After she qualified as a Mental Health First Aider in July 2018, Claude Asgill wondered what she could do to actively promote wellbeing on site and help people who might be experiencing mental health issues.
She had the idea to start Chatty Café, which is about to battle it out for the title of Health, Safety and Wellbeing Excellence at this year’s Construction News Awards. The event is held virtually on 26th November, due to the pandemic.
“I’m very passionate about people’s wellbeing,” Claude explains. “I wanted something that was a fun, free, informal, non-compulsory, regular way or exploring some aspect of Health & Wellbeing with a subtle leaning towards mental health.
“Chatty Café is a very gentle, subtle animal. We ask no names and take no registers, we just do a head count so we can monitor how many people attended and we respond to any feedback.
“Mental health is a hard thing for people to talk about and people do not like to feel they are being lectured or that it is being forced upon them.”
Claude put effort into ensuring that each session had a theme, providing practical help and advice. It also usually involved snacks and games, because eating and using your hands puts people at ease and helps them to talk about their situation more comfortably, she explains.
Last year, a ‘knowing your numbers’ session in conjunction with the site’s medical centre resulted in around 30 people going away knowing what their blood pressure, resting heart rate and cholesterol were. This meant they were able to choose what to do with that information and acted as a reminder that they were responsible for their own health. The session was also an opportunity to raise awareness of the medical centre’s presence, with a number of people subsequently booking a full medical.
Since the pandemic hit in March, however, the Chatty Café has quite understandably not been able to host meetings in person. Instead, Claude took the initiative to start an electronic monthly calendar sharing useful resources and suggesting activities to boost wellbeing through lockdown. Each day could have simple instructions, based on proven tactics to boost wellbeing, such as “today I will try to smile at strangers,” or “today I will read for 10 minutes.”
Claude acknowledges that the Covid-19 crisis has been tough on people’s mental health. More than ever, the spirit of the Chatty Café needs to be celebrated as a reminder that we must be kind to ourselves and one another.