A CHARITY worker who has dedicated his life to diminishing the stigma surrounding mental health issues is retiring.

Mike Dixon has managed Next Steps Mental Health Resource Centre, Norton, which supports people across Ryedale, for 11 years.

Originally based in Newbiggin, Malton, Mike was keen for the charity to find more accessible and user-friendly premises when the building in Church Street became available.

"When we first came here we had a small cafe and not much else but now the centre offers a larger community cafe as well as art classes, walking and computer groups and out of hours clubs," Mike said.

"We aim to offer good healthy food and now have our own allotments where we grow our our vegetables.

"We also have outreach services in Pickering, Kirkbymoorside and Helmsley and have a regular list of other groups who use our facilities."

Mike said the benefits of Next Steps were far reaching and the facility had a really friendly feel about it.

"It is a place where people can come through the door and have a chat, meet friends and feel that they are being supported," he added.

"We are the only organisation of its kind in the area and I am very proud of what we have achieved."

The 67-year-old, who trained as a joiner, moved into mental health work when he was in his twenties working on two projects in Whitby and Scarborough before becoming manager at Next Steps.

"We do make a difference to people's lives," Mike said.

"If anyone has a problem there are so many friendly faces here to help and lives have been changed. Sadly there are still a lot of people who don't know what we do here and that we are open to the wider community and encourage them to come in and see what we do.

"Sadly, there is still a stigma with mental health issues, even though it can affect anyone and most families will have someone who has been affected, but we will continue to chip away at that stigma."

Mike's successor, Leisa Taylor, has worked alongside him for the past 18 months to ensure a smooth transition.

"Many of our users won't notice a difference as they have seen Leisa around and she has worked with them for so long," Mike added.

"Fortunately we are in a better financial position than we were a few months ago but fundraising is always ongoing as this place costs around £80,000 a year to run."

Mike said he planned to spend his retirement enjoying the outdoor life and spending more time with his family.

"This is the best job I have ever had - it has become part of me - it will be a big wrench and very emotional when I leave."