Sunderland's first counselling cafe takes shape to help city's mental health

Work is forging ahead on creating Sunderland’s first counselling cafe as it strives to offer a helping hand for those struggling with their mental health.

Saturday, 5th June 2021, 4:55 am

The former Elizabeth’s restaurant is being completely transformed into Betsy Jenny Counselling and Wellbeing Cafe, a multipurpose space, which as well as being a cafe, will have counselling rooms to help make mental health support more accessible.

It’s being brought to the city by Sunderland businessman Steve Lynn who underwent counselling to help him with his grief after his son, Steve Jnr, died in 2018 after contracting flu.

The much-loved 25-year-old was a popular character and his nickname of Betsy lives on in the name of the new cafe, as well as the names of his grandparents Jean and Kenny, which has been amalgamated as Jenny.

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Works progressing at Betsy Jenny's counselling cafe
Works progressing at Betsy Jenny's counselling cafe

More than £100,000 has already been invested in the site, with a new doorway using stone to match the original Victorian materials, as well as whole new electrics, plastering, new roof, mural artworks, four counselling rooms, new windows to allow more natural light to come in, as well as a self-contained apartment-style space upstairs for people to use.

It’s hoped the cafe will be able to open its doors from the end of July and talks are ongoing with a number of organisations and counsellors who will use the space.

Steve hopes the cafe will help to break the stigma surrounding mental health and become a much-needed lifeline of support for people who are struggling.

It’s hoped that the space will encourage people to seek support as they can informally pop in, whether it’s just for a coffee and a chat or to speak to a ‘befriender’ who can help set them on the best counselling pathway for them.

Steve Lynn, front, at the new Betsy Jenny Counselling Cafe with team members

Steve said: “We want people to be able to come into a relaxed atmosphere and, if it’s needed, hopefully put them on a programme where they can be seen quickly and helped.”

The site is also aimed at the wider community with a healthy eating cafe and space for a number of different groups to meet, from yoga to arts and crafts.

"There’s so much potential and we’ve had so much response already, with some unbelievable ideas. We really want this to be a community hub which can do some real good in the city,” explained Steve. "It will cater for everyone, we’re not targeting any one specific group. We’ll even have a separate entrance at the back, in case people don’t want to be seen coming in. We want to break that stigma.”

One of the community groups already signed up to use the space for weekly meetings is Men-Kind, a men’s mental health support group set up by Paul Mackie, who’d had a long struggle with mental health before finally opening up to men he played rugby with.

Works progressing at the new Betsy Jenny Counselling Cafe at the former Elizabeth's in Bridge Street

Not only has the weekly group, which used to meet at Holmeside Coffee before meetings had to be conducted via Zoom, changed Paul’s life it’s also helped in suicide prevention with its members.

Paul said: “There’s a lot of stigma with men, who think they just have to cope and battle on, but being able to talk makes all the difference. Our meetings are fun and informal and I’m really excited that we’re going to have a space like this to host them.”

*Funding is needed to help pay for more of the renovation work at Betsy Jenny’s. Anyone wanting to donate can visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/BetsyJennyCounsellingandWellbeingCafe

*Steve will be giving a talk to Men-Kind for its weekly Zoom meeting on Wednesday, June 9 at 7pm. Meeting ID: 83785696131 Passcode: CWah3Z

The cafe is named in honour of Steve Jnr who died aged just 25

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Steve Lynn in one of the new counselling rooms
Works progressing at the new Betsy Jenny Counselling Cafe.
One of the artworks created at the cafe
Works progressing at the new Betsy Jenny Counselling Cafe.