AGM Report 2016

Here is an edited extract from our last AGM report which was held on  Monday 14th November 2016.

Group Report for Oct 2015- Oct 2016

 The group has continued to grow and welcome new members. So far this year we have had 84 referrals which is 35 more than the same time last year! We believe this reflects the pressure of funding cuts on local services. We are also aware that increasingly GPs and psychiatrists are referring people to us. Our only concern is being able to accommodate larger numbers as our Monday meetings are at almost full capacity.  After a slow start, our Thursday meeting numbers have trebled over the course of the year and we are also delighted to report that we have more men and more young people attending than we have had for a long time. Member feedback remains very positive and we have included a section in the report this year on member feedback from our last AGM as well as compliments received throughout the year.

We have been fortunate to have had some excellent speakers this year. In January, we welcomed Danielle and Liz from the North London Samaritans who spoke to us about their services, emphasising that they are not just there for suicidal people but to support anyone who is in mental distress. They also offer a service through email and text.

In May, we welcomed Melanie Bloch, well-being practitioner and holistic laughter coach to speak about and do a practical exercise with the group in Laughter Yoga. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. It is done in groups with eye contact and playfulness between participants. The idea is that forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter. It was certainly something different – several members really enjoyed it and at least three have signed up to do a further session with Melanie.

Our final speaker for the year was Rachel Kelly, author, journalist and mental health campaigner. Rachel did a workshop with the group on Building resilience drawing on her own experience of clinical depression. It was a very interesting and interactive session in which members were able to participate as we went along. At the end Rachel very kindly gave each member a copy of her book Walking on sunshine: 52 small steps to happiness.  We are hoping to invite Rachel back in the future to speak about her current research into the links between nutrition and mental health.

Activities and themed evenings
We ran a variety of group activities and themed evenings throughout the year, making use, as ever, of the diverse talents of our members.  In February, we had a session on keeping physically active — exploring how physical activity can help to prevent and alleviate depression and anxiety.  We had a brief talk on the benefits of exercise and shared with each other the things we found helpful.  These included yoga, cycling, swimming, going to the gym and walking.  We then enjoyed a lively and energetic salsa session led by one of our members from Colombia who teaches salsa. Both the lively Latin music as well as the movement raised our spirits!

In March, we had a sharing our interests evening where members brought along examples of creative pastimes and other interests to share with the group. Past times shared included photography, art, metal work, cake making, gardening, choral singing, rock choir singing, creative writing and dancing. One theme which emerged from the evening was the way creativity can help alleviate depression – as well as how depression can stifle creativity.

We also had another of our Desert Island Discs evenings in June in which members brought along a favourite piece of music to share with the group – this year favourites included Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Abba and Sting!  We shared writings which have inspired us in September where members brought along poetry and prose they loved to share with the group. We enjoyed listening to a diverse range of literature including Philip Larkin, Kahil Gibran, Tolkien, and Borges to name but a few of the writers discussed.

We also had a session in April which we watched a short video on Why we sleep presented by Richard Foster an Oxford neuroscientist. Foster’s research on the relationship between light perception, circadian rhythms and the effect of aging on sleep is fascinating. He shows how disrupted sleep can affect our cognitive abilities, as well as causing depression and anxiety. He also looks at sleep as a therapy. After the talk, we discussed our own sleep problems, swapping tips on how best to overcome them. As there were so many questions we thought that for a future meeting it might be helpful to invite a sleep specialist to talk to the group.

Finally, in June we focussed on the subject of Loneliness, recognising its increasing prevalence in our urban society and its continuing stigma.  We learnt about the huge toll loneliness can take on one’s physical and mental health and new research, which links loneliness with cognitive decline and with a wide range of diseases. We reflected on how depression increases one’s isolation, and the role our group plays in bringing people together enabling us to share openly our experience of loneliness.

“Check-in” meetings
Our “check-in” meetings continue monthly on Thursdays. At the beginning of the year these became less well attended and we reminded the group that they would not be sustainable financially if people did not come along. Fortunately, numbers picked up towards the middle of the year and our last two Thursdays were approaching Monday numbers!  We will continue to offer the Thursday meetings as we recognise that newcomers, in particular, appreciate the smaller meeting and the fact that the whole meeting is dedicated to sharing and self-help.

We had four socials this year – five if we include the December 2015 meeting which is a Christmas social with quiz and seasonal refreshments brought by members.  Our Annual New Year Meal in January was well attended – 14 of us enjoyed a meal at the cosy Red Lion Pub in High Barnet.

In May 8 of us attended the Wyllyot’s theatre in Potters Bar to have tea together and then see Professor Robert Winston’s fascinating presentation on What makes us happy: reading the human mind. In August we had a most enjoyable summer walk over Totteridge Fields ending with a drink at the Orange Tree Pub – we were lucky to have perfect weather! We ended the summer with our annual Bring and share supper party where 16 of us enjoyed a fantastic and varied selection of home cooked main dishes and desserts some of which can be seen in the photo opposite!

Events and publicity

 Marsh Award commended project for excellence in peer support
We are proud to report that we were one of four shortlisted projects this year (out of a total of 57) and we received a commendation for excellence in peer support from the Marsh Christian Trust which is supported by Mind. The award was received by Anne and Sue (pictured below) who started Barnet Depression Alliance in 1997. We were pleased to have the opportunity of giving a short address in which we tried to convey to our audience something of the fear, suffering and isolation which depression sufferers experience and the value of meeting others who can understand and support non-judgmentally and in complete confidence.

In July this year we were very pleased to assist Queen Elizabeth’s Girls School with a project they were doing on local charities. We invited them to visit DA’s head office, showed them round and explained the nature and prevalence of depression, and answered many questions.  We continue to maintain links with Barnet Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust who receive our newsletter as well and a wide range of local voluntary organisations such as Mind in Barnet, the Eclipse Project and Barnet Voice for Mental Health. We are grateful for the support given to us by Community Barnet who have agreed to photocopy our newsletter for us at cost price.  We regularly attend the Barnet Voluntary Sector Forums and through one of our committee members, continue to input into local events such as World Mental Health Day.

Committee and active members update
We continue as a committee of seven women and among us represent a variety of talents and backgrounds: three teachers (two retired), a retired social worker, a nurse, a retired government statistician and a librarian! Many of our members too have extensive experience working in the charity sector, in particular the mental health sector. We are also very grateful to our group treasurer and to two of our male members who oversee the library and regularly update our Low Cost Counselling resource. We are very grateful to everyone for what they contribute to the group including several members who attend meetings early and help set up the room and to those who help to wash and clear up after meetings, and to those who give people lifts.

We are always on the lookout for new committee members and would very much welcome a man on the committee. We are also hopeful of eventually finding a 2nd group facilitator to replace Robert who sadly passed away in 2014.

Our newsletter is sent to approximately 67 people. We regularly weed the mailing list and remove people who have not attended a meeting for 6 months or more. We keep on our mailing list a small number of members who are not able to attend meetings – sometimes due to severe clinical depression – but who nevertheless want to keep in touch. We have had more referrals this year than normal – on average 8 people a month. Please see Appendix 1 below for a full set of statistics – please note 2016 figures are complete to end October 2016.

Financial report
Please see Appendix 3 for our annual statement of accounts. We are very aware that our grant next year is not assured and this may be the final year we get a grant from Barnet. As can be seen from the accounts we did return a small surplus this year of £104. We have cut back on expenses as far as possible – for example, we have not bought any new library books this year. We have also had several speakers who have very kindly agreed not to take any payment towards their expenses. However, we do not raise enough ourselves to cover the room rental and other expenses. We will therefore need to secure alternative funding if the group is to continue.

 Depression Alliance’s Merger with Mind
On August 1st, this year Depression Alliance merged with Mind. It is still early days and we will be exploring the effect this may have on our group and our funding. We hope to continue under the same name and we are looking forward to welcoming Laura Sacha – groups support officer from Depression Alliance, now supporting groups through Mind at our AGM this year. We will be discussing with Mind the implications of the merger for us, in particular, any change to our status as a registered charity.

Member feedback: compliments, suggestions and complaints
We are pleased to report that there were no complaints this year. Please see Appendix 2 for the 2015 report which includes the November 2015 survey.

A copy of our membership statistics for the past 5 years along with a copy of our accounts for the last financial year are provided as appendices in the original report. Please contact us if you would like a copy.