A young people’s counselling charity is celebrating winning an award for the innovative way it’s having an impact on its local community.

Off The Record Youth Counselling, a BACP-accredited service in South London, was selected from more than 370 organisations across the UK as one of 10 winners of the 2019 GSK IMPACT Awards.

The service has been running for 25 years and provides free, professional face-to-face counselling and support to young people in Croydon, Sutton and Merton.

It has adapted to changes in young people’s lives by staff getting out of the therapy room and into the places young people are meeting up.

This has included its staff attending spoken word sessions and going to barber shops, which are often recognised a safe space for men to talk about their feelings.

Assistant Director Geoff Jones said: “It’s been fantastic to get this recognition for the way we work.

“In the old days, young people would self-refer, they’d come here and have counselling. But we understand that now we need to go out to young people and be available in a different way. If we just sit in the therapy room, young people aren’t going to turn up. That’s been the challenge.

“We’ve visited spoken word and poetry sessions. This is where young people are going to express themselves and talk about their emotions. We’ve been there as a link through to the counselling.

“We’ve been going to the places young people are and putting counselling on the menu, alongside spoken word, kickboxing and other activities. We’ve had a great reception.”

The team at Off The Record Counselling

Last year Off the Record received more than 1,200 referrals and offered more than 7,000 sessions.

It has also developed an online platform to help young people who aren’t comfortable with speaking to someone directly or need faster access.

This had 261 new registrations last year and delivered nearly 1,000 sessions.

The charity offers different services in response to the different needs across the three boroughs it serves.

In Croydon it works with the borough’s gangs team, professionals and community groups to support young people following a violent or sudden death.

In Sutton, it works with partners to offer targeted support around issues such as exam stress.

In Merton, it has just been awarded a new health contract to expand its services. It supports young carers, refugees and asylum seekers and has specific programmes to tackle the challenges of BAME communities in accessing mental health support. 

The GSK IMPACT Awards are a national programme that recognise and reward small and medium sized charities that are doing excellent work to improve people’s health and wellbeing in communities across the UK.

Winners receive £30,000 in unrestricted funding as well as expert support and leadership development provided by The King’s Fund.

Lisa Weaks, Head of Third Sector at The King’s Fund, said: “Off the Record has found new and innovative ways to connect with young people and provide urgently-needed support. By listening to young people, working with community groups and identifying the barriers that might stop young people from getting mental health care, Off the Record has been able to help children and young people to prevent crises.”

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