Goodbye Bennett Centre.

At a meeting on 29th November, 2012, it was revealed that my local mental health resource unit, The Bennett Centre, is going to close on 21st December, 2012. The meeting was held by staff in order to attempt to reassure service users that the service they have relied on for many years will not be being completely dismantled, but simply restructured. We were told that care plans would not be being changed, but that the care co-ordinators who meet with us to arrange care plans might be replaced by other staff, due to the rearrangements which have resulted in the loss of 35 jobs. New venues within the community now might be used for service users to meet with staff, and we were told that the reason the Bennett Centre had been chosen for closure rather than other units was that such venues were more readily available within the Bennett Centre catchment area. Letters would be sent out to all service users to tell them of any changes.
The overall feeling at the meeting was one of anxiety on behalf of service users at the uncertainties which the future would appear to hold, but the staff at the meeting did their utmost to calm such feelings. One woman described how the centre had been her "comfort blanket" for many years, and, having been under the care of mental health services since the age of 16 (now being 45) was worried about the impending closure. Another man, who cared for his son who suffered from severe OCD, could barely contain his anger at the Trust's decision, saying that it had probably taken 14 years to arrive at a relatively useful form of treatment, which the Bennett Centre and its staff had provided. Now, having already been through some painful disruptions in his son's treatment, he found it difficult to accept that more changes are on the way.
As well as anxiety, the meeting was tinged with an air of sadness. For many, the Bennett Centre has been an invaluable life-line. One service user even remarked that, "the Bennett Centre saved my life". The staff, who, it must be remembered, did not make the decision to close the unit, seemed equally upset, but put on a brave face despite it all, and one of them tried to say that it wasn't the building, but the people in it who had achieved such remarkable things.
Unfortunately, though, for some the building itself is important. Service users, it seemed, felt safer there than in a community setting, and the bedded unit, now already closed, provided a sort of half-way house for patients between home and the more demanding environment of our local psychiatric hospital, The Harplands.
The staff made no bones about the fact that the reason for the closure was financial, and due to the cuts being handed down from central government to our beleaguered local council. Anyone who watched the BBC4 documentary, "The Year the Town Hall Shrank", will know just how precarious the position in Stoke-on-Trent is. On top of the cuts already made, the council will now have to make a further cut of, I believe, £21 million, and the leader of the council himself has said that front-line services will be affected. Well, it seems that those effects are already here and already happening. "I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS", said David Cameron before his election to power, but such promises have been replaced with a stark reality.     
And so it's a fond goodbye to the Bennett Centre. We have to hope that the changes being faced by staff and service users alike will prove to be not too painful, but the anxiety, resentment and sadness at the loss of such a service was all too palpable at the meeting. As for myself, perhaps a little tear will be shed as I remember the place which was part of perhaps the most traumatic time of my life, but which became a hub for the building of confidence, the making of friends, and the development of new hope and promise.          


klahanie said…
Dear David,

Somehow, you ended this post on a positive note of hope and promise.

I just find the whole situation an absolute disgrace and the impact it will have on the staff and clients alike, is a cause of much concern. It makes one try to comprehend what is considered a priority in this ever increasing heartless world where the rich gain and the vulnerable suffer even more.

In hope, Gary
klahanie said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said…
Hi Gary,
Yes, one does wonder what should be considered a priority in these austere times. As you say, it appears that the very wealthy are hardly being touched by the econimic crisis, while those at the other end of the scale suffer. I know that the Bennett Centre is only a building, and efforts are being made to ensure that service users still get effective treatment, but to my mind, all these cuts are bound to have an impact on the quality and quantity of the care people receive. It's all very sad, as well as infuriating.
Anyway, like you, I just hope things will take a turn for the better in the future.
Very Best Wishes, your way,
Dixie said…
Hi David.
Please excuse my lateness in commenting.
I so hoped things with the centre would turn out differently. This is indeed sad and disappointing. You and your mates are always in my thoughts and meditations. Know that I join you with a positive results attitude.
Meanwhile, I hope you work is pleasing.
Kindest regards,
David said…
Hi Dixie,
Yes, it's very sad that the centre is going. The NHS Trust say this will save around £2.5 million a year, which, really, pales in comparison to how much has been spent on bailing out what my friend has called "delinquent banks". And that's not to mention all the (legal) tax evasion on behalf on the very rich and the corporations. Again the vulnerable are suffering for the mistakes of the wealthy.
As for the work I was doing, I'm afraid that it just wasn't for me. It was very mentally demanding, required a lot of concentration and accuracy, and as it was only going to be a voluntary position for the forseeable future, I decided that my health must come first and am now looking for other opportunities.
Thanks for your concern and interest, Dixie, and for thinking of me and my mates over here in 'lil old En-ger-land!
Very Best Wishes, your way,

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