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Protest at Ilfracombe mental health centre

Saturday, October 23rd, 2021 8:56am

By Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Protestors are concerned about North Devon mental health provision (courtesy: Terry Elliot)

Four North Devon locations could close

A demonstration has been held outside a threatened Ilfracombe mental health drop-in centre against potential plans to close the building.

Service users, their families and other campaigners gathered at Ilfracombe Link Centre on Friday 22 October. The service is one of four North Devon mental health support ‘link centres’ across Devon under threat from a potential Devon County Council (DCC) shake-up of mental health provision.

The council is considering closing the centres, which provide day services and drop-in sessions for around 270 people in Bideford, Holsworthy, Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. 

Many people are unhappy about the proposal and what they say has been a rushed four-week consultation. They claim a decision to hold the consultation online has prevented many service users from taking part as they may not feel comfortable or able to share their thoughts online.

Ilfracombe Town councillor Terry Elliot who organised the protest says the centres provide a vital, non-judgemental safe space. She argues the consultation was inadequate and that the council has failed to provide enough information about alternatives to the centres.

Cllr Elliot said they were demonstrating against “the removal of a mental health support service in our town without a credible alternative.”

It’s not just in Illfracome that the community has rallied against the proposals. Last month a similar protest was held outside Bideford’s link centre.

Speaking before the protest, former mental health nurse Sue Matthews, who is a campaigner with Save Our Hospital Services Devon, said: “We know that if people are vulnerable and in a period like covid, where social isolation has been a massive issue, if there isn’t somewhere like the link centres then these people are going to go into crisis, they’re going to have greater demand on GP services and, sadly, even more so on the accident and emergency services.”

She continued: “Link centres provided a pre-crisis and a post-crisis safe place for people, and to take them away and say we’ll meet in smaller groups – or even individually – actually exposes these people more and doesn’t provide the basic facility of social interaction which is what they so frequently need.”

Ms Matthews described the consultation period as “woefully short” and called for an extension.

However, Devon County Council says it followed “expert legal advice” in carrying out consultation, received a good response and doesn’t plan to extend the deadline.

North Devon’s link centres closed at the start of the pandemic, with people subequently receiving help in other ways including online and by telephone.

Some councillors in favour of changing the service want the centres to stay shut permanently and claim closing the buildings would save £480,000 a year which could be invested into a more flexible community service. 

A spokesperson for Devon County Council said: “We think good mental health support should be accessible to, and convenient for, everyone who needs it across North Devon and Torridge, rather than it be available just to those who live in, or can travel to, Holsworthy, or Barnstaple, or Bideford or Ilfracombe.

“We’ve described a way that people everywhere could access mental health support near to where they live, but we will wait to see how people respond to the consultation before finally deciding.”

Asked what the next step is after the consultation comes to a close, Cllr Elliot said she would be continuing to fight against any closures and will be looking to launch a challenge against the way the consultation has been carried out.

She added: “This is not over.”  

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