Together is the UK’s oldest community mental health charity. It was formed in 1879 by Rev Henry Hawkins, the hospital chaplain at an asylum in Middlesex, and was originally known as The After-care Association for Poor and Friendless Female Convalescents on Leaving Asylums for the Insane.
The first decades – residential care and wartime support
Initially, the association helped find temporary homes and placements in service for women coming out of asylums, working alongside them as they tried to regain a normal life. Soon after, it began preventative work by placing ‘people at risk of becoming insane’ in cottage homes and set up the first residential care home in England for people with mental health problems.
We issued a ground-breaking report that showed the vast majority of people with mental health problems were able to hold down jobs.”
The association went on to help patients of both sexes through the Great Depression and both World Wars, listening to people’s needs and finding them homes and jobs. During this time, the organisation remained independent despite pressure to be assimilated into a single national body. It believed that consolidation would prevent it from continuing with its service user led ethos. It issued a ground-breaking report that showed that the vast majority of people with mental health problems were able to hold down jobs and only prejudice prevented them from working.
The middle years – community care and the birth of Together
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, large psychiatric hospitals began closing in favour of caring for people in the community. The association, now registered under the name MACA – The Mental After Care Association – began to diversify its care.
In the 1980s, it adopted the ‘social care model’, where service users are given access to services which meet their social and emotional needs alongside, or instead of, medical care, and the choice and control over the care they receive. The organisation began to place more emphasis on staff training and became one of the first voluntary sector organisations to pioneer Non-Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).
The range of services offered by the association continued to broaden in the 1990s, and in 1998 it changed its name to Together, reflecting the scope of its work, which now included education, research and influencing government policy.
A new century – a commitment to service user involvement
Since 2000, we have expanded our range of services even further.”
Since 2000, we have expanded the range of services we provide even further. We opened our first crisis house; were contracted to run several Supporting People programmes to help those with mental health problems living in the community; and began working with offenders in courts and with probation services in London. Our Advocacy services, which support people to understand and have a voice in important decisions about their care, have flourished and we now work in a number of community and hospital settings.
From the beginning, we have placed individuals at the centre of everything we do. In 2004, this approach led to the creation of our unique Service User Involvement Directorate; through the directorate, service users directly inspire and influence our work and the decisions we make.
Together today – leading the Personalisation agenda
The current social care reforms, which aim at giving service users greater control through Personalisation, fit perfectly with our principles of offering individually tailored care and listening to the voice of experience. Responding to change during a period of more than a century, we have grown to become trusted experts in service user involvement and are a leading voice in the debate on service user leadership in the Personalisation agenda.
We have transformed our services so that service users have an even greater voice in the way they are run.”
We have transformed our services so that service users have an even greater voice in the way they are run. Our registered residential care homes and supported accommodation are being renovated and rebuilt in keeping with our vision that every resident should have their ‘own front door’; we have developed a new model, Your Way, a model of person-centred services for people in the community; and we plan to grow our work in the criminal justice system and the delivery of Advocacy services.
The full story of Together’s growth and development over more than a century in mental health care is told in Community Care in the Making: A History of Together.
Together’s archives are kept in the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre in the Library at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine (ref SA/MAC).