A small charity making a big difference to people who have experienced severe mental ill-health is hoping to increase the number of people it can help as restrictions ease.

Open Door Friendship Group has proved to be a lifeline for adults of all ages by offering them vital friendship and support following their discharge from an acute mental health ward.

Grants from the independent charitable trust, Essex Community Foundation (ECF) helped the Loughton charity become established two years ago. Further grants of £5,500 have also been awarded to the group from funds managed by ECF and its Essex Coronavirus Response and Recovery Programme.

The funding has been welcomed by Paula Wilson, a retired headteacher who set up the group to fill a gap after a similar local organisation closed down. Paula knew from first-hand experience how much such a service was needed, because she had seen how it had helped her daughter.

“The grants from ECF have enabled our group to keep going through these challenging times,” said Paula.

“The money has paid for the hire of the church hall where we meet. Under the coronavirus regulations, we have an exemption which has allowed us to have meetings of up to 15 people, but once restrictions are relaxed, we hope to increase the number of people who can attend.

“We continue to offer the basic friendship and support that people need so much when they are discharged from a mental health unit. They find it hard to settle back into the community and may feel very much on their own.

“The value of our group has been recognised by a consultant psychiatrist who said that the improvements he could see in people who had been inpatients was amazing. The members of the group are so supportive of each other and they can enjoy social interaction and activities in a safe place, with people around them who understand mental health problems.”

All the members of the group are looking forward to being able to expand and develop its activities, including healthy cooking sessions which had to stop because of the restrictions.