I like to think this group is one of the positive effects of the pandemic and lockdown. For many of our Solace clients, this year must have been more difficult than for most, but still they bring a warmth and life to the Zoom meetings each time, choosing to participate and take from it whatever helps them; maybe just seeing other people even on a screen, or doing something physical which connects them with their bodies; and I hope valuing their bodies, when many of them will not be receiving touch from others.

The group is open to women (current or former Solace clients) in the Leeds area. We started with women who I knew through giving them complimentary shiatsu therapy before the pandemic, but now the group is open to anyone referred by an internal therapist.

I was without an outlet for my work when the lockdown happened. I kept in touch with my clients offering some telephone support. As digital technologies and zoom video calls became increasingly normal Clinical Director Anne put two and two together, or as she describes it ‘put the key in the lock’, and realised that we could offer wellbeing via zoom as an alternative just for women.

She asked me to lead it to make use of my experience and availability and connection with the women who knew me and would hopefully like my approach. It seems that it is being recognised a lot that groups for women meet a very specific need, and work well with our multicultural clients. Something that is special just for them. As one said: ‘No men, no men!’ And women are free to keep their video turned off if they prefer. (All part of how we are getting used to using the technology).

We do it once a fortnight for an hour, and I have just started an extra group once a month for those that can’t make the regular time.

I do some physical exercises based on my experience of yoga and Qi gong and shiatsu and also exercises used in the Stress Management Group by Solace therapist Nick Edwards. This hopefully helps to lift lethargy and re energise, and also helps with aches and pains. Then we move into exercises that can help with trauma, and a more meditative second half.

One or two have said they feel much better afterwards and look forward to it; knowing it will help them get through the next week. One person responded: ‘it’s okay, it’s more than okay!’ Others comment that they like specific things as we do them.

In fact I do not know fully what they receive from joining the group as there is a shyness to feed back, and we about to pilot a simple feedback system (a scoring before and after each session). And I need to learn how to draw their responses out: I am learning on the job too (!) having not led a group like this before and coping with the Zoom limitations.

We have an interpreter if we need, which is another aspect to get used to, but makes the group available to more people.

I love the buzz of seeing everyone, and their big smiles and pleasure in the group, and when the pandemic is a thing of the past, I hope we can continue the group, maybe with actual physical presence!

Janet Atwood, Solace therapeutic volunteer