Reflections of an OTea Drinker

10 months into my 1 year contract at St Georges Crypt in Leeds I’m wondering where the time has gone. And how I ever managed to get so lucky and gain this job. I continue to thoroughly enjoy my work.

I’m thankful that the NHS South East CCG through Leeds Community Foundation Trust funded the pilot project. As I accepted my 112th referral to the Occupational Therapy service this morning, I stopped to think how wonderful it has been that this group of individuals, who are so often difficult to reach, have had the opportunity to access healthcare.

It is thanks also to St Georges Crypt being willing to host a clinical service like this within the centre. It’s been clear to me that St George’s Crypt is a place where so many vulnerable people feel comfortable accessing. And not just for meals. But for a range of services. Meals, a bed, a shower, clean clothes, dignity, a chance to explore who they are and what they might enjoy; through training and engagement opportunities. This is home and community for many vulnerable adults in Leeds and because they feel so comfortable accessing it, seeing an Occupational Therapist too whilst they are here is no bother for them.

I have been named the ‘OTea drinker’ by one client, and I can’t argue – I drink many cups throughout each day. But it’s been so helpful being based within this centre, where I can almost blend in within the dining room each lunch time as that’s when people really start talking. That’s when they open up, express a little bit of themselves, and decide that a little bit of support would be really helpful.

Working in this setting has allowed me to be flexible. There’s been no need to schedule appointments for those who aren’t yet ready to commit to a set time and day. It’s been nice to be able to tell people to just pop in for a cup of tea once they feel ready, or at a day and time that suits them. Once we’ve casually formed therapeutic relationships, individuals are more likely to feel ready for a more scheduled and structured appointment. Due to many not having a structured routine it is difficult to be orientated to day and time. That’s why them being able to knock on our office door when they feel up to talking helps.

As people who have read before know, I struggle to write without mentioning my PAT dog Jed. I can’t thank my partner in crime enough for being by my side and promoting the engagement of people who trust animals much easier than humans. Jed was welcome within St Georges Crypt from week one, and working within a setting that is open to these quirky sidelines to therapy is refreshing. It also means the OT service is accessible, and attracts the engagement of clients who would otherwise perhaps not have the confidence to speak. A recent referral was one example of this: ‘come back when you’ve got your dog with you please, I’d really like to meet him’.

It has been a great opportunity to raise people’s understanding of Occupational Therapy, even if I have repeated what an OT is many hundred’s of times! I hope that the people who have accessed support have also gained an understanding of the profession, of how it can support them in such a variety of ways. Leeds Beckett University have completed an evaluation of the service which I will remain ever grateful for and this gathered client perspectives of Occupational Therapy at the Crypt all of which were very positive: “I didn’t know that I wanted an OT so I didn’t go to the doctor about it […] If I hadn’t lived in the Crypt, I would never have found out even that I wanted OT.”

For me personally this journey has been one of learning, and of enjoyment. Prior to this I had mainly worked in mental health and personality disorder services, but now, in terms of areas of practice I can add to my experience neurology, brain injury, stroke, palliative care, dementia, learning difficulty, amputations, substance misuse, orthopedics, and working with individuals released directly from the criminal justice system. I have loved the variety. I have appreciated that every individual in unique, and has their own life experiences and strengths to bring to the therapeutic relationship. I don’t think I would have gained such broad experience even on a rotation.

I have obviously faced challenges daily, as much of the above was unfamiliar to me but I think working in a pressurised environment in a past job helped me feel ready for this challenge. It has been difficult being the only clinician at times because within another setting I may have referred directly to another multi-disciplinary team member. It has been important for me to liaise with other professionals around the city for advice and support.

I have most of all enjoyed the opportunity to be creative, to be innovative, and to create a service for the people of Leeds who are so often overlooked. I feel progress has been made in terms of long term functional issues being resolved for some individuals who previously didn’t know where to turn for support for such difficulties. I also have cherished working alongside people when they’ve engaged in that occupation they’ve always been interested in but never had the chance to try: golf, recording music in a studio, pottery.

There continues to be a long way to go. If I had the time and capacity I could probably assess each person who accesses the service should they wish. Because I have been a lone clinician in this post I have had to prioritise need through careful assessment so I appreciate it is likely there will still be many who have been missed. Being an optimist I’d like to change as much as possible for each and every person but the realist in me understands only so much can be achieved in a one year pilot project.


If you would like to hear more about the 1 year pilot Occupational Therapy project at St Georges Crypt we are hosting a sharing session 6.3.17, 11am, at St Georges Centre. The link to the event can be found below:


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