A woman with red curly hair sits in front of a greenhouse

It’s just a peaceful, lovely oasis. It is a place where you can breathe and not feel suffocated.

“Coming here has made me feel I’m somebody”

I’ve had mental health problems since I was a child, but I’ve been in the system for about 30 years.

I started coming to Preston Park in 2004. I was referred here because they had the voice hearing group. It was for people to be able to come and express how they felt about coping with voices.

At the time my mental health was quite chaotic and I didn’t feel safe even in the place I was living in, so coming here felt so different. It was like an oasis.

I’d had experiences at other places and they weren’t very pleasant, so coming here was such a big change. The staff didn’t talk down to you. They treated you as a human being first and your mental health was second.

The support I’ve had over the years has been immense. And I’m sure that I would have been in a worse place had I not come here. I knew that there was somewhere I could come where I could feel less scared.

Coming to the group was the first time that I was actually able to say that I heard voices. I was never able to do that before. When I used to see my psychiatrist or any other workers like a CPN, they wouldn’t allow me to talk about my voices. They would pretend that that part of me didn’t exist, so that was ignored.

It was quite a release, and a relief, to be able to say, “I am a voice hearer.” It was a real special moment to be able to open up and be honest about them. It was like a burden lifted off my shoulders.

In September 2008, we held a voice hearing conference. I was asked if I would like to write about myself and my experience and read it at the conference. It was such a cathartic moment. It really did feel so good to be able to be honest and say, “Yes, I hear voices, but I’m me, I’m not a bad person.”

I think it’s a tragedy. I think it’s a tragedy that mental health for so long has been so misunderstood.

Rather than being judgemental, look at the person first. Look at what that person can give, or what they’re saying. Look at that person and forget about the mental health side and just treat them like you would any other person. That’s all we ask really. Forget about all the rest of it because that’s just a symptom, that’s not us. I think being seen, being acknowledged that we are a person, a whole person, is very important.

This place brought out my creativeness. I didn’t know I was creative until I came here. People know me as the gardener. I just love it. I enjoy the challenge of managing a big garden like this. It’s so beautiful, there are so many lovely birds and trees. It’s just a peaceful, lovely oasis. It is a place where you can breathe. Breathe again and not feel suffocated. Just breathe again.

I hear voices all the time but when I’m busy I can only hear them whispering. So when I’m in the garden I can really immerse myself and they go into the background. The garden’s been my lifeline actually, being able to do it, and being allowed to be a client running it. If I didn’t have here to come to, things would be a lot worse for me, a lot worse. And I’d probably be in hospital a lot more than I am.

I’ve had a lot of trauma in my life. It’s been an uphill struggle and it still is. Coming here and doing the garden has been wonderful because it gives me a focus, not only that, it makes me feel I’m giving something back. In society, because I haven’t been able to keep down a job, you feel as if you’re insignificant, you’re a non-person. Coming here has made me feel I’m somebody.

Preston Park Recovery Centre provides a welcoming and supportive environment in which people with mental health support needs can receive individual support, learn new skills and get involved in a variety of groups and activities. The Centre also provides access to our specialist employment service, a welfare benefits service and can refer onto other services such as housing and health.