Our People

Our Non-Human Staff

Four-legged additions to Take Off, here to brighten everyone’s day! Enjoying hugs, belly rubs and causing mischief.

Mark Kilbey - Chief Executive Officer

I’ve used mental health services for over 25 years, experiencing the full range of services from GPs to stays in secure units as a sectioned patient. At times I could live a ‘successful’, ‘normal’ life in full employment and be a functioning individual, at face value successful.

On other occasions I could be completely incapacitated by my illness to the extent I couldn’t move or talk. At my most damaging I could also be so psychotically manic that many things in my life were utterly destroyed. I experienced a huge range of medications and therapies that were deemed to be helpful by statutory providers. It is clear to me now that some of these were helpful, although I didn’t feel that at the time, whilst I will always question other aspects of my treatment at the hands of the psychiatric system.

It was when sectioned for 5 months in 2005 that I discovered the power of engaging with my fellow patients. It taught me how meaningful discussions with my peers could be. These relationships helped me get well and have given me the insight to stay well. I credit my peers as a force for good that cannot be underestimated. This is not a trendy concept or fad but an essential part of my daily life and a source of great strength. I have been working at this organisation since 2007.

It has been 100% user led for several years now and has developed organically using the skills and expertise of the amazing people who work here. All have benefited from the help of their peers and want to share this on a more professionalised footing. We now have a broad range of services which are innovative and sophisticated and totally designed, developed and delivered by ‘us’.

When discussing peer support in a wider health context I am often rather condescendingly told ‘well, that isn’t the answer’. My reply is always that’s right. There is no one answer to any serious health condition but peer support is definitely an important part of the solution to living well. It should be promoted and used far more widely than it currently is and over the years people will make this happen. I am very proud to be associated with this organisation.

Ellie Williams - Director of Operations

After a few years in adolescence, anxiety and depression became increasingly unmanageable for me. I took medication and tried to engage in counselling, but felt huge pressure to keep up positive appearances despite feeling down.

Early on, I found that I could not relate to the counsellors and gave up on going to the GP to ask for help. After hitting an extreme low I knew I needed to find ways of dealing with my mental health. Getting support from my peers, keeping to routine and getting myself out my comfort zone has helped this over the years. I now find it easier to focus on positives, appreciating nature when taking the dogs for a walk, doing art at the weekends and exercising. Taking control of my own mental and physical health and understanding that I could help myself was invaluable to me and I aim to show that others can benefit from this too.

I started working with Take Off as a peer broker and have moved onto facilitating groups, then project management and now I’m Director of Operations. I view Take Off as a support network, encouraging an individual to look forward to their possible futures rather than focusing on their past. Peer support is the main part of this at Take Off and the unique understanding peers have with one another is both enlightening and comforting.

I also believe Take Off will aim to educate other forums and professionals, helping them to understand the importance and successes of peer support. We will increase awareness and support people with both physical and mental wellbeing as they go hand in hand, and are essential for everyday functioning.

Cliff Forester- Chair of Trustees

I suffered from Bipolar disorder while at the University of Leeds in the early 1970’s when it was called manic depression. I suffered a severe depression which was terrifying as it was unexpected and I had to learn how to survive it. Luckily I didn’t have to suffer that long as I was given Lithium treatment in its early days which removed the effects of this illness entirely.

I went on to have a successful career in London at computer software development, a happy marriage, and a wonderful daughter. I kept fairly quiet about my illness as I didn’t think that other people would understand. The only time I had a recurrence of this illness was when I experimented with stopping my lithium.

I discovered MDF the manic depression fellowship (now called Bipolar UK) in the late 1990’s. I started attending local meetings in Twickenham and found these meetings very inspiring as I was able to talk about my experiences to people who found it relevant for the first time. After a while I took over as organiser and group facilitator. It was a very successful group as people attending seemed to gain support and encouragement and it was a very friendly environment. I continued with this group for around 15 years and it was one of the most satisfying things I have been a part of and I want to continue with this sort of activity. After this I had a lengthy recurrence of this endogenous depression as I found that lithium no longer worked until I found another mood stabilizer that worked for me. I managed to get through that period of illness due to the support of others and my previous experiences.

I have become associated with Take Off for a few years now and really like what they are doing and the way they do it. I am proud to be a trustee involved with this great group of people.

Liz Tootell- Trustee

I’m Liz and I’m a fundraiser. I’ve had the privilege of working in the charity sector since 2001, securing grants to support children and young people as well as helping adults to recover from addiction and projects to support physical and mental health. It’s the best job in the world when you help to bring in funding and make a project happen that has a transformative impact on people’s lives and their loved ones.

I’ve enjoyed volunteering in the charity sector too and was a Childline volunteer counsellor for several years in London. It brought home to me how important it is to talk to some one in confidence when things are worrying you. It can make all the difference to your well-being to talk to some one who is listening.

Take Off says that oxygen and friendship are key to maintaining good mental health. I take care of mine by walking every day – with a good pair of walking shoes and making time to catch up with friends. This is my first Trustee role and I’m thrilled to be part of the Take Off community.

Wayne Smith MBE- IT Administrator and South Kent Coast Manager

I joined Take Off as a peer support worker however I also now manage the IT for the organisation. I have a keen interest in history, music, electronics, computer science and cookery. In my spare time I enjoy watching local bands play, online gaming, and spending time with my grandchildren.

A brief history of me.

I was a troubled child from the age of 7 or 8 when my parents divorced at the end of the 1970’s. It could be argued that I was troubled long before then.

At age 11 I was diagnosed in 1982 by a child psychiatrist; that I was expressing maladjusted behaviour and consequently was removed from mainstream education and sent to a boarding school for children with special needs. Which I will say was an enjoyable experience; I felt I fitted in with my peers in a non-judgmental institutional setting.

When I left there in 1987 I had a string of successful and fruitful experiences in education and employment, however I would still experience extreme highs and lows. When experiencing my worst lows I would end up isolated, homeless and possibly vagrant. In my extreme highs I would be overly productive studying at University, involved with running many businesses and while holding down a fulltime job, I would have fruitful relationships, children and even marriage.

However in 1995 whilst in my 20s I was diagnosed with manic depression, a new label that meant very little to me at the time and I got on with my life embracing the highs and not doing a very good job of managing the lows. Whilst in a mixed state I could be very agitated, verbally aggressive and display violent behaviour leading to strained relationships and loss of close friendships.

I was finally diagnosed in 2008 as having Bipolar affected disorder. This was treated with medication and since then there has been one severe relapse due to me thinking I didn’t need to take the medication any more. This resulted in being re-diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 in 2014.

I was introduced to Take Off in 2016 and I have found it a very positive experience being able to fit in with all the different types of diagnosed mental illness which ultimately all experience some or the same common traits of anxiety, depression and psychosis. The peer groups are an important aid to my own recovery and stability. Sharing a lived experience with other peers is not only productive for myself as it is helping others in need with their own issues and challenges.

My previous vocations include NHS mental health, Secondary Education Administration, Electro-technical Systems Integration engineering, Publishing and Retail.

John Childs- Safeguarding Lead

Hello, my name is John. I am a new Peer Support worker with Take Off.  I have previously worked for Kent County Council’s Adult Social Care Department, helping people with physical disabilities and mental health problems to manage their care needs. I am passionate about supporting people to live more independent and fulfilling lives, and have always found this kind of work rewarding. I have experienced mental health problems for most of my adult life, and know how important it is to feel supported by people who know what you are going through. I’m really looking forward to working for Take Off, making new friends, and continuing the great work this organisation does in the local community.

Within Take Off I have lead responsibility for Safeguarding Vulnerable People and Health and Safety matters.

Zoe- Thanet Manager

Hey! I’m Zoe, I’m 25 and I feel very privileged and excited to be part of the organisation.

I have had issues with my mental health for as long as I can remember, struggling with depression, anxiety, disordered eating and self harm. I’m currently trying to use my experiences for the greater good.

Mental health difficulties are a part of me but they do not define me!

Lauren- Canterbury and Coastal Administrator

Anxiety was something I had experienced before as a teenager, but it became harder to manage after leaving university. I felt unsure of my direction, and I also wanted to work on better coping mechanisms to deal with stress I was experiencing.

In early 2019, I started coming along to Take Off. Through getting involved in activities and talking with others in groups, I gained a better understanding of both my anxiety and my emotional regulation. I now feel really well supported and better equipped to deal with challenges in my life.

I am so grateful to everyone at Take Off for lifting my mood, every time I’m there! I hope I can help do the same for others. Peer support is an amazing thing- talking to people with similar experiences is a great reminder that none of us are alone when we face challenges to our mental health.

Rubie - Peer Support Worker

My name is Rubie Cousins, I am 26 and I am a member of Take Off’s management committee; however I have been a part of the service since January 2014. Initially I started there on a work placement but enjoy the job and the ethos of the charity so much I cannot imagine working anywhere else.

I myself have suffered with mental health issues. I was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 18 and was in and out of treatment, secure units and counselling for most of my adolescent life. I am now in recovery and have been for five years. This I feel was due to the help I received in South Africa and having a strong connection with my counsellor and now the support of my fellow colleagues.

I was out there for a year and a half. I remained as an inpatient for the first six months then moved to supported living for a further year which is when I started to maintain my weight and take control over my own recovery.

I knew that I wanted to use my own personal experience and knowledge to help support others who suffer with an eating disorder and through Take Off that is now possible. I know that there is very limited support available to those who suffer with an eating disorder therefore I want to facilitate a peer support group for individuals, working with them to explore and find ways that are best suited to them as individuals, to maintain their recovery.

Ronnie- Peer Support Worker

Hi everyone! My name is Ronnie and I’m a peer worker for Take Off. I feel really privileged to be part of an organisation such as Take Off, one which has helped me so much and now I have the opportunity to give back.

I first came across Take Off a number of years ago, when my mental health was at its lowest and every day was a struggle. I didn’t have a job, had lost all my self-confidence and belief in myself and couldn’t see my life getting any better. Over the course of around three years, Take Off played a big part in my recovery and still does as I move forward. I now have a job, I’m regaining my confidence and have made many connections with local organisations as well as new people who are ‘in my corner’ and are a crucial part of my life and recovery.

I have been a regular member of Take Off’s cooking group, face to face before lockdown and then twice weekly online via Zoom. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these sessions and have learnt to cook many meals I’d never made before and wouldn’t have even tried had it not been for this group. Seeing familiar faces each week and checking in and chatting with each other has also been great – sometimes there’s been more of this than the cooking! This group has also been a tool to help me out of my comfort zone with food as this has been a part of my mental health issues in the past. I now run a cooking group with families for another Dover organisation, which I never would have done had it not been for the skills and confidence I have gained through Take Off.

As well as now being a keen chef (just call me Egon Ronnie!), I love to write and always have done. It has been a great way to deal with emotions and situations I’ve been unsure how to manage and one of my aims in life is to write a book. I’ve written poems, many about recovery, and a few short stories, and have often been seen sitting at my laptop changing the words to well-known songs to suit a special occasion or person. I wrote and recorded a song at the beginning of the first lockdown called ‘Look Towards The Sky,’ a song of hope through the pandemic and beyond. With music in my family, I started to play the trumpet when I was 11 and now although I don’t pick it up often, I do occasionally dust it off! I also run an online singing group which was formed last year bringing together a new community of people who simply enjoy singing together at the top of their voices, even though they’re all on mute!

So, that’s me in a nutshell. Once again, I am so proud and privileged to be part of Take Off and I look forward to helping others as I have been helped.

Dieta- Peer Support Worker

Hi, my name is Dieta. I have over 38 years’ experience with my own variety of mental health issues and those of others. I have learned much over the years and people’s wellbeing (including my own) are my top priorities. I enjoy inspiring others and making a positive difference to everyone on their mental health journey.

I enjoy music and collecting music related items. I have been part of the Filigree Mask Theatre Company for 2 and a half years and hope eventually to do a BA in Drama, Theatre and Performance at Sussex University. I would like to become a Drama Therapist in the long- term future. Being a peer worker is my chance to give back to the community.

Anthony- Peer Support Worker

The first day that I came into a Take Off group, I was accompanied by a support worker. I was struggling with social anxiety, depression and grief. Leaving the house, speaking to people, both felt like terrifying tasks.

Today, I’ve been taken on as a Peer Support worker.

I’m hoping to use my personal experiences and interest in mental health to help others.

I studied Digital Culture, Arts, Media and Computing at Canterbury Christ Church University.

My interests that help me with my mental and physical health are painting miniatures, photography and exercise


Rayya Ghul- Academic Advisor and Friend of Take Off

I’ve been working to improve the lives of people coping with mental and emotional distress and mental illness for most of my life. Sometimes this was as an Occupational Therapist, sometimes as an Arts Project Worker and most recently, as an academic working for Canterbury Christ Church University. I am the author of the self-help book, The Power of the Next Small Step, a solution focused approach to change in everyday life.

I’ve been privileged to be part of Take Off’s journey to becoming the incredibly supportive and vibrant community it is today. Take Off grew out of a vision to grow into an independent organisation completely led by service users, where everything on offer was designed and delivered by service users. Ten years ago that seemed over-ambitious. Now it seems the most obvious way to provide a safe and supportive space for recovery.

Mostly, I enjoy being able to visit and chat with Take Off’s members and be wowed by the great work going on. Occasionally, I am invited to deliver training in Solution Focused Conversation in order to provide members with a different way to talk about problems and concerns than the way they are used to from professionals.

Marilyn Avery- Trustee

I am a fit and healthy individual with a busy lifestyle, job, I sleep well and enjoy life to the full but things haven’t always been like that!

Several things have left me at rock bottom and professional help has been sought. Equally others have turned to me for help with their own personal issues and that has been due to my understanding of mental health problems which arise in all of us from time to time. Listening and talking to others has made me very aware just how many people out there are in need of help.

For me, the backbone of my ‘getting up in the morning’ has been the keeping of animals which is a commitment that cannot be ignored and this leads to both discipline and pleasure. Self-help has also been a major factor and this has been in the form of a daily log which ash given me focus and organisation.

Two years ago I met Mark Kilbey who introduced me to the then Canterbury and District Mental Health Forum, now Take Off, and this gave me an insight into the professional side of the issues associated with mental health. I am now a trustee of Take Off as I wish to be involved in a hands on level, using my own experiences to help other people.

Sally- Peer Support Worker

Hi I am Sally and I am quite old now- so my other half tells me.

I have been with Take Off for about three years now. I have seen a broad expansion of its work in that time to the vibrant organisation it is today. I am involved as a peer worker regularly in a number of groups which I really enjoy. I am also a Trustee.

I am writing this in my ‘special folder’ made for me by one of the ladies who attends the Womens Creative Group- lots of lovely artwork painted on it!

When I am not at Take Off I work as a dog walker which I love. Being outside in all weathers makes me happy. It certainly helps keep my depression at bay and gives me control over my eating disorder.

Sarah T- Social Media Coordinator

For me, Dancing is a tool that lets us to communicate with our bodies rather than our mouths. It allows us to create a different relationship with our body; as well as discover things about other people, through their dancing bodies.

I really value speaking about how you feel, but my job is to get our bodies talking… This is where the Beauty happens. Dance gave me a focus and a drive. Also a separate space to find meaning in life, as i enter a different relationship with my body. Which I would like to give lots of people the chance to experience.

Things I like most:

  • Good music.
  • When people make me laugh.
  • When I see people improve massively in their dancing.

Helen- Peer Support Worker

I first became involved with Takeoff over a year ago after being told about the organisation by my care coordinator. Since then I have become a peer support worker, helping facilitate a regular depression group as well as being involved with the Takeoff peer support crisis group.

Although lucky enough to have a supportive husband, family and friends, I have suffered with depression, anxiety and self harm for over 10 years. I have had counselling, therapy and been on and off various medications during that time. More recently I have been both a voluntary and involuntary inpatient a number of times at a NHS psychiatric acute admissions ward. 

It wasn’t until i was an inpatient that I really began to understand the importance and healing nature of talking to my fellow patients. For me, medication and therapeutic intervention are undoubtedly an important part of staying well. However equally as important has been the realisation that I am not alone in my struggles and that peer support is an extremely useful tool for recovery.

This is why, in my opinion, Takeoff provides such a unique and vital service. I feel lucky to have had the chance to benefit from Takeoff’s peer support model and hope to help others with their own recovery in a supportive and non judgemental environment.

Fay Blair- Peer Support Worker

I got involved with Take-Off through the Canterbury & Coastal Clinical Commissioning Group in August 2015. I’ve been leading partnership project work with AgeUK Canterbury for creatives in ‘arts for dementia and arts for community mental health wellbeing’. Challenging ourselves as communities to be more ‘mental health alert’, and to be more ‘dementia friendly’ is what drives and inspires me; how we can better support each other, particularly through ‘doing’ things, especially creative things.

People say I come over as a positive and chatty person (yes I can ‘talk for England’) but I do struggle with ‘the winter blues’. I try to keep upbeat in helping my mum to live as independently as possible with the day-to-day challenges that Alzheimer’s brings.

Greg- Peer Support Worker

My name is Greg, I am 28 and I have been working as a Peer Support Worker with Take Off for a couple of months and have been diagnosed with anxiety/OCD.

I first started having difficulties with anxiety at the age of 15 at which point managing everyday responsibilities became very difficult, it was not too long after the anxiety developed into specific obsessions and the compulsive ritual checking followed which started small but gradually became much greater. The problems with anxiety and OCD really came to a head during my time at university where I found that I struggled to function. 

I started receiving treatment for these issues when I was 22, I was referred to Laurel House where I received counselling, CBT (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy) and medication. After quite a long time I have managed to bring these issues under a degree of control, not without a few ups and downs.

It is my hope that with the experience that I have gained I will be able to help others who are struggling with similar issues and provide a supportive social environment to improve their quality of life.

Emma- Peer Support Worker

I’m Emma and I’m a civil servant. I have two beautiful Bengal cats, a wonderful husband and two lovely (and energetic!) step-sons. I enjoy watching football, keeping fit and I play for a women’s football team most Sunday afternoons.

I left school at an early age, as I was never really a “sit in the classroom” kind of person; I couldn’t concentrate, I had little interest in learning and I needed to be engaged in something more “hands on”.  I tried college but dropped out after 4 months, I just couldn’t do it, it just didn’t engage me- sitting still for long periods listening to someone speak. I tried to stick it out, blend in with everyone else but I needed to be active- I just felt different from the rest of the world. It felt really isolating, I felt a failure. 

When I was 28, my partner saw how I struggled with learning. The desire for knowledge was there, but I just couldn’t concentrate for long enough on a reference book or documentary. He suggested I get tested for dyspraxia. After 2 years of appointments and tests I was actually diagnosed with ADHD. 

Looking back, it suddenly all made sense. I wasn’t stupid, I just didn’t have the focus for a class room environment. I wasn’t a naughty child (well, maybe I was occasionally!), I just didn’t know how to release the tension inside of me in a constructive way at such a young age. I wasn’t an anxious person, I was just a fidget and I wasn’t a failure- I just had different strengths.

Throughout my career I have worked hard at what I do, and despite the challenges faced I have worked my way up to a senior position. My ADHD makes things hard work sometimes; if I’m not interested in something then it’s physically draining trying to force myself to concentrate on it. However, if I get focused on something that interests me, I am proactive, enthusiastic and determined to succeed (and I usually do!)

ADHD is a highly misleading label for what is simply an intriguing kind of mind. Often it is seen as a negative trait -hyperactive children who misbehave and cause a wave of chaos wherever they go. The the stigma attached to ADHD is usually particularly unhelpful.

People with ADHD are often original, charismatic, energetic and brilliant individuals with extraordinary talents embedded in their highly charged but easily distracted minds. It is just a different way of living in the world and it only becomes a disorder when it is not adequately managed and allowed to negatively impact on your life. 

Since my diagnosis and starting to take medication to control my ADHD symptoms, I have flourished. In 2017, I graduated with a Masters degree in Criminology from the University of Cambridge and married my soulmate. Having someone around me that genuinely cared and took the time to encourage and support me through the diagnosis process has been invaluable to me, and literally changed my life. 

I know that having someone there, someone that will listen and who understands; can make all the difference to someone’s life. There is no obstacle that can’t be overcome with the right support, and no-one should have to feel alone. That is why I am proud to be a peer worker with Take Off.

Leigh- Peer Support Worker

Hi my names Leigh, I’ve been attending groups for a few months , suffered with depression in the past, I find trying to keep busy helps with my issues. I work, but am interested in peer support also, to help others as well as myself.

I like to do crafting, making cards, scrapbooking and collecting vintage china.

I’m hoping to bring some of the crafting into the groups to help others.

Shaun- Peer Support Worker

My name is Shaun and I am an experienced teacher working in many different subject areas within adult education.

I strongly believe that communicating in a social and open-minded environment is crucial for overcoming a variety of mental health issues.

In today’s modern society, the busy and stressful environment around has been proven to have a detrimental effect on our well being. As a result, the support needed for positive mental health is more apparent than ever; even though there is a currently a lack of support or oversubscribed waiting lists.

Personally, I have found exercise to have a positive impact for my mental health and enjoy spending any free time walking my dog, cycling and running.

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