The Mental Health Activity (MHA) Trust has launched its flagship store in Blackheath.
The shop on Delacourt Road, which was officially opened by Danny Baker, is stocked by donations from businesses and individuals in the community.
Three staff members with mental health problems will be employed and given the opportunity to share their experiences while they receive clinical, practical and emotional support.
This is the first workplace established by the trust who help people with mental health problems get back into employment.
The not-for-profit organization has helped seven individuals into employment and offered financial assistance to a further three who were accepted into university.
MHA’s founder Toni Hale said: “We’ve been running the charity for months, in which time we’ve arranged employment, but not had the opportunity to demonstrate this to the community. Now the public can see the shop, a symbolic place that showcases what we do.”
This was a big challenge for Hale, who has financed the shop with her own savings.
She was inspired to start the project by her friend Mark Katnoria, who had mental health problems and died in 2013.
Hale met Katnoria while working as an assistant psychologist at Little Brook Hospital. Katnoria was a voluntary patient who Hale described as an intelligent young man, whose view on life influenced her greatly.
Hale said: “He would say ‘red pen, yellow pen, who cares it doesn’t matter, it’s just a pen’. I immediately understood what he meant. It is that people who have a mental health problem should enjoy life without stigma or discrimination.”
Katnoria drowned in a lake last year following a mental health episode. The company he worked for did not have psychological facilities for their employees, highlighting the need for clinical, practical and emotional support.
On the wall behind the counter at the back of the shop there is a gold plaque which pays tribute to Katnoria.
Following the birth of her child, Hale was diagnosed with postnatal depression, during which she was supported by a clinical psychologist.
“I know what it is like to have a mental health problem as I have experienced it first hand. I believe we can make a difference and it is time for a change. If I wait for the government to help me, it would not be open now, this was something that couldn’t wait.”
The shop will require sufficient sales and face many hurdles in becoming a sustainable business. However according to Hale, who is also a Council Candidate for Greenwich Conservatives, there are more than 2000 people unemployed due to the mental health problems in Greenwich alone.
Despite the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010, which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace, Hale says there is still a stigma attached to applicants with mental health problems.
“There is still stigma and discrimination against people with mental health problems. That’s why there are many corporations are not hiring people with these conditions. One shop is not enough, we want to open more than 40 shops, then hopefully we will go national, and even international.”
By Takeshi Kosaka