Off the Record: the Havant charity changing young lives since 1977

Colin Solly talking to one of the youths who visit the centre
Colin Solly talking to one of the youths who visit the centre
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For the past 40 years, Off the Record has offered young people a place to turn in times of difficulty.

The Havant-based counselling charity provides a free and confidential support network for people between the ages of 11 and 25.

If a young person is going through a tough time, they can drop into the service’s centre in Purbrook Way and speak privately with one of its 80 volunteers.

From here, they can discuss their problems in depth and take advice – with an option to receive weekly follow-up telephone calls, until a space for a 50-minute one-to-one counselling session becomes available.

Besides the background of the issues they may be facing, the only information a service user has to provide is their first name and their postcode.

Paula Riches is the chair of Off the Record’s board of seven trustees.

The 69-year-old said: ‘Our mission is to help young people achieve emotional health and well-being.

‘This is more important now than it ever has been – with rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers increasing by 70 per cent over the past 25 years.

‘Where young people do not want to or cannot find support for this from family or their school, Off the Record seeks to fill the gap.’

In 2016 and 2017 alone, the service has made contact with its clients more than 12,000 times – through physical introductions, counselling sessions and phone calls.

Not only can young people self-refer to Off the Record, some are pointed in its direction by local GPs and child and adolescent mental health services.

Often, those who walk through the service’s doors, Paula says, are battling with issues originating at home or at school.

She said: ‘Many young people – particularly teenagers – come to us when they are going through a stage of not getting on with their parents or those looking after them at home.

‘Others bring forward problems from school.

‘A hot topic in this modern age seems to be self-esteem.

‘If one child makes a nasty comment about someone else’s appearance, that can have a real, detrimental effect on how that person sees themselves.

‘We’re here to help them understand whatever was said is not true, and that they can move past these feelings and go to school without the fear of being bullied.’

Once a visitor to Off the Record’s drop-in centre is allocated a counselling session, they are given continuing support until volunteers are satisfied their problems have been solved.

Paula said: ‘We are constantly liaising with our service users to see how they are getting on, in light of the support we give them through counselling.

‘If we do not feel someone is ready to stop attending the sessions, or they don’t feel ready, we won’t force them to give them up.

‘They could go on forever – if that’s how long its necessary for the counselling to last.’

Off the Record provides group counselling sessions for youngsters who would prefer to share their problems with like-minded peers using the service.

As part of its long-term plan, the organisation is looking to roll out a greater provision for parents and carers of the young people who use the service, so they can understand the issues their children are facing.

As it stands, parents are currently entitled to 12 free counselling sessions – but it is hoped there is more to come.

Paula said: ‘What we’re realising is that helping parents is every bit as important as helping the young people we see.

‘If we help them understand what their child is going through, we could give them the tools to solve their problems together and make their home a wonderful place to be.’

As Off the Record celebrates its 40th birthday in a festive ceremony next week, it is launching a new drive to raise vital cash to uphold and grow its work into the future.

The service is urging local people to hold a fundraising activity to raise £40 to mark the milestone – or alternatively donate £3.33 a month, for 12 months, to raise the equivalent cash.

To make a donation, you can text OTRH11 – followed by your desired donation in pounds – to 70070. You can also become a volunteer or donate at