A drop-in centre described as a ‘life line’ for mentally ill adults may become the first of many frontline services to be closed due to an unprecedented £96million budget cut.
The Solace Centre in West Ealing is a daily out-of-hours drop-in service where people with mental illness meet in a relaxed environment, socialise, support each other, make new friends and get support from staff.
The council are proposing to close the centre, which has been operating for 16 years, and in its place offer its 80 plus users a ‘personal budget’ with which to buy services elsewhere.
Ealing Council announced last week, November 11, that the borough was facing a swath of cuts following the need to reduce spending by £96m by 2019 on top of £87m worth of savings already made in recent years.
Solace member, Gerald Crossley, 37, from Ealing, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his teens and has suffered from the debilitating illness ever since. He said: “I have been going to Solace for 14 years. It is open to us seven days a week, 365 days a year. Without it I would be incredibly lonely. Solace is a major part of our lives. It’s all very well giving us money to start a membership at the gym or where ever but what happens when you have an episode? When the stigma surrounding mental illness is still so strong that doesn’t leave you with many viable options. Where would I go?”
Leslie Sarkozi, 53, who suffers from constant hallucinations, said: “Going to Solace for the last three years has meant that I do not have to be hospitalised, which has transformed my life. My condition makes life very difficult. Solace provides me with a safe place to go where people understand my condition. The wonderful staff here treat me with compassion, understanding and patience and help me improve my well being. Without Solace I would end up back in hospital. I honestly cannot even begin to think about what I would do if the council closed the centre. This would be horrific for me and other members.
“This idea that the council would give us a personal budget is totally inadequate. It’s not their money that we need it’s a place to go to get help and support.”
A council spokesperson said: “The council is facing unprecedented cuts to the money it receives from central government to run its services. Over the decade we expect this money will be reduced by more than half. In addition, we have a growing population plus increased costs, meaning we must reduce our budgets by £96million by 2019. The scale of these cuts will mean the end of some services and for others to change beyond recognition.
“As part of our budget reductions, we are currently consulting on a proposal to close the Solace Centre. If the proposal goes ahead, all eligible users will receive a personal budget to buy alternative services in the voluntary sector. No decision has been made yet and we welcome all views on the proposals so they can be presented to cabinet. We are holding a series of meetings for the public to attend and comments can also be sent to Jeremy.Mulcaire@wlmht.nhs.uk.”