Northern Ireland news

Belfast counselling organisation on brink of closure warns of 'catastrophic' implications

Sisters Mandy McDermott (left ) and Sheree Irwin, directors of Compass Counselling, say there will be `catastrophic' implications should the west Belfast organisation have to close due to a lack of funding. Picture by Hugh Russell
Marie Louise McConville

A Belfast counselling organisation on the brink of closure due to a lack of funds has warned of the "catastrophic" implications if it is forced to shut its doors permanently.

Compass Counselling, based in the Shankill area, is already having to turn potential clients away and says it faces closure in six weeks if government money is not available.

Since being set up four years ago, it has been run fully on donations, fundraising and self-funding.

The cross-community organisation delivered more than 800 counselling sessions in 2019 and has held more than 50 already this year.

But its directors said "despite holding meetings and communicating with various representatives of political parties, we’ve received no positive outcomes in terms of support or direction in securing funding".

"The majority of these parties state a strong emphasis on mental health but have failed to support an agency who works hard and tirelessly with those in need across the greater Belfast area and further afield."

Read More: Leona O'Neill: As mums and dads we need to talk to children about mental health

It added: "We receive no core funding and to date we have managed to sustain services by fundraising, donations, some paid sessional work and the generosity of volunteers.

"In terms of the number of referrals that we are receiving, we as an agency cannot possibly sustain the overall running costs based on the absence of no core funding".

Speaking to The Irish News, director Mandy McDermott said closure would have "catastrophic" implications on the community especially "in terms of children, the next generation".

"If we don't get some sort of stability into mental health, it will have a drastic impact on the next generation and their mental health," she said.

The therapist claimed Compass Counselling had been "let down" by politicians who had made empty promises and left emails unanswered.

"The communities are going to be at a loss," she said.

"As a therapist, I am accountable. Politicians and MLAs that are voted in by the people are accountable for what goes on in our community. We have been here four years. People are sick and tired. They are not listening to people on the ground. It's very fragmented.

"Over the last couple of weeks, the outcry from people, in terms of support for mental health - our politicians need to do more with agencies on the ground and ask what do you need?"

Ms McDermott said Compass needed funds for staff, resource and programme costs in order to stay open, adding that if no funding becomes available, it will close in six weeks time.

"I don't want any politicians at Compass unless they are ready for action," she said.

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