Visit to Geoff Aschroft Community March 2016

In my work as a GP in Stepney, I have been aware for some time of the GAC and its work to support people with mental health issues in this community. Their mission statement "welcoming those who feel lonely and isolated, providing a safe place for growth and discovery and sharing tools to live happier lives" is the force behind the project which started in 2006. It was named after a local young man who took his own life after failing to find support for his mental and emotional distress. His story reflects the experience of the isolation and loneliness of many in our community struggling with emotional and mental health difficulties.

The group meet in a church hall and there is plenty of space and good access for those with disabilities. It is run by a local church group but no religious affiliation is necessary to take part- it is open to all. I visited on a Tuesday during an arts and crafts session and I was immediately greeted warmly by the group and by Phil who runs the project: “We used to have a project administrator but he had to move on so a team of volunteers continue to support the community and the participants. It’s a good size now but we would like to welcome even more”.

The project runs 2 sessions a week on Tuesday and Thursday. I spoke to participants who come from as far away as Croydon because they find the atmosphere so positive and welcoming but also as a relief from boredom and isolation. “I’d be stuck in my flat with nothing to do”, said one young man. “Here I have found friendship, camaraderie and something to do; a purpose”. Another spoke of her gratitude for the help and assistance given for practical problems such as debt management.

There is a programme of activities each term which has included music, art therapy, film, story-telling and creative writing. The DBMT has sponsored several creative workshops run as part of the programme. One lady I met was busy making a pile of greetings cards which she then used to send greetings to others. She described how many people she knew became isolated and cut off from others which reduced their self esteem further and left them unable to cope. She felt that GPs and other health care workers could do more to signpost patients to places like the GAC where they could find friendship and support.

We ended the session with a shared lunch to which a small contribution is made by each. There was a great deal of laughter and appreciation- a harmonious communion of people who evidently shared much experience and friendship.

Written by Naomi Beer, trustee

*Still Life, drawn in on of the arts and crafts sessions, from

The Beer-Harris Memorial Trust (formerly The Dominic Beer Memorial Trust) is a registered charity in England (1155652)