A MORPETH charity rounded off an unforgettable year when the Duchess of Northumberland officially opened its new premises.
Her Grace was the guest of honour as Contact Morpeth Mental Health celebrated its recent move from offices in Bridge Street to buildings in Greys Yard, Oldgate.
She also presented members with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent for community groups of an MBE, which was announced this summer.
The Duchess said: “I’m thrilled to be here and this is a fantastic facility for the charity.
“It is doing a fantastic job and it has a really good following among the Morpeth community.
“Getting the Queen’s Award will give Contact real credibility at a regional and national level and this will help it to progress and receive funding so it can continue its important services.”
Another cause for celebration is the fact that the charity has now been going for 25 years.
It was initially set up by Gena Fleming as a small support group as she was concerned that there was so little help for the families of mental health sufferers at the time.
Now Contact offers counselling, complementary therapy, support, drop-in services, social activities, outings, escorted holidays and a respite caravan at Haggerston Castle.
There are craft and creative writing sessions, personal development support, fishing and walking clubs and a computer suite for use, while there is an open door policy so people walking in from the street will receive help from their first point of contact.
Co-ordinator Audrey Anderson said: “The Duchess has been very patient whilst we sorted out the move and we’re delighted that she is here today to officially open the premises and present us with the Queen’s Award.
“We were fortunate in that we have been looking to move and these buildings were viewed as the perfect option, so it was fantastic when they became available.
“The landlord Len Brady has been brilliant. He has always been prepared to roll his sleeves up to help us during the move and he’s pleased with how the facility is being used.
“The ground-floor access makes it much more convenient for many of our members as they previously had to go up two flights of stairs and we now have a more visible presence in the town.
“Now we’ve got the move out of the way, we’re pushing forwards and planning to add to the services we provide.”
Contact was able to expand 15 years ago when it was awarded a lottery grant, which enabled Mrs Fleming to appoint Cynthia Livesey as its co-ordinator.
She recently retired after overseeing the development of its activities and services. Today the charity supports more than 5,000 people with mental health issues every year, as well as their carers, friends and family.
Mrs Livesey said: “It’s great to know I can step down knowing that we have a superb new home and tremendous staff who work together very well. I’m very optimistic for Contact’s future.
“The Queen’s Award is the crowning glory and is great recognition for the hard work everyone has put in over the years.”