MORE than 100 well-wishers gathered for a silver celebration as a Morpeth charity marked 25 years of service.
Contact Morpeth Mental Health marked the milestone with a party in the Town Hall on Friday, where supporters, users, volunteers and staff were invited to come together for a special tea.
And Guest of Honour was Gena Fleming, formerly Temperley, who set up the charity as a small support group all those years ago.
“I’m very proud to see this day. It is wonderful to realise that we have got to 25 years and are still going strong. It’s a dream come true,” she said.
The charity was born out of tragedy when Mrs Fleming’s daughter Denise Temperley died after suffering mental health problems.
The bereaved mother was concerned that there was so little help for the families of sufferers at the time and set up a support group in her living room.
“It was from my daughter Denise’s death that I got interested in mental health, particularly from the carers and Mums and Dads side because I didn’t think we had sufficient help really to be able to help our loved ones.
“That was my main objective,” she said.
“It was hard work and we had no money at all, but the people of the town were extremely kind and we got a lot of help from the mental health trust and local businesses. I just begged and borrowed everywhere.
“Mental health was definitely a taboo subject in those days so it was difficult trying to get financial help towards the charity.
“People weren’t aware of mental health and we had to work very hard to make the general public aware.
“I was just an unpaid volunteer trying to help.”
The big breakthrough came when Contact was awarded a lottery grant, which enabled Mrs Fleming to appoint Cynthia Livesey as its co-ordinator.
During her 15-year tenure she was able to help the charity expand its services from a few coffee morning drop-ins to supporting around 5,500 people with mental health issues every year, as well as their carers, friends and family.
It 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.
And earlier this year Contact was awarded the highest honour in the country for its work as it was granted the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent for community groups of an MBE.
Mrs Fleming, of Kirkhill, said: “I always hoped it would be like this. I lived in hope, but you can only do what you can with the money you have around you and we didn’t have the money to progress it in this way for a long time.
“It is a joy to see so many people at the party today and the volunteers who are helping.
“Denise is looking down. She would be very proud.
“Her daughter Kelly is so proud of all that has happened here because she knows it is her Mum’s doing.”
Another guest at the party was Morpeth Mayor Phil Taylor, who was delighted to show his support.
“Contact is invaluable to the town and the whole area.
“It certainly does a lot to help people and it is nice to see it going this long and getting the Queen’s Award. It is very well deserved,” he said.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery also paid tribute.
“This marvellous organisation was born out of such tragic circumstances when Gena Fleming decided that she wanted to discuss mental health with other people and support them and here we are, 25 years later, with such a wonderful organisation as Contact, with so many volunteers, so many members and so many people working on their behalf,” he said.
“It offers a tremendous service, not just to people with mental health problems, but also their carers and families as well.
“It offers a whole range of opportunities and what is unique is that people can walk in off the street and be given a warm welcome and qualified people will discuss their problems with them and develop a programme to get them through.
“I think Contact does a great job and I hope it is here for many years to come, continuing to develop its service and continuing to help people in such a great fashion.”
Contact Chairman David Livesey said it has been an eventful year for the charity and thanked the public for their continuing support.
“It is a privilege to be Chairman of this organisation,” he said.
“We have had a difficult year in some ways for various reasons, but it is all coming good now with the Queen’s Award, a move to fabulous premises and the appointment of the new management team.
“It is particularly encouraging that we have managed to recruit some more young volunteers, which is absolutely great.
“Finally, I would like to thank people for the wonderful support we have had from the community in Morpeth over the years.”