"These drop ins are keeping us out of places like Meadowbrook, Prestwich and, most likely, cemeteries." Steve Cullen, service user
Saturday afternoon was Salford Council's annual `Democracy Day' which has recently almost turned into a tea party on the lawns of the Civic Centre. With a nod to democracy, Mayor Ian Stewart held a kind of open Question Time in a big white marquee. But, before it could get underway, he was met by placard waving campaigners, protesting at Salford Council's proposals to lose three community care worker staff and, in effect, close the city's drop-in centres which are a lifeline for people with mental health issues.
In another nod to democracy, Stewart went over to meet the campaigners - holding placards reading `Where's our caring sharing Mayor?', `Broken Promises' and `No more Tory Lib Dem Cheerleader' - and heard how vital the drop-ins are for the people who use them.
"As far as I'm concerned it's a matter of life and death, these drop-ins are so important" he was told by a service user "They are on about giving more one to one sessions but in my view they are just isolating people."
"These drop ins are vital to me" he was told by another service user, while Vee Ball, chair of the campaigning committee USUC (believe it!), whose partner has made 21 attempts on his own life, spelled out the consequences if the drop-ins shut…
"The drop-ins represent a ticket out of people's homes and to get help" she told Stewart "Take that away and they backslide. If these people go into crisis look at the strain that is going to put on A&E, the ambulance service, the police, the crisis teams, the hospitals. The drop-ins avert crisis, so if you look at the economics it's going to cost more money than the £80,000 you're trying to save by shutting them down."
In response, the Mayor offered nothing…
"The one thing I'm not going to do is promise something I can't deliver" he said "But I will promise you that the process for consultation with the staff, and then the service users will be run properly. At the end of the day there will be hard decisions but I will ensure that all your views are taken into consideration and then we'll be open as to why certain decisions have been made, whatever that is…But I don't promise anything other than that."
It was pointed out to the Mayor that the staff consultation had already taken place, and the Salford Star asked how there can be a consultation ending next year, when staff have already had notice of redundancy (see previous Salford Star feature – click here)…
"I don't know the answer to that" he replied "I will look into it first thing Monday morning."
And with that, Ian Stewart went off to begin his sparsely attended Question Time session, muttering "Oh that I had a magic wand…"
If anything needs the Mayor's magic wand it's Salford's drop-in centres. Before the campaigners met the Mayor, service users and carers told the Star just how important and vital they are to people with mental health issues…
"I had a flat and didn't come out, I didn't see anybody, just had my one-to-one and that was it" recalled Steve Cullen, a service user who is now vice chair of the campaigning USUC committee
"My support worker introduced me to Cromwell House, and he's got me out mixing with a new bunch of people and I've formed new friendships with other service users who understand and don't judge because we're all equal and have all been through it. These drop ins are keeping us out of places like Meadowbrook, Prestwich and, most likely, cemeteries."
Vee Ball, chair of USUC, underlined the point…
"I'm a carer for my partner who has a very harrowing disorder, he's made 21 attempts on his life this year" she said "Since he's started to integrate at these drop ins with these people he's made friends with, those attempts have ceased somewhat because he's got the backup of stability of these people and he trusts them. There's a lot of people at these drop ins who have a lot of issues similar to him. Trust is a big thing, change is a massive thing. They've taken a long time to build up this confidence they've got now and if they suddenly cut it, it will throw them back into a tailspin
"We are here today to challenge Ian Stewart, who has vowed to protect vulnerable adults in Salford" she added "It's very scary, it's not something we find easy and we're all absolutely trembling. We're just a gang of ordinary people, quite nervous, trying to make this man understand that there's a lot at stake…"
As Mayor Ian Stewart was told in no uncertain terms, for many people with mental health issues, the drop-ins are "A matter of life and death"…
Mr Stewart better get his magic wand out. Fast!
Defend Mental Health Services
Monday 1st October, 7pm
Swinton Royal British Legion
Swinton, M27 4UQ