The ministry of wellbeing: How beauty therapy and chillout zones are changing lives

Years of austerity have forced many of Britain's local councils to cut spending on 'inessentials' to the bone. One of them, Northampton, is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Not far away, in Milton Keynes, a church-backed scheme has stepped in to help vulnerable people who'd otherwise have nowhere else to turn.

Sarah and her Wellbeing team.

With a team of volunteers, Sarah Milligan runs two Wellbeing clinics that cater for hundreds of people who are struggling with mental health and emotional needs.

They're based at Netherfield Chapel and Stony Stratford Library and were founded in 2016 by the professional drama therapist and wellbeing consultant, with backing from Grand Union Vineyard Church.

The clinics offer anyone over the age of 16 a place where they can find a listening ear and advice, therapeutic services such as massage and beauty stations, games and a chillout zone.

They also provide opportunities for learning life skills clients can take away and use daily to tackle their mental health and other issues.

During the last two years, around 700 people have accessed their services – and Sarah believes she and her team are making a vital difference in their lives.

'We have such a varied range of clientele through our doors,' she tells Christian Today. 'There are adults with long-term mental health diagnoses, who are on medication but struggle to cope. There are professionals who are overworked and overstressed but don't know how to look after themselves, who don't meet the threshold for intervention – they feel a failure in their profession.

'We say, come on, we can talk about this.'

She draws her volunteers from among other professionals who are prepared to give time to the project – each clinic meets fortnightly.

'The model is a drop-in, two-hour session twice a month. People help themselves to refreshments, there's a chillout zone with cushions and guided relaxation – people come and relax and take a guided "walk" through a forest or along a beach, they learn to calm down and notice their bodies,' Sarah says.

'Then there are stations, different areas of wellbeing for pampering – nails and head massage, for instance. There's a pool table and an arts section with model making and arts and crafts.'

She believes they're meeting the needs of people with nowhere else to go in an age of government austerity – and that it's absolutely right that the church should be there.

'The church needs to be in forefront of the community,' Sarah says. 'We're the ones who set up schools and hospitals. Jesus was all about showing love to communities – we should be responding to the crisis as Jesus would, offering support and partnership.'

She stresses that they work in collaboration with official agencies who might refer people to them – but that the work is of fundamental importance. She says: 'Mental health and wellbeing are core to who we are as people. Having churches involved in promoting that is an amazing evangelical message – we're saying, we are here, we're here to stay and we want to be involved in showing hope in this situation.'

There's one story in particular Sarah wants to tell. A women she describes as having 'a lot of difficulties' and being 'very isolated' had been coming to the clinics from the other side of the city. Because of that, she'd begun to attend her local church and had found love and acceptance there.

'She shared how happy she was, how she was able to reconnect with her faith and see how the church cared. It had such an impact on her heart.

'This is why we do stuff life like this. It's about people impacted by the love of God.

'I'd love other churches to partner with us and see this is something that's not only needed, it's an opportunity for mission that we should all be involved in.'

Sarah Milligan can be contacted by email: