ON THE GROUND: Maytree, Islington, London

Dominic Wood

Scheme: Maytree, a sanctuary for suicidal people

Funding: A consortium led by Maytree chairman Michael Knight bought the house and gave it to the charity rent-free for 15 years. The set-up costs of £200,000, and £100,000 in annual running costs are met by grant makers, including the Bridge House Trust and the Barrow Cadbury Trust, as well as individual donations

Objectives: To save lives and alleviate despair among people with suicidal thoughts

An anonymous house and its inhabitants helped to save 40 lives last year. The house - run by Maytree - is on the edge of the London Borough of Camden, where, according to the Office of National Statistics, someone takes their own life every 10 days on average. This gives the borough the unwanted honour of having the highest suicide rate in England.

Since it opened in November 2002, Maytree has welcomed all visitors.

"Everyone says it's so calm here," says Paddy Bazeley, who came up with the concept after 30 years as a Samaritans volunteer and employee.

Bazeley attributes part of that calm to the way that guests can see through to the garden as soon as they open the main door. "It shows them a symbolic way out as soon as they arrive."

For further peace, six brightly- coloured bedroom doors pave the way to the private spaces that their temporary guests often do not find elsewhere.

Maytree aims to find out what has driven people to the point of suicide.

Informal chats among guests around the kitchen table often reawaken the dormant social skills that many believe are lost. And extensive one-to-ones are on offer from management and volunteers.

To avoid dependency, the Maytree sanctuary only allows guests to stay a maximum of four nights, a period that most see out. "Their stay is longer than a weekend, but shorter than a week," said Bazeley. "At first guests are anxious, before relaxing by night two, thinking about what's next on day three and getting ready to leave by day four."

Two or three hospitals make regular referrals, but Maytree aims to reach people who don't want to stay in a hospital psychiatric ward and young men who find it hard to confide in others.

The sanctuary has 50 volunteers who often respond to panic-filled phone calls in the middle of the night.

With around two to three people convalescing at any one time, Maytree is currently under-subscribed.

But the charity, which regularly sends leaflets to counselling agencies, GPs and psychotherapists, hopes to address this by holding an evening meeting on 23 March to foster links with anyone encountering the suicidal.

For more information visit maytree.org.uk.

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