I'm Steve Mulligan, our Four Nations Lead in our policy team. I lead our public affairs and partnership engagement work to increase the profile of the counselling professions in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and devolved England, as well as managing our UK-wide political campaigns.

We’re establishing a new coalition to work together to secure counselling and creative therapeutic interventions in Northern Ireland’s schools.

It follows the recent cancellation of the Healthy Happy Minds Therapeutic Pilot and our funding campaign, which saw more than 1,000 supporters write to their local MLAs and MPs to try to secure this much-needed provision

Working with the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) and the campaign group Pure Mental, our Policy Team organised a dedicated roundtable.

It brought together 33 representatives from the professional bodies for counselling, art therapy, music therapy, play therapy and drama therapy, the leading providers of the full range of therapeutic interventions in schools across Northern Ireland and campaigners.

I was pleased to jointly chair the meeting with Caryl Sibbett, BAAT’s deputy chair, as was supported by our Children, Young People and Families Lead, Jo Holmes, and Cathy Bell, the joint chair of our CYP Divisional Executive.

We used the event to share concerns about the ongoing impact of departmental cuts in Northern Ireland and additional pressures facing the sector.

We agreed a number of shared actions to build greater political support behind our campaign and, hopefully, secure a commitment to restore and strengthen counselling and creative therapeutic interventions in Northern Ireland’s schools when the executive reforms.

Our initial focus will be to jointly produce a new evidence report using combined data on need, take up and benefits of counselling and creative therapeutic interventions.

The report will set out the end return on investment and, critically, feature the voices of children, parents and teachers.

We’ll use this to help build additional support in advance of the political institutions being restored. We were grateful for the commitment shown by everyone who attended to continue to collaborate and ensure this remains high on the political agenda.

Collaboration and networking are more important than ever as the profession faces some huge challenges, particularly in Northern Ireland, due to the ongoing political turmoil, departmental cuts, the loss of EU funding, and the pressures of the cost of living crisis on counselling providers and on people’s ability to pay for therapy.

We’re holding our next Making Connections Event in Belfast on June 22 and I look forward to speaking more with members about their current concerns and work we are doing across Northern Ireland to champion the profession.