Hear Us is a Croydon based mental health charity, unique in that all 50+ staff, volunteers and trustees are people living with mental illness, many of us are still receiving care packages from the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLaM).
In April 2019, Hear Us reached our 10th birthday as an established charity, with our roots going back to 1992, known then as Crocus. We started receiving funding from, the then PCT in 2001 (today known as the CCG), which gave us a footing to grow into what we are today. Each year Hear Us staff and volunteers signpost, support, and listen to around 3500 people affected by mental illness.
Hear Us Conference March 17th 2003: Review of Day Services for Working Age Adults
The conference consulted service users about their views on day service provision, in 2003, following the closure of day services attached to resource centres the previous September 2002. Hear Us organised the conference in conjunction with Croydon User Council. They were assisted by Association for Pastoral Care in Mental Health (APCMH), Bethlem Chaplaincy, Mental Health Advisers group, Mind in Croydon and social work students.
Every year our Linkworking project reaches over 2500 people with a severe mental illness at the Bethlem Royal Psychiatric Hospital and Croydon’s Community Mental Health Teams. The Linkworkers visit services daily, meeting with vulnerable people, many of whom have been sectioned and are isolated on locked wards away from friends and family. Psychiatric wards can feel like clinical and cold environments, which are noisy, lonely and scary places. We have introduced Linkwork Champions, who work in collaboration with SLaM service leads, ward managers and occupational therapists, and they have identified improvements to ward life. Service users are now getting regular access to garden spaces, and escorted leave from wards, and we have helped them to gain access to activities that take away the boredom of ward life. There is still room for improvement, however.
We have been successfully running our open forum since 2003. These meetings enable service users (and carers) to come face to face with, and put difficult questions to commissioners (CCG) and service providers; bringing them to account for the quality of mental health services delivered in Croydon. This forum happens ten times per year and we have around 450 service users attend each year. We work in partnership with our colleagues in other voluntary services (like Mind in Croydon) and statutory services provided by SLaM. The forum also provides the CCG and service providers an opportunity to gather invaluable information to help shape services that meet the needs of service users. The success of our meetings demonstrate that there is a need for people with severe and enduring mental illnesses to be able to have direct influence over the care and treatment they receive.
Welfare Benefits Surgeries:
This vital Hear Us Service provides advice and support, to those living with mental illness, to navigate the DWP’s complex welfare benefits system. We support our service users to claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Universal Credit (UC) and, when required, we represent them at tribunals. (Winning 113 tribunal cases in the last year). One of our aims is to empower all service users by giving them the necessary skills to maintain their own claims; we believe that being, and feeling, that you are in control of your own finances, helps you feel in control of your own life, enabling good recovery and a stable wellbeing.
Our team have supported people to stay in their homes through resolution of housing related benefit difficulties and successful applications for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) and Croydon Discretionary Support (CDS). We have helped people to access travel and Motability schemes, enabling people to become more independent and better able to access opportunities in the community.
The team have also have built good relationships with a number of local organisations in Croydon, both statutory and voluntary, that have enabled us to support our clients to access a greater number of opportunities. In this past year, the team have had over a thousand face-to-face meetings, helping over 330 service users successfully make claims, with over 1063 welfare related issues; receive in excess of £658,700 (from claims and through challenging decisions) and access foodbanks by giving 150 foodbank tickets to people living in poverty due to the current welfare system; particularly Universal Credit. The team have cleared gas, electricity and water debt arrears by making applications to Croydon Discretionary Scheme and, when necessary, have referred people to debt agencies to help them manage their debts; lifting them out of poverty.
Hear Us have been nominated as one of three charities named by Croydon Co-operative Stores for this year. The Co-operative have raised over £2,000 to date, very much needed to enable The Reachout Challenge to continue to run valuable awareness training at community based services; with the police or other organisations. If you pick up and register a member’s card, you have the opportunity to earn money towards your shopping and vote for us, which increases the donation, that Co-operative Stores will have raised for us, during the year.
Planning for our future:
Over the past six months, we have run two away-days looking at the strategic direction of the charity and our projects. We invested in a Development Manager, Eleanor Yates, whose responsibility, with the support of Claudia Demuth from the CVA, has been developing our new 2020-23 business plan with the view to bring in new funders and funding. This would enable Hear Us to expand our services wider, developing new links across other SLaM boroughs. Giving more service users a platform for their voices to be heard and security for their future.