Making mental health accessible for all

Two grey armchairs and a coffee table with a pot plant on it
The therapy room at Hornsey Vale Community Centre

For over 20 years, the charity Counselling Initiatives has operated on the basis that long-term talking counselling should be available to everyone—even those who may not be able to afford it. 

Operating out of the Hornsey Vale Community Centre, as well as a community centre in Twickenham, the charity and its more than a dozen volunteers offer counselling for those on low incomes or benefits. “We are a totally inclusive organisation, we accept everyone regardless of how they wish to be identified, whatever ethnic background they come from, it’s completely open,” says Anton Smith, the charity’s administrator, who has been with the group since its start in 2000. 

“Counselling Initiatives was initially formed by a group of four people who felt that there was a huge gap in the provision of counselling for people who needed or required it long term,” Anton explains. The charity only asks that clients try to meet a £13.50 an hour donation to help them meet overheads. Private sessions regularly cost £60 or more.

Anton spent most of his career in the packaging industry, eventually becoming a business advisor and leadership coach. He qualified as a counsellor in 2002 and continues to provide business-related support while running the charity. He describes what he does with the charity as reward working. “It’s something I enjoy—it serves a purpose.”

Headshot of Anton Smith wearing glasses and a blue top
Anton Smith of Counselling Initiatives

Over time Anton has seen interest in therapy and counselling increase as the stigma of seeking mental health support has decreased, although that is more the case amongst women than men, he says. “A lot of promotion needs to be directed towards men because, conversely. The suicide rate is much higher in men than in women,” he explains. “There appears to be a correlation with men tending to hide their feelings and what’s wrong with them psychologically much greater than women do.”

Applying to get support from Counselling Initiatives is straightforward: potential clients can contact the charity by emailing admin@ci-charity.org.uk or calling 07963 738 813 and filling out a simple form with their details, availability, and location, and Anton will work with them to refer them to a suitable counsellor. 

Anton says he has valued the relationship between the charity and the Hornsey Vale Community Centre, which goes back to the start of Counselling Initiatives. Counsellors and clients alike have enjoyed using the space, but perhaps as importantly, there is an alignment of community values. Like the charity, aspects of community care like “social responsibility, health, and mental health, are a given for community centres in general in terms of what they provide and intend to provide.”

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