THE SOCIAL HEALTH KITCHEN at the Umbrella Centre

By Martin Vye

This is an invitation to everyone to drop into the Umbrella Centre in Canterbury, for a coffee, a snack or a meal.

The Centre is at the end of St Peter’s Place, and you can walk to it through the Westgate Gardens. Up to thirty years ago people who could not cope with normal life because of the state of their minds were put into large institutions ,like the St Augustine’s Hospital at Chartham. Then the Government decided that the overwhelming majority of them should be able to live a life in the community. The Umbrella Centre was founded at that time, and has developed into a place where everyone can find a welcome, and seek help if they need it.Managed by Anna, it does a phenomenal job in boosting the self-confidence of people who have felt ignored and marginalised, and in giving them a warm, safe place to have a meal, engage in activities, and socialise.

One of the problems, though, with ‘living in the community’ is that there is still such a stigma attached to ‘mental problems’. The really serious cases of mental illness still need to be treated in specialist hospitals. In the Umbrella, however, you will find people who suffer from anxiety or depression who welcome the peace and quiet of the place; you will find people with learning disabilities who are valued by those who work there, and can find a role which gives them status; you will find people with childhood trauma that can be talked through with skilled counsellors.

The barriers that still exist between the members of the Centre and the rest of us need to be broken down.That is the purpose of the Social Health Café. It is open to everyone Just going in and buying a coffee, or snack, or meal helps greatly to break down those barriers.

The Centre is run by a local standalone charity. Regular funding by government, national or local, is long gone. Therefore, an additional value provided by your visit to the Café is that it helps fund all the services Umbrella provides.

Do have a look at its website:

It will give you a comprehensive view of all that Umbrella does ; and in ‘My Histories’ you will get an idea of the positive impact of everything it provides.

Of course, if you wanted to become more involved in the life of this community, there are plenty of opportunities. You could become one of the dedicated band of trustees, who keep Umbrella going (there are vacancies at the moment). Or you could simply become a volunteer, sharing as much or little time as you can afford with Umbrella’s members.

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