A charity that works to empower people living with mental illness is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Julian Support was set up to provide housing-related support for adults with mental ill health, a term that refers to anything that impinges on a person’s ability to live the life they want – with harmful levels of stress or anxiety at one end of the spectrum and suicidal depression or a complete loss of touch with reality at the other.
Founded in Norfolk, Julian Support expanded into Suffolk in 2012, where it now operates from headquarters in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich.
It offers a range of accommodation from 24-hour intensive to lower-level support, and runs a community outreach service to help people achieve independence in their own homes.
“It’s about working to people’s strengths and building their resilience to cope with things themselves,” said Rachel Omori, head of operations and development in Suffolk.
“We try to help people see that they have got some value themselves, and skills, by saying ‘how have you survived, what have you done before that you enjoyed, what can you bring?’.
“A lot of our people have lived rough or dealt with difficult times where they have lost things, so there’s a lot of resilience in there,” she added.
The charity, which is a member of the Suffolk Voluntary and Statutory Partnership (VASP) for Mental Health, also works with social landlords to help people who would otherwise be putting their tenancies at risk.
The point is to promote recovery while recognising that people may need help along the way.
It helps build their confidence, while encouraging them to move away from social isolation and take advantage of opportunities.
One area where this is evident is its ‘social café’ which has evolved into a group that meets outside of events run by the charity where those involved would not previously have had the confidence to do so.
The charity, which supports up to 500 people at any one time, with between 65-80 each year in West Suffolk alone, was named after a man who died in police custody.
“Had there been such a service, the outcome for him may have been more positive,” said Ms Omori.
In April the charity began working with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) Criminal Justice Liaison and Diversion to support vulnerable young people and adults after they enter the criminal justice system.
The pilot scheme, which is being rolled out nationally, aims to channel offenders into appropriate support services to reduce re-offending and, in Bury, has resulted in a support worker being based at the Police Investigation Centre.
“We’ve only been doing it short term, but already we’re seeing some really positive results,” said Ms Omori.
This year is Julian Support’s 25th as an organisation and, key to its success, has been its ability to think independently, free of any ‘red tape’.
“We’re good at working in partnership with other agencies, and also at setting up new initiatives,” said Ms Omori.
In Bury, such initiatives have included taking on a new facility in Hospital Road, where it is able to offer intensive support to help people regain independent living skills, with 16 staff employed at the site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It also provides a bed at the facility as an alternative to hospital admission, and a pre-booked respite service for people aged over 16, providing them with a much-needed break, or a stay as a preventative measure around a difficult time.
In March, the charity launched an exciting Recovery into Work service, funded through the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and run in partnership with Active Lives, which aims to increase the employment skills of its service users.
A group is currently learning gardening and horticultural skills at one of the charity’s supported housing schemes, with the intention being to set up a user-led service as a charity incorporated organisation (CIO).
The idea, ultimately, is to make the CIO self-sustaining, enabling the group to bid for gardening work in the area and get paid for the work it does.
Anyone able to offer a garden to help the group gain experience is asked to get in touch with the charity, and an appeal is also being made for donations of plants from local garden centres.
Most of the charity’s clients are referred by community mental health nurses or social workers and, though open to anyone who is able to access secondary mental health services, people are not yet able to refer themselves.
Ms Omori’s vision for the future includes enabling people in Suffolk to pay for their own support, something that already happens in Norfolk, and working with GPs to improve attendance figures for people with mental health issues who often miss appointments.
A GP practice in Ipswich looks likely to be the first to trial this for the charity but Ms Omori hopes to replicate it in Bury.
Andrew Bligh, service manager, said failure to engage with physical health services was a huge issue for people with mental health problems and that social anxiety and a lack of confidence and self esteem often led them to bad habits and bad life choices.
“Often people are unable to make healthy choices when mentally unwell,” he said, adding that substance misuse was a common problem as people self medicate to treat mental illness.
Providing all of its services costs Julian Support approximately £3.7 million each year.
It is currently funded by Suffolk County Council, NHS England, the LEP and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), but public donations and offers of places to host meetings are always appreciated.
Anyone interested in receiving its support is advised to contact their local health professional care co-ordinator, or the charity directly if they need advice on how to do that.
Julian Support employs more than 100 staff across Norfolk and Suffolk and is always looking for new people to join its team. It provides training and does not treat ‘lived experience’ of mental health as a barrier.
As to why she enjoys her job, Ms Omori said: “It’s always rewarding to know you’ve made some difference to people’s lives.”
To find out more about the charity or the opportunities available, visit www.juliansupport.org