Sophie’s story – My recruitment experience and first home with the Bespoke Repatriation service

28 Oct 2020


United Welsh’s new Bespoke Repatriation service delivered in partnership with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board (ABUHB) has reached a milestone, with the first person to be supported by the team moving into their own home in Caerphilly.

The service will support people with complex mental health and social needs in Gwent. With partnership work at its core, the service brings clinical management and housing knowledge together so that people with complex mental health needs are supported to leave ward settings and move back into the community, with help to manage their tenancies and their mental health.

Sophie Nicholson was the first person to move into her own home supported by the service.

Sophie has never lived alone before and she, along with other upcoming tenants, recruited the people who now form the bespoke repatriation team. The recruitment was very much values-driven: while the staff provide a service, the tenants are guiding the service in terms of what they want and need from the staff members in their qualities, attitudes, personalities and skills.

Here is Sophie’s story:

“The purpose of this project is so tenants can have adaptable support with the aim of eventually keeping their tenancy without any support. This means that the tenant does not have to move every time their support changes and allows stability.

Tenants will get tailor made 121 support. This can range from 1 hour a day to 24 hours a day depending on the tenant’s needs.

I have a complex background of mental health issues which started when I was 14 years old. I am now 25 so I have been suffering with many issues for 11 years and continue to do so.

My complex issues have changed and developed over the years. I moved to Wales over 3 years and ago and that’s when my recovery started to go at a quicker pace.

I was sectioned and kept in hospital for most of my first year in Wales which was 2017 and half of 2018. I worked hard and took part in life saving therapy (DBT) to get a placement in a community residential setting.

For the next 2.5 years, I worked hard to move into a step-down placement. I never knew I would have this opportunity but it’s my hard work that’s enabled me to get ready to go into my own flat, with United Welsh and ABUHB providing as much support as I need to help the transition to feel safe.

I’ve worked so hard in my recovery to battle Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and previously an Eating Disorder.

I have been given treatment, therapy and opportunities that I could only once dream of and never thought I would be in the position I am today, especially being from Newcastle.

One thing is for certain – my companion for life Ted (who was given to me at age of 11) has helped and become part of me. My motto of “you only get out what you put in” has carried through.

I’m a child who was passed back and forth between family members. I never really had a home, I went to a private boarding school, worked hard at music and sport but was constantly bullied and now living on my own with bespoke support as and when needed. I’m so proud of myself.

Having structured clinical management and as the first tenant to move into a United Welsh home with the new bespoke repatriation service has meant that I have been involved in many stages of the setup of this service.

The main stage was actually the recruitment process and I was shocked at how different (in such a positive way) this recruitment process was.

Being a service user who has been involved in many different interviews for different services, I have had different experience but they all (except this one) seem to have had similar traits. Here are some key differences:

  1. At United Welsh, the interviews for the Team Leader and Wellbeing Coaches included a tenant that was organised by prospective tenants. We had a preparation day where we created four questions and one scenario with an additional two questions. We interviewed the potential candidates with questions that we felt were important from our previous experience in services. This meant that we could assess if they met some of our greatest concerns. I found this much more useful because it brought a different direction and helped with final decision making.
  2. We were involved in the decision-making process and in some cases, when there was some debating, we actually got the final say. This, I believe, is crucial because we know from experience what we want and what we don’t want and actually we have to build a professional working relationship and work with this team in the future. This is a huge difference because in all previous experiences, I have never been given the opportunity to have so much say in the final decisions of recruitment. It’s key because it was a service that was not yet live, there was not a lot of information around it. Therefore, we needed everyone’s experience to decide on how we wanted the team dynamics to look and I felt equal.
  3. We had to look at team dynamics and personalities and how each candidate would sit in the team. Especially in the first round, when we were developing the initial team. As people using services, we know what’s best and have experience in team break-downs and brilliant teams. You can spot what isn’t going to work in a team and what is. It’s actually one of the most important factors because in my eyes if the interviews were all decided by the professionals, then there was no guarantee or reassurance for us that they will fit, especially if they have doubt around it. Also, the second round of interviews meant that we had to look at current team dynamics and where they would fit and how they could work with the current team. For that process, we had to really focus on a different angle and prepare before hand what would work, what potentially could work and what would not work.

Team dynamic and personalities is something that I have never had to consider in previous interviews for other services because it was down to the professionals to work that out. As service users, we are just as equal and important on an interview panel as professionals and United Welsh made me feel just like that.

In my eyes, it made my preparation for entering the service so much easier, as already I have some background on each employed individual and can prepare on how to build a professional relationship.

Relationships are what creates a service and this time, through the new way of recruitment, I have been able to start that build at interview stage.

Through this experience, United Welsh has shown they value their tenants input and really want a service that creates the best atmosphere, support and guidance. Guidance is important because not only are they providing a service that helps guide the tenants, the tenants are guiding the service in terms of what they want from the staff team, looking at qualities, attitudes, personalities and skills.

This recruitment has reassured me and made me more excited to join the service and work with the staff because since interview stages, I have really picked my favourite skill or quality from each individual staff member employed so I can work on building a professional relationship.

The top 3 tips for involving people like me in interview panels are:

  • Utilise the person to their full potential by getting them to ask questions that come from their personal experience

  • Treat them like they are employed for the day in terms of they are no different to the rest of the interview panel

  • Allow them equal say if not more on the final decisions made and find out their reasoning behind the decisions.

Importance of the recruitment process and how its helped since

I have now been a tenant of United Welsh and supported by the Bespoke Patriation Service for two weeks. The impact that this has had has been incredible in such a short time. I feel like I have made so much improvement at a fast pace that I still can’t believe I am only two weeks in.  How far I have come in the last two weeks is further then I ever thought I would.

I moved on Monday 28th September 2020 and I was so scared the night before that my manager of my previous placement reassured me and offered to continue their support for the settling period. In fact, after my first night I didn’t need it but it was nice to know it was there and I’ve had two visits from them (so I could show them my new place and just for them to see how far I have come!)

The weekend before I had two calls from the Health and Wellbeing Lead from United Welsh who leads the Bespoke Patriation Service to see how I was and help me prep for my big day.

Also, the night before I had a text from one of the Health and Wellbeing Coaches which helped going into the Monday. Also, the week leading up I met with all the team virtually. The week before that, we had a ‘get to know you day’ where I attended the afternoon virtually which was nice. As the team got to know me, I got to know more of them even though I had met them at interview. For that, I had written an entire presentation for them to understand and learn about me, from my voice and not paperwork. In the afternoon, they got to speak to me about this and ask the questions they wanted too.

The morning of move day was so scary honestly! I was an emotional wreck. I had all these worries, is it going to work? Is it going to fail? What happens if I don’t get my needs met? Are my needs going to be met? It was a brand-new service and the service actually didn’t go live until the minute I got me keys so I had that added pressure.

All of these worries were eased as once I got there both my previous placement and those on shift that day were great and helped me to settle. It was fun and games putting two van loads away – half of one van load was food! Yes I had lots of food mainly noodles and pot noodles. I think people knew what I loved to eat most from the fun video we did for both the team at Structured Clinical Management, my previous placement and the Bespoke Repatriation team.

That day was crazy meeting people face to face for the first time since interviews, saying goodbye to my previous placement and just general ‘moving to a new house anxiety’ (especially as I have never had a tenancy before!)

The night came and I was petrified, I knew I had around the clock support, but I was so scared I went back to my previous placement with the intentions of staying the night. The Team Leader at Bespoke Repatriation heard of my concerns of meeting my night support and came up with the idea of my night support coming to my previous placement to meet me. My manager at my previous placement suggested that after I met my night support, I may want to go back. In fact, I was in the car 20 minutes into meeting the Health and Wellbeing Coach and said “I am going to get my stuff, I just want to go back to my home” which by that I meant my new flat. So I actually managed my first night!

The rest of my first week flew by with a few issues which I was able to resolve with the help of the partnership between the Bespoke Patriation Service and Structured Clinical Management. I managed my fourth night all on my own and did not need to access the virtual support that had been agreed. In my first week, I managed to go out with the team and managed the local high street.

In fact, on my second night, I left a member of the team babysitting Ted (for those that know me I don’t do anything without Ted.) It was a long week, but I managed to do everything I needed and with the help of my previous placement, I was able to have an actual living room.

The Bespoke Repatriation Service jumped into their roles rather quickly and it was nice that we were bonding so well – I even started playing pranks and I got the nickname ‘Mischievous Soph’. I felt the first week alone was such a success and I hit goals that I thought were impossible.

It was so nice knowing I have my own place, but my support needs are still being met which is key for me to thrive. It’s a service which I have helped to create and continue to develop.

My second week was even more of a success. I started to cook healthier meals with a little help from the service, I was able to venture out more and started to build a routine. I got my kitchen and bedroom looking like actual rooms and created a nice atmosphere to live in.

Honestly, the way the team adapt to changes, recommendations and improvements is phenomenal and their support leaves me speechless. I can’t believe I had all these worries about this service. I like the fact that I feel part of the team and we are all in this together. In fact- I’ve been part of this service before most of the team (except the Lead) were employed!

Professional relationships, communication and confidentiality are my main key areas of importance. I can proudly say that I have not been disappointed – in some areas I have given feedback on improvements but not because of anything negative. It’s safe to do this! The team are great, we do have some laughs and everyone’s had to adapt.

I have managed in such a short space of time to build great working professional relationships and honestly feel like my needs are top priority. We are currently working on little things and everything is at my pace.

In my second week I managed another night on my own which to me, is a big achievement. I feel like I am growing as a person and everyday these professional relationships are getting stronger. Here are some key examples of what we been up to as a team and scenarios where adaptability is key. Especially in a team where positivity, enthusiasm, caring and having a laugh is important.

All in all, the first two weeks have been amazing. This service is going to improve the lives of many as it has already started to improve my life and that’s because of how involved I was in the recruitment process. I can honestly say I feel like we as a whole have picked the best of the best and that’s because I helped to choose people that I felt would meet my needs. My first two weeks have proven how well this process works.

I will leave you with a quote that inspires myself and hopefully will inspire you –

“Take pride in how far you have come and have faith in how far you can go.”


People who experience complex mental health difficulties often find themselves in hospital placements which can be a long way from home. The Bespoke Repatriation service is an exciting opportunity to deliver person-centered, needs-led support for people in their own homes.

The service is the second that United Welsh provides on behalf of ABUHB. In 2016, we opened a supported housing scheme in Blaina, working in partnership for patients to move from psychiatric long-term hospital ward placements back to living in the community.

For more information about the Bespoke Repatriation service, please get in touch with our Health and Wellbeing Lead Emma South.