Council in U-turn on support for Southend mental health project

A highly-valued scheme which helps more than 200 people with mental health problems has been saved by Southend Council after a U-turn.

The council has backtracked on plans to withdraw funding for NetPark wellbeing scheme run by art group Metal in Chalkwell Park, Westcliff.

The council had proposed to cut the grant to save £50,000 in this year’s proposed budget which has a £7.3million deficit.

NetPark is a digital art park that takes people on an interactive journey through the park. It is designed to boost mental health and well-being.

All the artworks are GPS located and “experienced” through a smart device, either iPad, iPhone or Android.

Keith Evans, Independent councillor for Blenheim Park ward, made an impassioned plea for the council to think again about withdrawing support for the project.

The council later announced it would continue to finance the scheme.

Stephen George, Labour leader of the council, said: “As a cabinet we have listened to feedback from residents, businesses, councillors and staff and balance that with the need for the council to remain financially sustainable in these very difficult times of rising inflation, costs, demand, and pressure.

“Although we must find many millions of pounds of savings, thanks to the council’s good financial management over many years, we have been able to amend some previous proposals and also invest in other key priority areas. These changes are now included in the final budget proposals which will be recommended to council for approval at the end of the month.”

Paul Collins, Lib Dem cabinet member for asset management and inward investment, said the budget had been “the most difficult budget process in a decade”.

He added: “However, it is also important to listen to feedback, and that is exactly what we have done, with some amendments to our original proposals and some new investments to address key issues such as mental health, school improvement, support for carers and our business community and tourism.”

The Wellbeing Project explores how digital arts in an outdoor setting can improve mental health and well-being.

A Dementia Project also works with digital arts to capture stories and memories and promote awareness.

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter