Our numbers during the pandemic

Changes Bristol is a community led mental health charity which helps people in Bristol who are suffering from poor mental health. Historically the majority of people who the charity supports would report depression, stress and anxiety although members can suffer from a range of conditions, including personality disorders, postnatal depression and suicidal ideation.

Before the pandemic, Changes Bristol held 12 weekly peer support groups across the city with an average of 8-10 people attending each meeting. The charity actively worked with just over 500 people in mental health distress at any one time with 217 new members joining in 2019/20. Support groups were located around the city, interacting with local community groups, charities and neighbourhood associations.

“I have been attending my local Changes group for nearly a year. I find the meetings supportive, validating and a much needed pressure valve for stress and depression. Connecting with Changes online is helping me to keep some normality in my weekly schedule. Today somebody said that they could feel a lot of empathy pouring out of their screen. That is how I feel. I still have a community” Anon – Changes Bristol Member

Adapting to the Pandemic

Being a small charity, Changes Bristol was able to adapt quickly in March 2020 when lockdown restrictions were introduced in the UK. Peer support groups were transferred to an online platform and the charity worked closely with volunteers to set up a befriending service for their members who are most vulnerable.

Over a 12 month period from March 2020, Changes Bristol more than doubled their yearly forecast expectation for new members, with an additional 469 people signing up to use its services. The charity opened 10 online and 6 in-person peer support groups, supporting an average of 8 people per meeting. To support inclusivity, equality and offer a non-judgemental space, four of the online groups were made with a specialist membership in mind – women only, men only, women of colour and LGBTQ+.

By March 2021 Changes Bristol’s small telephone befriending project had received funding for another year and expanded to include a new department and staffing. The Telephone Befriending service supported 58 people in it’s fledgling year with referrals for this service continuing to rise.

Staffing and Personnel

The team at Changes Bristol grew rapidly during 2020/21, starting this year with four members of staff (only one FTE) and expanding to 10 people on payroll (including three FTE). With new services, volunteer numbers almost doubled from 46 to 81 supporting peer support, befriending and the fundraising departments.

Volunteer support has increased with both additional members of staff, as well as an enhanced provision of training to ensure that volunteers are better equipped to achieve success in their roles. Volunteer training now includes sessions from Act for Autism, Dementia Friends and the Mental Health Foundation.

“Volunteering with Changes Bristol has been a really rewarding experience. Seeing first hand the benefit the service delivers to those struggling with their mental health gives me a sense of purpose and achievement, knowing that I am supporting the charity to continue its amazing work.” Alex S – Changes Bristol Volunteer


Looking forward

 Changes Bristol are continuing to open in-person peer support groups across Bristol. Initially the charity had planned on disbanding its online groups as lockdown restrictions eased but due to the high demand it was deemed that the virtual platform still provided accessibility and a valuable resource for members. Changes Bristol are now planning to continue growing the peer support group service, with an increase in staff numbers from what was previously a role for two part time members of the team to two full time and three part time roles.

The Changes Bristol befriending service will also continue, with funding offered by Bristol City Council which will cover the cost of the service for 4 more years. This new funding will allow for the charity to have enough staff in place to manage the significant influx of referrals which are now coming from other charities, health workers, support workers and GPs.

Finally, Changes Bristol are committed to increasing equality and diversity; offering spaces which feel safe, inclusive and non-judgemental for all. They will therefore be communicating with their membership frequently to create new projects based on their needs. Changes are also open to partnerships with other charities and organisations, working together to offer support for people who are considered “hard to reach”, often marginalised and in need of mental health services.

“As a charity we are constantly moving forward, adapting and diversifying. We want to offer the best possible for our members and being a peer support service, they are the first port of call when it comes to making change. These next few years are going to be challenging and  exciting but keeping in mind where the charity came from, our vision and roots within community work.” Jason Washbourne, Changes Bristol CEO