Nestled at the foot of the Strata SE1 tower at Elephant & Castle is the Castle Resource Centre - a day centre for Southwark residents with mental health problems. This week councillors raised questions about its future.
At this week's Southwark council assembly budget-setting meeting two councillors described their recent visit to the Hampton Street centre – run by the charity Together – and the distress of users who have been told that the service will close at the end of April.
"It was one of the most upsetting visits I've ever done as a councillor," said Anood Al-Samerai, leader of Southwark Lib Dem group.
"This day centre is for people with severe mental health needs, who have chaotic lives, and it often provides the only stability they've got. At the end of April this day centre simply won't exist."
Newington ward Lib Dem councillor Cathy Bowman accompanied her group leader on the visit.
"I was really, really disturbed to see that the people using the centre, of whom there are about 40 per day, had only been told that morning – last Friday morning – that their centre is closing at the end of April," said Cllr Bowman.
"You can imagine the degree of distress that the users of the centre were in.
"There was a representative there from Together, which runs the service, who was beyond sanguine about closing it. There was a representative from SLAM (South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust) who seemed absolutely unable to answer any questions about contingency planning for those users."
Cllr Neil Coyle, a Labour councillor who also represents Newington ward, accused the Lib Dem members of hypocrisy and insincerity.
"I am outraged at some of the discussions tonight," he said. "You should be totally ashamed of pretending to speak up for the Castle day centre when your government is going to cut 280,000 disabled people from employment support allowance and your government is going to cut 500,000 people from disability living allowances. That will affect hundreds of people across Southwark.
"You should be deeply ashamed of your MP [Simon Hughes] backing cuts to people with significant mental health problems across the country."
Later in the budget debate Cllr Dora Dixon-Fyle, Labour cabinet member for health and adult social care, moved to reassure councillors that those who rely on the Castle Resource Centre will be protected.
"I have also visited the Castle day centre a couple of times in the past year and talked to the users and support workers," she said.
"My officers have been engaged quite closely with Together, the group that runs the centre, over many months now."
She added: "I want to reassure the chamber tonight that we will not be abandoning those with mental health difficulties.
"We will make alternative provision for those people, but you must remember that this is in the context of unprecedented government cuts."
Together insists that even though it is vacating the Hampton Street building it will continue to work with those who rely on its services.
"Our service in Southwark is not closing but is moving from the Castle Resource Centre building to a new space in the heart of the community – the location of which will be agreed with our current service users," says Sarah Thompson Turvey, Together's service manager for London.
"From there, we will offer our 'Your Way' service in partnership with the local council. Throughout this process of change our service users will be consulted with and offered the same level of support from Together staff, as they are now.
"Together is currently transforming a number of our community projects, including Castle Resource Centre, to offer a more flexible approach to service users, which better promotes individual choice.
"'Your Way' is a new way of working we have developed and are already successfully running in other areas, that puts individuals at the centre of the service they receive and gives them as much choice and control as they like. It also supports service users to access 'individual budgets' so that they can manage their own money and choose the services they buy themselves.
"The ethos underlying 'Your Way' is our belief that we should give individuals experiencing mental health problems control over the type of support they receive from us and empower them to re-connect with their local communities.
"We understand that these changes may cause some initial anxiety but based on our experience, we truly believe this approach will reduce the social isolation often experienced by individuals with mental health issues, help them to regain their independence and to ultimately lead the lives they want."
Southwark's cabinet is expected to approve a strategy for the future of the Castle Resource Centre building at its April meeting.
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