Tough year after drop-in centre cull

Glenda Benn
Glenda Benn
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IT is more than a year now since cash-strapped Wigan Council withdrew its funding for borough drop-in centres for people with mental health issues. Here NATALIE DRAYCOTT speaks to service users to see what the impact has been ...

IT was always going to be a tough year.

The users of nine drop-in centres run by charitable organisations Richmond Fellowship and Making Space fought tooth and nail to persuade Wigan Council not to pull the funding plug as it faced massive budget cuts, but all in vain.

Since then both the users and the charities have been having to get used to new ways of doing things. And many of them are far from satisfied.

Richmond and Making Space are making the most of the situation, offering one-to-one support, encouraging service users to take part in activities in the wider community and even leading groups themselves.

But some Richmond members are unhappy about losing the “safety net” of their centres and some say that the service was much better in the days pre-2007 when most of the centres were run by and organisation called Creative Support.

Some have reported that their mental health has deteriorated as a result and have talked about friends who have been hospitalised because they can’t cope.

And it is not just service users who feel the impact of the changes,

A former staff member today spoke out against the closures of the drop-in centres, claiming to have seen a rapid and alarming decline in some patients’ mental health.

Glenda Benn (pictured) worked with both organisations between 2006 and 2009.

She said: “A lot of people – from manic depressives to people with deep psychological problems – used the drop-in centres as they felt safe there.

“When Richmond Fellowship won the contract, everything was turned on its head as the service users went from feeling comfortable to being told they had to go out into the community and get back into employment.

“Most had not been in employment for a long time and this frightened them.

“I know quite a few people have died since the drop-in centres closed.

“There were so many people who would make suicide attempts and the drop-in centre was their first port of call.

“Now I have seen people walking in the streets, who are a danger to themselves and I have seen people hanging around in bus stops or outside pubs who desperately need that support and guidance.

“There are success stories, but generally people are not ready to be in the community.”

Members who used to meet at the Richmond Fellowship drop-in centre in Gerard Street, Ashton, feel particularly strong about its closure, which happened in September 2010.

Brian Mattocks, 41, of Ashton, who suffers from depression, said: “When the centre was run by Creative Support, it was brilliant. It was open six days a week and there was professional support workshops and something for everyone. But it has all diminished until we have virtually nothing. Now we are so isolated and feel we do not have proper support any more.”

Beverley Kinnard, 27, of Ashton, who was diagnosed with depression when she was 20, said: “People who are stressed don’t want to be out in the wider community. The ideal solution would be to have a drop-in centre back open – even if it was just one.”

But some users say they have benefited from the new changes. Susan Hitchen, 43, of Mosley Common, and Sue Murphy, 36, of Westleigh, used to attend the Richmond Fellowship centre in Atherton,

They were both distressed when the centre closed, but now say they have a new lease of life.

Susan, who joined the services in 2009 after suffering from agoraphobia, said: “At first I was really angry but now it is the best thing for me.

“I was encouraged to get out into the community and I now run a card-making group. I would not have done that before.

“Now I mix with more people and I am more pro-active.”

Joe Redmond, assistant director of operations at Richmond Fellowship, said: “We have worked really hard with individuals to make sure they have access to one-to-one support and a range of community based activities which are led by the service users.

“A small number of people were not happy with this new process but we have done a huge amount of work with those individuals to find an appropriate route inside or outside the service.”