Blackpool mental health counselling service in danger of facing closure

Nikki Bradshaw, Lisa Stout, manager Stuart Hutton-Brown and Nick Wade.'Credit: Counselling in the community
Nikki Bradshaw, Lisa Stout, manager Stuart Hutton-Brown and Nick Wade.'Credit: Counselling in the community
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A Blackpool-based counselling service which provides mental health support to patients on the Fylde Coast is in desperate need of donations, or it may face closure.

Counselling in the community, based on Derby Road Blackpool, provides support and counselling for people in need of mental health services on the Fylde Coast- but is at such risk, the manager had to sell his own car to keep it going.

Stuart Hutton-Brown, 49, of Talbot Road, runs the counselling service along with 12 student volunteers, but fears that without financial assistance to keep the group going hundreds of patients a year could be stuck on longer waiting lists to see a professional.

Stuart said: "I started this service two years ago, and initially I was working elsewhere as well but it became apparent that I was needed here five days a week, because it was just getting too busy.

"We're seeing around 60 people a week now. They mostly find us through word of mouth, or see us on Facebook. The NHS services have such long waiting lists that we're seeing more and more people.

"We deal with all aspects of mental health issues except addiction. We are dealing with a lot of trauma cases at the moment, PTSD and especially anxiety and depression sufferers."

Counselling in the community is a voluntary-run organisation, and they ask for a small contribution of £5 towards their therapy sessions.

But Stuart is concerned that because Blackpool is "such a deprived area," many people can't afford it.

Five months ago, he had to sell his car and other personal belongings to ensure the premises was kept open for people in need.

Lisa Stout, 40, has just finished studying psychology with counselling at Blackpool and the Fylde College, and said she travels from her home in Morecambe to Blackpool every day to volunteer at the Derby Road site.

She said: "We treat everyone as a whole person here, not just a box to be ticked. It makes me really sad that we're struggling because we only want to help people."

Another volunteer counsellor, 38-year-old Nikki Bradshaw said: "I was born in Blackpool so I want to give something back to the people who live here.

"It's difficult because Blackpool is a deprived area. But Counselling in the community is a brilliant place, and we all learn from each other.

"I'm staying here to volunteer even though I don't need to. Seeing our clients progress is amazing, and we need more help so we can support them."

Nikki said every day was a constant battle for the staff, and she can see how hard Stuart is fighting to keep the centre open.

Mr Hutton-Brown added that he was looking at ways of funding the counselling for people in need, and hoped local businesses would be able to support him.

A spokesman for the NHS Fylde Coast Clinical Commissioning Groups said: “We recognise that we need to do more to improve mental health services. We have worked with patients and partners across Lancashire and South Cumbria to conduct a review of mental health services. We are committed to responding to the review recommendations, including reducing waiting times.

"We understand that people will be quite rightly concerned, but we know we have dedicated staff who want to improve services and the experiences of service users.

“We value all of the contributions that voluntary and faith sector organisations make to the care and wellbeing of our local communities and individuals and will engage with Counselling in the Community to discuss future commissioning arrangements.”