Shaftesbury Charity Hope Will Offer Mental Health Crisis Support

North Dorset residents who are experiencing a mental health crisis should soon have a place to turn to for help.

Shaftesbury charity Hope will be funded to provide drop-in mental health services and out-of-hours assistance as part of a partnership with two other Dorset social enterprises. Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred.com spoke with Eileen Crew, founder of Hope, about ‘The Front Room’ project.

Eileen has argued that Shaftesbury people need easier access to mental health services for some time. And she says that she speaks from personal experience. “I had mental health problems within my family,” Eileen explained.

Eileen founded Hope sixteen years ago. The Longmead-based charity’s remit has grown over the years, along with its volunteer base. Hope’s thirty-strong team of volunteers now provide drop-in sessions tackling health and wellbeing problems. Their team also offer skills training, whether that’s repairing unwanted bikes or offering gardening support to Shaftesbury residents who are unable to look after their own gardens any longer. “We started off with a carer’s group and it just snowballed. It just went from one thing to another,” said Eileen.

Eileen Crew

The Front Room Project will be the next development for Hope. The Shaftesbury charity has been commissioned by Dorset Healthcare to provide short-term support and accommodation for people experiencing a mental health crisis. It’s a partnership with Bournemouth Churches Housing Association and Bridport’s Harmony organisation.

“I hope it will be a crisis centre where there are staff who can cope. People can come to talk to somebody and it can be dealt with within that centre,” said Eileen, before adding that there are many reasons why people would use this facility in Shaftesbury. “When someone is having a crisis, they could be hearing voices. They need to go somewhere, but there’s nowhere to go.”

Eileen says that people who are frightened need help close to home. “People can harm themselves. They can harm somebody else. Mental health has got such a wide variety of different things. It’s difficult. If somebody is really low and upset, and they haven’t got somebody to talk to, if they’re on their own, it can be quite depressing.”

The Hope HQ building on Longmead

Currently, Shaftesbury residents who need urgent assistance might need to travel to Dorset’s larger population centres. Eileen believes that’s partially down to reduced funding and also because of our isolated position at the top of the county. “It’s where we are. And North Dorset has had a lot of cutbacks. People have to go to Dorchester or Weymouth. They are not near, are they? It’s quite a long way to go when you’re in crisis,” said Eileen. “In the day you’ve got the mental health team at Abbey View. But when they close, there’s nothing.”

County Councillor Derek Beer is a director of Hope and he’s fully supporting this venture. “The Front Room Project is a safe haven to bring a relative, a friend or someone they know in crisis. So it’s somewhere they can go safely and be given the right sort of treatment and care that they need, rather than the perception that they have to go into a police van or a police cell because there’s nowhere else to go.”

Derek understands that this new Shaftesbury service would focus on the weekend. “The plan is to run Thursday evening through to Sunday night. It’ll operate from about three in the afternoon up until midnight. It will happen when all the other Hope activities have stopped so there is a presence here seven days a week,” said Derek. “This will be a real safe haven and everything will be in confidence. There will be a highly qualified team to look after people and address their needs.”

Councillor Derek Beer

Hope will employ professionally qualified staff for this new service. “Maybe three people,” said Eileen.

As Dorset County Council’s Mental Health Champion, Derek says he has a learned a great deal since he accepted this responsibility. “You get out into the communities and find out what the needs are and work out ways that we can solve things and help make things better,” said Derek.

Outside of his official duties, Derek has personal experience of Dorset’s mental health services. “There was a problem, which was very close to my heart. It was a real crisis. So we rang the crisis line. That is centred in Weymouth and although we’re in Dorset and it is meant to cover here, the response I got was ‘we’re very sorry, but you’re too far away. Can you take the person to the Health Centre?’ And the answer was ‘no, not really’. We really needed help, and it clearly wasn’t available. Hopefully this will go some way to address that problem for other people,” Derek said.

It’s undecided whether this project will operate from Longmead or another property. Lease costs, accessibility and confidentiality are some of the issues that the Hope directors will consider. “We’re looking at the project and where we can run it from and how we can run it. There’s going to be a few more meetings,” said Derek.

“It’s a challenge finding the right place. It’s got to be nice. It’s got to be welcoming. It’s got to be lots of things,” said Eileen, adding, “I would like to use Hope, but I don’t know if that’s going to be possible.”

Derek expects Shaftesbury’s Front Room to start offering support to locals that need it from April.