It’s probably coincidence, but on the Hexham Courant newpaper’s website the headline
Conservative Guy Opperman has been returned as Hexham MP
is followed by several other bullet-point local headlines including:
– Man found hanged at Hexham bandstand
– Hexham restaurant to close after cutbacks
– Otterburn bus firm loses council deals
…which could well be a portent for the next five years of austerity – more deaths, closures and cutbacks.
> The story about the restaurant in particular is indicative of the future – it exited to give employment to people with mental health problems –
Tynedale people with mental health problems are being robbed of an employment lifeline after Northumberland County Council pulled the plug on funding.
The Tans vegetarian and seafood restaurant in Hexham’s St Mary’s Chare will close within weeks following the withdrawal of financial support for its operator, the Opus Employment Project.
The service, provided by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW) but funded by the council, has operated in Hexham for over 20 years,
Its role is to act as rehabilitation service for people with mental health problems, helping them embed into society through work, training and voluntary work as part of their recovery process.
The project employs seven members of staff, and there are currently four volunteers. There are currently a number of clients working at the restaurant.
The news of the impending closure of the project and the restaurant has rocked members of the community, particularly clients who have used it as a way of working their way back into society.
Philippa Long has worked at the restaurant for the past four years and said it has transformed her life, as it allows her to interact closely with members of the public.
She said: “Usually, we start in the kitchen and make things to be sold, and that gives you a sense of pride in your own work.
“Then you get to the point where you serve thanks to all the support you are given, and it makes such a big difference to your confidence and outlook on life.
“It has been life changing and quite a lot of people have gone from the restaurant to get other jobs from there.
“Closing this will be devastating to all the clients, and there’s a lot of people with less ability than us that are going to be struck a lot harder.”
In addition to clients, the news has been hard to swallow for customers and volunteers of the restaurant.
Having visited the Tans as a customer for the past 16 years, Janet Brown was so moved by the service that she started volunteering when she retired.
She was upset that the county was to cut the funding, saying that it was a much needed project for people living with mental health problems across Tynedale.
She said: “What strikes me about the project is that we see the clients come in and stand nervously at the back but, within weeks, they are serving and talking to people because of the great atmosphere here and the training they receive.
“You can see their confidence building week on week, and it is a unique service which is one of a kind in the country.
“It’s a model for how to deal with mental health issues within the community, and Tans is a flagship enterprise and NTW should be aiming to keep it open at all costs.”
A spokesman for the county council said funding was being withdrawn after discussions between NTW and the council, had concluded the Tans restaurant and Opus Employment Project had “poor linkages” to mainstream education and employment opportunities.
It also found that the service offered little in terms of promoting personalised outcomes and independence.
The spokesman said: “ They also serve a diminishing number of people, now supporting only about a quarter of the number of service users they were designed for.
“We are now embarking on individual reviews with the current service users and their families, discussing with them both existing alternative services in West Northumberland which could support them to become more independent and new services currently under development.
“For some people, the option of individually designed support arrangements using personal budgets may be the best option, and we will be offering advice about how this could work.
“No date has been agreed for closing these schemes, and no date will be set until the right alternatives have been found for all current service users and arrangements have been made for the staff working in the schemes.
“We recognise that the Tans restaurant has been a popular part of Hexham life for a long time, and if those involved wish to explore keeping it open on a different basis, the council would be able to talk to them about sources of advice.
“But the most important priority for the council and NTW is opening up new opportunities for people whose lives have been disrupted by mental illness.”
Source – Hexham Courant, 08 May 2015