PEOPLE at risk of homelessness in Wakefield are now able to access counselling thanks to a new partnership between a housing support charity and the local college.

Sustain Wakefield, part of Yorkshire charity Turning Lives Around which works to prevent homelessness, is providing placements for student counsellors from Wakefield College after noticing a rise in the need for counselling amongst their service users which was unable to be met.

The students needed the placements to complete their Level 4 Diplomas in Counselling and Psychotherapy and after undergoing a thorough recruitment process and training for volunteers, two students – Lou Brannan and Mark Gray – each began working with four Sustain clients in September.

Fran Lomax, Volunteer and Peer Development Coordinator for housing support service Sustain which works with vulnerable adults, couples and families at risk of homelessness in Wakefield, said the arrangement with the college is meeting a mutual need.

“In early 2020 we noticed an increase in the number of service users being referred for counselling. The need was for a free 1:1 face to face person centred service but this wasn’t available in the district without a long wait which was leading to increased anxiety, hopelessness and depression in those being referred,” explained Fran.

“At the same time we were being approached by students at Wakefield College who needed placements to complete their diplomas and despite not having worked with counselling students before, we decided to look into it.”

The counselling is offered to service users through their Sustain support workers. They are given a choice of counsellor with each round of counselling consisting of six weekly sessions.

“The service users trust their support worker to offer something that may work for them and help get to the root of the housing issues they are facing. Having an inhouse service is cutting down waiting time and helping eliminate additional stress that could be caused by having to retell their story to another organisation,” said Fran.

Although still in its early stages, Sustain believes the counselling is working.

“The counsellors have already helped one person with suicidal thoughts and a failed attempt to look to the future plus another, who wouldn’t leave their home, to go to college and consider self-employment. Someone else has said he had waited 40 years in silence and pain before being able to off load to Mark,” outlined Fran.

“This service is saving lives and making positive changes for people. Service users are learning coping strategies and applying them to their daily lives which is enabling them, and their support workers, to focus better on their immediate housing related problem.”

Student volunteer counsellor Mark Gray worked in local authority housing for 27+ years working with tenants while colleague Lou Brennan, a former special police constable, worked in manufacturing and retail distribution before they began their counselling training three years ago.

“The course is person centred focused however we do learn about all aspects and other methodologies of counselling. A large part of the course is 100 hours placement experience and we are grateful to Fran and Sustain for facilitating these for us,” said Mark.

Lou added: “Not only have the placements been invaluable for us, but we have received feedback from clients, each with positive comments regarding the service and how valuable it has been.”