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Behind the scenes at suicide prevention charity, James' Place

Learn how ACT has helped James’ Place continue with its life saving work.

For World Mental Health Day, we’re taking a look behind the scenes at James’ Place, a charity that supports men in crisis. Earlier this year, while on a lunchtime walk, two Ardonagh colleagues helped a man on London Bridge who was experiencing a mental health crisis. Later that day he was due to have an appointment at James’ Place.

On learning of the charity’s incredible work, Ardonagh Community Trust (ACT) wanted to help them continue to make a difference and committed to helping them expand their service and committed to a donation over three years. In May, the charity opened its new permanent London home, so we went to visit James’ Place to find out more about their work.

Behind the scenes at James' Place

The entrance to James’ Place is very discrete. Located in the heart of the city in a white regency townhouse, its brightly-coloured door has none of the usual branding, or any indication at all, of the pioneering, lifesaving work that takes place within on a daily basis.

James Place Building In London
The doorway to James' Place, in the heart of London

Amy Swart, Head of Development, greets us at the door; a bright and cheerful hello and we’re standing in the epicentre of the brand-new premises that funding from Ardonagh Community Trust (ACT) has helped to support. The team are clearly very proud of their new permanent London home for James’ Place, which opened earlier this year, and with good reason.

“We’ve worked very hard to make sure James’ Place felt non-clinical. We want the men we are helping to feel at ease when they come here,” Amy says. It’s easy to see that a lot of thought has gone into creating a bright and airy space, with a mixture of rooms, both large and small, carefully designed to create a calm, welcoming and safe environment for the men they support.

Welcome Space at James' Place Charity in London
The welcoming space on entering James' Place.

Hanging on the wall in reception is a picture of James, who was just 21 years old when he tragically lost his life in 2008 after a sudden and catastrophic decline in his mental health. James died by suicide ten days after a minor operation. He had no history of mental illness or depression and had sought urgent help for anxiety and suicidal thoughts, but sadly he did not find the support he so desperately needed.

Following the tragedy, his parents Clare Milford Haven and Nick Wentworth-Stanley set about raising funds to ensure that other men facing suicidal crisis would find the support they needed and the vision behind James’ Place was born.

A charity with an ambitious mission

The mission is simple, to stop men dying by suicide, but it’s an ambitious mission. In 2018, 6,507 people in the UK died by suicide, of which three-quarters were men. Around 60% of the men who die from suicide never seek support from services and suicide is the leading cause of death of men under 50. The statistics are stark, and when challenged on how achievable their mission actually is, Amy is emphatic: “We think every death by suicide is preventable.”

The first James’ Place opened in Liverpool in 2018 to offer a timely, face-to-face, therapeutic support service for men in suicidal crisis. The London service began operation from a temporary site in 2021, before moving to its permanent base in 2022.

Often referrals are sent via existing NHS partners, but the charity has now opened its services to self-referrals and is actively campaigning in communities to spread word. Access to the charity’s support services has to be timely in order to be effective; there are no waiting lists and James’ Place endeavours to see all referrals within two working days.

View from James' Place in London
The beautiful and calm view from the garden at James' Place.

Working on the frontline of mental health support

The James’ Place team work right on the frontline of mental health support, particularly for men who do not have a history of mental illness. Every man they support is in suicidal crisis, meaning that many have recently attempted suicide or are at significant risk of suicide. The service is tailored to provide a short-term talking therapy intervention, specifically for men who present with crises that are caused by psycho-social factors, such as debt or the breakdown of a relationship.

When Rob, one the James’ Place’s suicide prevention therapists, is asked if reaching out for mental health support is still an issue for men in 2022, he answers: “It certainly can be. I see a lot of men who can’t quite believe they’re seeking help. I think there is often a stigma attached to therapy for the men we support. There is still a long way to go to break down that perception, to let men know that it is ok to reach out and get the help they need.”

There’s no one type of man that comes to James’ Place, but an example of a classic case for Rob was a man who was 28 at the time of his crisis. He was referred by a London-based crisis team. He’d made a plan and had gone to a place to carry it out, but thankfully didn’t go through with it. Rob describes the man’s approach to his intervention as being like an athlete’s approach to a sport. “He was very open and willing to put in the work on every point,” says Rob, “and he went on to make an excellent recovery.”

Rob’s work clearly isn’t typical for your average therapist. Every day he sees men who are at absolute breaking point. When asked how he copes working on the frontline every working day, Rob says, “When I explain what I do to people who I trained with, I realise that we do deal with quite a lot, and we do have some very sad cases. The good thing about James’ Place is that we have a very good and supportive team, and positive outcomes for the men we work with.”

James' Place Therapist Rob and Head of Development Amy
Therapist Rob and Head of Development Amy

Looking forward

The team is seeing an upward trend in demand for services in Liverpool, and with the burgeoning cost of living crisis, they are expecting to get even more referrals. They have an ambitious fundraising target of £10m to achieve their plans of opening three new centres across England so that men across the country will be able to access their services.

“The support from ACT and companies like Ardonagh is absolutely essential to the service we provide,” says Amy. “We are completely reliant on donations to run our centres. Our services are always provided free at the point of use and these donations are literally keeping us running and allow us to keep on supporting men and saving lives. James’ parents, Clare and Nick, are hugely proud of what we’ve achieved and see it as a positive legacy, and that the work we do is preventing other families from going through what they have been through.”

Amy, Head of Development, alongside receptionist Maureen Reeves and Sarah James, ACT Manager. Behind you can see a picture of James, whose story is at the heart of James' Place.
Amy, Head of Development, alongside receptionist Maureen Reeves and Sarah James, ACT Manager. Behind you can see a picture of James, whose story is at the heart of James' Place.

James’ Place is a men's mental health and suicide prevention charity, which opened its first centre in 2018 in Liverpool and a second in London in 2021. They provide support to men who are experiencing suicidal crisis. Find out more about their work on the James’ Place website.James’ Place website.

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