A TOWN mayor who set up a free counselling service almost two years ago has spoke out against the lack of funding in place for mental health support.

Luan Deakin, a Shildon Town Councillor, has offered more than 3,200 hours of free counselling from The Sanctuary since the doors opened in 2017.

Ms Deakin, along with a team of volunteers, offers non-time limited counselling sessions free of charge but as the charity is self-funded, it is struggling to keep up with the demand for services.

Ms Deakin said: “We deal with the most complex cases, victims of rape, sexual abuse, trafficking and we have clients that have been with us since we opened. We also work with Durham police’s offending management unit to try and prevent people from reoffending.

“We receive referrals from other agencies and bodies who are funded to provide counselling but refer to us.

“It angers me that there are people out there who need immediately help who are left to go without because of a lack of funding. We have lost people who have been on the waiting list.

“I thought after two years we would have secured funding. I’m not able to counsel as much as I’d like to because I’m constantly working on grant applications and funding bids.

“I have sent emails to public bodies and agencies that haven’t even been acknowledged.”

Ms Deakin, who lives in Shildon, relies on donations, fundraisers and grants to keep the doors open and has also invested her own money in the charity.

The Sanctuary is based inside what was previously HSBC bank, on the corner of Main Street in Shildon and the rent alone is £4,500 per year.

She added: “Counselling is not a luxury, and the demand for it is huge. We’ve gone from having a six-week waiting list to a six-month waiting list.

“When I launched The Sanctuary I did it because there was a lack of counselling provision and I wanted to offer free, unlimited counselling to people who need it.

“We’ve gone from having a six-week waiting list to a six-month waiting list.”

Cllr Lucy Hovvels MBE, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for adult and health services, said: “We were contacted on May 1 by the owner of a free counselling service in relation to funding.

“I have asked our head of commissioning and director of public health to look into the points made as a matter of urgency and we will be responding to Ms Deakin as soon as we can. We are also very happy to meet her to discuss the issues she has raised.”

A spokesperson for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, said “Since the 1 April 2019 people in County Durham and Darlington have been able to access counselling services via Talking Changes; a talking therapies service led by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust. Prior to this date the Trust was not commissioned to provide counselling services.

“We are currently promoting our new counselling service and have advised all our teams and GPs to refer to Talking Changes.”