“I love coming to the Social Hub. I’ve loved it since the first day. I feel much more confident to speak and take part in activities now” – Social Hub Member

Starfish Services Ltd are a partner of the Connecting Choices, Building Better Opportunities (BBO) Project which operates across Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire. They are contracted to provide Social Hubs in strategic locations across the patch based on the needs of participants.

Referrals to the social hubs, which usually run in Burslem, Hanley, Fenton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, come direct from our partners in the BBO project and we describe people who are referred to us as having suffered a loss of some kind.

It can be loss through bereavement, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, loss of liberty, loss of self control (addiction), loss of health or loss of themselves through other reasons. These people lose their self confidence, self esteem, self belief and as a result of all these things they lose the ability to engage with other people and begin to suffer panic attacks, extreme anxiety, stress related ill health. In turn they shut themselves away and the whole cycle repeats and becomes more extreme each time they try to break out of it.

They are referred to the Social Hub by their personal coach who recognises their need for safe, non-judgemental space to begin to rebuild themselves. They usually attend the first time with their coach, and almost without exception explain to us that they are not like the other people in the social hub who they can see laughing, interacting and generally enjoying their safe time at the hub. We introduce them to everyone who explains that they were in the same place the day they arrived. Their relief is palpable when they understand that there is a way out of their “prison” and with the support of everyone they begin to involve themselves in the social hub and as we are told every week it becomes “the highlight of their week”, “what they live for”, “the only place they can go where they are not judged” and so on.

Particpants grown in confidence, start to take part in activities, and then, we start to see them offering support to new members quietly and in their own way when they recognise something in that person that they experienced themselves. At that moment they begin to realise that their experience, which they had previously seen as wholly negative, may, as a “lived experience, give them something that they can use positively to help others. Its a eureka moment for them and for us as its the beginning of their journey back to a social life and a sense of belonging to a community that understands them.

Gradually we introduce the concept of training to be a volunteer with us and that OCN course gives them a further boost towards using their experience to support others in a meaningful way.

The Social Hubs always provide social non-judgemental space, a hot drink and chocolate biscuit always on offer, art, music, discussion, quizzes, a pool table in some hubs and games and art therapy books are always on offer. In addition we now offer Ukelele sessions learning how to play, knit and natter groups, creative writing groups. All of these support a return to a more social environment finding people of like mind to interact with.