“When it first started it was completely run by volunteers. Around 1978 there was a threat of closure so we staged a sit-in. Finally it was agreed that within the new building on the site there would always be ‘the house’ (what was then known as SS club and what is now SS BLG Mind) with provision for people with mental health needs.
“It helped me out so much when I had a breakdown after my mother and father died. I did everything I could to help, which helped me. We continued to fundraise, which all started with a Valentine’s Ball, to keep it going. I volunteered for 42 years and only missed a week.”
– Maureen Hill
While it’s difficult to make out anything after the first few paragraphs of this newspaper cutting from 1 February 1957, the article begins:
Bromley’s unique society for helping mentally ill people back to normal life, the Stepping Stones Club, has been the subject of a report to the World Health Organisation, the United Nations body dealing with health, at Geneva.
The report gives a fascinating history of the club and of Bromley Hospital’s psychiatric work.
It also pays a glowing tribute to Bromley as a place with a strong civic spirit and a thriving social life, which is particularly interesting as it will be read by people all over the world.
In 1979, Greenwich Mind starts offering services from their new Ormiston Road Centre.
On Tuesday 16 October 1979 (not 18 October as stated in the above clipping) Stepping Stones celebrates its silver jubilee.
Describing it as ‘Britain’s first self help psychiatric club’, a local newspaper article published on 4 October 1979 reads:
The Stepping Stones Club, Masons Hill, Bromley, has been the model for many similar centres throughout the country.
When an occupational therapy department was opened at Bromley Hospital in 1946, two doctors and a social worker decided to send some of their psychiatric patients to the unit as an experiment.
The results were promising for the patients and also helped relieve some of the “taboo” surrounding mental health.
A second newspaper article on Stepping Stones’ silver jubilee celebrations was published a week later, this time in the Kentish Times.
It began: “Imagine the kind of place where you can go and get involved in all sorts of activities or just sit down for a chat and relax. That is the kind of place Stepping Stones is.”
The article went on: “Even in this day and age there are still social stigmas attached to mental illness and Stepping Stones offers an unusual combination of security for members and at the same time a link to the outside world.”
The article described how the club had more than 300 members, and was “staffed and run by volunteers and patients who have recovered enough to help out themselves”.
The activities offered are listed, including cookery, art, gardening, dancing and “even yoga”, which was clearly considered a little out-there in 1979.
Su, aka “Chairman, Mrs Bobby Lipkin”, told the newspaper: “There is one maxim on which the club bases its entire existence and that is that no-one should come into the club and have to sit alone.”
1979 - Stepping Stones newsletter
Stepping Stones’ October newsletter praises the “unstinting service” of those involved in making the 25th anniversary celebration earlier in the month an “outstanding success”.
The newsletter also announces that the Slimming Group would henceforth be known as “Slim & Work”, reflecting the fact that, while diets would still be on the agenda, “people in the group feel they would like to do some sewing as well”.
Newsletter author Jenny Martin also announces she is in the process of making a super 8 cine film about the work of the club.
The Ormiston Road Counselling line was started, now known as Mindline.
Bromley Mind establishes a mental health peer-support programme in Bromley, leading to the organisation becoming renowned as an expert in the field.
Dementia training team is established.
Bromley Mind branches out and starts delivering services in Lewisham.
Bromley Mind starts to offer services in Lewisham permanently, leading to the launch of Bromley & Lewisham Mind (BL Mind).
BL Mind are one of the Founding members of Bromley Third Sector Enterprise (BTSE).
BL Mind launches wellbeing and resilience services for expectant and new mothers.
Bromley Recovery College opens.
Bromley & Lewisham Mind merges with Greenwich Mind to become Bromley, Lewisham & Greenwich (or BLG) Mind.
SE London Peer Support in the Community Hub is established.
BLG Mind’s mental health training team is established.