A VOLUNTARY counselling service which relies entirely on grants to provide support and help to people who are going through a hard time is due to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Hitchin Counselling Service (HCS) launched in 1993 with a start-up grant of just £800.

Now, 20 years on, it helps about 40 people each year in Hitchin and surrounding villages.

The service’s 13 counsellors, as well as the steering group members and clinical team, all offer up their help for free.

Steering group chairman and co-founder Chris Kell said: “We want to give the time and energy for free as we are all committed to the view that value is not just about price and that, actually, offering your work for no money is reward in itself.

“(Counselling) should be free and accessible to everyone.

“The idea is that there should be no compromise on professional standards just because it’s free. All counsellors are completing training in counselling or are already qualified, and everyone gives their time for free.”

The service relies entirely on grants, which pay for membership and insurance, phone bills, and basic admin costs.

It currently receives £3,000 from the Big Lottery Fund and also occasionally gets donations.

Each client, either referred through their GP or by themselves, gets a 50 minute session per week. The average person receives counselling – for free – for about two years, as opposed to NHS counselling which usually only offers six sessions at no cost.

A variety of people use the service.

“People come with all sorts of presenting issues – they might have mild depression, there might be relationship issues, mild anxiety, or they’re just not coping,” said Chris. “There may be some event that’s taken place that people haven’t recovered from, there might be family issues.”

She added: “You must be over 18, but we have people from all backgrounds.

“We’re pleased to say that the ethnic balance is about the same as the whole of Hitchin.”

The service will be marking the 20th anniversary, although Chris has said the details have yet to be finalised.

• HCS, which is based at Bedford Road Health Centre, is looking for a volunteer administrator to offer up about seven hours a week. If you’re interested, call 01462 790806. You can also call that number if you’re interested in receiving counselling.