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How mental health carers and service users took on Salford council
We are a group of mental health service users and carers in Salford, Greater Manchester. For almost 12 months we have been fighting against the removal of staff from our drop-in sessions, and against drop-in sessions being closed down or moved to totally unsuitable venues.
Both the Labour-run council and the NHS Trust have been driving these attacks, which we can now proudly say have been pushed back a very long way indeed!
We are continuing to demand the service is retained in full, and are beginning a new battle against the council privatising the service, which we knew was always the agenda behind their so-called "reorganisation".
Our battle began when we heard that Salford council and Greater Manchester West Mental Health Foundation Trust, wanted to move the drop-ins from community mental health buildings into community shared buildings.
Many service users have stated that they cannot go into these type of buildings, because of their needs, and these are not suitable venues for providing mental health services.
To bring together service users from the different drop-in sessions, along with carers, we set up our United Service Users Committee (USUC).
At each stage we have worked closely with Salford City Unison branch, and taken our protests to Manchester, Liverpool, and nationally on several occasions! We have gained widespread media publicity in all the local newspapers, and been on the radio and TV.
Things that we have done include numerous public meetings, lobbies and protests across the city. In November last year we took over the council chamber before the full council meeting could be held, delaying it from starting for an hour.
We only left when Salford's elected mayor, Ian Stewart, agreed to have a meeting with us; we got him to put it in his diary in front of other councillors before we left.
We had that meeting with him in January, where he said if we found a building where the drop-in sessions could be held, then the council would fund it and support it with community care workers.
He also promised me a chance to address the next full council, which I took in January.
Since then though, our requests for meetings with Ian Stewart, his assistant mayor, and with the full council, were ignored for months on end.
We also had a meeting with Ed Miliband during his recent Q&A time in Manchester, where he stated he would talk to Ian Stewart, which he did.
In February we attended the council chambers again to protest against the cuts to the budgets for services.
All we did was blow whistles, shout and hang our banner over the balcony, but all the councillors left the chamber and phoned the police! When the police arrived they saw the funny side and agreed with what we were doing, but they could not publicly say anything and politely asked us to leave.
We also held another protest outside the Trust headquarters which was covered by the BBC.
One of the drop-in sessions, at Cromwell House, has been closed since 25 October 2012, during which time many service users have been admitted to hospital or sectioned, and tragically there has been one suicide that we know of.
We even found an alternative building and put together a business proposal, only to be told that it could not be considered, because it was not council-owned.
This month, we have managed to get Cromwell drop-in reopened until the end of July. And with the help of a care worker, we have now managed to secure another building that we have sole use of, Gladstone Community Centre, which will remain open on Tuesdays and Thursdays indefinitely.
To see the looks on service-users' faces, and the praise that they have given to me for helping organise USUC's actions, it has been worth fighting and campaigning for.
I think all this has only been possible with the hard work, determination and support we have had from Salford Socialist Party, of which I have become a member.
As well as Socialist Party members, massive thanks are due to Salford Against Cuts, Salford Unison, Unite Community members and Salford Star.
Once again many thanks.
Steve Cullen, for and on behalf of all at United Service Users Committee (USUC)
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 20 June 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.