Croydon’s Cassandra Centre charity has said providing its essential services has become ‘hectic’ since losing its dedicated space on Norbury High Street last May. The charity’s founder believes this change threatens their ability to provide effective and confidential support to some of the borough’s most vulnerable people.
The Cassandra Centre (CC) provides advice, support and counselling services for young people and families who are directly or indirectly involved in abusive relationships. CC founder Jennifer McDermott believes this work is vital considering Croydon often has the capital’s highest number of domestic violence cases.
Alongside its domestic violence work, CC’s work has also expanded to providing men’s support groups and elderly lunch clubs. The lunch clubs in particular garnered widespread support across Norbury during COVID after the group started providing elderly residents with meals.
In 2001, McDermott lost her 19-year-old daughter, Cassandra, after an ex-boyfriend brutally attacked and killed the teenager in her own home. The Cassandra Centre was established ten years later in Cassandra’s name, who would be 43 years old were she alive today.
However, CC has been without a dedicated space to conduct its services since its previous space in Norbury High Street was sold last May. This has meant CC is now fragmented and even has to venture out of the borough to provide its services.
Speaking to the local democracy reporting service (LDRS) McDermott said: “We closed in May because the bank closed. We were hoping we would have had some help either from the council or be able to rent but the rental market is well above what we can afford.”
“Given we are not funded by the council, what ever money we get is donations or budget funds. It makes it difficult to actually go on the market and rent.”
“We don’t just do counselling, we work with young people, older people and men. So where do we find a place that serves all of them? In the bank, we could be open till 12. Its about having a safe space, especially for young men who don’t want people seeing them going in for therapy.
“At the moment, we have to hold things in storage, we have to pay £500 a month for this church space. Then we have to pay for the counselling. Currently, we have staff meetings in Costa in Norbury.
“It’s all over the place, everything is fragmented at the moment. We’re accustomed to working in one place. We need everything in one place for it to work well. However, a lot of charities, like ourselves, survive on temporary leases.”
Despite the upheaval, CC has adapted to change and found new locations to host their services across the borough. McDermott told the LDRS how they now host their services in any place that can accommodate their needs and budget, which is funded solely through donations and support from groups like the London City Trust.
As a result of the move, CC have now had to host some of their counselling sessions online, or at workspaces scattered across neighbouring boroughs. The reality that this change could move the CC services out of Croydon has come to the dismay of many local supporters.
Michael Woodruff, a Norbury resident and friend of the CC, told the LDRS: “This charity is doing such a fantastic job and they don’t have a place, a safe space to help those women who have experienced violence. They now talking about going to the other boroughs, which would be such a loss.”
The LDRS recently visited the Over 50s lunch club, which is one of the weekly services CC offers to the local community. Despite now being based in St Paul’s Church in Thornton Heath, many of its members still make the journey up from Norbury for a weekly chat and group exercise.
While some of the members were happy to make the journey uphill to Thornton Heath for the weekly lunch club, some admitted that the move from the central space in Norbury had meant others had to stop coming.
One lunch club member, Krishna, told the LDRS: “In Norbury, there’s nothing. There’s no community centre anymore. It used to be for ordinary people but now they doubled the rent and its not being used by anyone anymore. They could do something, they have got two empty halls and nothing goes on there.”
Fellow member and Tai Chi enthusiast Jane added: “Norbury feels forgotten sometimes because it’s just a cut-through road. I’m on the border of Merton, so I go and walk down to Mitcham a lot. They do loads of outing there, why couldn’t they do that in Mitcham.”
While those in Norbury have struggled to attend, the CC’s services still remain in high demand. The group recently held a Christmas dinner for over 50s at St Paul’s, which saw over a hundred volunteers and over 50s packed into the hall for an afternoon of festive food and entertainment.
Much of the increased demand for CC’s services comes from Croydon’s large population – the highest in London – and high number of domestic violence cases. McDermott told the LDRS: “Croydon is in the top three boroughs in London with the highest number of domestic violence victims. The borough needs to recognise this.”
“It’s not a service that we deliver and finish, it’s a service that’s ongoing. People will self-refer, others will refer or other organisations will refer to us. Having said that we do pick up a number of people through the council who have tried to access help and assistance but for some reason or another, it hasn’t worked for them.”
“I have worked in the borough for years and have a background in probation. It’s just frustrating how little support we get from the council considering we provide support that isn’t covered by their statutory services. The trauma support we provide, for example, isn’t funded by the council, so a lot of people use our services.”
Croydon Council was approached for comment but failed to respond in time for publication.