WITH controversy surrounding a mental health unit in a market town, Comet reporter Chandni Tanna was invited to the £4 million facility to meet with staff and patients.

Nouvita, which manages Baldock Manor, was given planning permission in 2009 by North Herts District Council (NHDC) for a 55-bed care home, but it has been claimed no mention was made to the authority it would house people under the Mental Health Act.

Residents living behind the facility in Hillcrest assumed it was a care home for the elderly until workmen erected a 12 foot metal fence around the unit in March, without gaining planning permission, after a patient tried to escape.

The London Road facility, which opened in January, offers treatment for men and women with mental illness, learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorders and Korsakoff’s syndrome – a neurological disorder due to a lack of vitamin B in the brain, which can be caused by alcoholism. The symptom of the condition is severe memory loss.

The hospital, as it is known to staff and its 15 patients, has four single sex wards with individual en suite rooms, with access to a garden area.

Giving me a tour of the facility was Priscilla Masvipurwa, manager at Baldock Manor, who said: “We encourage all the patients to decorate their own rooms and make it feel like home and somewhere they are going to feel comfortable living.”

She explains some of the patients have come from secure settings, but have now been downgraded because they no longer need the treatment from a secure unit.

“We act as a stop gap for these patients, who tend to stay with us from anything from two months to two years,” she said. “Our main aim is to get them back into the community, back to their jobs and their families. A lot of them are from the area and from Baldock.”

Asked the difference between a secure unit and Baldock Manor, Mrs Masuipurua said: “In a unit like Broadmoor, which is a high secure unit, you would have tables and chairs locked to the floor. Here patients have their own kitchens where they can make themselves something to eat.

“They go shopping to buy groceries. Some who have more severe mental health problems will go with members of staff, others will go on their own, and they are encouraged to do that because we want them to adapt to everyday life.”

Lance Adams, chief executive officer of Nouvita, said: “We want them to be part of the community, they are not monsters. For a person to have a life, go to work or have friends and family you have to be part of a community. Being in a community is a very important part of their rehabilitation, and we hope that over time residents and the rest of the community will come to accept us being here.”

Speaking about the application to NHDC to turn the building into a mental health unit, Mr Adams said: “I am incensed at the suggestion we lied to residents about the facility. We made an application to NHDC and the application was passed. We never said it was a care home for the elderly.”

A retrospective planning application for the retention of the fence was submitted by Nouvita to NHDC, but last week members of the planning committee threw the application out, meaning Nouvita now has six months to take the fence down.

To take a look inside Baldock Manor click on the top right for photos.