The Guts Café finds a permanent home to promote the link between positive mental and physical health | Press releases

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The Guts Café finds a permanent home to promote the link between positive mental and physical health

The Royal Bethlem Hospital’s Guts Café has this month found a permanent home in the former garage of Dr George Porter Phillips. Phillips, a physician working at Bethlem in the early 20th century, noticed that his patients receiving treatment for mental ill-health also frequently suffered from digestive issues. In 1910 he carried out a study offering patients kefir – a soured milk drink containing ‘good bacteria’ popular at the time in Bulgaria, Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere. Phillips concluded that the bacteria in his kefir benefited his patients and ‘might be used with great advantage in other mental conditions’.

It’s a fitting site then for the new Guts Café, which is staffed by residents and staff of Bethlem’s Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit (ADRU), who are exploring the link between gut health and mental health over 110 years after Dr George Porter Phillips.

ADRU runs a 16-week programme for people suffering with severe anxiety. Ben Hicks, Guts Café manager and vocational enabler at ADRU explains:

“Some of our residents, because they have anxiety disorders, have not been able to leave their homes. So, the first thing is to get them to live in a community and introduce them to working in a café in a low-key way. The first victory is for someone to be out of their room and working with us, learning how to make a coffee. Our residents are here for four months, so at the end the idea is that they leave us with skills and we are trying to link them up with cafes around the country.”

The Guts Café has been in development since 2019 after initial conversations between Joel Oliver, an occupational therapist, and a former ADRU resident Howie. It has been made possible by the work of Lisa Williams, the principal cognitive behaviour therapist and manager at ADRU. The project has three aims:

  • Provide the opportunity for Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which is important in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
  • Enable residents to develop vocational skills, such as barista training and sourdough bakery, which they can use after their stay at ADRU.
  • Promote good gut health by serving whole foods and explore the relationship between the gut and mental health.

Professor David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist, has been involved in the project and said:

“We have hundreds of billions of bacteria in our guts working symbiotically to look after us. But if we don’t look after them, they can’t look after us. And that’s why it’s so important to be eating the right kind of food. There is a lot of research about the benefit of eating well for mental health. Of course, it can’t cure an anxiety disorder, but we do know it’s an important part of the jigsaw to recovery.” 

Keith was a resident at ADRU in 2017 and has spoken about how his recovery was supported by art therapies and vocational activities, like those now on offer at the Guts Café.

“Staying at ADRU for four months completely changed my life…since leaving ADRU I have come back as a volunteer to mentor patients. I have also found a career in art and done a foundation and diploma at City Lit. I’m hoping in the future to develop my skills in art therapy and occupational therapy within the Trust.”

The Guts Café has been opened in partnership with Extract Coffee, Beyond Food, Gozney and The Sourdough School. Extract Coffee has provided equipment and training for residents and Beyond Food has provided a training programme for residents to develop cooking and hospitality skills. Gozney has generously donated a pizza oven and The Sourdough School, which promotes the idea of ‘baking as lifestyle medicine’ or BALM, has offered advice, training and tools for residents’ work with sourdough.

The Guts Café is open at the Bethlem Royal Hospital and is welcoming customers Monday to Thursday between 8am and 2.30pm.

The Guts Cafe logo painted on a white wall.