Six years ago when a counselling service in our local secondary school Park Community School was withdrawn due to cuts in their funding I initiated, through local churches, a new voluntary service called Solace.
In our first year of operating we were shortlisted for a national Children and Young People Now Award. We have not promoted Solace ourselves and never intended it to reach beyond the first school.
However, the school shared with other local schools how much they appreciated the service and so Solace was extended to three other local schools, Havant Academy, Cowplain Community School and Warblington School, although Warblington now run the group internally.
Across the groups there are around 20 volunteers each seeing an average of five young people each week. Between them they see 100 young people each week, so over the six years we have been running, the young people we have seen enters into the thousands.
Solace offers one-to-one support to young people based in school who may be experiencing difficulties. Our volunteers aim to help students deal with negative experiences and difficulties.
We hope to do this by helping to restore their emotional well-being and giving them the skills and confidence to make good life-enhancing choices for themselves.
Volunteers offer empathy, honesty and a listening ear. This therapeutic relationship gives the student space to explore their feelings, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes with someone who won’t judge them or tell them what to do.
Young people talk to Solace about all sorts of issues that are affecting them, including relationships, bullying, self-harm, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
I have since set up a youth and community charity, Communitas, which has given us opportunity to develop other services such as youth clubs, homework clubs and inclusion work.
Although we are not a proselytising organisation, we offer unconditional compassion rooted in our Christian ethos to often very distressed young people.
We have now developed a training and consultancy wing so that we can offer support to other churches and Christian organisations that are interested in delivering a similar service in their local school or college.