Staff Newsletter Autumn 2017

More than Four Seasons in a Year.

Hello everyone, it’s autumn, and the weather is indeed something of a talking point I imagine in most of our work locations. The title of my piece, however, refers to how this year has gone so far with some amazing high points, some great achievements, some disappointments and minor setbacks and some great sadness and then a sense of pride and hope as we move forward once again. Staff and service users alike have been marking these different stages together.


You will only have to read on in this newsletter to get a sense of just how amazingly successful our 30th anniversary celebrations and parties have been to date and how we are now in the next phase in the midst of SMHAF and leading up to our stakeholder celebration in November where we hope to share with our colleagues from other organisations, some of the wonderful recovery stories and achievements, both of individuals Birchwood Highland supports, of our staff and volunteers and of the organisation as a whole.  Any contributions to this from services in the form of stories, art work, poems and indeed ideas, very welcome.  

We are also about to see major changes in our Easter Ross service, as we commence our first 24/7 cluster through a new development at Dewdale Court in Invergordon at the end of October.  Whilst at the same time, we are in the process of buying a new building in Invergordon to be used as an office for staff with drop in space for service users as well as a shop and a flat to be run as a social enterprise to offer volunteering and work experience to service users. We hope to open and launch Birchwood Highland’s first charity shop at the service users’ AGM, which is being held on the 24th November.  (Any good quality donations by the way, would be very much appreciated.  Please contact Head Office for info on how, where and when to donate.)

This is undoubtedly a very busy, whilst incredibly exciting time for this service, which has experienced some real lows this year, with staff and service users in this service and across other teams in their support, working incredibly hard to get ourselves back to where we wanted to be. If these photos hot off the press from Easter Ross of team bonding sessions show anything, it is how well the new team are coming on as it rapidly expands in preparation for the new development.


Which is great and hugely important considering the substantial loss the team faced in September, when one of their very valued colleagues and friend, Steve Paget who has worked with us as a support worker for 9 years and before that many years as a volunteer befriender, died at sea.


My lasting memories of Steve will be of a lovely, gentle man, who loved outdoor pursuits and was a terrific dancer!   I will never forget how he led the Easter Ross team in their dancing routines at the staff awards we used to hold. 

The last recollection from this time is of Steve wearing a leopard skin loin cloth outfit as the team danced to ‘The lion sleeps tonight’.  The last time I saw him dressed up, however, was at the Easter Ross party this summer where he wore his hat, made for a Mad Hatters party by his daughter. 

I know that Steve will not be forgotten for a long time to come and that he was valued by those who worked with him and those he worked with, as well as other staff, like myself throughout the organisation. 

My life was all before me, now it’s all behind
Today, is the best day of my life.
At least it’s here and now.
Tomorrow is wistful thinking,
Pain and bliss the linking.
Today I see the breezy sky,
The dogfight around the peanut feeder.
Yesterday is far away
Today is just another day
Tomorrow does not exist
Perhaps I’ll live today my way.
— Poem by Steve as shared by his family at his funeral.

Minor disappointments?  As an organisation who prides itself on our excellent grades awarded by the Care Inspectorate, there is no doubt throughout the services, a little bit of disappointment for the ‘very good’ grades the community services have been awarded this year.  An achievement, I have to add, however, that many other organisations aspire to and many don’t ever achieve!  This year has been a roller coaster across a couple of our services and ‘very good’ grades are a testament to how resilient our staff and the organisation are. It is also important to remind ourselves, that our Caithness service is not quite six months old, and that we have expanded considerably in our service delivery and staffing numbers in a very short time, with 20% more staff than last year. All things considered, therefore, it is a huge success to have got ‘very good’ 5’s, so a very well done to everyone for this achievement and for the hugely positive feedback we received alongside these gradings. 

With more of the same hard work and dedication that I see every day across services and hear about, I am sure that we will move back up to sixes again at some point in the future.  However, in the meantime, I would like to thank and congratulate everyone across community services on these great gradings and on all your terrific work on a daily basis.

So, any more seasons to come? One of the amazing things about working for Birchwood Highland is that you never know where opportunities are going to take us next.  There are so many possibilities ahead. I’m sure we’ll manage to squeeze a few more things in before Christmas…. 

Enjoy the leaves before the snow comes.

Best wishes,

Emily Stokes, Chief Executive

Happy Birthday Emily!

Emily turned 50 recently, and to celebrate, the Head Office and Inverness Service held a wee surprise birthday breakfast in the office on Wednesday 13th September. Happy Birthday Emily, from all the team!

Autumn Hamper in Aid of Sam Douglas


Sam is the nephew of Nicola McAlley who is an ambassador for Birchwood Highland and has hosted several fundraising events, including our 30th anniversary dinner that took place in May this year. In return for the fantastic work that Nicola has contributed to the company over the years, we would like to donate a hamper consisting of the following items to raise money for Sam:

·         Radox Relax and Recharge Gift Set

·         Box of Cadbury Milk Tray chocolates

·         Bottle of Sauvignon Blanc

·         Bottle of Fine Ruby Port

·         Sanctuary Spa Gift Set

·         Nivea Gift Set

·         Alpine Bath & Body Gift Set

·         Marks & Spencer’s Rhubarb & Orange Shortbread

·         Marks & Spencer’s Prosecco

·         Marks & Spencer’s Chocolate Discs

The raffle will take the form of ‘Lucky Numbers’ which will be able to be purchased for £2 per square. For anyone wishing to take part, a sheet will be sent to each individual service and the winner will be drawn on Tuesday 17th October.

You can find out more about Sam and how the money raised will help here.


Autumn Fashion Show

Join us at Howdens Garden Centre on Thursday 26th October for an evening of fashion and fundraising!

The night will feature new season collections from Howdens' clothing range including Klass, Autonomy, Tulchan and occasion wear from La-Di-Da Fashion!

Tickets are just £5.00pp and include tea/coffee and cake.  

Click below to book your tickets or pop in to Howdens and buy them in-store. 

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival


This year’s 30th anniversary celebrations have coincided with Birchwood Highland taking the lead on the Highland edition of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. To ensure that under our leadership in this celebratory year the festival is even more vibrant than ever, we have been working really hard with our Highland partners putting together an exceptionally varied and attractive programme. Also, to make the festival’s anti-stigma message reach even further, we have invited new organisations to join the SMHAF partnership, which now apart from the longstanding partners also includes the Highland Third Sector Interface, the Scottish Waterways Trust, Connecting Carers, LGOWIT, and even the Highland Screen Machine.

The festival kicked off on 5th October with the Opening Night at the Bike Shed. Like last year, this was a celebratory night featuring an art and photography exhibition, live readings, and film screenings, all exploring mental health, stigma and this year’s theme of 'Reclaim'. 

 Photos by  Creativity in Care .
 Screen Machine

Screen Machine

Another big event will be the SMHAF Highland Annual Gathering Night taking place at Eden Court’s One Touch Theatre on 24th October at 6pm. The night will comprise a very attractive programme including two films produced by Birchwood Highland. The first one entitled “My World, My Mental Health” shows how different activities can help people experiencing mental health issues maintain their mental wellbeing. The second film entitled “Reclaim the Future” is a joint project which we worked on with other Highland SMHAF partners. It discusses the issues of mental health stigma and what needs to be done to overcome it. This short film will also be shown by the Screen Machine, the Highland mobile cinema reaching the most remote communities in our region. Screened before the main feature throughout October, it will make sure that the festival’s message is spread far and wide.

 Also our mosaic triptych will be presented at Eden Court as part of the “Reclamation of Self” exhibition. After the exhibition end in October, the triptych will be moved to the Tomnahurich Street office where it will be permanently fixed to the external wall. An official unveiling event is planned after which this spectacular artwork will be admired by everyone driving or walking along Tomnahurich Street for many years to come.

This year is to be the last time when the festival will take place in October. The next, 12th edition of SMHAF has been moved to May 2018, so there will be very little time for us to plan for our next SMHAF presence. The Mental Health Foundation, the organiser of SMHAF, has introduced some other major changes. So, for instance, from now on the festival’s acronym is shorter; SMHAF rather than SMHAFF. The festival has also acquired an exciting new logo. The rebranding has been part of the MHF’s effort to popularise the festival outside Scotland, as similarly to Fringe, SMHAF is a really unique and innovative arts initiative, the only one of this kind in Europe.  At Birchwood Highland, we can say that we have always been very proudly an important part of it.

If you would like to find out more about SMHAF or its programme this year or have ideas for our SMHAF presence in 2018, please contact Paulina Duncan on . The full SMHAF Highland programme for 2017 can be accessed here.

- Paulina Duncan, Network Manager

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Birchwood Runners


Well done to everyone who took part in the Loch Ness Marathon, 5K and 10K today! Here's team Birchwood Highland - Karen, Mairi, Sarah, Danny and Andrea - who all completed the 10K earlier. 

Here's Brèagha and Karla at the Wee Nessie Run. Well done them to her for their efforts. As a charity, we have supported her Grandmother for the past seven years and she wanted to show her support.

It's not too late to donate to Brèagha and Birchwood Highland's team on Just Giving.

The Big Heart at Belladrum

Thanks to everyone who showed an interest in our Big Heart at Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival this year, which was decorated with lots of lovelocks and cloots with personal messages from festival-goers. The heart, which is the Highlands' biggest artwork, will be on display in Inverness soon. We'll keep you posted on the details! In the meantime, here's a video of the heart at Belladrum 2017.  

Lochaber Lads Raise £5000


Two students from the Highlands have raised over £5,000 in aid of Birchwood Highland through a sponsored cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.

Jamie Begg and Chris Dacre, both 20, and from Glenuig and Acharacle, respectively, set off from Land's End on the 10th of August and began cycling northwards, camping in various locations and staying with friends and family over the period of a fortnight, before reaching John O' Groat's, completing the challenge two days earlier than they had initially expected. 

Covering around 80 miles per day, the trip wasn't without its trials and tribulations!

Jamie and Chris received donations along the way, but the majority of their fundraising took place via their JustGiving page which currently sits at a total of £5,019.57.

Read the full press release here.

MacMacMillan Coffee Morning


The Macmillan coffee morning that was held at the Recovery Centre on Monday 25th September raised £68.11. A big thank you to everyone that baked for occasion and  thank you to everyone who got involved and made it possible.

Janet Neill, Senior Support Worker


Mark Skillin, Senior Support Worker sent us these photos and feedback from two residents. As you can see, it looks like a great trip!

"I had a great time on the camping trip. The journey there and back didn’t take too long and was enjoyable. When we got to the campsite we set up our tent as usual and went to grab a bite to eat in Kingussie after a short kick about. I slept well and was ready for the wildlife park the next day. The wildlife centre had quite a few empty enclosures but we got to see Polar bears and Monkeys. A little bonus was the visit to highland folk museum which was great and I enjoyed the classroom that had a teacher inside and we got to experience what a classroom would have been like when there was the belt and writing using a fountain pen was all a new experience. We also stopped off for a walk along the moor where we found a frog and took it to a place with water so that was good. All in all a very enjoyable trip."

- Sean

"I recently went to a camping trip I thoroughly enjoyed. Mark and Sanda were on form and apart from the Mosquitos it was really quite cool! I played football with others and enjoyed it. I slept quite well and it shored up my confidence to go to college. I thank you for arranging it if it was an idea of yours. If not please thank the person that came up with it."

- Ronald

Charity News

Highland Spotlight


Sarah Smith and Màiri Macdonald attended the Highland Spotlight business to business exhibition in September and were there to promote Birchwood Highland’s Mental Wellness Toolbox Talks for Business.  The Toolbox Talk is a 30 minute presentation designed to raise awareness of mental well-being in the workplace as well as providing tips on how to support colleagues when required. 

The presentation has already been delivered to Morrison Construction staff and we’re really looking forward to visiting more local businesses to see how we can tailor the presentation to their workplace.  If you, or anyone you know, would like to find out more about our Toolbox Talks, please contact Màiri Macdonald at Head Office on or on 01463 236 507.

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European Union ESF Aspiring Communities Fund

It has been now confirmed by the Scottish Government that Birchwood Highland has been awarded a grant from the European Union ESF Aspiring Communities Fund to continue our work with migrant and refugee communities in the Highlands. The project will run for 18 months and hopefully further funding will be secured during this time to allow the project to operate on a permanent basis.

We will be recruiting 3 new members of staff who will be allocated to the project, which will be hosted by SHIMCA Chinese Association, who are one of the project partners. The other partners include the Highland Council and the Highland Council Refugee Resettlement Programme, The Inverness Polish Association and the Inverness Support Group. The project will also work in collaboration with HUG (Action for Mental Health) and Advocacy Highland, as well as with the NHS CAS (Coping and Succeeding) Team, who have agreed to share with us their expertise in coproduction.

We look forward to starting this exciting new project. If you’d like to find out more, please contact Paulina Duncan on

- Paulina Duncan, Network Manager

Celebrations by Numbers


Many thanks to everyone who took part in, and helped create the 30th anniversary celebration events at Inverness, Invergordon, and Fort William. As people are now folding away their wings, and hanging up their fascinators and hats I thought you may like to reflect on some of the numbers involved…

Approximately 600 people attended the 3 public events, planned via 7 meetings for all areas. 25 creative workshops and 25 external making sessions involved 43 different service users, 30 different Birchwood Highland staff, and 10 different members of the public, supported by 9 Creativity in Care staff and volunteers that resulted in 564.2 workshop participant hours.

During the workshops 31 hats, 29 masks, 32 fascinators, 11 sets of wings, and 10 teddy bear picnic blankets or cushions, 3 large banners, 21 smaller banners, and 200 metres of bunting were produced.    

54 venues agreed to display posters, so many thanks to all those helpful shops, cafes, care homes, schools, medical centres, churches, and libraries. 6 separate ensembles of bands and musicians involved a total of 32 people. Many thanks to Black Rock Ceilidh Band, Liam Eaton (piper), Shortbread (Invergordon High School Band), Portmasamba Band,  Piers (singer songwriter) Lochaber Community Wind Band for helping the events hit the right note. 

To help us make these events a success Creativity in care staff worked a total of 1365 hours and travelled 2561 miles. Including 154 hours of loading and unloading materials. Whew!!! Well done everyone involved in contributing to a great celebration!!! Statistics are not available for free ice creams enjoyed, but numbers are thought to be considerable!!

- Linda Birnie, Training & Development Manager

Celebrating outcomes


Creativity in Care observed and recorded the following outcomes from the work around the 30th anniversary celebrations: 

  • A gentleman who said he would not be able to do anything due to mobility and eyesight problems was invited to have a cup of tea. He later helped make the bunting, and attended all 3 events, wearing his hat. He danced with wings on and pro-actively invited the general public to join in the parade.


  • A gentleman with restricted movements in his hands managed to cut cardboard and material to make his hat. Each session he managed to do a bit more, reaching and moving further. He also helped paint signs designed by another participant.


  • A young woman who struggles to get up early managed to get herself to the Inverness base every morning and work through the day with us. Her commitment, ideas and support of the project were significant to its success. Creativity in Care have invited her to apply for a volunteer position if she feels this is appropriate.


  • A man who needed one-to-one support and direction during workshops showed huge enthusiasm for his costume, (which he designed and made).  He later used his own initiative on the parade day and took down all the bunting at the end of the event.


  • A woman who was initially unsure about attending the sessions became increasingly involved. Her creativity shone in ways we had not seen before. Her work is highly original and she has a definite eye for design. It was wonderful to see her enjoying the public events.


  • Two women who were initially anxious about coming along to the sessions showed great commitment by attending every session.  Their confidence significantly increased and showed in the way they became more sociable and took creative risks with their designs which worked really well. 


  • A young woman who does not particularly like crowds coped well during the busy creative sessions. She made a fascinator and mask and enjoyed everybody singing with her. The young woman joined in a parade, wearing wings.


  • A man who writes his own songs bravely stepped in when local musicians at Fort William pulled out at the last minute. His ability to lead everyone in the percussion rhythm for the parade and to sing publicly was outstanding in supporting the event. 
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The following feedback was also provided: 

'The process required us to listen carefully to what people felt they could and could not do, whilst holding a vision of what is possible with support.  For some people, this meant starting with familiar activities such as decoupage, for others it meant beginning with a cup of tea and looking at images; whilst other people felt confident enough to start. We prepared materials and templates in different ways to ensure we could meet the needs of individuals. Every participant contributed to the project in several ways through design, making and performing in the parades as well as socially and emotionally investing in the co-creative process.’ (CIC director)

 ‘A favourite moment was when I was working with two men and we all needed help. Two of the participants came over and helped sort things. When I thanked them they said ‘we are family… we all help each other’. It touched my heart. ‘  (Volunteer)

I knew we were prepared for all possibilities, any weather and any conditions and that helped me feel calm about it all.’ (Participant)

‘I felt proud seeing how happy everyone was. Everyone pulled together and made it work. It was a true collaboration.’ (Volunteer)

‘A favourite moment was seeing how thrilled one lady was with her wings. She sat on a bench with tourists during the parade, but her wings were so big, all the tourists had to get off the bench!’ (Staff)

'The support from people’s families and friends in Fort William was very much appreciated. All the Birchwood staff worked so hard too.’ (CIC staff)

'We had ideas in our heads for things, and Creativity In Care knew how to make them real' (Participant) 

'Creativity In Care brings out the best in people.' (Volunteer) 

'I've had a fantastic day.. better than I could have imagined.' (Participant) 

'I never would have thought it, but I've got wings and I can dance!' (Participant) 

'This work brings out the social side of everyone... we have come out of ourselves.' (Participant) 

'My daughter knows what she wants to do with her life; to work with you guys!' (Member of the Public) 

'I love being part of a team and seeing how everyone blossoms.' (Staff) 

'That was a steep learning curve and a phenomenal process.' (Volunteer)

Creativity In Care were impressed with the way Birchwood Highland staff managed to ensure the parties were attended by the people they support and would like to thank everybody who contributed to the success.

These are really inspiring stories of personal outcomes achieved through the work around the 30th anniversary celebrations, and I am sure there will be more out there, along with many happy memories of hats, wings, ice cream and the various musical entertainments and side shows. Well done everyone involved for enabling these events to be such a success. . 

Linda Birnie, Training and Development Manager

Service User Consultations

Birchwood Highland wish to hear from service users as to what activities for developing and gaining additional skills people would like to have available in the future. Val Jeffrey, Director, and Linda Birnie, Training Manager have visited the Birchwood Highland Recovery Centre and Lochaber Support Service to meet with service users and further visits are being planned. Service users also have the opportunity to feed into this process via a questionnaire. Responses so far have highlighted some really interesting ideas and given a helpful indication of what would be welcomed by people. Many thanks to everyone involved in services for supporting this piece of work.

 Linda Birnie, Training & Development Manager

Company Annual Report

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Our Company Annual Report 2016/2017 is now available on our website. Take a look at the charity's key achievements and successes over the past year. 

Psychology Research Conference                                  


Linda Birnie Training and Development Manager, Birchwood Highland along with Dr Sarah-Anne Muñoz Senior Lecturer, Rural Health and Wellbeing, University of the Highlands and Islands presented a paper on Migrants Matter: EU Migrant Mental Health in the Highlands, a Peer Research Approach at the Psychology Research Conference 2017 at the Centre for Health Science, Raigmore Hospital, Inverness on Wednesday 30th of August 2017.

European Union migrants moving to the Highlands of Scotland can have experiences that impact negatively on their mental wellness. A Highland Change Network comprising See Me Birchwood Highland; HUG (Action for Mental Health); Highland Council; NHS Highland; The Samaritans; and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) have a shared interest in gaining further understanding of these experiences and what may be learned to help improve outcomes for this target population. Birchwood Highland led the collaborative study with HUG (Action for Mental Health), Highland Council, and University of the Highlands and Islands Rural Health and Wellbeing Research team. 

The work aimed at capturing attitudes of migrants to mental health, and experiences of accessing mental health services both in their home country and having relocated to Highland with a view to identifying drivers and barriers to experiencing metal wellness and accessing. 

A peer research approach was employed and people with experience of migration and of mental ill health, jointly designed and implemented the study with academics, using an online survey, focus groups and individual interviews.  Some peer researchers were migrants to the Highlands, and some had experienced mental ill health. Interviews and focus groups were recorded, transcribed, coded and reviewed by the peer researchers.   

Clear themes of the importance of understanding the i) attitudes and experiences of mental ill health, ii) the migration experience and iii) the impact of migration on health and wellbeing emerged.  The importance of understanding attitudes to mental ill health in country of origin was highlighted to enable provision of appropriate support to EU migrants living in Highland. We found a lack of awareness of symptoms of mental ill health, a reluctance to ask for help and reluctance to access services. Suggestions for improving outcomes include a migrant mental health peer support group and targeting work-related stress in this population with potential for further exploration of key themes. The scope for the peer research process to engage effectively with a “hard-to-reach” population and explore a potentially sensitive topic has also been demonstrated.  

More information at:

Linda Birnie, Training & Development Manager

Introducing SSSC open badges

Open Badges offer a different way of recognising learning. As opposed to a paper certificate open badges are digital records of achievements and skills that are tied to evidence. Open badges can help capture informal, unaccredited or extra-curricular learning, showing evidence of continuous professional development.  They are indicators of accomplishment, skills, qualities and interests connected across informal and formal learning contexts. There are hundreds of possible open badges offered by SSSC covering areas of care and support as well as digital learning, so there are lots of options. 

An Open Badge has information about:

  • what the badge is for
  • what you had to do to earn the badge
  • who awarded you the badge
  • links to evidence of the work you did to get the badge
  • the date you were awarded the badge and whether or not it will expire.

So someone you share the badge with can see in detail the work you have done to gain the open badge. 

The key element of open badges is the reflective learning aspect.  This aspect adds quality and helps ensure real learning is taking place. If you feel an open badge may suit your personal learning needs feel free to speak with your line manager about this, and see more information at: 

- Linda Birnie, Training & Development Manager


Updated Policies

Incident/Accident/Near Miss Report Form

Incident/Accident Near Miss Report Guidelines

Moving & Handling Policy

Protocol for Service User Mobility Car Inc. signed agreement


Starters & Leavers

Welcome to Birchwood Highland!

Lorraine Groundwater – Support Worker at Lochaber Support Service

Laura Mackenzie – Support Worker at Inverness Support Service

Kerri Douglas – Support Worker at Easter Ross Support Service

Lindsay Northern – Support Worker at Easter Ross Support Service

Shelley Elder – Support Worker at Caithness Support Service

John David Lewis-Saunders – Support Worker at Caithness Support Service


A fond farewell to:

Ricky Gallagher – Relief Support Worker at Recovery Centre

Rosemary Dimes – Relief Support Worker at Caithness Support Service

Ruth Murray – Relief Support Worker at Caithness Support Service

Carl Peet – Support Worker at Easter Ross Support Service

Liz Tufnell – Relief Staff Nurse at Recovery Centre

Lauren Innes – Relief Support Worker at Recovery Centre

Audrey Macnab – Support Worker at Caithness Support Service


Training Dates

Behaviour that Challenges Refresher – 17th October in Inverness

WRAP – 7th and 14th November in Inverness

Mental Health and Recovery – 10th November in Inverness

SafeTALK – 13th November in Inverness