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Behind the scenes in London's mental health cafe

Words by Abi Scaife

Based in London, Head Room cafe is a safe haven for those who are struggling.

Set up by Jami, a mental health charity for the Jewish community, Head Room welcomes everyone who walks through their doors. Though they offer one-to-one peer support, the best part of Head Room is the community groups that go on throughout the week.

“We are the Jami presence on the high street,” explains Daniel Neiss, Community Development Manager and Peer Support Lead at Head Room. “But we’re also just a cafe on the high street, which is a different atmosphere.”

From walking, to community discussion, to art, there is a session for everyone - whether they want to get stuck in, or are happier to sit and listen to others as they talk. There are even groups for the loved ones of those struggling with mental illness, to help support them, too.

“What I started to realise very quickly when I was in the cafe is this community potential,” explains Daniel. “So there were some very meaningful one-to-one conversations. But we also facilitate a connection between people and think about it more as groups and events, as a way of generating conversations to support people.”

Like many cafes and mental health services alike, the Head Room cafe had to move its services online during lockdowns. Now able to be back in person, it has nearly doubled in size as they still keep up with the online events they began during the pandemic.

Above all, Head Room is a community that aims to give people a space to be themselves. Staff members who aren’t directly related to mental healthcare – for example, waitstaff – are given ongoing training and support so that they are in the best place possible to help the people who walk through their doors.

“We have incredible volunteers,” says Daniel. “We couldn't be doing it without them. A few of them have been involved right from the start and have developed amazing relationships and have been such an important part of building up this community.”

The people who use Head Room's services aren’t just receiving them - they are a valuable and important part of the community, too. Employees and volunteers like Daniel listen to them and ask their opinion of big changes - like how accessible their building renovations are.

It is this that makes Head Room so effective - the people who use their services and attend their groups aren’t merely a box to be ticked. They are part of a community and give back as much as they get.

“It's an amazing energy, it's an amazing place to work,” says Daniel. “It's so nourishing, and I get to have lots of fun and meaningful conversations. It's very unexpected. We never know who's going to come [or] what they're going to be coming with.”

The Head Room cafe has a core group of regulars made up of people who use the services of Jami, as well as people from the local community. 

“Someone was saying that this is like one of the only spaces [where] they feel like they can come and really be themselves and not edit who they are,” says Daniel, who runs a multitude of groups through the Head Room cafe.

“That's something which I see echoes of around different parts of our community, where people in other parts of their life don't necessarily have a good sense of connection or relationships where they can be open.

“Finding the space where they can build those kinds of relationships has been really meaningful to a lot of people.”

Above all, the Head Room cafe is about bringing people together who are struggling and in need. With the help of the volunteers and workers who run the cafe, as well as their fellow community members, these people are given the support they need to live a full, and wonderful life.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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