My first circle of support with Winnie

As I approached the series of flats where Winnie lives, I was feeling a mixture of nervous energy and trepidation. Having had no detailed knowledge of Winnie prior to our meeting, coupled with the fact that it was my first circle, I appreciated the fact that my circles connector Cath would be joining me for the first of my circle meetings and help me apply the knowledge that I had learnt on circle facilitator training.

I went up in the lift and rang the doorbell of no. 11. A lady with beautiful black Mary Quant style hair opened the door and a refined voice said, ‘Come in dear’. I entered into what appeared to be an Aladdin’s cave of treasure!

There were glass cabinets filled with Victorian pot dolls, puppets, and glass vases of every shape and size. I made my way into a colourful living room awash with red and orange bottles and glassware. I had never seen so many bottles and knick-knacks packed into one room! Vases containing fake plastic flowers, brightly coloured sunflowers and roses littered the lounge.

Winnie is 63 years old. She’s intelligent and articulate. She has an amazing dress sense and loves to wear her ‘bling’, taking care to do her makeup, she likes to look good, and she does. Winnie gets her hair done regularly and carefully picks out an outfit for each day from her vast wardrobe.

I joined Cath who was sat next to Winnie on the sofa. I sat opposite on a chair piled up with cushions and we chatted about the purpose of a circle of support. As the conversation began it was clear that sometimes Winnie struggled to take turns in talking and throughout the circle meeting she talked about past events, about friends and family members, which made Winnie emotional. However, Winnie stayed really positive, and both Cath and I felt that the first session went well

Winnie’s circle currently consists of Winnie, her support worker Harriet and me. In the circle meetings I wanted to get to the essence of Winnie. Where had Winnie come from? What was her family like? Why was she in need of support? I knew it would take time and so I made sure not to push Winnie to reveal anything until she felt at ease with me. The better I understood Winnie’s life, the easier I felt it would be for me to facilitate the direction she would like to go in, and over the past fourteen weeks I feel that I have got to know Winnie well.

The original purpose of Winnie’s circle was to widen Winnie’s social life with invitations to groups she’s part of such as the Christian Science church, the women’s group she sometimes attends in Northern Town, and her neighbours. Initially, Winnie also really wanted to make money for a cancer charity by selling jewellery at a car boot sale. I found that as the weeks went on however, the focus of the circle changed from making new friends to getting a new partner. Winnie has suffered mental health problems from a very young age and so Harriet and I are now considering how we might help Winnie find a companion but in the most safe and supported way possible.

The circle so far is going well and I feel that Winnie is benefitting from the structure of the meetings. The challenge for Harriet and me is to create some positive actions that Winnie and Harriet can do together that Winnie will feel a real benefit from.

Blog by Corrine Barnes Delargy