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Maytree Suicide Respite Centre’s director Natalie Howarth on how her Finsbury Park charity reaches out to those at risk

PUBLISHED: 10:47 13 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:50 13 September 2017

Maytree director Natalie Howarth sits in one of the bedrooms in the Maytree shelter. Picture: Catherine Davison

Maytree director Natalie Howarth sits in one of the bedrooms in the Maytree shelter. Picture: Catherine Davison

Catherine Davison

Charity director Natalie Howarth has worked to help people for most of her life. She talked to the Gazette while showing us around Maytree in Finsbury Park – a respite centre for people at risk of suicide.

The garden at the Maytree shelter in Moray Road, Finsbury Park. People who feel they are at risk of suicide can visit for a four-day respite stay. Picture: Catherine DavisonThe garden at the Maytree shelter in Moray Road, Finsbury Park. People who feel they are at risk of suicide can visit for a four-day respite stay. Picture: Catherine Davison

Maytree’s director Natalie Howarth started working for the charity in 2011 as a project manager. With her background helping people deal with homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, she was a natural choice.

Alongside colleagues and a small army of volunteers, Natalie helps people at risk of suicide.

“Our job is about reconnecting with another human being,” she told the Gazette. “Conversation is everything. The key for us is that people reflect once they are here.”

Maytree, in Moray Road, Finsbury Park, offers suicidal people a one-off, four-night stay to get support. The charity was founded in 2002 and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

At Maytree there are no taboos: feeling you can be open helps build trust. For this reason, Natalie says, volunteers must be good listeners.

"Our job is about reconnecting with another human being. So conversation is everything. The key for us is that people reflect once they are here"

Natalie Howarth

It’s been a long journey to Islington. Natalie was born in Singapore – her father worked for the Foreign Office and while growing up she lived in countries as diverse as Swaziland, Kuwait, Yemen, Thailand and Japan.

She got into the voluntary sector at 23, supporting people who had mental health issues and hearing impairment.

“I enjoy working in the voluntary sector because it’s not for profit,” she said.

“And I enjoy working at Maytree because it makes a significant difference to people’s lives.”

People from all over the UK go to Maytree. An evaluation by mental health centre the Tavistock Clinic in 2012 found nearly 90 per cent of Maytree guests reported feeling less suicidal, while nearly a third said they no longer had thoughts about taking their own life after staying there.

Thank-you letters and cards at the Maytree shelter. Details have been pixellated to protect the identities of those who sent them. Picture: Catherine DavisonThank-you letters and cards at the Maytree shelter. Details have been pixellated to protect the identities of those who sent them. Picture: Catherine Davison

“I’m proud of the fact such a small charity has been living for 15 years, even though we’ve gone through tough times,” said Natalie.

Maytree counts Sir Trevor McDonald among its supporters. The veteran broadcaster, 78, visited Maytree to mark Red Nose Day in February and delighted Natalie and her co-workers by agreeing to host an appeal for them on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday to mark World Suicide Day.

It will air again tomorrow just after 3.25pm.

If you are feeling suicidal or you know someone who is, do not hesitate to call 020 7263 7070 or email maytree@maytree.org.uk to talk to the team.

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