Long-term users of a mental health centre said they feel like they have been “abandoned” after cuts to its services following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Members of The Bridge in Harrow criticised their council’s decision to reduce the size of the centre, with large parts of it replaced by a community kitchen.

They also expressed concerns at the council’s approach to dealing with long-term mental health issues, with programmes at The Bridge now only available for a maximum of three months. 

Lisa Hanna explained that she spent most of her time at the centre when the whole building was open for mental health services, but that this is no longer an option. 

She said: “Some people have long-term mental health illnesses, but the council doesn’t seem to understand that. Before the pandemic, you could arrive at 9.30am and leave at 4pm. Or there was a drop-in counselling service. 

“Now you get an hour a day, it has to be in groups, and we’re told we can only have access for three months at a time. We’re constantly told to ‘pull ourselves together’, but not everyone can just do that. It’s as if about 150 people have just been abandoned.”

The Bridge was at risk of closure in 2016 but, following a member-led campaign, received a commitment from the council that it would remain open. Now Ms Hanna said those at the centre have been back “badgering” the council for months, asking it to give them back more space and reinstall long-term services. 

She added: “We all thought we’d have something to come back to. That little square isn’t adequate for some of our needs. It’s as if you’ve come back from holiday and someone’s taken over your house and told you you can only use the bathroom now.”

Pratibha Maroo, who has worked at The Bridge as a mental health officer and also made used of its services to improve her health, said many people viewed it as “the only safe place” they could go to. 

She said: “It was a real safe haven where you could come to where nobody would judge you, you could have a cup of tea and a chat. There’s nowhere like it in Harrow and it feels as if it’s been taken away.”

Louise Mitchell, who has regularly used the centre for the past 24 years, agreed that it was as if one of the most important things in her life had taken a hit.  She said: “This place was everything to me and I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do now. We used to have sewing groups, women’s groups, there was a real structure to my week – that’s all gone.”

A Harrow Council spokesperson explained that the community kitchen was opened during the pandemic after in-person services at The Bridge were suspended. As lockdowns eased, it decided to keep the kitchen open, which runs a cafe and cookery classes alongside its food delivery service, while maintaining an area for mental health services.

The spokesperson added: “The Mental Health Service offer at the Bridge is reopening for in-person support and developing so that there is an offer across the borough and there is no intention to close the centre. 

"The council is working with London Community Kitchen and Rethink to make The Bridge a thriving community asset, and are actively looking at ways the two services can complement one another.”