A key part of the Fight Hunger Create Change partnership between Asda, the Trussell Trust and FareShare is a grants programme for food banks in our network, providing crucial additional resources to increase the breath of services they can offer people to help prevent someone needing a food bank again in the future.
A year on from using their grant funding to establish a counselling service, Gateway Trust Counselling, Ribble Valley Foodbank manager Jane Chitnis and volunteer and trained counsellor Ali Groves, who set up the initiative, explain the difference it’s made…
Jane: We’re trying to offer a holistic approach to people coming through our doors so that the positive benefits are felt by all beyond food. We know so many people we meet at our food bank are affected by mental health issues.
Ali, a past food bank volunteer and trained counsellor, immediately saw the need for a counselling service. There are so many people we signpost to different services and she knows all too well how long it can take to access counselling through the NHS. Due to pressure and demand the limited session provision can take longer than six months to become available.
Ali heads up a team with four volunteer counsellors. People seeking counselling are offered appointments on a weekly or fortnightly basis. People are counselled whether or not they can afford a donation and the service is often fully booked. People can self-refer, or be referred by the food bank signposters.
There’s a huge need for this kind of initiative and we have felt immediate benefits within the community.
Volunteers feel more confident knowing they can offer someone a free counselling service because of the Asda grant funding, rather than simply signposting them on elsewhere. There are many practical ways you can help people, but this kind of therapy is at the heart of helping to equip people to move forward in their lives.
Ali: We’re able to offer people a tailored counselling service and I think that makes a massive difference. We’re able to really come alongside someone, for however long they need.
We’ve worked with 50 people in the past year – while some people only need three sessions and then something clicks and they know what they want to do, some people have more complex issues to work through, and we might be working together for something closer to 40 sessions.
Here are some testimonials from people who have completed therapy with us:
“I’ve never felt so heard and understood by a therapist before and the lasting effects of my time with Gateway have been amazing. I now have the understanding and the tools to effectively navigate negative situations that arise.”
“I just thought you’d like to know that because of my counselling I have grown in confidence. This has meant that my boss hasn’t once shouted at me since and he treats me like all the other workers. So thank you for helping me.”
The flexibility we offer means we can fit with what people need. We have been working with someone at the moment who’s waited six months for eight sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy through the NHS. We’re able to bridge that gap while he’s waiting, and after he’s had his allocated sessions with the team at the NHS, he knows if there’s anything he wants to pick back up with us then we’re here.
I can demonstrate the difference we’re making really clearly because of a series of questions we use with our clients to assess their mental health which create a score – when the client who is now receiving CBT first came in, his score was really high at 33, but now it’s halved and dropped to 16. We often see people’s scores really dropping in this way, hopefully it means we’ve paved the way and all the work he’s done with us means the CBT he’ll get at the NHS will really help.
But I think one of the things that shows most clearly the difference that’s being made in our community are the things we hear from people we’ve worked with. So I want to end with this lovely message from a widow with two young children, who we’ve worked with closely throughout the year:
“I can’t thank you enough for walking through this last year with me. Your genuine faith and care have helped me through what could have been a totally overwhelming time.”