'People here know my name' - how crisis cafe is helping mental health

Al Hardie, Steam House Cafe, Gorleston

Al Hardie, manager of the Steam House mental health and well-being cafe in Gorleston where the door is always open for the whole community. - Credit: Liz Coates

"Not another cafe" bemoaned the naysayers when the new use was revealed for the former high street Hughes electrical shop.

But the Steam House in Gorleston's busy retail hub is anything but "more of the same" and is having a hugely positive impact on people's mental health.

The cafe, funded for five years by the Great Yarmouth and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) under a £1m contract, is a safe place for people to talk about their mental health and find practical advice on a range of issues in a friendly environment, and, crucially, help ease the burden on under-pressure clinical services as referrals back up.

Gorleston's crisis cafe The Steam House in the high street

Cafe manager Al Hardie chats with people at the Steam House Cafe's open day in Gorleston High Street. - Credit: Access Community Trust

In its first few months it has received 180 referrals and 70 walk-ins from people who may only have the emergency services to turn to.

One such person is Anna (not her real name) who suffers with anxiety, depression and unstable personality disorder.

For her reaching crisis point meant multiple, frequent visits to A&E and long, dispiriting waits which would often end in her leaving after many hours and receiving no help.

She was referred to the cafe by her support worker and says it has given her a new lease of life, building her confidence and forming new friendships.

In the months she has been attending she has only presented at the emergency department once and feels more able to cope with situations and go out on her own.

Steam House Cafe, trauma cafe, Gorleston High Street

An open day at Gorleston's Steam House Cafe heard how it was making a difference to people with mental health problems. - Credit: Access Community Trust

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Speaking to a stranger about her experiences would have been unthinkable a few months ago and now she even runs her own craft group, taking pride in her own talents and teaching others.

"I am more confident in myself, as myself," she said. "I am just accepting me for who I am.

"People here know my name. You do not get that anywhere else.

"I look forward to coming here. I have made friends and connections with people of all ages. 

"It is a good mix."

Steam House Cafe Gorleston High Street

Great Yarmouth mayor Adrian Thomson hears about the work being done to help people with mental health issues and relieve pressure on clinical services in Gorleston. - Credit: Access Community Trust

Cafe manager Al Hardie said Anna's achievements were something to celebrate.

"Seeing her journey from the first three or four weeks she has been here has been amazing," he said.

Access, the Lowestoft based charity that runs the cafe, provides craft, yoga, mindful arts, stress management, addiction recovery and much more.

The small team of six professionals supported by volunteers is also able to adapt its services to the needs of whoever is attending at that time.

At its open day on Wednesday (October 28) there was a quiet buzz as people sat enjoying coffee and cake, some taking part in crafts while yoga was going on in one of the rooms.

The Steam House Cafe in Gorleston High Street

Great Yarmouth mayor Adrian Thompson joined the Steam House Cafe in Gorleston High Street for its open day. - Credit: Access Community Trust

Steam House is open seven days a week, 12 hours a day.

In the evenings from 7pm to midnight it stages some group activities and is there for people in crisis when the only other place open is the emergency department at the hospital.

The aim during that period is to de-escalate a person's crisis.

On average it deals with one such case every three days, and has seen around 30 so far.

"We only exist because of the gap in provision," Mr Hardie said.

"The CCG wanted something that is visible to the community that is on the high street and not tucked away.

"It makes such a difference to be able to walk in, be greeted with a smile at the door and that is something that is fairly unique.

"It is a friendly community cafe.

"We have the time to sit and chat with people.

"We have an awful lot of self referrals, so that is when we know word has got out."

He stressed the cafe was open to anyone.

Because of the pandemic it was seeing more people who had never before had mental health issues but were now dealing with  life-changing events like a marriage break up, bereavement, losing a job, or were just generally lonely and isolated.

While most people using it tended to be over 35 it had seen all ages from 18 to 80.

A big part of the cafes ethos was breaking the stigma around mental health.

To find out more, people can email steamgy@accessct.org or call/message 07435 993407.