Norwich man fights for the charity that saved his life

A former anorexia sufferer from Norwich is calling on health bosses to offer a reprieve to the under-threat charity he credits with saving his life.

The 27-year-old, who asked to be identified only as Liam, was dangerously ill when he sought help from Norfolk Eating Disorders Association (EDA) two years ago.

Now he is campaigning to save the charity, whose future is in jeopardy after NHS Norfolk decided to cut its annual funding of �60,000 as part of its 'streamlining' of services.

Liam, who lives in north Norwich, has written of his experiences in a blog and has started on an online petition to save the charity.

'I was at death's door when I went to see Norfolk EDA. I had gone out one night and virtually collapsed - my legs just gave way. My heartbeat was extremely irregular,' he said.

'I remember walking through their doors back in Feburary 2009. Literally too weak to even push them open, I struggle to think what they must have made of me - a 6ft 3ins (1.9m) chap weighing just 8st (51kg) asking for help.

'A wonderful lady called Sue was the first person I met. She opened the heavy door for me and smiled; she didn't look at me like I should be dead like everybody else.

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'I walked in and I burst into tears. There were other anorexics in there; one woman, just skin and bones, was sleeping on one of their sofas. Another anorexic woman was knitting a jumper, while a morbidly obese chap was doing a jigsaw. I knew right then that I was in the right place.'

Liam, who works as a communications officer, had been suffering from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa for about three years after suffering depression and family problems.

'I let it control everything I did. It stopped me from eating, it stopped me from socialising and it nearly killed me,' he said.

Liam said his doctor had diagnosed him with depression, and had prescribed a number of drugs, but Norfolk EDA correctly identified the true nature of his problem and knew how to help.

The charity offered him support, group therapy sessions and safe, warm place to go, as well as arranging counselling sessions, meal plans and nutritional advice.

By July 2009, Liam was a healthy weight again and strong, fit and ready to work, finding a job.

'I managed to get a full-time job and in doing so I waved goodbye to the Norfolk EDA. But not a day goes by when I am not eternally grateful for what they did for me, and what they do for hundreds of people who suffer from eating disorders in the country. I am one of the lucky ones.'

Liam is fearful of the consequences if Norfolk EDA has to close. 'It would mean lives would be lost - I'm in no doubt about it,' he said.

He has contacted his MP, Norwich North's Chloe Smith, and has started an online petition urging her not to let the charity close.

'I have known Liam for some years and I think he is doing the right thing to get this petition together. Norwich EDA has been a lifesaver to many people,' she said.

'Norwich is lucky to be home to Beat and Norfolk EDA, who both do great work for people with eating disorders. I'm a patron of Norflolk EDA and have been in close contact with them in recent days.

'I am talking on their behalf to health ministers and the primary care trust (NHS Norfolk) to see if any other options are available in public service to help Norfolk EDA carry on working for people in Norwich.

'I know the charity will work hard to be able to give its best, in whatever form that might be.'

Clive Rennie, assistant director of mental health at NHS Norfolk, said: 'As well as rapid access to clinical assessment and intervention where required, the new Norfolk Community Eating Disorders Service includes counselling and support for patients and carers. This is provided by Beat, the leading UK charity for people with eating disorders and their families, which is based in Norwich.

'The service offered by Beat is a very important element of the service we offer. Beat offers an improved patient helpline service, support for carers and a new website of information for patients and carers. It will also offer training and education sessions for professionals on the identification of patients with eating disorders.

'In spending public money we must ensure all services are streamlined and offer excellent patient care. As a result of the significant investment in the new Norfolk Community Eating Disorder Service, NHS Norfolk has given notice to the Norfolk EDA that its funding is likely to cease in March.'

He said negotiations were still in progress, and that officials would be meeting Norfolk EDA representatives again.

Jackie Hargreaves, director of Norfolk EDA, said the organisation would have to scale back its operations drastically, making three of its five members of staff redundant from April.

'We will maintain a basic service as long as possible, given that we have limited funding,' she said.

'We've been told there's no chance of this decision being turned round, but we're not standing still. We're looking at other sources of funding - we're trying for funding from the Lottery and also Children in Need to continue our youth project.'