Our member Roberta Richmond was stunned to return home from a conference to find she had been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Roberta, CEO of East Belfast Community Counselling, has been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to mental health in the community in east Belfast.
“I was amazed,” Roberta said. “Working in this line of work, the focus is always on the client so something like this is a surprise.
“It’s not anything that we would be looking for or expect. It was certainly the furthest thing from my mind.
“It’s nice because it is for mental health and contribution to mental health services. It brings mental health to the fore and the work we do in the counselling profession.”
Roberta added: “I got the letter in May and it was completely unexpected.
“I got it when I came back from a conference in London. It was just waiting for me in the post. It was marked Cabinet Office and I thought it was an unusual one.
“It was a nice welcome after being away for a few days. I had to keep it quiet until the announcement in the Queen’s birthday honours, and then once that was announced I could tell people and the wider organisation.”
Roberta set up the organisation in 2010 with a grant from Unlimited, a charity for social entrepreneurs.
“We got £4,000 to run a pilot to see if there was a need for counselling in this area that wasn’t delivered prior to that,” she said. “All the counselling in the area had been delivered by local churches.
“In a country that has had many problems to do with religion and so on, I thought there was a need for counselling to be provided in a completely neutral environment and open to everyone in the community.
“It’s an open door for anybody who could benefit from counselling.”
From humble beginnings, the charity helped around 1,900 people last year.
“We didn’t know whether people in the area would really want to come for counselling,” she said. “A lot of our work in the early days was letting people know what counselling was and how it could potentially benefit them.
“Where the office is based, it backs on to one of Belfast’s peace lines. It’s an area that has seen a lot of political and social unrest over the years.
“That is part of our work, but it’s about informing people there could be a connection between how they are feeling and what they have experienced, and we can explore that.”
Roberta, an accredited BACP member, will receive her medal during a ceremony on October 8. It comes after East Belfast Community Counselling received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services last year.
“Receiving this British Empire Medal is another endorsement of the service, which is fantastic,” she said.
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