Heather Brown works as Participation and Volunteering Manager at Common Wheel, a charity that supports people managing or recovering from mental illness in Glasgow. In her blog she talks about the support they provide across their 4 main projects and why Community Link Workers (CLWs) are the perfect referrers!
Common Wheel is a mental health charity that supports people managing or recovering from mental illness and dementia by providing free meaningful activities across Glasgow. We work with small groups and currently have four main projects: bikes, music, visual arts (Carnival Club) and climbing. All of these projects aim to reduce isolation, develop new skills, improve mental wellbeing and challenge stigma.
Common Wheel started as a bike project 22 years ago running Build Your Own Bike (BYOB) courses and this remains the main focus of the bike project today. The courses run throughout the year at our workshops in Maryhill and Bridgeton. Participants are helped to choose a suitable bike from our stock of donated bikes, and over 10 weeks they are guided in taking it apart, cleaning the usable components, and reassembling it using new and recycled parts. By the end participants have a fully functioning bike that they can ride home.
Our workshops are also open to the public where we do repairs and sales of bikes. The workshops are run by our engineers who are assisted by our volunteers, all of whom have taken part in our Build Your Own Bike course.
‘It helped me feel a bit more alive again and have something to do and just recognising that things aren’t as bad as they were, just being out and doing something practical’ – BYOB participant
At our music project we run participatory music workshops for people in hospital wards, care homes and in the community. Our community music sessions are run by professional musicians and participants take part in a variety of musical activities including improvisation, song writing and band style jam sessions. The group is suitable for all levels of musical experience. We have participants who have never touched an instrument and people who are professional musicians creating music together.
‘I really enjoyed getting along again. It’s an hour of complete escapism, n nae talk, so I get to shut up and shut off for at least that hour. Really appreciate it‘. – Community Music Participant
In 2016 our third project Carnival Club was born. This is our visual arts group that runs in blocks throughout the year. The group works with a professional artist and together they design and create pieces of visual art that are showcased around Glasgow. Traditionally they created pieces for carnivals such as the West End Festival or Style Mile Carnival. However, during and after Covid there have been very few carnivals. The group has adapted and are now using multiple different artistic techniques including creating insects made from junk for COP26, a giant shark sculpture for the Bearsden Festival and screen printing banners which were flown at Glasgow Pride and the Govanhill Festival.
‘I definitely hope that Common Wheel continues this class. Without a doubt, it is the highlight of my week, and a real lifeline, something that I look forward to, and which brightens my routine’. – Carnival Club Participant
At a Common Wheel steering group our participants suggested we add a physical activity to go along with our creative and practical ones. Climbing was suggested and a pilot project was run in 2018. The feedback was so positive that we just had to continue. After breaks through the Covid restriction years, the project has quickly grown into two groups a week and a monthly social, with several beginner’s intakes throughout the year.
‘Bringing me in with other people who are going through similar things has helped create one of the best support networks I have.’ – Climbing Participant
We run our groups at the climbing centre in Maryhill, known as ‘The Prop Store’ and the group is suitable for all levels of fitness and climbing experience. Participants get the chance to learn how to boulder and rope climb with the groups being led by professional instructors and supported by Common Wheel staff and volunteers. We also run some outdoor climbing sessions with the help of Mountaineering Scotland in the summer months.
‘I think it’s been pretty perfect, coming at a time where I’ve needed something like this quite badly.’ – Climbing Participant
All our participants are referred to us by health professionals to ensure we are working with people for whom mental illness is having an impact on their quality of life and ability to engage with their community, family or work. During the current times it can be hard to access mental health services with plenty of long waiting lists. This has meant we are receiving an increase in referrals from a variety of sources including Community Link Workers (CLWs).
CLWs are the perfect referrers as they help create a connected support system for the participant through ourselves and primary care. All our activities are free and we don’t require a diagnosis of a mental illness to access our services, people just need to be receiving support for their mental health in the community. We regularly work with CLWs, which is brilliant, but we want to work with more. Therefore, we are hoping to spread the word of Common Wheel so that more people can benefit from our activities.
If you have a patient in Glasgow who you think will benefit from one of Common Wheel’s activities you can submit a referral form using this link
Heather Brown is Participation and Volunteering Officer at Common Wheel