Hampshire Healthwatch

Community Cash fund project







In 2016, Chocolate Muffin were fortunate enough to win a grant through Hampshire Healthwatch Community Cash Fund. For 2016/17 Hampshire Healthwatch are focusing on collecting the feedback from Mental Health service users.


Our project will use the grant to focus on those with organic and functional mental disorders. The people taking part will produce their own story of what it is like living with a mental illness and experiences of attending mental health services. Stories will be shared with commissioners and providers of services to encourage improvement within mental health services.

We have chosen to work with individuals and their families suffering from;

Selective Mutism

Bi-Polar Disorder


Alcohol Misuse

Substance Misuse

On 9th March 2017, I found myself in a car on the way to rehab. I’d wanted, waited and worked for it for a good year, and although a little terrified, it was at that moment I received an email from Chocolate Muffin telling me my little book was finished and a copy was in the post…. And I think the first thing that came to mind was “Wow! – I’ve completed something.” In hindsight, I think that made me realise that if I could complete that, I could complete rehab. I was determined to complete it anyway, but that email just made me realise I could. So I actually arrived at rehab on, dare I say it? – Quite a “high.” I arrived with a sense of knowing I CAN do things and I DO have qualities, so it gave a huge sense of self worth. That may not sound much, but after 12 years of knowing I had a problem, and the last 3 really suicidal and ill, it was a gift to think that way.
 The other main thing I got was confidence in my words! I still struggle to put my feelings I get inside into words that come out of my mouth, but to put them on paper and see them as others would, or indeed write them for others is a real pleasure now. I always painted feelings when under the influence, and for me right now, that is a dangerous place to go as it is old behaviour, but to paint with words is refreshing, safe for me and a far more creative palette! I recognise and sort my feelings out through writing now. When you paint a picture, it’s easy to lose faith and think it will be terrible…. Until you keep going and suddenly it comes together. And it’s the same with writing. I love going out now sober and every time I have a new experience that moves me, I may not do it straight away, but I’ll think about what happens and describe it with words. It is like a diary for me and reminds me vividly of who I am in wherever I am. Through rehab and now 7 months living a new life, it is my way of recognising and giving meaning to my journey.
My book is now sitting on my girlfriend’s dresser. I think it shows us where I was (not to mention impresses her as a publication I might ((cheeky grinning)) add!). And the way I have written about experiences since has inspired her and others to try new things and get a different perspective.
So for that, I am extremely grateful Chocolate Muffin turned up at my support centre and gave me an opportunity to get a little Faith and self esteem back after a long period of loathing and exhaustion. I am reminded of a little story I heard about starfish, and I think it describes what Chocolate Muffin has done to me very well….

“One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!” (Loren Eiseley)




The Chocolate Muffin project, has not only given me potential, and self worth, it has also let me know how to try and support others too, not because it’s something that works for everyone, but it certainly worked for me, so thank you very much. Some of the achievements I have made that I feel were helped by this, mainly by giving me that confidence in my words:

Writing and encouraging others in creative therapy groups.

Writing a blog for the local museum

Reflecting on interviews with a War Veteran

A “write up” on a caving trip in the Mendips

A character reference for a Judge

Support with CV writing

A welcome and history “script” for a local historic church

Writing a script for an audio tour of the local museum

I think one of the most difficult things with mental health, is the inability to express the feelings inside, and the depression and sense of entrapment it brings, so to be encouraged to do it AS YOU wish, and be able to see a result in such a professional and rewarding way, is an incredible gift and achievement.










This project even in just a short amount of time has already helped us a great deal. Firstly with me sharing on social media with our friends and family about our journey in writing and illustrating a book about Charley and her SM. It has encouraged others to take a bit more notice and actually understand that Selective Mutism is a condition which impacts Charley's life daily. 


It has in some was given me a bit more confidence and determination to fight Charley's corner so to speak. Looking back I have found at times I haven't gone to the effort to explain to people about SM because more often than not they don't understand. But this book and having to really think about in great detail how my little girl suffers every day has spurred me on to raise more awareness. 


It has also made me realise how bad the support is from the NHS with this condition and think long term about how this needs to improve before SM children become adults, where if left untreated an anxiety condition can cause so many problems later in life. 


As a family unit it has truly been a wonderful experience. Having our 3 year old Charley gaining a clear idea on what goes in to creating a book. Charley loved helping with the illustrations and it ignited her imagination  no end. So as well as drawing pictures for the book Charley also had us drawing pictures of many things that have come to her mind, from sea turtles to unicorns, we could easily illustrate another book at this rate. Charley has been mixing watercolours and proudly tells me how to mix them to achieve the colour she is looking for. It's been thoroughly enjoyable and beneficial to us on Charley's journey with SM. Thank you for allowing us to take part with this project.


Zoe Nicholson