Food charity launches mental health service

An Ellesmere Port charity which helps feed hundreds of vulnerable people every week is launching a phone line and ‘crisis café’ to help people struggling with their mental health.

The Port Grocery say they have been forced to act after being inundated with requests for help from people struggling with Covid-19 and the lockdown.

Rita Lewis, who is the founder of the Ellesmere Port charity, identified mental health as their number one challenge.

“The mental health problem is as bad as it’s ever been and it’s only going to escalate,” she warned. 

“Covid-19 and the lockdown has seen anxiety levels rise, reports of domestic abuse go up, suicide rates soar, and the NHS is struggling to cope. We will not hit the peak unemployment rate until after the furlough support ends. Debt management and people losing control of budgets due to losing employment will have a major impact and causing people stress with mild to moderate mental health.  

“Most people are only one month away from missing a mortgage payment, so we know there’s a growing need.”

In response the team at  The Port Grocery has launched a new charity called Too Good to Waste (Ellesmere Port ) which will lead on the mental health support line on August 10 and are preparing to open a ‘crisis café’ in an empty shop in The Port Arcades Shopping Centre.

Rita said: “When people need counselling, they need it straight away, not in six months’ time. The biggest obstacle for help is plucking up the courage to ask for it. 

“We’re starting with the mental health phone line on Monday. People phoning us will have access to one of four trained counsellors so we can start turning their lives around.”

The Steve Morgan Foundation has been a long-term supporter of The Port Grocery, which is currently transforming the former One to One Midwives Pregnancy Advice Centre into a crisis café for people struggling with their mental health.

The shop, which will be called ‘Flynn’s Port in a Storm’, will include a holistic approach as well as the medical model including but not inclusive, counselling service, café, small gym with showers, holistic therapies and art and craft therapy sessions. 

They also want to add some training and confidence building into these sessions at the end when people are ready to move on to give them coping mechanisms for the future. 

Rita said: “We’ll provide a listening ear and try and take some of the pressure off the NHS. URENCO are providing the labour for the fitout free-of-charge while Appreciate Group have donated much-needed kitchen equipment, furniture, and freezers.

“The crisis café will be for people referred by GPs, mental health teams, the police and social services. The whole point is to offer a safe place for someone to come who is on the edge through anxiety or stress. A&E is not the place for them and organisations struggle to find the help they need at the time they need it.

“Flynn’s will be welcoming and comfy and the start for anyone taking back control. We will offer face-to-face counselling with minimal or no waiting time. We hope after their initial crisis has passed or is under control, they will remain using the café using the gym or the art room or just coming along and sharing their experiences with others.”

The Port Grocery already uses the former Iceland store and old Walmsley’s furniture shop in The Port Arcades Shopping Centre for storage purposes. 

Flynn’s new mental health service is in addition to The Port Grocery’s core work of tackling food waste and food poverty by providing affordable options.

Before coronavirus, the charity regularly welcomed more than 500 people to their Trinity Church base to collect high-quality, low-cost food.

However, the pandemic forced them to pivot the way they operate so they recruited an army of volunteer drivers and began delivering emergency food boxes direct to people’s homes.

In total they collected 210 tonnes of food and provided more than 343,000 meals.

Rita said: “At one point we had 70 volunteer drivers of which around 40 were regulars. We’re now down 27 as people’s furlough period has ended or they’ve found work.

“As a result, most people are now coming in to collect shopping while we are continuing to deliver to 200 of the most vulnerable, including people with cancer or are end-of-life.

“We couldn’t have done half the work we’ve have without the help from organisations likes the Steve Morgan Foundation.” 

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