A vital service in the heart of Powys


Jonny Drury

PEOPLE SEE Christmas and the New Year as a happy season, when you spend time with family and enjoy the holidays.

However for some people, that is just not the case.

People who experience mental health issues can find Christmas as tough a time as any, but in Montgomeryshire there is a vital service that is there to help people all year around.

After starting back in 1992, the Ponthafren Association has grown and expanded the services they have to offer, with bases in Newtown, Welshpool and an outreach group in Llanidloes.

They provide support to people experiencing mental health issues, and the County Times went along  to chat to some of the people who use their services about their experiences, and how the association helps them over the festive period.

Gwyn Powell has been going to Ponthafren in Newtown for two-and-a-half years, after battling depression.

“If you are feeling worse for wear, there is always support on offer, even if it is just someone to talk to,” said Mr Powell. “Christmas is a difficult time, but there are people here over Christmas if you have nowhere to go.

“I’m on antidepressants and come here three or four times a week.
“It was tough because my family didn’t really understand, but when you come here, there is always someone who understands.”

Michael Matthews joined Ponthafren 10 years ago, after run- ins with the law, and spending time in prison.

However he believes the association is a vital service, and it changed his life.

He said: “It is a very vital service for me personally. I was brought up in the care system. I was an alcoholic and I was in trouble, spending time in prison.

“But I came here and it all changed, I am on so many courses doing so many different things.

“I was a big alcoholic, but I gave it up and haven’t had a drink for 11 years now. It really has changed my life.

“Christmas can be a lonely time for people, but it is nice to know this is always here.
“They do a Christmas lunch, or you can just pop in for a cup of tea and a chat.”

Another member at Ponthafren, Laura Jackson, attempted to take her own life 10 years ago.

But on leaving hospital, she was walked down to the association in Newtown by hospital staff.

“I attempted to commit suicide and after leaving hospital they actually marched me down here to the Ponthafren.

“Here they recognise when there is something wrong, they just know.”

Laura’s passion for art is something she does at the association.

She said: “I do a lot of artwork here, I drew a portrait of my son, and it is just something I like to do.

“I won’t be here for Christmas this year, I will be down in Essex, but what they offer here at Christmas is fantastic.

“When I get unwell here, they understand how you feel, and that is always nice to know the support is there.”

Association manager Nicky Morris, who has worked with the group for the last 17 years, said it was humbling to hear how the members view the service provided.

She said: “It is humbling to hear the people talking like that and there are so many stories.”

350 members use the service in Newtown and 250 in Welshpool, with more than 600 in total including users in Llanidloes.

The service is part funded by Powys Teaching Local Health Board, Powys County Council (PCC) and funded other ways through grants and donations.

Nicky believes the service they provide also helps with prevention and saving money, adding that if there are donors out there willing to back the association financially, donations are always welcome.

She said: “With the funding cuts from PCC, we are not sure about that money.
“We rely very heavily on continuation of funding from grants, fundraising, sponsorship and donations.

“However what we do here isn’t just supporting people with mental health  issues, it is about prevention, intervention and crisis support and that saves the system money.

“One in four people experience a mental health issue at one stage or another in their lives.

“It is a valuable service in the area, and if there are any people out there who would like to support what is such a vital service to the people of North Powys,  please get in touch because we always welcome donations.”
Donations can be made via the Ponthafren website at www.ponthafren.org.uk

See full story in the County Times

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