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
Research 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 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.”
“Eight out of 10 people with BPD attempt suicide,” said service user and occupier Ann Robinson. “One in 10 succeeds. This place saves lives”
“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.”
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.”
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