“Five minutes’ walk from a tube station in east London, past an abandoned block of flats with broken windows, there is an unexpected three acres of calm.
Situated on a perfectly maintained park, where people sit reading on benches and a child kicks a ball with his grandfather, is the Bromley-by-Bow centre.
‘A visiting priest said we had all the characteristics of a monastery except one,’ said Dan Hopewell, director of knowledge and innovation at the centre. ‘We’re missing beer brewing.’
The feeling of a sanctuary is unsurprising – the centre was originally a church, which in the 1980s had a priest with a vision for serving the community of Tower Hamlets. Now, the centre is run as a secular charity – though the church still meets there – and houses a cafe, GP clinic, studio space for artists, a nursery, exercise and art classes, English lessons, employment and housing advice, and mental health support groups; and it models a very different approach to mental health care.
It hinges on the view that people’s mental wellbeing and social situation – in particular their ability to have purpose, community and not live in poverty – are intertwined and that addressing the latter can help to fix problems with the former. ‘How we live our lives, what we eat, who we talk to, all of these contribute to how we feel,’ said Alice Everett, the centre’s social prescribing coordinator.
Everett works alongside local GPs to help people struggling with housing, finances, isolation and unemployment, which in turn affect their mental health. She often recommends people join programmes run by the centre, one of which is therapeutic horticulture, a weekly gardening group for people with mental health and intellectual difficulties.
‘The group is fantastic, everyone’s so friendly and it does pick you up,’ said Bill, one of the group members. ‘It really is good for your mind. If you miss a week you really miss it mentally.’ …”
Read more here (under ‘The community’ subheading, half-way down the article).