effect on both body and mind, which in turn help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. So, the trips are not just us ticking a few boxes, but a truly powerful therapeutic tool that promotes well-being and better mental health.
Build skills and resilience: Trips are great ways to develop and enhance skills and resilience. This is true for both service providers and users. Engaging in new activities/experiences and stepping out of the comfort zone can feel like an intimidating task. However, being in the company of people you know & trust, while trying out new experiences in a supportive environment can work wonders for all. Learning new skills and successfully navigating unfamiliar situations can boost self esteem, confidence and mental health. People feel empowered and resilient as a result of better mental health.
Break from the routine and chance for personal growth: Daily routines can feel repetitive and boring, resulting in a feeling of stagnation and poor mental health. Organising trips helps the service providers to break free from the daily routines (which, in our case, isn't monotonous). For the service users, it is a chance to understand the cultures and places of the country better. Trips often stimulate curiosity, broaden the horizons and facilitate personal growth. Often people find a change in their perspectives, discover hidden talents and find a renewed purpose and excitement in life.
Emotional connect: Often, trips offer opportunities for people to open up and build emotional connection with one another. Journeys are opportunities for an open and accepting atmosphere where individuals can discuss their experiences, challenges, and triumphs. It is a chance for people to reflect and renew themselves by drawing on the positive experiences from the trip. It also helps in creating a sense of collective understanding, empathy, and support among all those travel together.
There is more to each trips that we go on with our service users. We travel together, we eat together, we see and explore new places together, we know and understand each other better. Invariably, on our way back to Liverpool, we sing songs together and have loads of fun. As I listened to the lovely vocals in Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, Persian and Arabic being rendered that evening, I realised that just like in music, Mary Seacole House too speaks the universal language of love. What better message can we rely to the world in these troubled times?