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Compass counselling charity celebrates 20 years of mental health support

From left are trustees chair John Barns, head of counselling Susan Reynolds, David Lewis, former head of counselling Lorna Polke, trustee Moira Swayne and Sir Desmond Swayne
From left are trustees chair John Barns, head of counselling Susan Reynolds, David Lewis, former head of counselling Lorna Polke, trustee Moira Swayne and Sir Desmond Swayne

A LOW-COST counselling service celebrated 20 years of helping people as its founder revealed its services are more in demand than ever by those seeking help for mental health problems.

The Compass charity, which is based in Lymington, was set up by former property developer David Lewis after he realised there was a need for low cost counselling in the New Forest area.

Mr Lewis, who is CEO of Compass, was working for the Westminster pastoral foundation counselling centre in Southampton at the time. He said: “We had a lot of people who worked in Southampton but were actually from the New Forest and they were very concerned that there was nothing similar in that area.

“I realised there was a big gap between Southampton and Bournemouth. I had a very successful property business so I had the means to set up the centre in Lymington.

“What was needed was somewhere people could have longer term counselling for those who could not afford to pay privately.

“I started Compass in November 1998 following the same ethos of providing high-quality affordable counselling and we have been steadily growing ever since.”

Two decades on from being established, Compass is more in need than ever with client numbers doubling in the last two years with 53% being referred to the charity by their local GP.

Mr Lewis said: “People come to us because they feel empty, isolated and unhappy and are struggling with anxiety, stress, depression, bereavement or family/work relationship problems. Counselling gives people a space to talk openly, explore their feelings and gain new understanding.”

Mr Lewis, who has retired from his property company and now concentrates fully on Compass, gained an interest in mental health while still a businessman.

He said: “I am a trained psychodynamic psychologist. I became interested in problems with mental health from my own experience in the workplace and developed a particular interest in interpersonal relationships.

“Mental health well-being was something that, to me, was important to how successful a business could operate by looking after the people who worked for it. By focussing on the mental health well-being of people rather than just the profits.

“I went to a day course on counselling and was really intrigued by it. At the time I was shifting my interests away from the business and wanted to help people understand the importance of treating mental health problems – there is no health without mental health.”

The centre now sees around 60 people a week and Mr Lewis says the fact that people like Prince Harry and celebrities have spoken out about their own mental health problems has helped others who are suffering come forward.

He said: “I think there has been an increased recognition of mental health and the benefits of treatment, there is less stigma now although I think it is still very difficult in the workplace for people to say they are not coping mentally with things.

“A lot of doctors recognise the importance of what we provide, they go back and say to their doctor ‘that really helped me’ which is great.”

Compass receives no funding from the NHS but relies on grants and donations each year.

Mr Lewis explained: “We have also been lucky over the years in that we have had, and still have, many volunteers who have given their valuable time at no cost and that is why we had this celebration – to recognise and thank not only all current staff and counsellors, but also those individuals who have been involved in Compass over the last 20 years. Without these people Compass would not still be operating”

One of the guests at the party was New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne, who congratulated the charity on its work, saying: “It shows that there is a continuing and growing need for a service like Compass in the New Forest area, offering a high standard of counselling at a subsidised rate for those on low incomes for whom there is no provision within the NHS. I think it is an excellent enterprise and deserves to be supported and encouraged.”

New Forest East MP Julian Lewis, who was invited to the event but could not attend due to a prior engagement sent a message praising the organisation, saying: 'In the past 20 years Compass counselling has firmly established itself as a valued asset in our community and has undoubtedly saved lives and restored well-being to many.”

Over the next five years Compass plans to expand its services to include group therapy and possibly couples counselling but the scope of any expansion is limited by the difficulty in obtaining funding.

Anyone who feels they need counselling or would like to make a donation, can either visit the website at www.compasscounselling.co.uk, send an email enquiry to administrator@compasscounselling.co.uk or phone the office on 01590 674011.

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