Inside the London café that’s improving mental health for the local Jewish community

  • london
  • April 14, 2023
  • Comments Off on Inside the London café that’s improving mental health for the local Jewish community
Inside the London café that’s improving mental health for the local Jewish community thumbnail

At first glance, the Headroom Café looks like any one of the thousands of other inviting-looking coffee shops in North London.

There are comfy chairs and trendy brick walls, floor to ceiling windows and a delicious array of food.

But there is something else on the menu at this very special spot on Golders Green High Street. This is a café which also caters for the lonely and those with mental health issues. It’s a place of succour for scores who come in to find not just a delicious cup of coffee – although it has that too – but friendship, advice and help.

‘I was walking past with my family when we decided to have a look at what they did,’ says Jonathan Adams, 48, who has a history of mental health issues. ‘It was such a friendly atmosphere that I started to come regularly.

‘It is the sort of place that if you don’t want to take part in conversations you can just sit there, but gradually you make friends. I started joining some of the walks that the customers go on, and now I help out in the art classes.

‘There is an empathy among the people I meet; they’ve gone through the same things I’ve gone through and we support each other. Having the groups to come by makes me feel a little bit more positive about the world.’

The café opened in 2016 on the site of a former shop raising funds for Jami, the Jewish mental health charity, which runs Headroom alongside a network of services for people of any religion with mental illness. Earlier this month it doubled in size, taking over the shop next door, creating even more opportunities for people to meet.

While Jewish people have the same rate of psychiatric disorder as non-Jews, studies have shown they are more likely to suffer from depression – perhaps partly due to the ‘generational trauma’ of the Holocaust and having to escape antisemitic persecution from other countries.

Modern psychology and ‘talking theories’ were mainly invented by Jewish people, including Sigmund Freud, and studies have found that Jews are more likely than others to choose verbal expression as a way of expressing painful experiences. Talking is one of the key therapies used at the café.

‘I moved to Golders Green a few years ago to live in a house run by Jami and they told me about the groups,’ says Daniel, 68, who is enjoying the Tuesday ‘Coffee and Connect’ group with Jonathan. ‘I have a history of serious mental health issues and Jami has helped me a lot. In this group people can talk about the good and the bad things in their life in a safe environment.

‘We all understand each other and that is wonderful – we don’t need to be lonely any more.’

Barnet mayor Alison Moore praised its ‘genuinely pioneering work’ when she officially cut the ribbon on the reopened new-look café, adding: ‘During a period in which we are trying to move towards mental health acceptance and moving away from stigmatising mental illness, Headroom café’s offering is happening at a really important time.

‘It is a model that we ought to be sharing with other communities because I think there’s a real need for it.’

It is estimated that one in four people will experience a diagnosable mental health condition every year, with Londoners among the worst hit in the country. The pandemic only worsened things, creating more loneliness.

Headroom closed for some of the pandemic – when it reopened it became busier than ever, says Karen Conway, the café’s community development facilitator.

‘This café is the first of its kind because it’s associated with a mental health charity,’ she says. ‘It starts with just being a beautiful café with lovely nourishing food. But what makes it different is that it is a pioneering form of mental health support. We are building a community through our free groups which offer peer support, mutual care and social connection for anyone in the community, regardless of age, background, ethnicity or mental health.

‘We believe that everyone is on a spectrum; regardless of how you feel one day, you might feel different the next and this is place for everyone, however they are feeling. Part of it all being open, on a high street is about trying to stop the stigmatisation of mental health. It’s a warm, welcoming, safe space for people to connect and reduce the isolation that is huge across all sorts of communities at the moment. People who were already feeling lonely because of certain issues around their mental health really struggled during the pandemic.’

There is a walking group, a drama group, an art group, a talking group and even an online group for people who are working, but want to see other faces on Zoom as they use their computers – every 25 minutes they have a break to check in and chat with each other.

Ultimately the focus is on helping people help themselves. At first, someone comes in with a friend or a carer but gradually they create their own friendship groups, giving them independence as well as comfort. ‘Quite often people structure their week around the activities that we’re running because that might be the only time they are with other people,’ adds Sarah. ‘What I really love is to see the relationships building between people – some of them went to the cinema together the other night. It becomes self-sustaining, which is lovely.’

It is little wonder a second café is being planned elsewhere in North London with hopes for more and more.

‘I never have any idea how many people will come to each session,’ says Sarah. ‘People just walk in off the street and they find a home here, a community.’

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

MORE : ‘My dad died on my wedding day – he was the best, in every possible way’

MORE : The Big Happiness Interview: Why stargazing can make you happier