Bridging a gap in mental health services in Norwich

Bridges mental health charity group. Left, former service user and now volunteer Cathryn Jones with

Bridges mental health charity group. Left, former service user and now volunteer Cathryn Jones with group manager Louise Bugg.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

For more than two decades, Bridges has provided support for people suffering with mental illness. As the service marks its 21st anniversary in Norwich, reporter Luke Powell finds out why it has been so successful

Bridges mental health charity group. Service manager Michelle Morris.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Bridges mental health charity group. Service manager Michelle Morris.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

It is hard to imagine that just over a year ago 26-year-old Cathryn Jones was living a life of isolation.

She rarely left her home in the city and suffered from anxiety, depression and, at times, suicidal thoughts.

But today she is a different person and now has the confidence – and the ability – to help others who have similar issues.

Her success is partly thanks to the support on offer at Bridges, which operates three days a week from the Vauxhall Community Hub.


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Since its inception in 1994, the organisation has helped hundreds of people through drop-in sessions, social events and days out.

Miss Jones said: 'Bridges helped me gain confidence and the support they offered helped me move forward. I found that through the discussions and activities, I started to feel a lot better and, over time, a lot more confident.

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'I was treated with respect and it eventually led to me being well enough to become a volunteer.

'It's very rewarding and was a complete surprise to me, because I never thought I would be able to do it.'

Bridges is run by the charity Rethink Mental Illness, which is commissioned by Norwich NHS Clinical Commissioning Group to provide the service.

It has around 40 registered members who suffer with conditions ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

Michelle Morris, service manager, said it was unique to Norwich as it had the specific remit of supporting people with severe and enduring mental health issues.

Members are welcome to come in and out of the free sessions as they please and there is no pressure to take part in the activities.

Mrs Morris said: 'It is a place where people come to know, and where they know they are listened to and not judged.

'Many of our members are extremely intelligent and well qualified people who have held down good jobs and even ran their own businesses.

'It [Mental health issues] can affect anyone – stress and vulnerabilities come along, things happen in life and you get to a stage where you need help.'

Over the past 21 years Bridges has operated from various venues in the city due to changes to its budget.

But each time the service has managed to adapt and is now aiming to develop more peer-led groups.

Mrs Morris added: 'Our emphasis this past year has had to be more and more on moving people towards supporting themselves.'

People wishing to join the free service need to be referred by their local GP.

Bridges is open Mondays and Wednesday from 12.30pm to 4pm and Friday from 11.30pm to 3.30pm.

The EDP launched its Mental Health Watch campaign in October which calls for improved services in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Do you have a mental health story that needs to be told? Email health correspondent nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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