Free Event at Watlington House: Finding Positive Solutions to Life’s Challenges

READING is marking Mental Health Awareness Week alongside Dying Matters week (13th -19th May) with a free event on Friday 17th May featuring speakers, workshops and taster sessions throughout the day, as well as the opportunity to have a picnic.

The theme of this year’s event is ‘Finding Positive Solutions to Life’s Challenges’ and the day will include people sharing their inspirational personal stories of facing mental health challenges and/or bereavement.

The free event, which runs from 10:30am to 3pm at Watlington House in central Reading, will also include mini course taster sessions from Compass Recovery College, a confidence workshop by Reading Rep Theatre, a ‘life story’ stall from The Museum of English Rural Life, as well as a Therapeutic Writing workshop by Reading based blogger Katie Conibear, who runs

Refreshments will be provided but people are also encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy in Wattlington House’s beautiful walled garden (weather permitting). For directions visit:

Reading’s Lead Councillor for Health, and the Council’s Mental Health Champion, Graeme Hoskin said: “Any of us can develop a mental health issue or experience trauma from bereavement, and one in four people will be affected by mental illness in any one year. The effects can be as debilitating as physical illness, but may often remain hidden with people unable or unsure about how to get help.

 “I welcome the event and activities taking place to mark Mental Health Awareness Week and Dying Matters Week, which are designed to encourage conversations amongst groups and signpost people to support services, as well as help to raise awareness and educate people about mental health.

“I’d encourage people to come along to Watlington House on Friday 17th May – enjoy a chat and a picnic in the garden, listen to some inspirational personal stories, try out one of the great Compass Recovery College taster sessions or sign up for one of the free workshops.”

For more information or to book onto a free workshop contact  or call 0118 937 3737.



The event has been organised by Reading Council with the support of partners, including Compass Recovery College, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, ACRE, Launchpad, The MERL, Reading Rep Theatre and Stumbling Mind.

Case studies: Sharing Personal Stories

Mark’s Story

Mark - Compass Recovery College Peer Mentor
Mark – Compass Recovery College Peer Mentor

“I wish I’d had found Recovery College in my 20s. It worked so well for me – I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”

Mark has come a long way on his journey to recovery. After many challenges throughout his 20s and early 30s, including numerous stays in hospital, now in his early 40s, and with the help of Compass Recovery College, Mark has impressively turned his life around.

Originally from Reading, after many chaotic years of moving around the country, he returned in 2015, where he first got involved with the college. “I’ve done most of the courses they offer over the years!” he says. The strength of Compass, he says, is that it offers “Therapy without the ‘scary’ Therapy!” Whilst he believes there is a time and place for intensive, medical therapy – especially soon after a crisis – longer term, Mark says the college offers a much more positive path in which to break the cycle of illness, allowing people to heal in their own time in a progressive, nurturing  environment.

Attending courses with Compass gave Mark the confidence to try new things and encouraged him to take up running. He runs most days now, belongs to a number of local running clubs and has completed numerous 10Ks and half marathons. This year he ran the Reading Half Marathon in support of the Mayor of Reading’s Charities. He is also incredibly proud to have won his first ever running trophies!

Volunteer award
Volunteer award

Having progressed as a student, Mark is now an incredibly enthusiastic paid peer support worker for the college, alongside his voluntary work. Starting back at work has been a real achievement for him and shows him just how far he has come. Last year he was humbled to receive Berkshire NHS Trust Volunteer of Year 2018 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to volunteering at the college.

Mark - running Reading Half Marathon
Mark – ran in the Reading Half Marathon 2019


Mark says the key to why the recovery college works so well is that it pairs tutors who have clinical/professional qualifications with support workers who have lived experience of mental health challenges. The college is extremely good at drawing on people’s strengths and talents. Mark helped put together the six weeks “Making Sense of Voices” course and he co-facilitates the “Understanding Medication Course.” These courses, he is keen to emphasise, offer people practical advice on dealing with everyday problems, equipping them with the tools to build their own inner resilience. He is also heavily involved in the new student registration sessions which take place twice a month, making first contact with people who are often in a very vulnerable position and reassuring them about all the college has to offer. “It worked for me and it is good to help set people on the positive journey I’ve been on.”

Importantly, the college offers everyone involved, from tutors, peers support workers and students, a friendly, unintimidating place to socialise and avoid the harms of isolation. Mark says he really enjoys the time he spends with students – “I love that people laugh at my corny jokes and my Tommy Cooper impression!” On his day off, Mark can often be found volunteering at the college’s allotment within the beautiful walled garden at Caversham Court, which provides an opportunity to grow fruit and vegetables in a friendly and supportive environment. The college, he says, has enabled him and many others to get living again.

Charlie’s Story

Charlie Compass Recovery College Peer Mentor
Charlie – Compass Recovery College Peer Mentor

“To see small changes in yourself and others and to be part of contributing to that change is amazing!”

Charlie has an impressive CV. Over the years she’s worked as a hairdresser, in event promotion, adult training, statistical data research and interpretation. Although her struggles with mental health challenges have been life long, they became more acute in the last six years. When she became very unwell, just doing basic tasks became a daily challenge.

She moved to Reading in 2016 and after struggling for about a year to find the right support, she eventually came across Compass Recovery College. From that point on, she says, her recovery has come on in leaps and bounds.  She is slowly but surely rebuilding her life.

Charlie was a student with the college for just over a year. With her extensive experience, the college very early on identified her ability to provide invaluable feedback and insight into the courses they offer. She started joining in courses as a volunteer, as well as helping with admin and promotion of the college. Six months ago she took the next step back into paid work with the college.

Charlie acutely remembers how tough it was first attending courses and just how petrified she felt. “Even just having people sat behind me was intimidating.” But with the help of tutors and peer support workers within the caring, nurturing ethos of the college, she started her journey to regaining her confidence. She now co-facilitates the very popular pottery course and is a champion for the creative therapy approach: “You see people go from the first day where just being there is a big deal, to the end where people are relaxed and chatting and opening up about their experiences.” The key is that the activity becomes the focus: “It is very relaxing and allows conversations to flow naturally.”

Charlie is a firm believer in the importance of talking about mental health and getting people to open up. Through Compass she has recently qualified as a Mental Health First Aider with MHFA England. The course focuses on how to start conversations and signpost people to support: “Every organisation has a medical first aider – why not a mental health first aider too?”

When asked to summarise why people should consider joining the college, Charlie says: “You are not just being told how to live your life by someone who has no idea where you are coming from.” She highlights how this innovative approach to recovery is increasingly getting results – it is keeping people out of hospital and breaching the divide of social isolation faced by many people experiencing mental health problems. It is not a one size fits all approach: “The college works with your challenges – it helps you live with them and form coping strategies that work for you. It is all about you owning and being in charge of your recovery and empowering you not to be afraid to question the treatment that is right for you. It is not just a process being done too you. For example – our course on ‘Understanding Medication’ gives students the opportunity to find out more about the drugs they are being prescribed. It myth busts and helps provide much needed reassurance they might otherwise be reluctant to ask for.”

Mike’s Story

Mike - Compass Recovery College Tutor
Mike – Compass Recovery College Tutor

“Sometimes just turning up to a course is a major achievement for our students.” No-one knows this better than Mike, a volunteer tutor with Compass Recovery College. Mike has been working with the college for just over a year, running regular workshop sessions.

Mike is a perfect champion for the college and what it has to offer. He has overcome his own personal challenges and is now using his experience to full advance when helping others.

Having lived experience of mental health issues has helped Mike empathise and relate to the people he teaches at the college and in turn, he says working as a tutor has helped him develop and maintain his own self-confidence and ‘people skills.’

Mike’s day job is Health & Safety Co-ordinator with Reading Council. He draws on his work expertise applying it to real-life, practical advice.  His workshops focus on helping people plan their next steps after Compass Recovery College – which is, he says, one of the college’s main strengths – the fact it offers a journey to recovery, wellbeing and independence.  “We’ve shown people how to break down things that appear like huge issues into simple, do-able, steps and to turn those steps into simple, flexible plans to help get things done. For example, people found simply setting down on paper what might go wrong getting to a job interview helped them to see things in perspective and make a plan to get round any issues – in my day job it’s called a ‘risk assessment’ but it’ll work anywhere, anytime.”

Mike also encourages students to feedback what has worked for them and what could be improved, so the college itself is evolving to meet the needs of its students.

Mike has more recently developed and delivered a five week course, drawing on his project management, training and corporate problem solving skills, and has applied it to solution focussed sessions which help people to tackle problems relating to their daily lives.

He says one of his proudest moments to date is that one of his students has been inspired to become a peer worker herself at the college. This, he says, makes it all worthwhile and brings it home to him how far he has come on his personal journey to recovery.

Recovery Colleges

Recovery Colleges deliver peer-led education and training programmes to support people back to mental health. They focus on promoting self-reliance and personal development.

Recovery Colleges are run like any other college, providing education as a route to recovery. Courses are co-devised and co-delivered by people with lived experience of mental illness and by mental health professionals.

Reading’s Compass Recovery College currently has 190 students enroled. It offers 29 courses, ranging from those about specific diagnoses, such as Understanding Anxiety  and Understanding Depression to courses promoting coping strategies such as Managing Your Money and The Wellness Recovery Action Plan or therapeutic art courses such as pottery,  as well as social groups and activities.

Compass is funded by Reading Council and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and supported by a number of organisations, including New Directions. The college is open to anyone over the age of 18 with lived experience of mental illness, as well as their friends, family, carers or mental health practitioners and clinicians.

Find out more about Compass and download their prospectus at:  call 0118 937 3945 or email

follow @RecoveryCompass ( or Facebook (

Victoria Nickless

For media enquiries about this release email or call 0118 937 3957