Off the Record: November’s Local #CommunityHero
Off the Record do fantastic work providing free counselling and information to young people in the Twickenham area. With the crisis in children and young people’s mental health, they are helping to meet a huge need. Thanks to LB Richmond Upon Thames’ Cllr Robin Brown for the nomination. The OTR manager Deborah Kerpner told us more…
What’s the thing that Off the Record has done that you’re the most proud of?
With our waiting list averaging about 100 in the last year or so — which can mean a long wait for weekly counselling — we decided to expand our service by opening five new satellites across our Borough. This both helped us meet demand and made sure young people can access counselling that is more local to them. We had some great support from our local grant-making trusts to achieve this aim. It means that we have an additional 21 sessions each week to offer to young people desperately seeking help. The issues that young people bring include relationships, self-harm, anxiety and panic attacks, depression and most other things, including suicidal ideation. All these can result in isolation, difficulty forming relationships, and low self-esteem.
Tell us why OTR is important to its local community?
Our free and confidential services provide young people with a safe space to come to when they need support, and we have no cut-off level — so anyone who needs help can come here. The benefits of having somewhere to turn to in a crisis can range from crisis-prevention such as suicide, or unwanted pregnancy, to helping them get on with a normal life. Having professional but friendly and easy-to-access services is essential in reaching our more ‘at risk’ and vulnerable young people. Although people see Richmond upon Thames as a nice, leafy borough, we’ve actually got the fourth highest hospital admission rate in London for self-harm. We provide the only drop-in counselling and information service for young people aged 11–24, and we reckon that since we first opened our services in Twickenham in 1992, we will have seen one out of every three young people who have lived, worked or studied in this borough during that time. Last year alone, we saw 1,776 new young people.
What one thing would really help OTR carry on delivering its services for the local community?
Like the majority of small, largely volunteer-led organisations, we are hugely reliant on funding to deliver our services. Although we pride ourselves on our efficiency (98% of our costs goes on the team directly delivering services to young people, with the remaining 2% going towards publicising the service), our drive, continually, is to ensure that we can continue to resource our core services as a minimum, and expand wherever possible to meet increased demand. We are particularly keen to maintain and increase our capacity to offer crisis counselling sessions to young people within a week or 2 of them getting in touch with us. It’s a hugely important element in meeting young people’s immediate needs, given that the wait for regular counselling sessions could be 16 weeks. Our aim is to ensure that these crisis sessions become a part of our core service offer going forward, and not just a time-limited project. Securing funding to support this aim would be one of the most important things we could do to help the vulnerable young people in our community, who have reached a crisis point in their lives.