Wellspring charity's alarm bell over Harrogate's mental health issues after pandemic

A Harrogate-based charity in the front-line of mental health issues has been forced to revise how it works as the shock of the pandemic continues to be felt in the town.

As part of a new three-year business plan, Wellspring Therapy & Training aims to open its base on Starbeck High Street for five days a week for the first time since it was founded in 2003 to support both adults and children.

The charity’s strategy for dealing with the lingering impact of the uncertainty and anxieties caused by lockdowns also involves a broad expansion of its services, including providing an additional 90 professional counselling sessions a week and recruiting more staff and more volunteers.

Sarah James, Kennie Cheung and Tracey Davison-Franks who, through their work with Wellspring in Harrogate, play a crucial role in supporting people with mental health issues. (Picture: Gerard Binks)

Kennie Cheung, who has taken on the brand new role of Wellspring’s head of fundraising is warning that mental health problems did not disappear with the end of lockdown.

“We’ve seen demand for mental health services more than double since 2019.

“But it’s not just about the Covid pandemic.

Students are feeling more anxiety and pressure these days, whether they are at school or university.

“The overload of NHS services means nearly 50% of our clients come from the NHS now.”

While much of the rest of life ground to a halt during Covid, this Christian-based charity, which offers professional counselling to all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or cultural background, actually stepped up a gear.

Last year saw Wellspring offer 6,032 counselling sessions in total, seeing 123 clients per week on average, albeit remotely via the phone or Zoom during the pandemic.

The aim is to increase capacity in order to achieve a new target of 227 per week.

To achieve this goal, Wellspring’s team of nine trustees realised a stronger strategy for raising the funds needed for the charity to grow.

The impetus for change and a new focus on attracting longer-term donations is also being fuelled by another factor - soaring energy prices and rising inflation.

“To help more people and ensure a sustainable future, we really need to be able to plan for three to five years ahead," said Kennie Cheung.

“But the pandemic followed by the cost of living crisis means the fundraising gap has been getting worse.

“Many, but by no means all, of our clients are people on benefits.

“Not everyone can afford to pay for private counselling.

“We only charge people what they can afford - 34% of our clients pay a minimum fee of £5 only - so donations are essential to provide the psychological support people in distress need and promote good mental health through education and training. We support those who need us most of all.”

Wellspring’s head of fundraising is hopeful her experience in Hong Kong’s challenging charity sector before she moved to Britain last year will stand her in good stead to the benefit of the charity.

“I really enjoy my work and my new colleagues at Wellspring are wonderful,” she said.

“From when I first got involved with the Hong Kong Cancer Fund in 1997 to when I left in 2017, we increased monthly donations by ten times.

“As we focused more on monthly donation, rather than one-off donations, the number of cancer centres we offered grew from one to four.

“I loved my role but the political situation changed and Hong Kong changed, too.

“Eventually, I felt I could not compromise my principles.”

At the moment, Wellspring boasts a team of 35 trainee and qualified counsellors.

But, with more mental health support likely to be needed in the years ahead, Wellspring is also looking to deepen and widen its range of partnerships and offer more training to churches, businesses and schools so that they can help spot the signs of mental health stress points early.

One of its most important collaborations is Route One to Wellness, an innovative new collaboration between itself, Harrogate Mind, Claro Enterprises and Orb Community Arts to ensure local residents experiencing mental health problems get the best support they can to stay well in the community.

It also works closely with a number of Harrogate schools and churches, as well as local authorities and the NHS.

In one way, the Covid pandemic did change something for the better.

Wellspring has seen for itself how the taboo around not talking about mental health has started to ease.

“Since the pandemic, more people are willing to talk about their problems and anxieties,” said Kennie.

“I experienced how important that was when I worked for Hong Kong Cancer Fund.

“It was difficult talking to parents who were struggling to come to terms with a child who has cancer and don’t know what is going on but the end result was so beneficial.

“We are all members of a community and offering community services is so important.”

Harrogate Wellspring steps up fundraising

A counselling and training centre working to restore hope, develop resilience and facilitate positive change, Wellspring in Harrogate has always relied on donations.

Its new fundraising strategy involves generating more income from the services it offers, reaching out to new groups and businesses, diversifying funding and forging new long-term relationships.

Recent fundraising activities has seen the following achieved:

Wellspring collaborate with Harrogate Town to create and sell knitted scarfs for dogs called Wooflers;

Partnering with local business Tiger Fifty 7 to create and sell HG Kids T-shirts, raising awareness of children’s mental health;

Partnering with Full Circle Funerals, local musicians and community groups in a fundraising concert at Ripon Cathedral.

How Wellspring offers proactive help to young people in Harrogate schools

From its vantage point in the community, Wellspring has seen a dramatic rise in the mental health of young people in Harrogate since Covid and the strain NHS services are now under.

Nationally, between April and October 2021, a total of 409,347 under-18s were referred to NHS England for specialist care for issues such as suicidal thoughts and self harm.

Figures also show 42% of university students experienced a serious psychological issue for which they felt they needed professional help.

At a local level, in 2021, the Wellspring helped 64 children and young people, working both online and face-to-face, providing vital counselling.

The charity has always sought to be proactive, offering advice, expertise and training to schools and businesses.

In 2021, for example, it supported 349 students and 17 staff with 856 sessions in two Harrogate high schools.

The Wellspring school counselling service strives to reach children who would not have otherwise received therapeutic intervention.

Wellspring’s professionally qualified therapists work in the school to meet with children identified by pastoral staff in need of support.

This early intervention allows young people to find ways of dealing with their distress and supports them to stay in education.

As part of Wellspring’s plans to expand the services it offers, it will seek to become an accredited Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body (CPCAB) training centre and start running the Level 5 course in Children and Young People’s Counselling. This will partly serve to increase the number of youth sessions offered to children and young people through creating additional placements.

This Harrogate-based Christian charity also hopes to offer a full training schedule providing prevention work to the community.

This expansion of support by Wellspring is being established by its training and education officer and will include Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA), pastoral training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD).