Occupational Therapy students give veterans a boost

A recipe book, activity box and a regular walking group are just some of the new activities established by two students for veterans living at Launchpad’s Avondale House in Newcastle.

Year 3 students, Olivia Lumsden and Jay Motherwell have completed a 10-week placement at the house, which provides vital accommodation and support to veterans in the North East.

The placement is part of their three-year BSc Occupational Therapy degree at Northumbria University and has provided them with practical experience in a contemporary health and care environment.

Olivia and Jay engaged with veterans living at the scheme who for many, have found it difficult to resettle and have faced challenges such as homelessness, poverty, mental and physical health issues, addictions, broken families and unemployment.

During the initial weeks of their placements, the students faced a number of challenges as the communal areas within the house were still closed due to Covid restrictions and some of the residents, particularly those who were vulnerable, were isolating in their flats.

As restrictions relaxed, they spent time talking to residents and explaining what occupational therapy was and identified what support was already in place at the house. The biggest challenge was that there was no occupational therapy service in place. They both worked closely with Ann Rees, a specialist case worker at Avondale House who supports residents to overcome mental health, gambling, drug and alcohol issues by engaging with the extensive range of agencies that provide expert relevant help to encourage the residents to move onto stable and independent lives.

Olivia, 23, said:

“The first few weeks were challenging due to the lack of social interaction and lack of occupational balance so we used that time to gather information to understand what residents wanted and started to build relationships. We listened to residents and built trust.

“We wanted to create a culture of openness and ensure there was clear communication. We valued and respected their engagement to a point where they felt comfortable and would come to us.”

Once they started to build trust and engagement with residents, Olivia and Jay found that they started to open up and discuss their thoughts and feelings which helped them to make informed decisions.

One of the key activities developed was a recipe book to encourage residents to cook healthy meals for themselves and as a group. The recipe will be included within the residents’ welcome pack when they arrive but and is something they can also take away with them when they leave Avondale House to live independently.

They also created an activity box, which promoted interaction and engagement and includes everything from what Avondale House does, what residents are interested in and stories from the residents.

A weekly walking group was also established every Wednesday and has developed into a very popular activity to help residents with their mental health and wellbeing. They found that some of the residents opened up more in a natural environment and they were amazed to see some of the changes of the residents by participating in this activity.

Jay, 31, said:

“We are very grateful to the staff and residents at Launchpad for providing us with the opportunity to work with them and make a difference. In the space of ten-weeks, we’ve seen a huge change in residents’ confidence and it was nice to see them engage in activities.

“As veterans, they are used to routine and consistency and they have a large level of independence but hopefully, we’ve been able to help them open up and think about how changes to activities contributes both positively and negatively to their health and wellbeing, and to think about the community of veterans in their local area and what is available for them.”

Andy Hardy, Assistant Manager – Facilities at Launchpad’s Avondale House and also Olivia and Jay’s supervisor, said:

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Olivia and Jay and I have seen the positive impact they have had with our residents. They have instilled confidence and delivered real improvements which will continue long after they have left. Hopefully, this placement has helped them to develop the skills, confidence and knowledge required to prepare them for a career in occupational therapy.”

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