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Local support: how Thames Reach's Sutton Reach project helps people find fulfilment

20 February 2017


Stephen Sutton Reach
Stephen has been able to move forward with his life thanks to the support he's received at Sutton Reach

Many people using Thames Reach services have been able to turn their lives around with the help of local, community-focused floating support services that provide mental health and housing advice, and encourage people to find fulfilling activities that aid on the path to recovery.

Stephen, 43, has been able to move his life forward with the help of Thames Reach’s Sutton Reach project, a free service available to all London Borough of Sutton residents with mental health, drugs, alcohol, and tenancy support needs.

Stephen has been using the services at Sutton Reach for the past 18 months, attending group sessions every Thursday, in addition to a weekly chat over coffee with his support worker, Wonde.

A life-long Sutton resident, Stephen, who has a partner and a ten-year old son, was working in retail when he went through a mental health crisis.

I felt really stressed, anxious, prone to self-harm, depressed all the time,” he said. “I shut myself off, I never went out and would sleep all the time. I couldn’t cope with everyday life.”

Eventually, he was referred by a doctor to Sutton Reach. Straightaway, though, he felt reassured.

“Right from the initial interview, they took all the worry away from me. I felt very comfortable and relaxed. It was very welcoming.”

Stephen began group therapy and, encouraged by the staff, and by the camaraderie fostered among fellow service users who regularly attend sessions, he has been able to gradually rebuild his confidence and surmount the challenges he’s faced over the past few years.

“Effena, the manager, always has time for you; you always get her full attention. You can tell her things in confidence. All the staff take a personal interest in you.”

He also recently met Thames Reach Chief Executive Jeremy Swain at one of the Thursday group sessions.

“I’d like to say a big thanks to him for letting me get to know him, and for all the work he’s done in leading Thames Reach for so long."

In addition to providing support, such as group therapy, to help improve people’s mental health, Sutton Reach also encourages service users to take up activities or pursue interests in order to find personal fulfilment, and to aid recovery. Another of Stephen’s support workers at Sutton Reach recommended that he attend Volunteer Centre Sutton, a project helping people in the local community find volunteering positions, to look for football coaching opportunities. Through the centre, he was able to become a steward at local non-league club Sutton United. Stephen volunteered as a steward for a year until a coaching position became available at one of the club’s Community Teams.

“It really helps with my mental health, getting out in the fresh air, and playing on the main Sutton United pitch. It gives me great satisfaction to coach the team, watch how they progress in training, and how they develop in matches over the season. I also run the walking football session on a Wednesday morning for the over-50s.

“I get a lot of personal support from the club. I’d like to say a big thank you to Sutton United for making me feel special, and also to my manager, Steve King, for his continued support there.”

A Sutton Reach staff member also advocated on Stephen’s behalf, writing a letter to Sutton council arguing that his house wasn’t big enough for him, his partner, and their son. They were soon moved into a more suitable home.

Stephen is a keen participant in group activities and trips organised by staff to places such as the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the London Aquarium.

He is now enrolled on the TRaVEL (Thames Reach Volunteering and Employment for Life) course at the Employment Academy, Thames Reach’s community resource centre in Camberwell, where he’s hoping to develop his skills, gain experience, and take further steps towards getting back into employment.

“I’m not confident to go back to work just yet but I am getting there.”

As well as aiming to get back into work, Stephen hopes he can use what he’s been through to help other people facing similar struggles.

“I’d love to share my experience with others who are starting out at Sutton Reach, or just starting to work towards improving their mental health. I’d love to help people on their journeys. I feel like I represent Sutton Reach now.”

With his life now getting back on track, Stephen believes he wouldn’t be where he is today without the help of the staff at Sutton Reach.

“Through their support, I’ve got a better, more secure place to live. I’ve got my football coaching. They’re one of the best organisations I’ve ever been involved with. I don’t where I’d be without them.

“The staff there say it’s their job, but we don’t see them as doing a job. They feel like friends to me. Someone who won’t judge or discriminate, and who’ll always listen to you. It’s like family to us.

“I really want to say thank you to all the staff at Sutton Reach who’ve helped me over the past 18 months. Thanks for encouraging me and being so open. I feel wanted, appreciated, special.”