A ‘home away from home’ amidst the pandemic

7th September 2021

Oakleaf is a mental health charity based in Guildford that supports adults aged 16-67 who are struggling with their mental health. The charity’s number one priority is to help combat mental ill-health by providing support to their clients through work-related training, wellbeing activities, counselling, and one-to-one emotional support.

The organisation also acts as a social enterprise; therefore, their garden maintenance department not only creates skill-based training for clients, but also sells its services to the public, generating additional income.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased, they have moved to a ‘blended model’ of delivery, providing support both virtually and in-person. With the year behind us, we caught up with the team at Oakleaf to discover how our Coronavirus Response Fund has helped both their clients and their staff during what has certainly been a memorable year.

Kelvin, Oakleaf’s Outreach Engagement Project Lead and coach of the Oakleaf football team ‘The Mighty Oaks’, describes some of the challenges Oakleaf faced over the past 18 months and how they managed to ensure that everyone still had access to the help they needed.

“At Oakleaf, we aim to make our services accessible to all, but of course from the start of COVID-19 much of our support had to be delivered remotely, meaning we had to form a separate, online community for clients. The funding we received from the Community Foundation for Surrey really helped ensure Oakleaf could develop and maintain remote support throughout the pandemic; it also meant we could accommodate more clients, including those now too anxious to attend face-to-face sessions or who resided further away.

“When we went into lockdown, a lot of organisations either decided to or were forced to close due to lack of funding and resources. We were initially really concerned as to whether Oakleaf would financially make it through this.

“Moreover, the stress and the social disruption caused by the pandemic left many of our clients feeling lost, lonely, anxious, depressed and uncertain about the future.

“Very fortunately, the funding we received from the Community Foundation at the beginning of the pandemic and thereafter enabled us to continue running our services and be proactive in our approach. We were able to facilitate Check-In and Chat sessions with our clients on a daily basis during the lockdown period, both online and over the phone, providing them with regular updates on our services and all other avenues of support based on each individual’s needs.

“As a team, we felt that it was incredibly important that we were – and still are – able to send the message that no matter what, support is out there. Help is always available, whether that be through Oakleaf, your GP, friends and family, crisis lines or emergency support services like the Guildford Safe Haven.

“Alongside our check-in sessions, we worked with our activity leaders to come up with interactive courses and workshops that we could run from people’s homes and gardens. For example, one of our upholstery assistants, Netty, came up with the fantastic idea of forming a group for clients to create Spring Bulb Planters – one where they could come together and experience nature in a virtual capacity while adding a little colour (if they were to grow successfully) to their lives, particularly during these uncertain times.

“We were essentially able to provide a ‘home away from home’ for clients alongside our virtual activities and support groups, including art therapy, cooking and nutrition, fitness classes, choir, yoga, anxiety management workshops and many more – all of which would have been impossible to run without the support we received through the Coronavirus Response Fund.

“As we continue through 2021, I’m sure I can speak on behalf of the entire Oakleaf family and say a huge thank you to CFS for your generous ongoing support of Oakleaf; we are so very grateful, particularly at a time when conversations surrounding mental health are needed more than ever. We continue to do all we can to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental ill-health in Surrey.”


If you or someone you know is struggling, and would benefit from using Oakleaf’s services, please visit their website: oakleaf-enterprise.org