How to save a much valued local service from the council axe

Liverpool Council wanted to close down a project to support women with postnatal depression, a victim of budget cuts. But it reckoned without a determined campaign of resistance. Natalie Valios reports

Liverpool Council wanted to close down a project to support women with postnatal depression, a victim of budget cuts. But it reckoned without a determined campaign of resistance. Natalie Valios reports

Just two hours before charity PSS’s postnatal depression (PND) project in Liverpool was due to close its doors for the last time, project manager Julie Rawlinson received a phone call telling her that the council had reversed its decision to cut its funding.

The day before, the phones at the project to support women with postnatal depression had been continuously ringing with calls coming in from ITV’s Daybreak and This Morning shows, Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live show and ITN News. How a small project managed to attract such national coverage is testament to the strength of feeling among services users, past and present, who weren’t going to let the project close without a fight.

The project started a decade ago in one part of Liverpool, expanding five years later to cover the whole city, backed with annual funding of almost £69,000 from the council.

In 2009 it also received two-year funding of almost £60,000 from the government’s Parenting Fund.But with massive local government cuts on the cards, Rawlinson knew there was a risk to its funding.

“But call it naive, we thought the council would save us because we are the only postnatal depression project in Merseyside,” says Rawlinson. “But in January the council told us we had to start the redundancy process and they would make decisions about cuts in February.”

Service users, led by Kate Smith and Jeni West, immediately set up a campaign to save the project. Smith says: “After a traumatic birth with my second child four years ago I went from being a confident woman to a shell. My doctor told me I had classic PND and gave me anti-depressants, but that was it, no explanation. I was so desperate I was suicidal.”

Smith Googled postnatal depressione_SDRq and found the project. “I don’t know where I would be today if this service wasn’t here; I might be buried. It kept my heart beating while my mind was allowed to recover. That’s why I campaigned so hard to keep this service going, because it’s so vital.”

Smith started by contacting Radio Merseyside and told her story on the breakfast show. West emailed Granada Reports and appeared on the regional TV news programme. The local paper ran a story that was picked up by The Guardian. “That was really good for our profile,” says Rawlinson.

Rawlinson and her staff emailed every newspaper and TV news desk they could think of and every celebrity who had talked about having postnatal depression. This led to former Atomic Kitten singer Natasha Hamilton, herself a Liverpudlian, backing the campaign.

Jackie Rand, a media consultant for PSS, believes the women’s personal stories made their media strategy so successful. “We also decided not to criticise the organisations that had cut the funding – they were forced to make cutbacks because of the national situation. So we didn’t blame, we just raised the issues and told the story.

“As we went from attracting the local press, radio and television, it was the guts e_SFlbof the women themselves, calling the national TV newsrooms, that got us that final coverage.”

Facebook petition

A Facebook petition was set up and they held an event for local commissioners, MPs and councillors where women explained how the project had helped them. “There was never a time when we thought ‘end of’; we were never going to give up,” says Smith. “We were successful because we became that well known.”

Rawlinson agrees: “I don’t think a week went by when we weren’t doing something in the spotlight.”

The latest two-year funding of £68,000 per year has meant that the project can keep four staff (two were made redundant in January). As for the future, the project will continue to apply for grants and funding from different sources. A group of mums have formed a fundraising committee and a range of events are already in the pipeline including a sponsored pram walk, a race night, and a family fun day.

Rawlinson says: “A lot of good things have come out of what would have been an end.”

(picture caption: The postnatal depression service was saved by a concerted media campaign led by PSS media consultant Jackie Rand (front, centre) and project manager Julie Rawlinson (front, right). Service users, such as Emma Gillan (rear, left) and Kate Smith (rear, centre) played a key role too)

PND’s campaigning tips

● Contact as many people in the media as possible.

● Let service users tell their stories.

● Be determined, believe in the service, but go about it in a non-confrontational way.

● Don’t blame anyone, stick with the message you are trying to get across and keep the focus on what the service does.

● Don’t give up.

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