This is How You Stand Up to Austerity…And Win!

It can be all too easy, in the face of a broken democracy and crushing ‘austerity’, to fall prey to resignation. But when the doors of a Cambridge mental health walk-in centre were due to close due to funding cuts – this courageous group of local residents and service users put up the fight of their lives – and won.

The Tale of Lifeworks

A008Research by the London School of Economics has revealed that 30,000 people with poor mental health have lost their social care support since 2005, following a £90m shortfall in funding. Just weeks ago, The Mental Health Foundation, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network and the Centre for Mental Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists released a letter warning that planned cuts for next year will put lives at risk as the system is already underfunded.

This community fought back.

Residents successfully occupied Lifeworks clinic for FOUR MONTHS, in efforts to save their services from the merciless cuts of the Cameron government.

As the Mirror newspaper reported:

For the past 12 years, Lifeworks has treated 200 patients who nearly all suffer from personality disorders. On March 28, the life-saving clinic was due to close as part of NHS cuts that have decimated local mental health services.

In protest, around 30 women service users, four men and three dogs have been occupying the clinic since March 4 – an astonishing six weeks.

Despite its record of saving and transforming the lives of local people, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust – currently implementing £6.5million in cuts – decided to close the service.

After 12 years of pioneering these services in the area, clinic staff and patients alike were stunned to receive news that the local NHS Trust would be closing its doors for the sake of ideological austerity.  A letter from the Trust read:

“When the service changes at the end of March we will have to transfer your care back to your GP,” it wrote to the women.

“We recognise that for many of you this will come as a big shock. When you came into the service you were led to expect that the service would always be open to you. We cannot, however, honour that commitment any more.”

The Occupation


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The patients only intended to protest overnight at the gates of the clinic, but in the confusion of the closure were left with the keys – and promptly barricaded themselves inside.  They have received overwhelming support from their community, who have been supplying them with food and other essentials to maintain their occupation.

The protesters also needed to carefully negotiate the reality of sharing a space with fellow vulnerable people.  Maintaining an occupation in a large group like this is an extraordinary challenge for many of those who chose to do so.

“You don’t go out of the house with BPD a lot of the time. Friends don’t understand your mood swings. Relationship difficulties are part of it.

“You’re happy one minute and down on the floor the next. But here there’s a community. A lot of us have self-harmed. Here you don’t have to hide your scars, you can wear a T-shirt.”

But all these accommodations were worth it, as these people were literally fighting for their lives.
“Eight out of 10 people with BPD attempt suicide,” said service user and occupier Ann Robinson. “One in 10 succeeds. This place saves lives”
Alex Jones, 35, who has used the clinic  for five years also testified to the positive impact the clinic has on users.

“I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder when I was 16 and I’ve been sectioned around 12 times. But since I’ve been coming here, I haven’t had one hospital admission.”

And they Won!
In return for their dogged and unrelenting solidarity, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) has pledged to keep Lifeworks in Tenison Road open for another five years if the sit-in comes to an end.
By becoming the Trust’s biggest irritation – the service users succeeded in gaining enough leverage to impact the decision making.  This should be viewed as a template for anti-austerity groups across the country – the policy of Don’t Go Home works.

The occupying service user Ann Robinson (quoted above) told Cambridge News:

“Lifeworks closing would have been a life or death situation for us and the action we took shows how much the clinic means to the service users, and the families and friends that support them.

“Closing Lifeworks was never an option for us and we would have stayed here until we got a positive response. We appreciate that they have finally accepted how much Lifeworks means to us.”

 While it may well be true that our government isn’t listening, we cannot use that as an excuse not to raise our voices together for the things we hold dear.  These people went beyond themselves to retain their lifeline, and succeeded.  Let it be a lesson to us all, there is always a reason to fight. You might just win.


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8 thoughts on “This is How You Stand Up to Austerity…And Win!

  1. Pingback: Mid July bulletin of meetings,upcoming events etc in mental health and health and social care related stuff | Launchpad: By and for mental health service users

  2. FFS!

    these are not ‘nice’ places….they seriously abuse and torture peoplein these places…all that effort to ‘save’ soemthing and it’s one of the nastiest twsietest places on Earth? hope every fracker getz what they deserve and ends up there…so they know what they did!

    • Hi JM, that’s a very generalised assumption. Why would these service users have fought so hard if the place was as terrible as you believe? There are new supportive approaches now to treatment of ppl with BPD in some areas…I have BPD, I’m go to one of these units (not the Cambridge one) and they are hugely different to the old psych units/hospital treatments of old. There are still plenty of awful psych/personality disorder units around yeah sure, but not all are the same and it says something to me that these service users held out for so long, fought so hard to get the concessions they did.

  3. My wife used to work for Lifeline. We’ve been following the story from the start. Fantastic result! But we need to ensure it continues in perpetuity, not just 5 year hops. BPD and other mental disorders won’t disappear in five years! People need a permanent place of safety. But thank you for this post, we can now spread the word! 😉 😉

  4. Pingback: This is How You Stand Up to Austerity…And Win! | Vox Political

  5. Pingback: This is How You Stand Up to Austerity...And Win...

  6. This news has made my day amidst all the terrible depressing stuff, brought me to tears of relief and joy. Well done you lot, bloody well done!!!! I’ve been following their fight and hadn’t spotted this fantastic result, thanks for reporting it, Scriptonite :)

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