Group visits and outings should be included at regular intervals throughout the programme. The aims of the outings are to provide rich opportunities for participants to test out ideas, rehearse skills, step outside their comfort zones and, in doing so, transform the discussion that has occurred within group sessions into a lived experience. By supporting participants in taking this first step, you are helping them to develop a ‘bank’ of memories, of positive experiences, which they can draw upon in the future.
The outings enable participants to extend ideas and pull together the themes explored during group sessions, providing a sense of cohesion. In this way ideas are constantly revisited and built upon so that rather than only having one opportunity to practise a particular skill there are multiple occasions where this can take place. Outings and visits associated with the topic of transport, for example, might have included short trips using different modes of transport to areas of local interest. When looking at dining as an activity, the decision could be taken by the group to venture further afield and find a restaurant that involves travelling on multiple modes of transport. An outing to consolidate ideas about interests and pastimes could then include a longer journey using transport that group members could access independently, and incorporate a shared meal or a pub lunch. This reinforces both the transport elements and the social aspect of food.
The continual grading and layering of activities enables the group members to constantly revisit and extend their skills, building on their confidence. Through this process it becomes possible to reframe the experience of participants so that, rather than being a daunting hurdle, undertaking the activity becomes an adventure, and places that group members never dreamed of going to come within their reach.
In order to gain the most from these visits detailed planning is required. The facilitator will need to ensure that adequate toilet facilities are available as well as places for participants to sit and rest if they need to. As the programme develops, individuals should be encouraged to assume an increasing role for the planning and preparation of outings. However, any potential hazards will need to be drawn to an individual’s attention so they can make an informed choice about their involvement as well as considering what personal preparations they need to make.
The facilitator must strike a delicate balance between arranging an outing or visit which is sufficiently challenging whilst ensuring that it is achievable and will promote feelings of success. Achieving this balance means taking into account the personal goals of individual members as well as reflecting the wider themes of the programme; for example, for one person the outing might be about building confidence, for another it might be about mobility or managing anxiety.
Using outings throughout the Lifestyle Matters pilot proved to be powerful. Group members engaged in problem-solving, and provided each other with support and encouragement. They looked at practical resources that they could draw upon, used their organisational skills, and through this, developed greater confidence. Spending time reflecting on these achievements is necessary and a disposable camera to record the outings is a valuable tool to assist this process.