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Out in the cold: Our Mind mental health charity café is being evicted.

charity café

On Monday 8th February 2021 Revival, a Mind mental health outreach charity café set up by Mind in Bexley and East Kent received, with no warning, a devastating eviction notice from the solicitor appointed by the Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre Board of Trustees (the café’s landlord) stating that all furniture, equipment and staff were to be out of the building by the 12th March 2021.

© Gerry Atkinson

The Revival charity café has been part of the Whitstable community since 2016 integrating physical and mental health, food, community and people whilst raising mental health awareness and challenging stigma in a non-threatening or intrusive way.  We work with and serve some of the most vulnerable members of the community, and offer a friendly and welcoming space for all, this eviction after 18 months of being fully committed to the Horsebridge in good faith, is a betrayal and particularly shocking when the UK is living under a pandemic, in lockdown and facing an economic and mental health crisis.

It is difficult to see how this decision is also in the best interests of the Horsebridge Arts and Community centre, its reputation, or the community it serves and we are urging them to reconsider.  Having reached out to the Centre Manager only to be redirected to their solicitors, Revival has now been forced to obtain costly legal advice and currently remains in limbo with 10 members of staff at risk of losing their livelihoods and the wider community losing an important community asset.  For a ‘Charity’ to resort to such a costly, combative approach, especially under current economic circumstances, as the impact of coronavirus sweeps through the hospitality and mental health sector is bewildering.

Revival is a very special place and has an amazing loyal team of volunteers and staff some of whom are on our Employment Support Programme providing employment and volunteer opportunities for those with mild to moderate and in some instances enduring mental health needs.  Revival’s peer support and volunteer mentoring activities allow referrals to East Kent Mind services as a pathway to support and our socially distanced well-being walking group has been a lifeline for many over the last year.  Whilst forced to close the charity café under COVID restrictions Revival has focused on mental health support moving many activities online.  Continuing to cook for a small lunch delivery service and using our pay-it-forward and grant funding to support our partnership with Food Friends UK preparing and delivering food and support to local vulnerable residents in mental health need, as demand for this service continues to rise.  Revival’s work has been recognised and funded by several organisations including Kent Community Foundation, Charities Aid Foundation and The Julia and Hans Rausling Trust and we were also a Social Enterprise of the Year finalist in 2018.

Keith Brymer Jones from Channel 4’s programme – the Great Pottery Throw Down – lending his support to this charity (pictured with David Palmer from Revival).
© Gerry Atkinson

We were invited to join the Horsebridge Arts Centre by the Director and moved in May 2019 from a previous property in Whitstable. The Horsebridge announced on their social media, this was “a great opportunity for the Horsebridge and Revival, which allows us to both develop our services and work in partnership with each other’.  On this promise of positive working, Revival invested over £30K in the move and building renovations, the previous café was very rundown, so every element of the space was gutted, repaired and replaced.  We changed our name to include ‘the Horsebridge’ in our title, we committed to the centre and working with the staff in good faith and the expectation that we would be issued with a 10-year lease. The Revival team has worked incredibly hard during the last 18 months under hugely difficult circumstances, dramatically increasing footfall in our first year, increasing exposure in the town and beyond, on site and via a strong social media presence and in countless other ways, the entire team have worked to integrate and succeed at the Horsebridge.  Revival fully committed to the Horsebridge in good faith, and has paid rent as per the requirements of the expected lease, this decision is a betrayal of that faith.

As a mental health outreach community café Revival collaborates with many local community organisations, schools, creatives, and partners to support the mental health and wellbeing of local residents.  We are currently at the beginning of a positive community campaign exploring and celebrating Ways to Wellbeing with local groups, organisations, schools and creatives including Keith Brymer Jones, Margo Selby, Gerry Atkinson and Ben Dickson to name but a few.  We are building really positive support for our ‘Three Little Words’ project as part of this campaign where people share three words that best describe the ways they look after their wellbeing, we have had contributions from many people and our Instagram contributors include Katie Melua.  This campaign is meant to culminate in a community exhibition in the summer, restrictions allowing.

© Gerry Atkinson

What reasons have been given? 

 The letter stated that their decision was due to our being ‘tenants at will’ due to ‘failed lease negotiations’ between our parties, and a ‘change of use’ of the space which was at odds with the Board’s intentions.  We were beyond shocked especially as both parties had signed the lease in October 2019 but we had subsequently been informed that Canterbury City Council had rejected some parts of it as it needed to in turn, be aligned with the lease they had with the Board of Trustees as their tenants.

Although we were reassured that this would be done quickly, we have had to consistently chase for updates with the Horsebridge Board informing Revival and Mind in Bexley’s Board that the Council were delaying matters and negotiations between their two parties were ongoing.  Revival has never been provided with an updated lease.  We have been working under a Service Level Agreement only, which we had hoped, along with an update on the lease, would be reviewed to reflect the ‘new normal’, at a scheduled meeting facilitated by Canterbury City Council on 23rd February 2021, hence our total shock to receive a solicitor’s letter informing us that we were being evicted.

The ‘change of use’, although inaccurate, was less surprising, we had known for some time that the Horsebridge Board were unhappy with the extent of our marketing of our mental health work and campaigns. Despite entering into an agreement with a clearly defined MIND mental health charity with a mental health outreach social enterprise café that worked in line with its charitable aims of raising mental health awareness, challenging stigma and developing and supporting well-being initiatives including peer support and mentoring, campaigns and being a mental health hub, it became clear that the Board were increasingly uncomfortable being associated with mental health.

This had culminated in an email exchange in October 2020 concerning signage, whereby the Board stated that all our signage would now need to be approved by them and it would not permit mental health related signage –  as the Horsebridge, and therefore the café, was not ‘a Mental health service space.’  This new development had obviously been very concerning but we were unable to resolve it as our part of Kent went into effective lockdown in Tier 4.

Since then both Revival and the Horsebridge, like so many organisations, have been exploring ‘new initiatives as we adapt our organisations to respond to the changing environment around us and ensure that we are here for all, including the most vulnerable and isolated in our community’ (some of our own staff and volunteers included).  But the fundamental use of the charity café space has not changed. Since the pandemic Revival has seen an upsurge in residents approaching us for support with many issues including increased anxiety and depression, unemployment and financial worries, relationship struggles and families struggling with the impact of home schooling. We have also seen first-hand the impact isolation is having on mental health particularly those who live alone and who are elderly.  We never dreamt that the Board would actually use this as a justification to remove us from the building, and are appalled and saddened by this decision, especially in the middle of a pandemic and lockdown and when our services are needed more than ever as we all grapple with the effects of COVID, loss and restriction.  If this decision holds it will result in the loss of a community asset that will leave Revival, its staff, customers, volunteers, and service users out in the cold.

If you want to support us please email revival2whitstable@gmail.com or send any complaints or questions directly to: board@thehorsebridge.org.uk

We also hope to engage our MP Rosie Duffield in our plight, and she can be contacted via: enquiries@rosieduffieldmp.co.uk

Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/board-of-trustees-of-the-horsebridge-centre-save-revival-cafe-and-essential-health-work-at-this-time-of-mental-health-crisis

love and thanks,

Julie (Wassmer)

www.juliewassmer.com

charity café

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