‘The thought of losing Off The Record is heart breaking’

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A FATHER and daughter have spoken of their fears if a counselling service closes its doors today.

Sarah Thomas, 20, from Portchester, says charity Off The Record helped turn her life around when, at her lowest ebb, she attempted suicide four times.

Sarah Thomas and her dad Dave.''''Picture: Allan Hutchings (14793-703) PPP-140319-221048001

Sarah Thomas and her dad Dave.''''Picture: Allan Hutchings (14793-703) PPP-140319-221048001

Off The Record provides free, confidential counselling to young people across the area, but its dire financial situation came to a head on Tuesday when councillors at Portsmouth City Council voted not to throw it a £10,000 lifeline.

Paula Riches, the charity’s vice chairman, said that has left the service no choice but to close.

Fighting back tears, Sarah and dad Dave, a 55-year-old systems analyst, spoke about the effect the charity had on their family.

‘Without the support of Off The Record I probably wouldn’t be here now,’ said Sarah.

‘With the help of my counsellor – who is like another mum to me – I’m still here and now I’ve got a full-time job, I live with my boyfriend, and I’m going to Camp America for four weeks in the summer.

‘A year ago there were days when I couldn’t even leave the house.

‘But with the techniques Off The Record have taught me, I’m so much better.’

Every year, around 7,000 young people pick up the phone or knock on the door of Off The Record branches in Havant and Portsmouth in search of help.

But they may soon have nowhere to turn to.

Dave said: ‘I think Sarah’s progress is all testament to the people at Off The Record.

‘They have developed those relationships and formed those close bonds that have ensured Sarah is given the right techniques and given the opportunity to have that one-to-one conversation that is outside the family.

‘That hour a week is hers and hers alone. I think if we were to ask the question, “where can these people go if not to Off The Record?” no-one could come up with an answer.

‘If it were to close it would be a crying shame – for all those young people out there that are trying to get help, currently receiving help, and those in the future that might need help.’

World champion swimmer Katy Sexton is a patron of the charity.

She said: ‘The thought of losing Off The Record is heart-breaking.

‘Having had depression myself I know how much it benefits and helps young people.’

Responding to the council’s decision not to give the charity any more money, vice chairman Ms Riches told the full council meeting on Tuesday the organisation could not go on with so little money as running costs are £178,000 each year.

In 2013, an unprecedented number of young people sought counselling from the charity because they are struggling to cope with daily life.

Up to 120 clients every week were making contact with the service for problems such as depression.

Leigh Park councillor, Faith Ponsonby, a long-term supporter, said: ‘For young people who have counselling it would be a disaster if it closes. It needs sorting out. They need help to bid for funding to make their future as secure as it can be in these tough times.’