Life for the charity sector is tough these days as traditional funding sources come under pressure. The Seaview Project based in St Leonards has been helping people with ‘complex issues’ for more than 30 years. It’s good at raising money which is just as well as the proportion of its funding that it has to raise itself is going up every year. In this, the first in a series of features about the Seaview Project and the work it does in our community Stuart Baillie takes a look at the history of the project and where it is today.
There is something truly reassuring about local charity Seaview, it’s something very tangible, something you notice as soon as you are through the doors and heading to the offices of chief officer Anne Whelan and projects manager Sue Burgess.
It’s obvious that no money is being wasted on niceties. It would be generous to describe the carpet on the stairs as threadbare and the office furnishings have seen better days. In fact Annie is slightly embarrassed by how new the office chairs look and points out they have only just been donated by Hastings Direct the local insurance company that has made Seaview one of its charities of the year.
In these days when presentation is often seen as being everything it’s really heartening to see that here is a charity that is focusing its resources on where they are needed – helping people – rather than on making its offices comfortable for its managers.
Since its birth in 1984 Seaview has operated almost ‘under the radar’. For most of that time it has been based at the rather anonymous Southwater Centre in Hatherley Rd, Saint Leonards, but like all charities Seaview is facing a new harsh reality; in these times of austerity the quest for cash to keep doing what it has become so expert in doing is becoming ever more desperate.
Seaview sums itself up in this way: “We’re an open access wellbeing centre offering help and inspiration for people living on society’s margins.” It recently won a national award for its efforts, one of only a handful of organisations to do so, it was deemed to have made such an impact on the community it serves that it was one of only eight national winners of a GSK/Kings Funds Impact Award this year.
The need for a charity like Seaview grew from a government policy back in the 1980s that was called ‘care in the community’. It made headlines at the time as those working in the care sector warned there was a risk that the new policy could create a whole new raft of problems through lack of proper resources and support.
In the 80s and before people with what are now described as ‘complex issues’ were housed in the county asylum, Hellingly Hospital. Policy dictated that the hospital was to be closed and those who were resident there were returned to live in the community often without the skills, the resources or the understanding of how to do so. Many of those people returned to live in the community had been institutionalised by long term residency at Hellingly and simply could not cope with this new life they were forced to lead.
Writing about the launch of Seaview its first chief officer, John Evans, said: “During the latter part of 1984 a small group met to discuss the concerns they had, particularly for St Leonards, in looking at the fallout from the gradual closing of Hellingly Hospital. They saw former patients who had been moved to Hastings and St Leonards wandering about with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
“They were also concerned about the plight of those they described as ‘socially stranded’ through unemployment, bereavement, physical and stress related illness…”
That was the catalyst that saw the birth of Seaview, initially set up as a drop-in cafe in a church hall in London Road it quickly became clear that it needed more space to provide more facilities and that resulted in the move to the Southwater Centre which has been its home ever since.
While the term ‘asylum’ has come to be seen in a negative way Annie Whelan says that was not the case when they were originally set up. When the concept of the asylum was born they were seen as ‘forward thinking’ places that were designed to provide patients with a green and reassuring environment and a good quality of life. By the latter years of the 20th century asylums were no longer in vogue and this new concept of care was devised. Annie says the concept of care in the community could have worked but it needed greater resources put in place in towns like Hastings and St Leonards to support former asylum patients who simply couldn’t cope on their own and didn’t know where, or to whom, to turn for help.
Part of the founding ethos of Seaview, and still a tenet of the way it operates today, is that it is an organisation of integrity and one that is responsive to the ever changing needs of the people who need to use its services.
It’s also pretty unique in that chief officer Annie is right there, on the premises, chatting on a daily basis with staff, volunteers and more importantly to the men and women, young and old, who make use of what Seaview can offer from just a hot drink and wholesome meal through to something entirely more complex like help with housing issues, benefits, mental health issues and addiction.
Seaview has always been about open access, if you need its services you can walk in off the street there is no need for a referral from a doctor or other professional. It’s open from 10am – 4pm Monday, Tuesday and Friday and 10am until 2pm on a Wednesday. On a Thursday from 8.30am until 2.30pm it provides rough sleepers with a breakfast and runs its health, housing and wellbeing hub.
Rough sleeping is a huge and growing issue for the charity and Seaview has trained staff who go out on the streets – and beyond – three times a week to check on the condition, and on the numbers, of people sleeping rough in the community.
Annie quickly dispels the myth that rough sleeping is a feature of town centres, her staff know of individuals sleeping well beyond the edges of the town, burying themselves away in hard to find places, cutting themselves off from the outside world.
Seaview’s staff who deal with rough sleepers need to have a wide range of skills and knowledge often needing to make clinical decision in the middle of the night in a remote location.
- You can help raise awareness of rough sleeping as an issue by joining in The Big Sleep, just follow this link to find out more
The Big Sleep is Seaview’s biggest fundraiser of the year and contributed more than £25,000 to the charities coffers last year.
But Seaview prides itself in the range of services it can provide to people who are among the most vulnerable in our community, the full list of help that Seaview can provide is extensive…
- Warm nutritious meals and hot drinks
- Laundry facilities
- Clean clothing
- Art Classes
- Computers and computer tuition
- Gym sessions
- Peer support group activities
- Access to primary care through St Johns Ambulance
- Rough sleepers outreach
- Dedicated housing advice specialists
- Street engagement and activities
- Healthy walks
- Money planning sessions
- The navigator service for rough sleepers
- Women’s only gym and support sessions
- A dedicated housing support worker for vulnerable woman
- Access to independent advocay
- Access to benefits and money advice
- Access to a winter night shelter
Among the many specific services available is
- Are you experiencing or recovering from mental health issues?
- Are you recovering or are still having issues with alcohol misuse?
- Are you recovering or are still having issues with N.P.S (new psycho-active substances – previously known as legal highs)?
- Are you recovering or are still having issues with general drugs misuse?
R.A.D.A.R. is a peer led innovative project Seaview has developed that uses peer support and other methods that work for clients to help their recovery. Seaview uses creativity, arts, music, personal reflection and peer support as the tools to initiate its RADAR programme. The groups are led by employed peer facilitators and volunteer peer leaders who have experienced the process of recovery themselves first hand and are now ready to help lead others through the recover process.
Annie says: “Seaview has a unique understanding of complex issues our clients are trying to deal with and we try to maintain a diverse environment that people can use to feel safe in.”
All of this allows for a supportive, non-judgemental, confidential environment allowing individuals to express themselves freely.
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