DPAC is supporting the campaign to save Mental Health Action Group Sheffield (MHAGS) from closure due to funding cuts from Sheffield Council.
MHAGS is a user led organisation run by and for MH service users, at every level including office staff. There is no where else like it locally and there are currently 250 people on their register.
Mental Health Action Group Sheffield, known as MHAGS for short, was formed over 20 years ago as a patients campaign at the closure of an NHS day centre in Sheffield at the hands of Margaret Thatcher, in fact the closure of such NHS trust groups were some of the last legislations she passed before being deposed.
The patient campaign group fought long and hard and were successful in getting funding, and achieving charitable status, and rented a property from the Sheffield City Council in order to keep a day centre available for people with a variety of complex psychiatric and or psychological conditions.
The group have been moved several times by Sheffield Council over the years. in 1997 the council got £10million to renovate an area in city centre called the Peaces Gardens, of course this meant relocation of the group, members say they were made to feel that they wern’t welcome in the new and improved city centre and felt heavily discriminated against so in 1997, at one of many protests, was that the group occupied the Peace gardens to raise public awareness of their plight.
After it was nearly complete the SCC moved the group to a red light district, knowing full well that some of the members of the group had issues with substance misuse and they turned to soliciting in order to support their habits.
Members found this upsetting and distressing, they were frightened for their friends well being. After more yet campaigning, they have since been moved to more suitable premises
In the 1990’s the group pioneered a bus pass in Sheffield for MH service, they got funding for a camera and had a dark room and each pass was signed off by a psychaitrist, and printed on the premises! This then enabled a member to travel for a reduced fare or 25p it could well be that MHAGS hard work all those years ago contributed to MH being included in mobility passes today!
Over the years they have used a variety of group therapies :
-Photography group ( funding for dark room n cameras etc )
-They go n many trips such as seaside days out or countryside walks.
-There has been two cases of group members being assisted in gaining asylum status by other group members! One of these young men who was from Eritrea went on to attend Sheffield University and now gives back to the community.
-MHAGS chair/secretary and a few other members also act as an appropriate adult when someone with MH is remanded in custody.
– The probation service used to refer people to MHAGS for support on release from prison, but council has enforced a referral system in recent years.
– a well known bakery gives surplus bread and buns in a van each week that the group then distribute to homeless people in the city.
– there is fresh meal prepared by a service user who is in their own words an honorary chef! Some members can’t cook hot food due to disability, this is a free meal and is offered every day the centre is open, Monday – Friday, if the centre closes there will be no alternative the members will go hungry.
– There’s an IT corner and a pool table as well as a seated eating area , the value of the level of acceptance users feel and the level of social interaction is priceless, they simply wont get it anywhere else.
– The whole centre has cameras and the monitor is in the lounge/pool room, everyone keeps an eye on each other, there’s no security team, there`s mutual respect. It works fantastically.
Each year they group have to apply to council grants schemes for funding, it costs just £12,000 to run the group per year.
Two weeks ago the MHAGS Chairs were summoned to a meeting with the Council and they were told that their funding will end as the current grant agreement states, in April 2017.
The MHAGS reps asked about alternative funding, and were told that there is a new fund called “tackling inequalities “ that MHAGS will meet criteria for but that 1) t`s unlikely that they will receive funding as the bench mark is very high, and 2) even if they do get an award it doesn’t start until September 2017.
At best MHAGS are looking at a funding gap of £6,000 (April – Sep 2017) at worst they`re facing closure leaving 250 people isolated within their own communities with no support.
A campaign is getting under way to oppose the closure of MHAGS supported by Sheffield DPAC, the BFAWU, NUT, Sheffield Trades Council UNITE Community Sheffield, SWP, SP, Sheffield Uncut, Sheffield Campaign against Library closure aka SCALP, and many more individual campaigners….
National DPAC are also supporting this campaign and we’ll bring updates and say how people can get involved as the campaign develops.
In the meantime please sign the petition to save MHAGS.