Introducing Claire-Louise Symonds, member of Community Conscious

In the run-up to the final leg of our Crowdfunder campaign, I spoke to Claire-Louise Symonds, a freelance mindfulness and yoga teacher, who is part of Community Conscious, the outreach arm of our Wellbeing team, which provides therapy in the community.

Claire-Louise joined the team in 2013 with a strong interest in “providing therapeutic work for people who wouldn’t normally access it — either who couldn’t afford to or it wouldn’t be on their radar”. She developed this interest due to her background working with people with complex needs, including people with learning difficulties, physical disabilities and experiences of homelessness.

For Claire-Louise, a big part of making complimentary therapies more accessible involves demystifying the language that surrounds them, which for many can feel alienating. As she puts it, working with vulnerable groups has made her more flexible and adaptive in her approach, and she has found ways to break down the barriers of language that put people off in order to “enable to them to connect with it more”.

She feels that the outreach work done by Community Conscious is central to the wider ethos of Coexist. While the work done within the Wellbeing Rooms “is mainly about breaking down the barrier of cost”, by offering low-cost treatments, “what the outreach side of it is doing is breaking down further barriers of environment or physical access.” Outreach offers treatments to members of the community, particularly older people, in spaces which are safe and familiar, and where there isn’t the added stress of having to negotiate a new place.

Working with these groups of clients has also given her insight into the health problems that can come from social exclusion. “Loneliness and isolation have real, huge, impacts on people’s ill health” she feels, because without the social support from other people to help us work through our problems, the tendency for many people is to ruminate on their worries, which can lead to “deep anxiety and depression”.

She is also candid about the specific benefits that mindfulness and massage can bring:

I think mindfulness and massage, all of the therapeutic techniques, tap into the part of our nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, which switches off the stress reaction. And so they tap into that bit of the nervous system which helps to calm people down, for a start, and once people feel a bit calmer and a bit more steady, then there’s bits of their brain that are able connect back in so you can start to think things through. It’s all about switching off the stress reaction and the worrying, anxious mind and switching on the calm, relaxed, more clear-thinking way of being. And I think once that happens, people automatically feel like they’ve got more control, and there’s a clear way through all of that fog.

There is also a wider relevance to this kind of work. While the current health system, already under enormous pressure from government cuts, is geared towards dealing with people facing a crisis (be it mental or physical), Claire-Louise argues that “having a broader ethos of therapeutic work and wellbeing would help us as a society to have a more collective, preventative approach”, where things such as stress and anxiety could be prevented through practices such as mindfulness.


Our Crowdfunder campaign to fund a team of therapists to provide massage and mindfulness to residents of Bristol’s care homes, runs until 4 June. It is an all-or-nothing campaign, and we need to raise £3700. As of today, we have raised £2,505 — that’s 67% of our target. We have ten days to go to raise the rest. Please consider donating by clicking here….

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