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Team of the Year winners: River House Occupational Therapy team

Internal Communications Manager Julia Park met the River House Occupational Therapy team, who won Team of the Year at our Staff Awards in October.

She spoke to Head of Occupational Therapy at River House Sarah Cook to find out more about what makes the team special.

Tell me a bit about the team and why you think you won the Team of the year award…

The team is made up of 17 staff including nine qualified occupational therapists (one for each forensic ward) and six ‘OT techs’ who work on specific activities with service users alongside the occupational therapists (OTs). I am absolutely blessed to have such a wonderful team. It really is like one big family, with everyone looking out for and supporting each other.

It’s often a challenging environment but everyone works together really well and knowing that I have a talented, passionate, caring and reliable team behind me makes a huge difference. All of the team go above and beyond their roles to ensure we care in the best way possible for our service users.

What do the team do and what is occupational therapy all about?

Occupational therapy is all about assisting with functioning and independence. It’s about helping people reacquire skills that may have been lost as a result of illness, and teaching new skills that will help better equip the service user for life.

At River House, the team deal with the added complexity of service users having a history of offending. We work with our service users on ‘lifestyle re-designing’ – helping them get a buzz from non-criminal activities. Activity practitioners are supervised by OTs and work with service users when they are first admitted to River House and continue to work with service users who struggle with motivational issues.

What do you like most about your job?

Seeing the impact of the work that we do. Many of our service users have had terrible upbringings and come from backgrounds of abuse, neglect and poverty. Often it’s easy to see why they ended up following a pathway into offending. Not only do we help people get better but we support them to live more meaningful lives.

Seeing someone arrive at River House totally demotivated and watching them leave with a positive attitude and having gained life skills such as barista training or a gardening qualification is so rewarding. We watch them move forward in their recovery journey to lead meaningful lives which is absolutely priceless.

What are the key projects you’re working on over the next few months?

We’re renovating our gym and updating the equipment which has become quite old and tired. We’re working with CALAT (Croydon Adult Learning and Training) to extend our education offer so that we can maximise the number of qualifications service users leave the Trust with.

What type of courses do you offer?

All our courses are both therapeutic and educational. Miriam, our OT Clinical Specialist, works closely with the Recovery College to tailor courses to our forensic service users – for example, courses may be shorter so they are more meaningful for our patients. We also design bespoke courses from scratch, for example our ‘Happiness and Resilience’ course.

Andrew, one of our longest-serving OT Techs, often finds charity projects in the community for patients to get involved in. He will work with the service users and find an area of interest to them that they might be able to pursue in the community.

Could you tell us about Cafe Central, which celebrated its first anniversary in September?

Funded by Maudsley Charity, it's a real-world café at River House with recognised employment roles and recruitment systems that support service users to obtain accredited and commercially recognised skills.

Employees work alongside Trust staff to receive training in barista skills, latte art, food hygiene, catering and stock management, some of which are co-produced and co-delivered with existing service user employees. Everyone in the café is part of a team, there is a real sense of community and it’s really helped staff and service users feel more connected.

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