Supporting mental health recovery in Belfast

Robin Kelly was shortlisted in the nursing support worker category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2020 for his dedicated and person-centred work with adults experiencing mental health problems. He tells us why he loves his job

Seven years ago, Robin Kelly began volunteering at North Belfast Day Centre, driven by a desire to help people struggling with their mental health. “It was lived experience that drew me into it,” he says. “The help I received was very beneficial and I realised that I had an interest in it. I wanted to work with people.”

After working with long-term mental health residents and people suffering from troubles-related trauma at other locations in Belfast, Robin is back at North Belfast Day Centre, where he’s now been a day centre support worker for three years. 

Nursing Support Workers Robin Kelly who works at North Belfast Day Centre

The centre works with adults experiencing mental health problems, including addiction, anxiety, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. The people who use the centre (known to staff as “members”) generally attend for one or two years, depending on their diagnosis. Robin’s role is varied: “That’s the beauty of it – one day is never the same as the other.”

Robin is known for going above and beyond for the people he works with – whether that’s helping one man achieve independence by overcoming anxieties around bus travel, or helping another woman navigate housing issues. Multiple thank you cards cover the staff office.

Mornings start with tea and toast, giving Robin a chance to chat to members and see who might need extra support that day. Late morning and after lunch, there are group sessions, covering a range of practical skills. The centre has a kitchen, an arts and crafts room, a gym and a relaxation room. Robin has run skills sessions on exercise, gardening, jam-making and more. “Sometimes people have been institutionalised and need to be upskilled,” he says.

We’re making sure people still have their dignity and feel respected

Robin also develops and delivers psychotherapeutic sessions, which cover relapse prevention, anxiety management, resilience building and assertiveness training, described by his colleagues as full of “wisdom” and leading everyone who attends further along the road to recovery.

“With those groups, we can discuss all the issues members  are facing, how they’re feeling, and everyone shares their own coping strategies,” Robin says. “They realise that their coping strategies aren’t strange.”

Robin’s role goes beyond creating and running workshops. He also works with the centre’s users to create personalised wellbeing plans with defined goals, making the most of their time at the centre. “We discuss a pathway forward and how they would like to achieve it,” Robin says. “I have regular three-monthly, then six-monthly, updates with the individual to see how they’re getting on and if there’s anything they would like to change.”

Robin maintains good connections with social workers and other services in the area. He also represents Belfast North Day Centre at community health forums. “The centre used to be somewhere where you were here for a long time. It had some negative stigma attached to it. Now, it’s more recovery focused. I want to let everyone know what’s available for people they’re involved with who aren’t aware of what we offer here.”

As word has spread of the centre’s great work, demand from nursing students to do placements has increased and Robin now supports students regularly: “I find that very enjoyable. People I’ve supported have said that they came here with a built-in opinion of mental health and they go away with a more positive outlook on mental health and the individuals themselves.”

I let them know that I understand and can genuinely empathise – they’re not alone

Nursing support workers are central to the work of North Belfast Day Centre, and many other services, says Robin: “We see individuals on a regular basis, they trust us and are more open with information. We’re making sure people still have their dignity and feel respected, keeping them in an environment where they’re comfortable and getting the correct care package. We will always advocate on behalf of the individual and be very proactive. It instils hope.”

Robin thrives on interacting with people and encouraging positive change through his work: “We get our energy and drive off the members. I love seeing them achieve, trying something new and finding a skill they didn’t realise they had.

“My door is always open to have a one-to-one with somebody when they need it. Anyone who comes to me has an understanding that I’m on their level. I’m not here to tell them what to do, I’m here to support them and provide the tools they need. I let them know that I understand and can genuinely empathise with the feeling that they’re experiencing – they’re not alone.”

Nursing Support Workers' Day

On 23 November, we’re celebrating the vital contribution nursing support workers like Robin make in caring for the health of our nation on our first Nursing Support Workers’ Day.

Find out more about Nursing Support Workers' Day.

Nursing Support Workers Day logo

Find out more about the RCNi Nurse Awards.

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