Regular readers may remember me writing about the closure of the
restaurant at a department store, which I and a group of other
service users used to frequent (Community Care, 22 May,
2003). My favourite lunch was a mug of coffee, plus a couple of
bread rolls with butter and cheese. We used to joke about how often
the pickle tree seemed to have failed because they were for ever
forgetting to re-order the Branston. It was a peaceful place to
stretch out, have a coffee and see a friendly face. A number of us
got to know each other this way.
Well, the restaurant has reopened. Gone, is the slightly
down-at-heel cafeteria we used to enjoy. In has come a rather
upmarket caf’, offering trendy d’cor and signature sandwiches by a
TV chef. Sadly, there are no more cut-price pensioners’ lunches on
Wednesdays; no more fish and chips and puddings with custard.
Instead it’s 21st century minimalism, with filled panini, hardwood
tables, leather settees and a few tasteful pastel colour pictures
on the walls.
The good news is that I recently bumped into my friend Anne, who
has learning difficulties. She was having a cup of tea with her
supporter. So it feels like the old gang may yet reclaim its space.
She has a new hairstyle she really likes and she looks more
confident. But she still hasn’t got the support for the
independence she really wants.
Then I saw Dave, who still works in the store, although he told me
there have been a lot of redundancies there. Since all the changes
in the shop, life has become much more stressful. There are fewer
staff, he has more responsibility and there is a feeling of less
respect. He has just taken his first day’s sick leave in 16 years
because of the stress.
I also caught up with a lot of news. Last month, he saw Jack (who
used to play the piano in the restaurant), a mental health service
user and cancer survivor, who is now doing some private music
teaching. Dave said he seemed well. There’s no piano in the caf’
now, but there’s a new piano section next door – and someone’s
playing jazz now.
Dave has also seen Mike, who has been two years on and off in the
local psychiatric hospital. He has tried to kill himself more than
once and has needed several operations as a result, but he is out
of hospital now and seems to be on the mend. Dave has invited him
to have dinner with him and his mum.
What a great feeling it is when you catch up with old friends,
especially when there’s some good news. Perhaps we’ll all be able
to meet up in the new caf’ and have a snack together. I’ve also
spotted some new regulars, so perhaps there will be some new
friends to make. Meanwhile, here’s to absent friends and all the
spiritual and emotional support they’ve given me.
Peter Beresford is a mental health service