You know you’re getting on a bit when things that happened in the 1980s are already looked on as part of our local history!
I was reminded of this recently when I visited the Victoria Centre in Grahamston – home since 2008 to Falkirk and District Association for Mental Health known to all as FDAMH.
I had been asked to help compile a short history of the association from its foundation in 1981 and I was there for the launch of the book ‘Light in a Dark Place’. It was a very happy occasion with many of the folk who helped form FDAMH 34 years ago mixing with those who built the association over the years and the people who work there today.
The guest of honour was Joyce Cottle, now in her 90s, without whose vision and determination there would be no FDAMH.
The story began in the 1970s when many people who suffered mental health problems were moved out of institutions like Bellsdyke Hospital as part of a national policy of ‘care in the community’. Unfortunately evidence suggested that the necessary support was either not there or totally inadequate. Joyce, a social worker who was nearing retirement in Bellsdyke, saw that former clients were gravitating back to the hospital to find the friends and facilities they were comfortable with.
Knowing that this would damage the whole process she raised the matter with the Falkirk Council of Churches and within weeks a public meeting was called to assess the likely support for an association.
On June 16, 1981 an inaugural meeting chaired by Rev. Leith Fisher of Falkirk Old formed FDAMH, appointed a committee and set out plans for a drop-in lunch club in the church hall.
Volunteers from many churches agreed to provide support and the search began for a place of their own where people could drop in for tea and a chat while finding out what kinds of help and support was available.
The first centre opened the following year in Chapel Lane near the West Church and it was soon offering help to dozens of people and demand continued to grow.
In 1983 Ishbel McKenzie was appointed as Development Officer and over the following five years, supported by the volunteers, she helped develop FDAMH into a major force in health care in the Falkirk area.
By then the association had moved into the first Victoria Centre in Thornhill Road and the popular drop-in had been supplemented by a ‘Befriending Service’ which paired up members with a volunteer for social support. In the years that followed demand continued to increase with many of those coming forward for help having no experience of institutional care.
New services like counselling and support for carers were developed while the drop-in and lunch club continued to thrive. Increased funding allowed for new staff and eventually a new centre.
Under the guiding hand of long serving Manager Anne Wallace the splendid Victoria Centre was officially opened in March 2008. Today there are more than 20 staff, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of people have found light in a dark place at the lowest point in their lives.
It is an inspiring story and the people of Falkirk can look back with gratitude to all those who made it possible. ‘Light in a Dark Place’ is available from FDAMH’s Victoria Centre in Grahamston opposite the old Victoria School.