– and centre’s vital services are needed now more than ever
For many people who visit the Canterbury Umbrella Centre, it represents a caring family without which their lives could well have taken a turn for the worse.
Because it is unique in the city in offering companionship and support to the growing number in the area who suffer mental health issues and loneliness.
Yet the charity faces its own ongoing fight to maintain the vital service after cuts in public funding left it relying increasingly on local businesses and generous individuals to help meet running costs.
Without it, visitors like former university student Tim Jackson, who battles with depression, may well not be here.
The guitar-playing 28-year-old, who studied drama and media, once attempted suicide and says the centre and its staff and volunteers are helping him on his road to recovery.
“This place has saved my life and helped me become better. It’s given me stability and I have made new friends and really look forward to coming here,” he said.
One of those new friends is Sam Mousoli, 30, who is bipolar and suffers with anxiety.
Yet his mood is lifted every time he walks through the door of the drop-in centre in St Peter’s Place.
“I know I would be in a far worse place without it,” he says. “Everyone is nice, nobody judges you and we look out for each other.”
They are among 150 people of all ages and from all backgrounds, including students, who visit every week and benefit from the support it offers in helping clients cope with their issues.
They also have the opportunity to develop new skills like cookery and enhance their life opportunities through adult education classes and employment support.
It is also working in a pilot scheme with the University of Kent to help students with mental health issues who are struggling and feel isolated, often a long way away from their families.
There are five full-time staff and around 25 volunteers, like retired art teacher like Diana Jackson who has been helping at the centre since 2012.
“I just find it incredibly rewarding. Art helps clients forget their problems and is very therapeutic.”
The charity was founded more than 30 years ago, originally at the city’s Methodist Church, by Rita Jones to help patients discharged into the community following the closure of St Augustine’s Psychiatric Hospital at Chartham.
This year it celebrated its 25th anniversary at its purpose-built home in St Peter’s Place.
Canterbury Umbrella centre manager Anna De-brauwer