A West Berkshire-based hoarding and decluttering specialist is striving to remove the stigma of a mental health condition during National Hoarding Awareness Week which takes place from 20th to 27th May.
Jo Cooke, the founder of Tapioca Tidy and co-founder of Hoarding Disorders UK (a community interest company) is giving a series of talks to the NHS and local charities to help raise awareness of the disorder and to fight prejudice about the stigma of hoarding.
Jo will also be present at the National Hoarding Conference: New Approaches Roadshow in Birmingham which is the official launch of Hoarding Awareness Week. This year’s focus is to raise awareness of the disorder as a mental illness, and not as a lifestyle choice.
Jo estimates that there could be at least 10,000 households in the West Berkshire area who need help and she receives referrals most days. Most hoarders tend to collect newspapers, books, containers, clothes, plastic bags and animals.
Jo and her team lead a free support group meeting which takes place on Thursday, 30th May and on the fourth Thursday of each month from 7pm to 9pm at Broadway House in Newbury. Anyone who is a hoarder or whose life is affected by hoarding is welcome to attend. Jo has also inspired other support groups around the country to be formed and is instrumental in setting up new groups this year to be launched in Reading, Oxford and Swindon.
Jo said: “We welcome anyone to our support group who would like to discuss hoarding without judgement. We offer a safe place to talk and to reduce the stigma of hoarding. Unfortunately, owing to some television programmes that show the very worst side of hoarding, there’s a perception that hoarders are dirty and smelly which is not the case. We want to treat people with compassion and patience, not punishment.”
One former hoarder who attends the Newbury group said: “I used to have a hoarded house, in which none of the rooms apart from the bathroom were suitable for their original use. It was obvious that something had to be done, and that really it was down to me.
“Having made a good start with support from my family, I joined Jo’s hoarding support group and this has proved very motivational, reassuring and supportive. The group provides a safe and secure place for people with hoarding behaviours, and those supporting them.
“Talks and techniques bring a new perspective to dealing with the items themselves and the feelings and behaviours involved. There are talks from Cruse on bereavement, and talks on mindfulness, fire, health and safety, and stress control. But the most useful parts of the meetings are those when people just talk to each other. Feedback from those who attend indicates that they no longer feel as if it is ‘just them’, that others are in a similar situation. They feel more able to discuss the issues involved, as the people attending really understand what is going on. Ideas and techniques are exchanged and these spark enthusiasm and determination.”
National Hoarding Awareness Week also marks the second anniversary of the launch of Jo’s book “Understanding Hoarding”, an expert guide to helping a hoarder. She will be giving tips and advice from the book on social media throughout National Hoarding Awareness Week.