“Le Chéile is non-judgemental. You can be yourself, warts and all. That’s exactly what Le Chéile is and that’s what I got out of Le Chéile,” said Gillian Mc Namara, peer support co-ordinator with Le Chéile Limerick.
After speaking to Jigsaw Limerick last week on the mental health services available to young people in the Limerick area, the Limerick Post wanted to investigate the services available to adults within Limerick. One such group that provides invaluable mental health support is Le Chéile.
Claire Flynn, manager of the Limerick Mental Health Association (LMHA) and Le Chéile explained to the Limerick Post the history of both organisations.
“LMHA is an organisation set up by volunteers in 2002 to try and meet the unmet needs of people who were in the care of mental health services at the time. A year later Le Chéile was set up, which is a peer support project that provides activities and supports for people who are in crisis with mental health or have been through a mental health crisis or just having difficulty coping.”
Le Chéile is the only mental health organisation in Limerick that organises a peer support project. They provide activities such as furniture restoration, art and music classes for all levels from absolute beginner to advanced, walking groups, or you can simply walk into Le Chéile and join their coffee morning of a Friday for some chats. The aim is to give a person purpose to their day, to build confidence, to aid recovery and to provide a soft landing after a crisis. Most importantly, it is a non-judgemental group and everyone is welcome – warts and all.
When you walk through the doors of Le Chéile you are not probed with questions, the Le Chéile team simply want to know your name. They just want “to meet the person, not the diagnosis,” Claire continued.
There is still very much a stigma in Ireland around mental health, however, there is no stigma in Le Chéile. They set up a strategic plan recently. They want to make use of the resources to the best of their abilities and to meet the needs of the people they want to affect. This has helped them to understand that they want to reduce the stigma around mental health. They cater for mental health whatever guise that may come in – loneliness, bereavement, the loss of a friendship. Claire explained:
“If you have been finding that you have been feeling low for a while. You might not be able to put a finger on it or maybe something has happened to you; you have lost your job, you have been through a very sad bereavement, you may have lost a friendship, it can be any number of things but it is affecting you psychologically, come into Le Chéile. The help you need might not necessarily be within Le Chéile but if Le Chéile is what works for you then we will be more than happy to help you.”
Peer support co-ordinator, Gillian McNamara said that oftentimes it is the media who perpetuates the idea that those with mental health issues are dangerous and are somehow a menace to society. “We don’t have horns,’ she added, “people are people and anyone can have a mental health issue.”
The truth is that we will all suffer with our mental health at some point in our lives and when that does happen there are services, such as Le Chéile, who will be there to support us.
Le Chéile is very much a collaborative organisation. Claire commented on how the mental health organisations in Limerick city and county are ‘brilliant for collaborating and sharing resources.’ Le Chéile has also collaborated with the Limerick School of Art and Design, the Hunt Museum, the World Music Academy, Chez Le Fab to name but a few.
Le Chéile also run a men’s shed project where men can meet, talk, take part in gardening, weeding, planting vegetables and other gardening activities. The men’s shed takes place in a glasshouse and walled garden on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Limerick. Participants are between 18-70. It is a very peaceful environment once the hustle and bustle of the tea and coffee making is over.
If the weather is too hot and you don’t want sweat dripping from you in the boiler house that is a greenhouse, you can take a seat and chat under the trees. The benches the members relax on were constructed by their very own hands, as were the wooden flower pots displayed proudly in front of the greenhouse. The LCETB provided a woodwork tutor for the Le Chéile members and so the men were able to learn some carpentry skills and reap the benefits of these skills by resting their laurels on the benches constructed out of wooden pallets.
Speaking from the comfort of these benches, one of the men’s shed members talked candidly about his experience with Le Cheile:
‘Men don’t admit that they want warmth and care but they do. The reason I like the men’s sheds is that it’s like a little community and people don’t judge.”
Gillian added, “You see men don’t talk, whether they are young and old. But the ones that are above with us do talk and they love to chat. They know it’s a safe environment as well. Even if someone new comes in, they just sit down and chat away. It’s just so open.”
You can attend Le Chéile on a short-term or long-term basis and many people who have attended Le Chéile have ended up becoming peer volunteers with the organisation providing support to other people who have had similar issues in their lives.
It does not matter how big or small the problem may be, Le Chéile’s doors are open and if they cannot provide the help or support you need then they will direct you in a direction that may be more suitable for you. It offers a warm, welcoming and open environment.
As Claire said, “I can come into work and be who I am and however I am on any given day. Just being here gives me support. Just being around people who are so loving, caring and understanding helps me day by day.’
Le Chéile is very well supported by the HSE and they provide Le Chéile funding every year, however, there is never enough.
“Donations help us to have longer opening hours than our funding allows. We currently have a drop-in service on Thursday mornings for anyone to call in and get information or support. We are hoping to expand that in September but we will need more funding to do this. Extra drop-in hours means we can give information and support to anyone who needs it. The more we are open, the more people we can support.”
Claire explained that she is currently paid for 25 hours but she usually does double that as it is what the service requires. Quite often the other two members of staff do extra hours also. This is evidence of the commitment and dedication of the staff at Le Chéile.
The Le Chéile board is entirely voluntary lead and they have about 10 volunteers on their books, some of whom are peers.
Le Chéile are very open to new volunteers and ask volunteers to do at least 2 hours a week. There are many ways to volunteer with Le Chéile and they would love to hear from you if you have time and/or a particular skill that could be of use to their organisation.
It is important to recognise organisations like Le Chéile, and support them if we can. They provide the ever-important ray of hope to the community and as Claire said, “‘There is hope in recovery and that is one of the main things we try to live by is that recovery is possible and one of the main tenets of recovery is hope.’
People can also donate or hold a fundraising event for Le Chéile. All details can be found on the Le Chéile website or click on the links below.
Le Chéile located at 3 Sexton St, Limerick City.