When diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition, Shakil Dawood vowed to continue showing love, goodness and kindness, whatever happened. Sticking to that promise has been his greatest achievement he says (despite also gaining two degrees and having 11 books published!).

These three virtues now form the basis of his Writing for Recovery group at Hestia’s Recovery Cafe in Tooting and help make it a truly therapeutic activity. Open evenings and weekends 365 days a year, the centre is an alternative safe place for people in crisis to seek mental health support.

Once a service user himself, Shakil describes mental health recovery as an often “arid and barren landscape”. Yet the cafe is there to not only help clients resolve immediate issues but build safety plans and constructive coping mechanisms to reduce the need for crisis intervention in the future. It places social connectedness and peer support at its heart with group activities as well as one-to-one sessions.

Shakil aims to “empower clients not only in that moment while they’re writing, but with long-term vision and abilities for coping with their situations.” His empathy and brave honesty about his own experiences have helped make it a safe and supportive platform to share feelings through writing, poetry, and spoken word.

“Many people have said they’re participating in something significant and meaningful to them spiritually as well as intellectually and emotionally,” says Shakil. A recent member even feels well enough to get back into work and was so inspired, he is looking to pursue a career in music.

 “Knowing my work can have such an impact emboldens me and gives me hope for the future. I’m glad to be part of something creative and original.” In fact, he says volunteering has something to offer everyone. “The great boon is that it has shattered my isolation and I do useful work.”

As well as attending team meetings and launch events at the cafe, Shakil sits on the interview panel when the centre is taking on new employees – something he finds very fulfilling because he can help shape the cafes work and is treated as an equal. “Even though I’m just a volunteer, the manager’s take me quite seriously and put great emphasis on my judgement and opinions.”

It’s understandable when Shakil’s outlook, not only at the cafe but in life, is rooted in such compassion and understanding. As he says though: “To show love, goodness and kindness, is that not one’s finest brilliance enacted?”