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NE counselling service expands despite COVID-19 challenges


Photo caption left to right; Carol Smith, Katie Hutchinson and Marjorie Hunter of the North East Counselling Service.

The importance of mental health has never been greater and one of the North East’s longest-established support services is growing its business to ensure everyone who needs help is able to access it.

Marjorie Hunter, CEO of Gateshead-based North East Counselling Services, had ambitions to expand into the corporate market before Covid19 hit and although it presents challenges she is still forging ahead with the plans. There are also new opportunities to expand as they moved the business on-line attracting new clients from around the UK as well as the North East.

She said: “When the pandemic started we had to pivot our business completely to ensure our clients were able to speak to their counsellors. This did present a bit of technical challenge, moving everyone to Zoom and other platforms but it has enabled our clients to have the services they need, even in lock-down.”

Marjorie Hunter started the business in 2006 after a career in banking which she found increasingly unsatisfying. At the same time she had caring responsibilities for mother and realised how little support there was for people like her, so spotting a gap in the market she trained as a counsellor. Her first premises were in what she called a ‘broom cupboard’ in the Lyndhurst Centre in Gateshead.

A member of North East England Chamber of Commerce, the business grew steadily and specialised in supporting the mental health of clients who she felt often weren’t covered by existing services. As part of this approach the business became a Community Interest Company (CIC) so it would be easier to help fund free sessions for clients who couldn’t afford to pay.

Then a year ago she decided to upscale the business and successfully applied for finance from North Star Ventures to move into corporate work from employers to help them with their team’s mental health. She promoted Carol Smith from business development manager to commercial director and also appointed Lynn Renwick as operational director and to be ready for the transition to the next phase of the CIC’s development. The business now employs 17 staff and has 50 counsellors with a wide range of therapy specialisms.

Marjorie Hunter said: “Right from day one I have stressed I want our counselling to be flexible, affordable and accessible for whoever needs it. SMEs in particular generally don’t have an HR department so we believe we can be a very useful support for them.

The current Covid 19 situation has changed how we operate but we can give our clients more choice in how they access our services.”