Lifeline for youth counselling service in Leighton Buzzard

TACTIC Centre, Leighton Buzzard
TACTIC Centre, Leighton Buzzard

A vital youth centre counselling service is hoping to be saved in 2019 after being thrown a lifeline by Leighton-Linslade Town Council and Tesco.

TACTIC, a teenage advice and information centre on Hockliffe Street, used to offer a counselling service for 12- to 19-year-olds until the East London NHS Foundation Trust, which paid for and commissioned the service, was unable to provide the funding.

The White House, Leighton-Linslade Town Council's offices

The White House, Leighton-Linslade Town Council's offices

The service stopped in May, however, Leighton-Linslade Town Council and Tesco have come to the rescue, as between them they are providing £3,939 to fund a pilot counselling scheme until the end of March.

The town council has commissioned CHUMS, a mental health and emotional wellbeing service, which is highly regarded in the town, and CHUMS has signed a Service Level Agreement to provide counselling from January 3.

Tracey Quinn, TACTIC centre manager, said: “We previously used to have youth counselling but that stopped in May, so we have been planning to open up with a different provider.

“We didn’t get the funding from the East London NHS Foundation Trust, so the youth counselling stopped for a while. Fortunately, thanks to the town council and Tesco, who have put half the money in each, we are going into partnership with CHUMS to open an emotional wellbeing service called TACTIC Talk Space.

“We are full up already and we’ve not even opened or advertised it!”

Tracey explained that everyone who uses the service will get six weeks of support via one-to-one sessions with a counsellor. If a young person needs more support, they will be able to carry on or they can be referred to another service for additional help.

CHUMS will be providing two counsellors, one male and one female.

Tracey said: “UK wide there’s not a particular service that supports this age group and there are waiting lists for counselling wherever you go.

“We get parents and teachers ringing up all the time, which is good because we open on January 3. While the service was delayed we had youth workers doing mentoring and one-to-one support. One of the counsellors we are getting is male and I am hoping he will be a role model for our younger lads. CHUMS is also well established in Bedfordshire and parents are getting to know them.”

The TACTIC team is hopeful that the funding can continue after the pilot finishes, and the town council says it is looking into the possibility.

A Leighton-Linslade Town Council spokeswoman explained the events which led to them working with CHUMS.

The spokeswoman said: “Changes are ongoing in all public organisations including how or who they commission to deliver services. Over recent years, we have provided a local venue to deliver a commissioned counselling service for young people in TACTIC.

“The commissioners of the service are the East London NHS Foundation Trust. TACTIC coordinated the appointments and the service was delivered by qualified practitioners belonging to an external organisation. All counselling received is therefore independent of TACTIC and confidential.

“Over the last few years, the Trust has been commissioning on a year-on-year basis and last year, reduced the funding for the service with the knock-on effect of less counselling hours being provided at TACTIC in this way.

“Committee considered providing funding to make up the lost service hours. TACTIC successfully secured £2,000, from Tesco Bags scheme to help make up the shortfall thus £3,939 in total was set aside.

“Using this budget, council commissioned the same service provider to ensure continuity of service, i.e. RELATE.

“Committee expressed an air of caution in agreeing the funding because a town council is not a health expert and its preference was that the Trust continued to commission the service in this localised way rather than the council subsidising such services.

“As we understand it, the trust had again reviewed their commissioning activity and chose to no longer fund the same service provider or deliver a like for like service. This left the council with an ongoing agreement with RELATE who then informed us that their staff member was leaving their service. This concluded the arrangement with RELATE.

“Having lost original delivery time due to staff recruitment, etc. the council has unspent budget, formally agreed to be allocated to a counselling service and a grant dedicated to the same service with conditions that needed to be honoured.

“We subsequently learnt that that Trust had decided to commission CHUMS to provide some counselling services. We approached CHUMS to see if they anticipated delivering a like-for-like service and learnt that the commissioned service did not include the same as we had previously experienced.

“Committee was informed of the situation and agreed that staff should seek an alternative delivery organisation.

“As CHUMS is the locally commissioned service and fully linked in with the local referral protocols, it was thought prudent that TACTIC explored the option to work with CHUMS directly.

“Committee regularly receive TACTIC service updates in the form of written reports. The reports highlight the current issues young people raise with the staff of TACTIC – more often than not these will be Family, Mental Health and School.

“Qualified Youth Workers in TACTIC are able to provide one-to-one mentoring support which for many young people is enough to help them navigate their way through difficult teenage years. Whilst mentoring, if a staff member identifies a need for counselling, the ability to refer the young person, with their consent, has been seamless as the service is local to the young person and in familiar surroundings, i.e. TACTIC.

“Whilst no-one in the council pretends to be an expert in health issues or services, over the years due to the role of appointment coordinator, TACTIC staff are aware of the level of referrals made to the counselling service. Having now signed the service agreement with CHUMS, TACTIC staff have a full appointment book ready to launch in January 2019 which provides some indication of the local need for specialist support.

“Come March 2019, the same issue will need to be considered by Committee once the original commitment of funds ends and the Tesco grant is spent.

“Will the council subsidise local health services or take it upon itself to continue the funding the service for the parish’s youth? We are not in a position to anticipate the outcome and the remit of a town council is not the same as the principal authority or statutory services such as health. The council must consider its next move carefully.”

A spokesman for East London NHS Foundation Trust said it was funded by Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group to provide a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

He said: “We subcontract some aspects of the CAMHS service in Bedfordshire to some not for profit organisations.

“This used to be CHUMS/Relate/Bedford Open Door and Sorted (Tactic).

“In 2017 /18 we undertook a procurement process to establish a new service - this was done through an NHS procurement process - the successful bid was submitted by CHUMS.

“Our view is that many organisations have a role to play in improving emotional health and wellbeing -including health, local authorities, the not for profit and charitable sectors. Organisations like Sorted access funding from many sources, including fund raising.

“We provide a service in Bedfordshire for those with moderate /complex mental health needs, we also provide crisis support and work with schools across the county, as well as a range of specialised services. All professional organisations can refer clients onto CAMHS in order to access ongoing support.”