The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly put extra pressure on people's mental health and charities have faced an increasing demand for help.

It means that charities have had to find ways to quickly adapt and find new ways of helping those most in need - something which Blackpool charity Stand Together and Recover (STAR) has learned.

The organisation has been forced to close due to lockdown - but they're determined not to be beaten by it and have pledged to use the time to do all that they can to provide people with hope for the future.

STAR has managed to acquire a bigger premises and launch a new website at a time when more and more people are turning to mental health services outside the NHS in the town.

Coinciding with around the time the UK's third national lockdown was implemented, charity Stand Together and Recover (STAR) moved to its own premises on Church Street on January 5.

Founded by Jessica Johnson, 32, from Bispham in February 2018, STAR is a peer-to-peer group that invites anybody struggling with mental health issues or isolation to come in and talk without fear of judgement.

Since its beginnings, the charity has gone from seeing a handful of people a couple of times a week to around 40 who came in regularly before the pandemic. During coronavirus restrictions in 2020, the maximum number of clients that can be seen at one time is 15.

Not long before the pandemic started, STAR became an official charity in February 2020, however had to close during the first national lockdown in March. It was able to re-open again in August and stayed open throughout the second national lockdown.

However, due to moving premises, staff took the time to close this month for the move. The centre is hoping to re-open in February when government restrictions may be eased.

The move from its original location at Claremont Park community centre means that it will be able to open five days week to help anyone in need.

Jessica, who has a 14-year-old son and is currently pregnant, started the organisation after being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) herself when she was 18 and also having a partner who has suffered with mental health issues too.

She is now training to be a counsellor at Blackpool and The Fylde College.

STAR's last Christmas day at Claremont House. Every year the charity provides Christmas dinner and presents for members. Jess is pictures at the forefront.

Jessica said: "Before starting STAR I'd always been in and out of college and different kinds of work due to my mental health issues. As someone who has had therapy and been in and out of services, I found that around six weeks after I'd finished I would begin to deteriorate on my own and had no support.

"I noticed that there were a lot of people who felt the same as me and hadn't found a way to get better yet. Since starting STAR we've noticed that people thrive when they're part of a group.

"I also feel that although doctors and nurses can diagnose you from a text book, there's nothing quite like talking to someone who has felt the same as you do. All of our peers and volunteers have suffered with mental health issues at some point"

STAR is still offering emotional support online however through its new website www.starblackpool.org and a private online group.

Jessica said: "We don't like closing as we're aware that members' mental health may be suffering but it's a catch 22 as to accommodate more people and more sessions in the future we need to put the work in now.

"The Facebook group has been amazing however and has gone from a few dozen members to hundreds in the last year. They're all active members too.

"Some who have joined didn't really know the effects of anxiety and depression so they're much more aware then they were and discuss them openly. We encourage people to post their creativity and projects too so it's really been confidence boosting for a lot of members.

"We launched the website on Saturday too which is at a great time because I think this latest lockdown has hit people hard. We want it to be as easy as possible for people to get in touch with us and know that that they can reach out and talk whenever they need to."

The charity still needs a lot of help from the community in establishing itself as an accessible, multi-functional mental health centre

It is looking to apply to the lottery for a substantial grant for the next two and a half years to help fund STAR and activities at the new premises.

This will include a helpline, recruitment and training of volunteers, counselling or therapy sessions online and, where safe, face-to-face, daily group mindfulness sessions, art and crafts workshops and much more.

The charity still needs to evidence to fund the 'STAR Stability & Sustained Support' Project' however and is encouraging people to take a survey here.

STAR is also asking for help from the Blackpool community in furnishing the new property and has created an Amazon wishlist for items that can help to provide activities, food, support, or furnishing rooms.

If you could like to buy an item for STAR's new centre, please visit here.

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