13/01/14 In the beginning…

Having crushed the opposition in the local pub quiz at the Red Lion in Ilmington with Derek, followed by a medicinal nightcap of sloe gin, I awoke refreshed to take on the world…

…is the way I’d like things to have turned out…we came last – twice – putting some balm on the pain of defeat with the wittily crafted name for our team ‘We have other talents’. My start to the day was a little spongy – for which I blame Derek – it had nothing to do with my weak willed approach to alcohol.

Anyway – I have already digressed, it was Derek’s role today to deliver me back to the old home town of Corby, because something has to be done.

The Safe Haven, a drop In, out of hours crisis service for people with mental health problems in north Northamptonshire that also provides a phone service for people for the whole of the county, is in imminent risk of being closed down.

He plonked me, Hubert, Darth II and Wilson at Janice’s house – she’s the manager of the project – and a short whizz around kind of a day began.

Janice told me a lot about the service, about herself and her commitment to it, about the cutbacks in local mental health services, about the folk who use the service and what they would lose should Safe Haven vanish.

We had lunch in a local pub. As I was assimilating the implications of the task ahead, Janice spotted one of the users of the service, she wondered if he might talk to me…

After a brief chat with Janice, Jim (not his real name) came over and gently told me what Safe Haven had meant, had done for him and with him.

Jim’s a trained tradesman – he has skills and has a desire to contribute. Sound familiar? Could this be you? However, a number of things contrived to make his life difficult. He developed symptoms of a mental illness….

Not you? It happens to one in four of us. In the UK that’ll be 15 million folk, in Corby, fifteen thousand.

He was admitted to hospital a number of times, losing control, being sectioned. He described the unsettling world of the psychiatric ward where, he felt, patients lost their individuality, where any personal belongings were stolen on communal wards.

Then he lost someone very close to him. With their death his world deteriorated further. He stopped eating – he had no money to eat anyway…he lost a lot of weight…

And then someone told him about Safe Haven. Nights were a particularly difficult time for Jim and suddenly, here were some people who were willing and able to talk to him.

They provided transport to from and back to his home – a journey that would have been impossible for him to take on his own, especially at night.

They listened. In time, as he returned, they were able to challenge him – things didn’t have to be this way.

The words he used were ‘turned my life around’, ‘life savers’ – even when he didn’t visit Safe Haven, the knowledge that something was there for him gave him great comfort. He’d put weight back on, he was able to talk to and trust people, he felt safe.

We could have talked for hours – but with a quiet smile, he went on his way – galvanising – if that were needed – my belief that this service wasn’t going down without a fight.

Janice took me to Safe Haven – an unassuming anonymous couple of houses knocked into one in a Corby housing estate. She showed me around this homely non institutional and welcoming place. There are places for privacy, there are places for therapy with the trained staff and there are communal areas just to be with other folk.

An out of hours, crisis service that was warm and welcoming in so many ways.

In the evening John (his real name) the councillor came round to be part of and to help us to realise what a campaign such as this needed to achieve.

It was clear that folk in local government needed to hear about value for money and bangs for bucks.

It wasn’t hard. Safe Haven diverts folk away from 999 services – away firm accident and emergency where staff are still more sympathetic to people with physical illnesses- away from police services and, most importantly for everyone concerned, it diverts people away from unnecessary and costly admissions to hospital – at the same time working with statutory services where appropriate.

All this for less than £2 a year for every man, woman and child in Corby.

This really is a no brainer.

We were all given jobs to do. I’m aiming to speak with any media folk who’ll have me – John’s off to find out costings of all the mainstream services so we can throw figures at anyone who’s willing to listen.

Janice continues to be at the helm of the service – while putting in applications for grants across the board.

We’ve agreed that an apolitical public meeting is required – this is something that effects us all regardless of our class and political leanings. So, watch this space.

It’s a start.

Walk a mile


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