A mind’s best friend

Jodie Larsen previously worked as a support worker for people with mental health problems
Jodie Larsen previously worked as a support worker for people with mental health problems

Jodie Larsen tells James Cracknell about how her doggy day care service is helping improve people’s mental health

Owning a pet has been shown to have many positive effects on our mental health – so why not use them to help vulnerable people?

This was the question Jodie Larsen asked herself when she was working for a charity supporting people in recovery from substance misuse and mental health difficulties. Frustratingly at the time, she and business partner Grace Beards couldn’t find anywhere for people to volunteer with animals.

It led to the spawning of an idea that culminated in the launch of her social enterprise, Paws and Pause, a doggy day care centre with a difference.

Jodie explains: “We both love dogs, had grown up with them and had both been dog sitting around our jobs, as well as sneaking them into our office on a regular basis!

“We saw time and time again how powerful animals were for people suffering from no confidence, anxiety and substance misuse, but when we tried to find volunteering opportunities for people with animals, there were none.

“With a lot of coffee and months of brainstorming, Paws and Pause was born!”

Jodie and Grace offer volunteer placements for people who are in recovery from mental health difficulties, to help people gain the skills they need to return to work.

“We provide a supportive environment where our volunteers can learn about working with dogs as well as gain employability skills in a practical and therapeutic setting.

“All our volunteers love dogs and work towards individual goals, which can be anything from learning about social media to providing enrichment activities for the dogs.

“Not only does Paws and Pause support our volunteers but it also means all our dogs get more attention and cuddles and owners have a socially responsible choice in day care.”

Finding a space to operate from proved difficult, until they found an old railway arch in south London. Jodie lives in Walthamstow and was eligible for financial support from St James Street Big Local and UnLtd.

“It helped us get off the ground. Funding opportunities for social enterprises are few and far between, but this meant we could pay rent and refurbish our centre without getting into debt. In addition, we have been supported by two mentors, who have been a huge source of support to us, and meet with us monthly.

“We were also lucky enough to go to Cornwall last year for a learning exchange, which was supported by Big Local, as well as attend workshops and training in London. The support has meant that I have been able to grow and make a sustainable living for myself doing something I love.”

Going forward, Jodie wants to expand Paws and Pause into a bigger venue, employ a member of staff, and provide more volunteering opportunities for people – including in Walthamstow.

Jodie adds: “I adored my old job but was suffering badly with burn out and stress by the time I left, and this has given me the opportunity to create something unique and on my own terms.”

For more information about Paws and Pause:
Email hellopawsandpause@gmail.com
Visit pawsandpause.co.uk

This article is supported by St James Big Local in association with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs. To find out more about UnLtd:
 0207 566 1100
Email cheryl.ndione@unltd.org.uk