Our Non-Human Staff
Four-legged additions to Take Off, here to brighten everyone’s day! Enjoying hugs, belly rubs and causing mischief.
Mark Kilbey - Director
I’ve used mental health services for over 25 years, experiencing the full range of services from GPs to stays in secure units as a sectioned patient. At times I could live a ‘successful’, ‘normal’ life in full employment and be a functioning individual, at face value successful.
On other occasions I could be completely incapacitated by my illness to the extent I couldn’t move or talk. At my most damaging I could also be so psychotically manic that many things in my life were utterly destroyed. I experienced a huge range of medications and therapies that were deemed to be helpful by statutory providers. It is clear to me now that some of these were helpful, although I didn’t feel that at the time, whilst I will always question other aspects of my treatment at the hands of the psychiatric system.
It was when sectioned for 5 months in 2005 that I discovered the power of engaging with my fellow patients. It taught me how meaningful discussions with my peers could be. These relationships helped me get well and have given me the insight to stay well. I credit my peers as a force for good that cannot be underestimated. This is not a trendy concept or fad but an essential part of my daily life and a source of great strength. I have been working as Director of this organisation since 2007.
It has been 100% user led for several years now and has developed organically using the skills and expertise of the amazing people who work here. All have benefited from the help of their peers and want to share this on a more professionalised footing. We now have a broad range of services which are innovative and sophisticated and totally designed, developed and delivered by ‘us’.
When discussing peer support in a wider health context I am often rather condescendingly told ‘well, that isn’t the answer’. My reply is always that’s right. There is no one answer to any serious health condition but peer support is definitely an important part of the solution to living well. It should be promoted and used far more widely than it currently is and over the years people will make this happen. I am very proud to be associated with this organisation.
Ellie Williams - Assistant Director
After a few years in adolescence, anxiety and depression became increasingly unmanageable while living at school. I took medication and tried to engage in counselling, but felt huge pressure to keep up positive appearances despite feeling down.
Early on, I found that I could not relate to the counsellors and gave up on going to the GP to ask for help. After hitting an extreme low I took it upon myself to find ways of dealing with depression. I used the internet and my knowledge from A-level psychology to motivate myself to get out of the vicious cycle of helplessness and concentrated on what I enjoyed including yoga, photography and volunteering. It was not until I started sharing what I had worked on with my peers that I began to deal with depression much better, and ensuring I kept to a routine was what really took me out of it.
Aspects of university and a few other knocks caused my anxiety to get worse but again, getting support from my peers, keeping to routine and getting myself out my comfort zone has helped this over the years. Taking control of my own mental health and understanding that I could help myself was invaluable to me and I aim to show that others can benefit from this too.
I started working with Take Off as a peer broker and have moved onto facilitating groups, then project management and now I’m Assistant Director. I view Take Off as a support network, encouraging an individual to look forward to their possible futures rather than focusing on their past. Peer support is the main part of this at Take Off and the unique understanding peers have with one another is both enlightening and comforting.
I also believe Take Off will aim to educate other forums and professionals, helping them to understand the importance and successes of peer support. We will seek funding to increase awareness and support to increase individual’s physical and mental wellbeing as they go hand in hand, and are essential for everyday functioning.
Cliff Forester- Chair of Trustees
I suffered from Bipolar disorder while at the University of Leeds in the early 1970’s when it was called manic depression. I suffered a severe depression which was terrifying as it was unexpected and I had to learn how to survive it. Luckily I didn’t have to suffer that long as I was given Lithium treatment in its early days which removed the effects of this illness entirely.
I went on to have a successful career in London at computer software development, a happy marriage, and a wonderful daughter. I kept fairly quiet about my illness as I didn’t think that other people would understand. The only time I had a recurrence of this illness was when I experimented with stopping my lithium.
I discovered MDF the manic depression fellowship (now called Bipolar UK) in the late 1990’s. I started attending local meetings in Twickenham and found these meetings very inspiring as I was able to talk about my experiences to people who found it relevant for the first time. After a while I took over as organiser and group facilitator. It was a very successful group as people attending seemed to gain support and encouragement and it was a very friendly environment. I continued with this group for around 15 years and it was one of the most satisfying things I have been a part of and I want to continue with this sort of activity. After this I had a lengthy recurrence of this endogenous depression as I found that lithium no longer worked until I found another mood stabilizer that worked for me. I managed to get through that period of illness due to the support of others and my previous experiences.
I have become associated with Take Off for a few years now and really like what they are doing and the way they do it. I am proud to be a trustee involved with this great group of people.
Madlin- Finance Worker and Folkestone Coordinator
Madlin had mental health problems from the age of 12 but did not fall into the hands of psychiatry until the age of 26. She is now busy collecting psychiatric labels (aka diagnoses) for herself.
Thirteen years ago she discovered acupuncture as a far better alternative and since then has been able to return to work. This has mainly been within the voluntary sector but she is also a Direct Payments employee and is immersed in the wider disability field.
She has lived TV-free for much of her adult life, preferring to watch her cats and listen to the birds instead. She also prefers the un-pc term madness over mental illness as it comes on her own terms and not on those of psychiatry.
Wayne- Vice Chair, IT Officer and Dover Coordinator
I joined Take Off as a peer support worker however I also now manage the IT for the organisation. I have a keen interest in history, music, electronics, computer science and cookery. In my spare time I enjoy watching local bands play, online gaming, and spending time with my grandchildren.
A brief history of me.
I was a troubled child from the age of 7 or 8 when my parents divorced at the end of the 1970’s. It could be argued that I was troubled long before then.
At age 11 I was diagnosed in 1982 by a child psychiatrist; that I was expressing maladjusted behaviour and consequently was removed from mainstream education and sent to a boarding school for children with special needs. Which I will say was an enjoyable experience; I felt I fitted in with my peers in a non-judgmental institutional setting.
When I left there in 1987 I had a string of successful and fruitful experiences in education and employment, however I would still experience extreme highs and lows. When experiencing my worst lows I would end up isolated, homeless and possibly vagrant. In my extreme highs I would be overly productive studying at University, involved with running many businesses and while holding down a fulltime job, I would have fruitful relationships, children and even marriage.
However in 1995 whilst in my 20s I was diagnosed with manic depression, a new label that meant very little to me at the time and I got on with my life embracing the highs and not doing a very good job of managing the lows. Whilst in a mixed state I could be very agitated, verbally aggressive and display violent behaviour leading to strained relationships and loss of close friendships.
I was finally diagnosed in 2008 as having Bipolar affected disorder. This was treated with medication and since then there has been one severe relapse due to me thinking I didn’t need to take the medication any more. This resulted in being re-diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 in 2014.
I was introduced to TakeOff in 2016 and I have found it a very positive experience being able to fit in with all the different types of diagnosed mental illness which ultimately all experience some or the same common traits of anxiety, depression and psychosis. The peer groups are an important aid to my own recovery and stability. Sharing a lived experience with other peers is not only productive for myself as it is helping others in need with their own issues and challenges.
My previous vocations include NHS mental health, Secondary Education Administration, Electro-technical Systems Integration engineering, Publishing and Retail.
Sara - Canterbury and Coastal Coordinator, Resident Artist
My experience with mental health started when I was a teenager. I would get extremely socially anxious at school and struggle on most days to go in which only got worse when I was bullied. As I entered my mid-teens my mood began to swing. I’d arrange elaborate parties, or say yes to lots of conflicting and overly strenuous things and then become too depressed or unwell to go or keep up with any kind of task. When I came away to university this amplified more so. I would periodically become elated spending all my money and not making (what I would say now!) the most sensible decisions, to then plummet down to a deep depression. I started self-harming and going through cycles of restricting my eating or bingeing and purging. I was desperately unhappy.
My recovery started when I was assigned my care-coordinator in my 3rd year of university, who I felt really listened to and understood me. As part of helping me to take charge of my own recovery she referred me to Take Off where I attended as a service user. It was here I realised that my experiences weren’t too dissimilar as the people who surrounded me. Going to Take Off did and still provides a structure and a sense of purpose to my life.
I am extremely fortunate to be the Canterbury & Coastal Coordinator for Take Off as well as the Take Off artist for posters and designs. I’m passionate about what I do. I feel like Take Off is such a supportive environment and it inspires me to support others as they have supported me. I love poetry, art, dance and yoga as well as being close to nature. Being here allows me to bring those interests into work and share it with those around me.
Take Off is unique because of its focus on peer work. I feel that Take Off accepts the negatives but focuses on the positive of people and what they can rather than can’t do. I think because of this, I feel so at home here. There is a real sense of community and without the people here I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.
Mark - Peer Support Worker and Thanet Coordinator
Mark was previously a lawyer and unbeknown to him at the time had lived with mental health problems for many years. Following a breakdown and diagnosis of mental health problems Mark subsequently lost his business and very nearly everything he had worked towards over many years.
After what he describes as being “lost” he made contact with Take off.
“I had nothing to lose. Everything else wasn’t working. There was no understanding of what I was going through from anyone I saw. Takeoff changed that. They understood what I was feeling and with their support I was able to get myself back to a level that I could live at”.
He decided to become a Peer Worker in order to help people going through what he had.
“Without Takeoff I wouldn’t be here today. I knew that there would be many people like me out there who could benefit from what Takeoff gave to me. I knew that I needed to give something back and give people the benefit of my lived experiences”
Rubie - Peer Support Worker and Live Well Kent Administrator
My name is Rubie Cousins, I am 26 and I am a member of Take Off’s management committee; however I have been a part of the service since January 2014. Initially I started there on a work placement but enjoy the job and the ethos of the charity so much I cannot imagine working anywhere else.
I myself have suffered with mental health issues. I was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 18 and was in and out of treatment, secure units and counselling for most of my adolescent life. I am now in recovery and have been for five years. This I feel was due to the help I received in South Africa and having a strong connection with my counsellor and now the support of my fellow colleagues.
I was out there for a year and a half. I remained as an inpatient for the first six months then moved to supported living for a further year which is when I started to maintain my weight and take control over my own recovery.
I knew that I wanted to use my own personal experience and knowledge to help support others who suffer with an eating disorder and through Take Off that is now possible. I know that there is very limited support available to those who suffer with an eating disorder therefore I want to facilitate a peer support group for individuals, working with them to explore and find ways that are best suited to them as individuals, to maintain their recovery.
Rayya Ghul- Academic Advisor and Friend of Take Off
I’ve been working to improve the lives of people coping with mental and emotional distress and mental illness for most of my life. Sometimes this was as an Occupational Therapist, sometimes as an Arts Project Worker and most recently, as an academic working for Canterbury Christ Church University. I am the author of the self-help book, The Power of the Next Small Step, a solution focused approach to change in everyday life.
I’ve been privileged to be part of Take Off’s journey to becoming the incredibly supportive and vibrant community it is today. Take Off grew out of a vision to grow into an independent organisation completely led by service users, where everything on offer was designed and delivered by service users. Ten years ago that seemed over-ambitious. Now it seems the most obvious way to provide a safe and supportive space for recovery.
Mostly, I enjoy being able to visit and chat with Take Off’s members and be wowed by the great work going on. Occasionally, I am invited to deliver training in Solution Focused Conversation in order to provide members with a different way to talk about problems and concerns than the way they are used to from professionals.
Marilyn Avery- Trustee
I am a fit and healthy individual with a busy lifestyle, job, I sleep well and enjoy life to the full but things haven’t always been like that!
Several things have left me at rock bottom and professional help has been sought. Equally others have turned to me for help with their own personal issues and that has been due to my understanding of mental health problems which arise in all of us from time to time. Listening and talking to others has made me very aware just how many people out there are in need of help.
For me, the backbone of my ‘getting up in the morning’ has been the keeping of animals which is a commitment that cannot be ignored and this leads to both discipline and pleasure. Self-help has also been a major factor and this has been in the form of a daily log which ash given me focus and organisation.
Two years ago I met Mark Kilbey who introduced me to the then Canterbury and District Mental Health Forum, now Take Off, and this gave me an insight into the professional side of the issues associated with mental health. I am now a trustee of Take Off as I wish to be involved in a hands on level, using my own experiences to help other people.
I have been a trustee since September 2014. I have been a qualified and registered social worker since 2013.
Prior to this I worked in the social care field for over 6 years supporting children, adolescents and women who have experienced poor and often pro-longed mental ill health, primarily due to trauma or abuse. More recently I have worked alongside families to help them improve their mental wellbeing and functioning where possible, which has greatly expanded my awareness of how prevalent and so often debilitating, mental Illness can be.
I have a professional interest and commitment to improving individual mental wellbeing, the attitude towards mental health service users within society and within service provision, and a strong desire to advocate where I can for service users and their needs and wishes which has arisen from my own personal struggles during childhood and adolescence, probably right up into my mid twenties. During this time I was supported or ‘assessed’ by various medical professionals which unfortunately I did not find particularly helpful and I felt often led to further isolation. It was not until I was much older, with some education, increased life experience and a stronger, more positive support network around me, that I began to develop in confidence and feel better about myself.
A large aspect which really helped was being around other like-minded people, people who had experienced similar situations and feelings and those who really, actively listened and wanted to help and it was often the simplistic and motivational strategies which made this possible – empathy, encouragement, unconditional positive regard, non judgemental attitude and acceptance, partnership working based on equality and honesty. This is why I now recognise and fully appreciate the importance of person centred approaches, in investing in and actioning peer led support interventions as a primary vehicle to help meet the needs and improving the health, inclusion and opportunities of people who experience poor mental health and which I am always mindful of including in my social work practice. This is why I am proud to be a trustee of Take off and believe it has the resources and skill base to target and help improve other people’s experiences and lives.
Sally- Peer Support Worker
Hi I am Sally and I am quite old now- so my other half tells me.
I have been with Take Off for about three years now. I have seen a broad expansion of its work in that time to the vibrant organisation it is today. I am involved as a peer worker regularly in a number of groups which I really enjoy. I am also a Trustee.
I am writing this in my ‘special folder’ made for me by one of the ladies who attends the Womens Creative Group- lots of lovely artwork painted on it!
When I am not at Take Off I work as a dog walker which I love. Being outside in all weathers makes me happy. It certainly helps keep my depression at bay and gives me control over my eating disorder.
Sarah T- Movement and Dance, Social Media Coordinator
For me, Dancing is a tool that lets us to communicate with our bodies rather than our mouths. It allows us to create a different relationship with our body; as well as discover things about other people, through their dancing bodies.
I really value speaking about how you feel, but my job is to get our bodies talking… This is where the Beauty happens. Dance gave me a focus and a drive. Also a separate space to find meaning in life, as i enter a different relationship with my body. Which I would like to give lots of people the chance to experience.
Things I like most:
- Good music.
- When people make me laugh.
- When I see people improve massively in their dancing.
Lee Wilson- Peer Support Worker
My name is Lee Wilson, I am very open about talking about my conditions because I want to lessen the stigma behind mental health issues and make it less taboo to talk about.
I suffered with mental health issues my whole life, having been born with Aspergers, ADHD and tourettes I was naturally a target for bullies in a school which wasn’t trained enough to handle someone with my conditions. By the end of primary school I had gotten complex post traumatic stress, depression and anxiety that affects me go this day.
I have however gotten treated for my C-PTSD and gotten through secondary school and sixth form with relatively good qualifications and am trying to move on in life. I find that I feel better when I feel like I’m doing something meaningful, either on a small scale or large, both are fulfilling.
Peer support is the type of job I dreamed of doing before I even knew it was a real job, it has always been my passion to try to help those with mental health issues like me and have done so for most of my life with people I know in the past.
Helen- Peer Support Worker
I first became involved with Takeoff over a year ago after being told about the organisation by my care coordinator. Since then I have become a peer support worker, helping facilitate a regular depression group as well as being involved with the Takeoff peer support crisis group.
Although lucky enough to have a supportive husband, family and friends, I have suffered with depression, anxiety and self harm for over 10 years. I have had counselling, therapy and been on and off various medications during that time. More recently I have been both a voluntary and involuntary inpatient a number of times at a NHS psychiatric acute admissions ward.
It wasn’t until i was an inpatient that I really began to understand the importance and healing nature of talking to my fellow patients. For me, medication and therapeutic intervention are undoubtedly an important part of staying well. However equally as important has been the realisation that I am not alone in my struggles and that peer support is an extremely useful tool for recovery.
This is why, in my opinion, Takeoff provides such a unique and vital service. I feel lucky to have had the chance to benefit from Takeoff’s peer support model and hope to help others with their own recovery in a supportive and non judgemental environment.
Fay Blair- Peer Support Worker
I got involved with Take-Off through the Canterbury & Coastal Clinical Commissioning Group in August 2015. I’ve been leading partnership project work with AgeUK Canterbury for creatives in ‘arts for dementia and arts for community mental health wellbeing’. Challenging ourselves as communities to be more ‘mental health alert’, and to be more ‘dementia friendly’ is what drives and inspires me; how we can better support each other, particularly through ‘doing’ things, especially creative things.
People say I come over as a positive and chatty person (yes I can ‘talk for England’) but I do struggle with ‘the winter blues’. I try to keep upbeat in helping my mum to live as independently as possible with the day-to-day challenges that Alzheimer’s brings.
Greg- Peer Support Worker
My name is Greg, I am 28 and I have been working as a Peer Support Worker with Take Off for a couple of months and have been diagnosed with anxiety/OCD.
I first started having difficulties with anxiety at the age of 15 at which point managing everyday responsibilities became very difficult, it was not too long after the anxiety developed into specific obsessions and the compulsive ritual checking followed which started small but gradually became much greater. The problems with anxiety and OCD really came to a head during my time at university where I found that I struggled to function.
I started receiving treatment for these issues when I was 22, I was referred to Laurel House where I received counselling, CBT (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy) and medication. After quite a long time I have managed to bring these issues under a degree of control, not without a few ups and downs.
It is my hope that with the experience that I have gained I will be able to help others who are struggling with similar issues and provide a supportive social environment to improve their quality of life.
Emma- Peer Support Worker
I’m Emma and I have been a civil servant for the past 11 years. I have two beautiful Bengal cats, a wonderful husband and two lovely (and energetic!) step-sons. I enjoy watching football, keeping fit and I play for a women’s football team most Sundays.
I left school at an early age, as I was never really a “sit in the classroom” kind of person; I couldn’t concentrate, I had little interest in learning and I needed to be engaged in something more “hands on”. I tried college but dropped out after 4 months, I just couldn’t do it, it just didn’t engage me- sitting still for long periods listening to someone speak. I tried to stick it out, blend in with the others but I needed to be active- I just felt different from everybody else. It felt really isolating, I felt a failure.
Two years ago, my partner saw how I struggled with learning. The desire for knowledge was there, but I just couldn’t concentrate for long enough on a reference book or documentary. He suggested I get tested for dyspraxia. After 2 years of appointments and tests I was actually diagnosed with ADHD.
Looking back at the age of 30, it suddenly all made sense. I wasn’t stupid, I just didn’t have the focus for a class room environment. I wasn’t a naughty child (well, maybe I was occasionally!), I just didn’t know how to release the tension inside of me in a constructive way at such a young age. I wasn’t an anxious person, I was just a fidget and I wasn’t a failure- I just had different strengths.
Throughout my career I have worked hard at what I do, and despite the challenges faced I have worked my way up to a senior position. My ADHD makes things hard work sometimes; if I’m not interested in something then it’s physically draining trying to force myself to concentrate on it. However, if I get focused on something that interests me, I am proactive, enthusiastic and determined to succeed (and I usually do!)
ADHD is a highly misleading label for what is simply an intriguing kind of mind. Often it is seen as a negative trait -hyperactive children who misbehave and cause a wave of chaos wherever they go. The the stigma attached to ADHD is usually particularly unhelpful.
People with ADHD are often original, charismatic, energetic and often brilliant individuals with extraordinary talents embedded in their highly charged but easily distracted minds. It is just a different way of living in the world and it only becomes a disorder when it is not adequately managed and allowed to negatively impact on your life.
Since my diagnosis and starting to take medication to control the ADHD symptoms (The main one being an overactive brain which bombards your mind constantly with thoughts, questions and information to the point that it overwhelms, confuses and disorganises you) I have flourished. I have graduated with a masters degree at the University of Cambridge and married my soulmate. Having someone around me that genuinely cared and took the time to encourage and support me through the diagnosis process has been invaluable to me, and literally changed my life.
That’s why I know that having someone there, someone that will listen and who understands; can make all the difference to someone’s life. There is no obstacle that can’t be overcome with the right support, and no-one should have to feel alone. It is also why I am proud to be a peer worker with Take Off.
Zoe- Peer Support Worker
Hey! I’m Zoe, I’m 25 and I’m new to take off but feel very privileged and excited to be part of the organisation.
I have had issues with my mental health for as long as I can remember, struggling with depression, anxiety, disordered eating and self harm. I’m currently trying to use my experiences for the greater good.
Mental health difficulties are a part of me but they do not define me!
Leigh- Peer Support Worker
Hi my names Leigh, I’ve been attending groups for a few months , suffered with depression in the past, I find trying to keep busy helps with my issues. I work, but am interested in peer support also. To help others, as well as myself.
I like to do crafting, making cards, scrapbooking and collecting vintage china.
I’m hoping to bring some of the crafting into the groups to help others.
Angela- Gardening Expert and Peer Support Worker
I’ve recently joined the team at Take Off and it has been both a refreshing and challenging move for me. After studying psychology I spent many years working in mental health in the charitable sector. However depression, stress and anxiety from my teenage and university years started to slowly creep up on me and I realised I had to make some positive changes in my life or risk complete burn out. I re-trained as a gardener and believe this has been instrumental in a dramatic turnaround in my personal wellbeing. Having a particular interest in the benefits of horticulture and ecotherapy I am working with Take Off on the allotment project and also a wellbeing group (which focuses on depression and anxiety).
Changing from being a mental health ‘professional’ to working as a peer has been brilliant, and really helpful in challenging my own attitudes towards myself and my own mental health. People working together towards health as equals, in a supportive, respectful environment is incredibly powerful and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Shaun- Peer Support Worker
My name is Shaun and I am an experienced teacher working in many different subject areas within adult education.
I strongly believe that communicating in a social and open-minded environment is crucial for overcoming a variety of mental health issues.
In today’s modern society, the busy and stressful environment around has been proven to have a detrimental effect on our well being. As a result, the support needed for positive mental health is more apparent than ever; even though there is a currently a lack of support or oversubscribed waiting lists.
Personally, I have found exercise to have a positive impact for my mental health and enjoy spending any free time walking my dog, cycling and running.
Jack- IT Support
I’m a recently graduated writing student who has an interest in writing, gaming and film making. Recently, I’ve been working for Take Off developing their website, Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as minor technical support here and there. I’m hoping to give them a hand with their Creative Writing workshops soon.