Innovative programme launched to support people with hoarding disorder

31 January 2018

A hoarding disorder is when someone acquires an excessive number of possessions and finds it difficult to discard them, leading to unmanageable clutter. Hoarding presents a significant issue for public sector services such as the council and fire brigade.

The disorder is often misunderstood as something whereby a person simply requires help in clearing the clutter when it is in fact a complex mental health condition

facing a large number of residents across the country. It can cause significant distress for both the sufferer and his or her neighbours, and can also be a major fire risk, making fires spread more easily and harder to escape from.

People with hoarding problems can now seek help at an innovative support group run by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust’s cognitive behaviour therapists at Dockhead Fire Station in Southwark.

This is a first for London, with Southwark being the only borough to develop a holistic programme alongside other services which specifically supports those with a hoarding disorder.

Caroline Harrison and Dr Victoria Bream from the Trust’s Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma have started running weekly drop-in support sessions to help people overcome hoarding. 

Dr Victoria Bream said: “There are a lot of people out there with hoarding problems and it's a condition still associated with stigma and shame. A group like this where there is no barrier to coming is really great. Anyone can attend and you can come once or many times. Hoarding is a very difficult problem to crack on your own, so to have support from other people is really powerful.”

Southwark Council, London’s largest local authority social landlord, has played a key role in developing and supporting the service, particularly as there are currently 136 council tenants in the borough suffering from hoarding disorder.

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Deputy Leader and cabinet member for housing at Southwark Council, said: “It’s really important that we treat this disorder with the sensitivity and range of appropriate support services it requires. With this kind of easy-to-access service, which combines the expertise of the fire brigade, the council, and mental health specialists, we can keep residents safe and ease the distress they are suffering. I am really pleased that people are already coming forward to seek help.”

Holding the sessions in a fire station means that officers from London Fire Brigade can talk with the group members and help them to feel comfortable with fire safety checks they provide in people’s homes.

Lee has been to the group several times. “My thing is storing books and papers,” he said. “I don't let anyone into my home because of my hoarding, not even my family. This group is good for sharing practical solutions, for people looking to move on from their hoarding. It's purposeful and a good balance between challenge and encouragement.”

Borough Commander for the Southwark Fire Service, Neil Chisholm said: “This pilot is a successful partnership between us, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and Southwark Council. We have the premises to run support groups, Southwark Council has provided funding, and Victoria and Caroline from SLaM have the expertise to support people with hoarding problems”.

The group meets from 1.30pm – 3pm every Thursday at Dockhead Fire Station, 8 Wolseley Street, SE1 2BP.

Page last updated: 31 January 2018