FEATURE: ‘We are helping to save people’s lives’ – read about a very special Hitchin counselling service

Tilehouse Counselling

Tilehouse Counselling - Credit: Archant

Tucked away among numerous handsome 16th and 17th century buildings located on one of Hitchin’s most picturesque streets is a quiet forecourt, yards from the bustle of festive shoppers on Market Place. It is appropriate this quiet corner offers an oasis of calm away from the hurly-burly of hectic life in the 21st century – for at the back of 84 Tilehouse Street is an organisation which is quietly saving lives.

Tilehouse Counselling

Tilehouse Counselling - Credit: Archant

Tilehouse Counselling is a charity working to help more than 100 adults and young children a week in a safe and comfortable environment – aged

from 13 to 80. Director Sue Barnes welcomed the Comet into the warm and homely surroundings of the centre and spoke about the charity’s work.

“Funding permitting, we provide therapeutic group work,” she said. “It is important to offer time to reflect and think about difficult emotions, and an opportunity to be listened to without being judged – as well as time to work through problems and difficulties which negatively impact on life.”

People see them for up to a year. There used to be provision for two years but funding cuts have restricted the time frame.

In order for Sue and her dedicated team to keep the centre open, the majority of their funding has to be found themselves through fundraising initiatives

and applying for grants – through bodies such as the Big Lottery, Children in Need and Herts County Council – and by seeking the support of individuals

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and organisations. They have 10 highly-trained counsellors and three office administration staff.

“It’s a hand to mouth existence”, Sue explains. “We have a capability to meet people’s need, but if we weren’t here there would be a gap. People value our service. We are reliable.

“It’s a rolling programme for us to continually apply for grants, but it would be great if £350,000 fell out of the sky. It would be good if we could

focus less on fundraising – allowing us to free up our time for our core activities, as its incredibly labour intensive. But were are lucky to have such a strong set of patrons who have helped us.”

The centre provides active listening and reflecting back to people their experiences and helping them to find their own resources, so it’s a highly skilled service. It also identifies how past experiences are still impacting on people’s experiences now. For the counsellors it is a

demanding, highly skilled role. The service is confidential and non-judgmental – and people find it hugely beneficial.

“The feedback has been very positive,” said Sue.

“We have been told our service is invaluable. We offer people a positive platform to build on.

“We send out a questionnaire at the end of counselling – we ask what do you think might have happened if you hadn’t had counselling. Eight people said they wouldn’t be here now. We are saving lives.

“It’s a courageous thing to do to come to counselling. It’s rewarding to know that people’s lives are changed by their work with our fully-trained team of excellent, dedicated counsellors – our help can change lives.”

Sue and her team are finding their service being required more and more. She explained: “I think emotional and mental health issues, while being stigmatised, are less stigmatised than they were. It’s more acceptable for people to come forward now.

“I think the NHS is strained so we often see people who are not seen by them. GPs signpost to us.

“We don’t take direct referrals but they can tell their patients about us. More than 50 per cent are from that route, but we also get word of mouth and schools are aware of us, and domestic violence officers are aware of us too.”

On the abuse scandal in football and the derogatory tweets sent by former Sky Sports’ darts commentator and former world champion Sue adds: “I think his tweets were despicable and ignorant.

“He really trivialised experiences of incredibly brave people who have come out and spoken of their experiences – it’s incredibly painful and damaging for people to have their experiences trivialised.

“Here we take people’s problems very seriously. We help with the impact of really serious problems.

“The fact that footballers have spoken out shows how important it is not to repress your experiences – and for people like Bristow not to trivialise

them. You can’t be abused as a child and not have it affect you.

“It’s wonderful a lot of good people have spoken out. People like Gary Lineker are and being true to their convictions, which is great to see.”

As the Comet bids farewell, Sue stops and says quietly but with real feeling: “It’s important to get the message across emotional health is health.

“Nobody would criticise someone with a broken leg. If you have a broken leg society sees it as acceptable – but what about mental health?

“There are plenty of people walking around with mental health issues. There is a shame and stigma that hasn’t reduced enough. People put enormous

energy into hiding the fact they are unwell emotionally – because people do judge, people like Eric Bristow.

“Someone once said to me why can’t people just pull themselves together – well you wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to just get on with it and walk properly would you...?”


Explaining the reasons why people visit Tilehouse Counselling, director Sue Barnes said: “People come to counselling for many different reasons – depression and anxiety stemming from a wide range of issues, abuse, bullying and problems at school, eating disorders, issues around sexuality and gender, bereavement and loss, self harming and suicidal thoughts, and drug and alcohol issues.

“There are often issues going back a long way, with past experiences impacting on the current day.”

Adults pay a cost for the counselling which starts at £15, but there is no fee for young people who are unwaged or in education.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about counselling call 01462 440244, send an email to counselling@tilehouse.

org or visit the website – www.tilehouse.org.

Tilehouse Counselling is also involved in Stevenage Youth Connexions and visit schools in the area.