Portsmouth counselling service to close as plans to rescue it collapse

From left, volunteer and administrator Catherine Thomas, volunteers Lorna Stringer and Debbie Smith, and volunteer and impact officer Colin Solly at Off the Record  Picture: Sarah Standing (161474-9176)
From left, volunteer and administrator Catherine Thomas, volunteers Lorna Stringer and Debbie Smith, and volunteer and impact officer Colin Solly at Off the Record Picture: Sarah Standing (161474-9176)
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A BID to save a counselling hub for some of the most vulnerable people in Portsmouth has collapsed – sparking fresh fears lives will be put at risk.

Off The Record is to close the doors of its branch in Fratton Road, Portsmouth tomorrow after efforts to find a new home and secure extra funding failed.

We know across the country we have a big problem with suicides, particularly with suicide in young people. This closure could lead to a rise in suicides in the city.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth Lib Dem leader

Its Havant branch remains open.

OTR counsellor Colin Solly, said: ‘I’m very sad. It’s important to have counsellors.

‘There is a new service starting in January, we do realise that.

‘But we have seen young people in Portsmouth for a long time, and the young people in Fratton look forward to coming to us.

‘It’s a refuge for them.

‘We have offered our clients the chance to come to Havant, but those without transport are stuffed.’

OTR bosses say they’ve had a £20,000 bid to the council to keep going turned down.

Yet Tory public health boss Luke Stubbs insists the authority is keeping an ‘open mind’ over whether to approve the application.

Portsmouth Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has issued a last-minute appeal for cash.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘This is a risky step.

‘To close them two days before Christmas is so wrong.

‘We know across the country we have a big problem with suicides, particularly with young people.

‘This closure could lead to a rise in suicides in the city.

‘We know that a lot of young people are particularly vulnerable.’

He added: ‘It’s not that the council doesn’t have the money to carry the service on. There’s £475,000 sitting in an account that the council is just sitting on.’

OTR’s Havant branch is unchanged as it has funding from Hampshire County Council and elsewhere.

But Portsmouth OTR failed to win part of a new contract for work, which went out for tender to support the vulnerable, which other organisations including Relate Portsmouth will pick up from January.

Tory public health boss Councillor Luke Stubbs said the council was prepared to help organisations, but they needed to prove they could become ‘self-sufficient’.

He said: ‘Funding for Off The Record was removed a few years ago under the previous administration.

‘It’s important for all bids to show how a service is moving towards self-sufficiency, is sustainable and doesn’t replicate things that already take place.

‘There are further discussions to be had with Off The Record and the council is keeping an open mind over its bid.’