From the very start of Platform for Life, it was clear that we were heading towards a huge unmet need. We decided to focus our efforts on a small number of socially deprived communities so that we could deliver counselling very locally and make it easily accessible. Also, by helping a higher percentage of families in a community, we hoped to see synergistic effects by disrupting the various ways in which psychological stresses are passed on (e.g. between pupils in a class, between neighbours or between family members).
Although Cheshire West and Chester is a relatively affluent area, it has a number of high deprivation hotspots which often get overlooked as their challenges are masked by the region’s overall position. We started our service in October 2017 in one of these hotspots- Lache, which sits right next to the very affluent area of Westminster Park. We based our service in a small community centre which gave us access to some community contacts and self-referred clients.
Word spread very quickly about our service leading to the local schools showing interest and starting to refer children. We established a way of working which involved us deciding with each individual referral whether it was best to work with the child, the parent(s) or sometimes both. This on-the-spot flexibility has proved to be invaluable and allows us to focus on the family rather than just the individual. The value of this approach has been reinforced by teachers who recognise that helping a child in isolation has limited value if the family environment is unstable and non-nurturing. As one headteacher commented “Only when we see a change in the parents do we see a change in the child.”
As more teachers found out about our service, we were asked to take referrals from schools in Blacon as well as Lache. In the summer of 2018, we formally incorporated Blacon into our service, delivering sessions locally in a number of schools, a Medical Centre and the Children’s Centre.
As a result of this expansion, our operation grew to around 50 counselling sessions per week in 2019, provided by 7 part-time counsellors and play therapists. We continue to grow, as funds permit and have a goal to quadruple our service over the next few years. As well as offering more sessions in the two communities we currently work in, this expansion will also allow us to extend our coverage to a further 2-3 areas of high need in the Cheshire West and Chester area.